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The Origins Of Gill Sans Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2625 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The beginning of the type is starting in the mid fifteen century. It was birth of printing industry but more importantly it was a birth of type. The invention of movable type starts with Guttenberg. He was the first to put typography on practical and scientific basis. Since then many people start to develop type designs and taking inspiration from earliest sources of letterforms and designs.

To understand why designers use particular fonts in their design first we have to understand history and origins of the font and its designers. In this essay I will be discussing typefaces of Gill Sans and Futura.

Gill Sans is sans serif font designed by Eric Gill in 1927.

Who was Eric Gill?

Arthur Eric Rowton Gill -was letter-cutter, sculptor, wood engraver and type designer and was one of the most famous and controversial person of the period. Eric Gill was born in Brighton in 1882 and studied in Chichester school of art before being apprenticed to an ecclesiastical architect in London. He was attending classes of the calligrapher Edward Johnston at the Central school of Arts and Crafts. In 1905 he moved to Hammersmith, which was haven for private press movement. Gill was working on inscriptions, tombstones, head pieces and initial letters for private presses. In 1907 he left Hammersmith and set up the first of three craft-based religious communities at Dichling Sussex. In 1925 he designed his first type face perpetua, in 1927 he designed Gill sans and than in 1931 he wrote essay on typography which was written in his third font Joanna. In 1935 Gill was made an associate of the Institute of British Architects. In 1936 he was awarded the title Royal Designer for Industry. Four years later, in 1940 he died after lung operation.

The origins of Gill Sans

Gill Sans is typeface designed by Eric Gill. The history of Gill Sans starts from Edward Johnston’s famous typeface “Johnston Sans” designed for the London Underground in 1913. Eric Gill was studying under Johnston at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts. Eric Gill became a friend and apprentice of Edward Johnston and even had a small role assisting in creation of the typeface. Johnston was craftsman but Gill who was also interested in designing letters for machine reproduction, that means type design and typography led to designing Gill’s first typeface – Perpetua designed in 1925.

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In 1927 Eric Gill was asked to paint front of the antiquarian shop for his friend Douglas Cleverdon in Bristol. The alphabet, which at the time only contained uppercase letters, was noticed by Stanley Morison for its commercial potential. A Monotype advisor, Stanley Morison commissioned Gill to make a complete font family to compete with the sans-serif designs designed by German foundries fueled by the great success of Futura. Gill Sans was heavily based on Johnston Sans but it’s influence in the design world was much greater than that of Johnston’s. Gill was not completely satisfied with Johnston’s work and he set out to create the perfect, legible typeface. He also stressed out that Johnston’s text was purely for display whereas gill sans was intended as text face.

“The first notable attempt to work out the norm for plain letters was made by Mr. Edward Johnston when he designed the sans-serif letter for the London Underground Railways. Some of these letters are not entirely satisfactory, especially when it is remembered that, for such a purpose, an alphabet should be as near as possible ‘fool-proof’… as the philosophers would say-nothing should be left to the imagination of the sign-writer or enamel-plate maker.” -Eric Gill – Essay on Typography, published 1931

“Gill was less enamored of the classic Roman proportions. His capitals are a little narrower, The ratio of height to stroke thickness is slightly greater, so the strokes are thinner. Gill’s V and W end as points rather than a blunt edge. The leg of the R is curved, not a straight line, something Gill felt strongly about. Crucially, on the lower case, again a little more condensed than Johnston’s, the strokes are not all monoline. The a is quite distinctive, with its small counter and slightly top- heavy upper loop. The dots on the i and j are round, the t has a crossbar of more conventional length. The g looks more attenuated, its two counters further apart, with a longer link.” (Loxley, Simon. Type : The Secret History of Letters. London, , GBR: I.B. Tauris, 2004. p 151)

Use of Gill Sans

Gill sans gained popularity in 1929 when it became the typeface of the London and Eastern Railway (LNER), appearing everything from locomotive nameplates to time tables. Gill Sans was us by designer Edward Young on the popular, now iconic Penguin books jacket design. That gave gill sans fame and was known on bookshelves around the world. There were many other companies, especially in England, which adopted Gill Sans as a corporate typeface by mid 1900’s. For example BBC, British Railways, and even Monotype themselves. They did Monotype’s type face fifth best seller of the twentieth century.

Terror Island which is a online magazine uses this font as its cover and body text. Gill Sans is also used as the Title for Wine and Dine Magazine (Ultra Bold), Popular children’s animated film Chicken Little (ultra bold), Local Retail Eyeglasses store “Eyeglass World” they used the g and use it as eyeglasses, Popular British Act Bloc Party use Gill sans as their main text in the first two album release as well as making it the font to signify the band Bloc Party. Leonardo Di Caprio directed Environmental Documentary :An Inconvenient Truth which used Gill Sans Bold. Gill Sans has played a important role in the two thousand and nine United states presidential election. President Barack Obama used Gill Sans for his presidential logo during the campaign for presidency..

Designers use gill sans for its quirky, sculptural and original design. Designers also understands what Eric Gill was trying to do and that lends Gill Sans to be a great font for design as well as for running text for its generous x- height it its very space saving font. The font is also used for its historical value. BBC used this font for its logo, according to BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/resources/in-depth/bbc_logo.shtml) ” Later in the 1990s, the BBC decided a revision of the wider corporate identity was needed, as the current slanting logo did not work very effectively on screen – so the sides were straightened from their idiosyncratic 17.5 degree slant, the color flashes were removed, and the typeface was rendered into Gill Sans. There is a neat symmetry here, as Eric Gill who created this original typeface was also the key sculptor for the BBC on the original Broadcasting House project in 1932, so once again, the past is echoed and yet freshly reinvented.”

Monotype website mentioned why gill sans is very successful font.” One reason for the enduring success of Gill Sans is the fact that each weight retains a distinct character of its own. The light font, with its heavily kerned ‘f’ and tall ‘t’, has an open, elegant look. The regular font has a more compact and muscular appearance, with its flat-bottomed ‘d’, flat-topped ‘p’ and ‘q’, and short, triangular-topped ‘t.’ The bold font tends to echo the softer, more open style of the light, while the extra bold and ultra bold have their own vivid personalities.” (http://www.monotypefonts.com/Library/HiddenGems.asp?show=gillsans)

Gill Sans is very original font. It still has metallic feeling because it’s not perfect and that is giving to this font very attractive and originality.


Futura is sans-serif typeface which is based on geometric shapes. It was designed by Paul Renner in 1927.

Who was Paul Renner?

Paul Renner was born in 1878 in the Harz region, south of Brunswick and Magdeburg. He was studying art in Munich and his aim was to be a painter. Renner finished his education in 1900. He spent most of his life in Munich. In 1907 Deutche Werkbund (German work federation) held meeting and Renner was impressed with idea to connect art with mass production. After Renner started to work in the field of arts. In this time het with publisher George Muller. Renner got his first of many commissions. The company what he was working for was producing French, Italian, Spanish literature. Muller was using Renner to design bindings but after a while he was designing pages as well. From that he developed ideas about text, typesetting and letterforms. In 1922 he wrote a book ” Typography as Art”. Between 1919 and 1924 he was mainly concentrating on painting. Later he was visited by Jakob Hegner and he wanted Renner to design new roman typeface. Renner started to design lettering and that was beginning of Futura. In 1924 a trial cut of Futura had been made. Renner designed two other typefaces: Plak and Tasse and wrote 3 books about typography: Typografie als Kunst (1922), Mechanisierte Grafik; Schrift, Typo, Foto, Film, Farbe (1930), and Die Kunst der Typographie (1939). In 1956 he died in Hodingen, Germany.

The origins of Futura

Futura design is based on the Bauhaus design philosophy. Bauhaus was school in Germany between 1919 and 1933. Bauhaus in English means “House of building”. The ideology of Bauhaus was to produce rational, functional, clean, “sterilized” and sometimes standardized building. The artists and architects made art without any additional or decorative additions. Everything what was unnecessary or did not have any use was left out of design or art. Renner was not was not a member of the Bauhaus but he shared many of its views. He believed that a modern typeface should express modern models rather than be a rival of a previous design.

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It was very successful typeface of its era. First Futura was different of the Futura today. “The original design of Futura included text figures and many highly geometric, alternative characters which have never been used in metal, though The Foundry (London) issued them in digital form.” (Robert Bringhurst ,the Elements of typographic style, second edition p 133.) Renner designed Futura on simple geometric shapes, circle, straight lines and perfect triangles. He have not used any decorative or unnecessary parts. Futura was developed as whole family. It was released as light, regular and bold version and in 1929 hit was released as Futura black. Then in 1930 he did semi bold version.

Use of Futura

Futura is very successful font. It is used in many posters, logos ,movies, advertisements etc. Even after 80 years many companies are releasing digital forms of Futura (adobe is the most commonly used). Several companies are using customized versions of Futura for example Volkswagen, Absolut Vodka etc. It was font of Swedish famous international producer of furniture IKEA until 2009. “Ikea has been using a refined version of the font for half a century, and has even commissioned the typeface to be drawn out in more weights and languages specifically for its brand. In fact, it’s called “Ikea Sans.” (http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/next/archives/2009/08/ikea_changes_fo.html)

It is very popular typeface among corporate logos, commercial products, movies and advertisements. It is used very well as headline text and is working very well in running text. Futura was also the first typeface on the moon. It is on the commemorate plate left there by the astronauts in 1969.

Designers are using this very popular font because of its very geometrical shapes, narrow width, clean elegant curves and it has no extra distracting parts. Also it is very popular among designers because it has many features which are mentioned on adobe website ” Futura uses basic geometric proportions with no weight stresses, serifs, or frills, with long ascenders and descenders that give it more elegance than most sans serif typefaces. The wide range of weights plus condensed faces provide a variety of ways to set short text blocks and display copy with a strong, no-nonsense appearance.” (http://www.adobe.com/type/browser/html/readmes/FuturaStdReadMe.html) also other source mentioned “Such a geometric face should look cold and sterile, but it doesn’t. On studying the face, you can see that the counters, the spaces in a, b ,d, p and q are not circular, and their bowls become narrower as they meet the stem.” Loxley, Simon. Type : The Secret History of Letters. London, , GBR: I.B. Tauris, 2004. p 132. Therefore I think that designers are choosing Futura very happily for their work and design.

Futura was very popular font of very famous director Stanley Kubrick. He used this font many times in movies but most famous movie was 2001: A space odyssey and Eyes wide shut. It is mentioned in article from Guardian website. “It is not a remarkable note except for one thing. The typeface Tony used to print it is exactly the same typeface Kubrick used for the posters and title sequences of Eyes Wide Shut and 2001. “It’s Futura Extra Bold,” explains Tony. “It was Stanley’s favorite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/mar/27/features.weekend)

Futura is very popular among movie directors and in movie poster designs. In 1992 there were movie directors against usage of Futura Extra Bold condensed in movies and movie posters. Two pages designed by Jerry Ketel and were published in the 1992′s TDC Typography 13. it said: “It’s time for Art Directors the world over to boycott the use of Futura Extra Bold Condensed – the most over-used typeface in advertising history. Destroy the Great Satan of clichés and the Little Satan of convenience, and rally to the cause of a better type selection. Please fill out the enclosed petition and mail it to our headquarters. It will be used to sway the opinion-makers of our industry toward our just and worthy cause. Together, we can whip this mother.”

One of Futura’s most iconic uses is in the branding of German car giant Volkswagen – in a 1978 advert – which uses a custom-designed variant (they even decided to christen the world’s first gull-wing-door people carrier the ‘Futura’

Futura is still very popular font. Even after 80 years of usage it is still very widely used and loved font. And there are no signs that this font is not going to be popular in the future. There are many variations of Futura. Many designers nowadays are very familiar with Adobe Futura.

Both types, Gill Sans and Futura are from the same period. Both types are very different, very old and still widely popular and used, to this day by many designers. They deserve the place among new, digital typefaces because of their history and their beautiful, crisp design. We can still feel their spirit of the old age but they are very good in graphic design of today. I think that these types were designed ahead of their era. There always will be place in typography for these two awesome types and many future typographers and graphic designers will use them to develop new fonts upon design of Gill Sans and Futura.


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