Joanna (typeface)

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Joanna Nova sample image.png
Category Serif
Classification Various; slab
Designer(s) Eric Gill
Foundry Monotype (general release)
Variations Joanna Nova (shown)
Joanna Sans

Joanna is a serif typeface designed by Eric Gill (1882–1940) in the period 1930–31, and named for one of his daughters. Gill chose Joanna for setting An Essay on Typography, a book by Gill on his thoughts on typography, typesetting, and page design.[1] He described it as "a book face free from all fancy business."[2]


In designing Joanna, Gill took inspiration from the types of Robert Granjon (1513–1589).[3] The underlying armature of both the roman and italics bear similarities with Granjon's type. However, the spare, sharp squared serifs and minimal contrast of strokes give the design a 20th-century modernist feeling, reminiscent of the slab serifs of the nineteenth century but far lighter than most typefaces of this genre. This is very similar to Gill's earlier typeface Solus, in many ways a predecessor to Joanna, in which Gill intended to create a design inspired by the basic structure of slab-serifs of the nineteenth century, with their almost-monoline structure and simple block serifs, but adapted to be suitable for body text.[4] (Solus was never particularly popular, perhaps because it did not have an italic.[a])

Many of the letter forms of Joanna are characteristic of Gill's preferences, for example the lack of serif on the top left of the 'a', the splayed leg of the 'R' and handwriting-like italic 'g', with many similarities to his stonecarving and also to his other serif typefaces, Cockerel and Perpetua, for example in its handwriting-style italic 'g'.[5][6] The italics are more vertical than Granjon's with only a 3° slope: indeed, in the original cut Gill did not bother to have italic capitals created, simply using the upright ones.[7][4][b]


The typeface was originally designed for proprietary use by Gill's printing shop Hague & Gill, run with his son-in-law René Hague. The type was first produced in a small quantity by the Caslon Foundry for hand composition. Monotype then recut and reissued it for the sole use of publisher J. M. Dent. It was eventually licensed for public release by Monotype in 1958, after Gill's death, when J.M. Dent's exclusivity expired. It was first shown in the Monotype Recorder in 1958, accompanied by an exhibition on his work.[2] Once released widely, prominent users included the Penguin Modern Classics series in their classic blue-grey covers of the 1960s, before they switched to Helvetica.[9] The original metal type was Gill's property, and is now partly in the collection of the Clark Library in Los Angeles.[10][11]

Gill's friend and later bibliographer Robert Harling described it in a 1976 book on Gill's work as innovative in its reduced contrast: "the letter-forms have character and beauty, discipline and gaiety. No other alphabet of this century has managed to make typographical affectation so readable....defiant of almost every typographical canon of the day...Joanna Italic is gaily triumphant."[4]

Joanna Nova[edit]

Like several Monotype typefaces digitised in the early digital era, the original digital release was criticised for being too light compared to the real thing, though this effect may be compensated for when printing on poor-quality paper into which ink tends to absorb and spread.[12][13][14]

Monotype released in 2015 a more complete and fuller-bodied digitisation named Joanna Nova (shown), by Ben Jones.[15]

All the Monotype versions are somewhat different to the original Caslon type made for Gill, that used in the first edition of An Essay on Typography (historian James Mosley considers it as superior to Monotype's), and Jones described his goal as being to compromise between the different versions "to create a version of Joanna that appears in your mind when you think of Joanna."[16][17]

Related typefaces[edit]

Joanna Sans Nova (2015)[edit]

Joanna Sans
Joanna Sans Nova sample image.png
Category Sans-serif
Classification Humanist
Designer(s) Terrance Weinzierl
Foundry Monotype

Monotype released Joanna Nova in 2015 with a matching sans-serif design by Terrance Weinzierl, Joanna Sans Nova, intended to somewhat resemble Gill Sans but complement Joanna more closely, with a more normally slanted italic not solely inspired by either.[18]

FF Scala (1990)[edit]

One of the typefaces most influenced by Joanna is FF Scala, designed in 1990 by the Dutch type designer Martin Majoor and released by FontFont. It is similar in its geometric simplicity combined with the old style letterform.[19] Majoor created a complementary sans-serif design, FF Scala Sans. The resulting font superfamily was one of the first such designs to be popular, and remains common in book printing.[20]

Joanna is the corporate typeface of the United States' Department of Homeland Security, while Scala is used on its seal.[21][22]


  1. ^ "An Essay on Typography". David R. Godine, Publisher. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Eric Gill: Monotype Recorder special issue" (PDF). Monotype Recorder 41 (3). 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  3. ^ "Joanna (Adobe release)". MyFonts. Adobe. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d Harling, notes by Robert (1975). The Letter Forms and Type Designs of Eric Gill ([1st U.S. ed.]. ed.). Westerham, Kent: Published by Eva Svensson, and printed by the Westerham Press. pp. 51–8. ISBN 0-903696-04-5. 
  5. ^ Bates, Keith. "The Non Solus Story". K-Type. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  6. ^ "ITC Golden Cockerel". MyFonts. ITC. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  7. ^ Mosley, James (November 10, 2015). Lecture on Gill's work (Speech). 'Me & Mr Gill' talk. Old Truman Brewery, London. 
  8. ^ Dearden, James (1973). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science: Claude Garamond. New York u.a.: Dekker. pp. 196–199. ISBN 978-0-8247-2109-1. Retrieved 11 December 2015. 
  9. ^ Hardwig, Florian. "Brave New World 1965 Penguin edition". Fonts In Use. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Aid for the Collection on Eric Gill, 1887–2003.
  11. ^ Morris, Sallie (November 6, 2015). Lecture on Gill's typefaces (Speech). 'Me & Mr Gill' talk. Old Truman Brewery, London. 
  12. ^ Thomson, Mark. "Visions of Joanna". Eye Magazine. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  13. ^ Matteson, Steve. "Type Q&A: Steve Matteson from Monotype". Monotype. Retrieved 4 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Kobayashi, Akira. "Akira Kobayashi on FF Clifford". FontFeed. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "Details for Joanna Nova font family at". Monotype GmbH. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  16. ^ Mosley, James (2001). "Review: A Tally of Types". Journal of the Printing History Society. 3, new series: 63–67. Monotype Joanna is crudely drawn by comparison with the original type made for Gill - without any intervention from Morison so far as one can tell - by the Caslon foundry. 
  17. ^ Jones, Ben. "Joanna Nova". MyFonts. Monotype. Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  18. ^ Weinzierl, Terrance. "Joanna Sans Nova MT". MyFonts. Monotype. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  19. ^ "Martin Majoor Type Design". 
  20. ^ Coles, Stephen. "Top Ten Typefaces Used by Book Design Winners". FontFeed. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  21. ^ "Seal and Signature usage guidelines" (PDF). DHS. US government. Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  22. ^ Coles, Stephen. "Fonts in use: Scala". Fonts in Use. 
  • Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Hartley & Marks: 1992. ISBN 0-88179-033-8.
  • Dodd, Robin. From Gutenberg to Open Type. Hartley & Marks: 2006. ISBN 0-88179-210-1.
  • Friedl, Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7.
  • Kindserley, David. Mr. Eric Gill: Further Thoughts by an Apprentice. Cardozo Kindersley Editions: 1967, 1982. ISBN 0-9501946-5-4.
  1. ^ Harling assesses it as having failed to appeal for lack of differentiation from Perpetua in small sizes, and lacking the 'aggressive qualities' of display-focused slab serifs in larger ones.[4]
  2. ^ This is actually the original form of italics: until the later sixteenth century, capitals remained upright. This makes sense given historical precedent, as italics derive from slanted handwriting but capital letters from upright Roman square capitals. A famous example of this style of italic with upright capitals is the work of Arrighi in Rome, which also inspired French printers of the sixteenth century.[8]

External links[edit]