Back story: Ever wonder what the city of Geneva would look like as a typeface (no, we don’t mean that early bitmap font that came with our first-gen Macs, though aww)? During the late 1500s Geneva was a highly respected center of European print culture, thanks to John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation, which spawned a prolific stream of writers and a steady stream of work for the city’s master pressmen.
While studying at Geneva’s Haute École d’Art et Design, designer Fermin Guerrero dug deep into typographic history to create Thesaurus, a type project he later returned to after finishing a Master’s degree in typeface design at the University of Reading. Guerrero’s typeface was inspired by the work of Robert Estienne and his son Henri, the 16th century printers, editors, and publishers of the famous Thesaurus Græcæ Linguæ, a four-volume Greek thesaurus (plus two supplements!) published in 1572.
Why’s it called Thesaurus? The typeface is named after the Estiennes’ magnum opus.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? “Thesaurus blends features of the original metal types used by the Estiennes with more contemporary characteristics such as a large x-height, narrower forms, and increased modulation,” Guerrero says. “The result is a charismatic typeface with a unique flavor, with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. Because the details of the original letterforms were influenced by the mechanics of the printing process (the texture of the paper, the type, and amount of ink, the amount of pressure, etc.), there were numerous versions of each to choose from; in some cases I worked from a single example, and in other cases I took details from several versions to create a composite.”
Thesaurus is a versatile family, with 12 styles (and more to come), four cuts, and two optical sizes. The Roman, Italic, and Display styles look very different from one another because the designer wanted each to have its own personality. Some resourcefulness was needed to create the Display, Black Roman, and Black Italic styles, as there was no reference for inspiration—the first high contrast display typefaces arrived in the 18th century, and the first related bold types date to the early 19th century. “Instead of seeing this as a restriction or an obstacle, I felt that having the opportunity to imagine how these styles would look was a nice challenge that provided more room for innovation,” says Guerrero.
What should I use it for? Thesaurus is a great fit for any project that needs a wide range of text options, as its inherent variety of forms prevents boredom while steering clear of chaos. Some styles feel more staid while others are definitely more fun-loving.
Who’s it friends with? Guerrero sees a low-contrast, narrow sans serif, such as Mote or Tempera, as good companion text faces. Of course, Thesaurus Display is designed to pair beautifully with Thesaurus Text, but for headline options with even more contrast Guerrero suggests a Didone, such as Karloff Positive, or an Inscribed/Engraved inspired typeface like Albertus—especially when set in all caps.