TypograFriday: Ligatured Sans

You know ITC Avant Garde, the lame came-with-the-OS wannabe-Futura type. Designers among you probably know Avant Garde, the 1968-1971 magazine for which Herb Lubalin designed a fantastic and groundbreaking tightly kerned sans serif logotype. Lubalin expanded this all-caps logo into a rigidly geometric display and text face at ITC, where he was a cofounder. The digital version you’re familiar with is an imperfect digitization of the most uninteresting part of the original design, although the Pro version that adds back in the ligatures is now available.


Lubalin used it several times, always with the alternates and ligatures enabling incredibly tight settings, throughout the next few years, notably in U&LC magazine. And others began to use it, but not well. A few notes on its misuse from Thinking for a Living:

Tony DiSpigna, one of Lubalin’s partners and co-creator of ITC Lubalin Graph and ITC Serif Gothic, has been quoted as saying, “The first time Avant Garde was used was one of the few times it was used correctly. It’s become the most abused typeface in the world.” Ed Benguiat, one of type’s legends and a friend of Lubalin’s, commented, “The only place Avant Garde looks good is in the words Avant Garde. Everybody ruins it. They lean the letters the wrong way.” Steven Heller also noted that the”excessive number of ligatures […] were misused by designers who had no understanding of how to employ these typographic forms,” further commenting that “Avant Garde was Lubalin’s signature, and in his hands it had character; in others’ it was a flawed Futura-esque face.”

It’s been revived in the last decade quite a bit, first for music then for a certain scenester Vice ironic recapitualization of the Me-Generation?




Don’t get me wrong: I actually really like the examples above. It’s not even been that it’s been done a zillion times but after about six, it’s already been done to death. If you’re considering using Avant Garde ligatures and it’s not 1976, I ask you to reconsider. Either reference the seventies in a fresher way if that’s what you’re going for… or if what you’re liking is the interlocking ligatation of it, may we suggest a few alternatives?

Fedra Display by Typotheque, part of a megafamily that ranges from hairline to black with condensed and compressed weights.

Camera from Flat-It. Rounded and deco-style, this is quite a distance from Lubalin’s design. However it’ll still work if what you’re looking for is nested, tight lettersetting.

Sevigne by Reserves. This new face was actually the inspiration for this post. By combining Lubalinesque ligatures with the  classic proportions so popular now in typefaces like Gotham and Neutraface, and restraining it to lightweight and all caps, Reserves has put together an affordable, contemporary and altogether elegant face. It’s on special pricing right now; get it before Urban Outfitters goes and ruins it for all of us.

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