The Parmigiano Typographic System

Parmigiano is a typographic system introduced in 2013 to celebrate the spirit of Giambattista Bodoni, 200 years after his death. The several styles of the Latin alphabet which are in progress are to be joined by many non-Latin scripts, and thanks to the contribution of designers from all over the world Parmigiano is already a group project.

Bodoni’s roman types followed the so-called ‘modern’ trend of his time which was started in the late 18th century by his main competitors, the Didot family in Paris. Thin, horizontal serifs, vertical axes, high contrast between thick and thin strokes and round terminations on certain lowercase letters are the main features of these faces.

Bodoni experimented with variations in the details and proportions of his roman letters. In his Manuale Tipografico, published by his widow in 1818, we find 142 series of romans and there are several shapes for a, g, s, and other letters. Given this variety, to talk of a single Bodoni font seems illusory. The idea most designers have of Bodoni is based on the ATF Bodoni, designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1910 – the first face to take the name of Bodoni and the most important revival with that name. Benton was inspired by the original types but he also had to meet financial and mechanical limitations Bodoni would never have accepted. The result is a masterful synthesis which is more vigorous but less modulated and less ‘organic’ than any of Bodoni’s romans.

While designing Parmigiano we eschewed a philological approach and kept a distance from Benton’s and other 20th Century designs. Our intention was to interpret Bodoni according to contemporary taste. We retained some of the recurring details of his work but the proportions of the letters, the styles and other design decisions are entirely contemporary.

The 5 serif styles of Parmigiano

While representing the stylistic variety of Latin letters cut by Bodoni, we changed the proportions of the bowls of a, e and g, the softness of the arches and other minor details. Thus, variations among different styles are not just optical, as may be found in many large font families, but morphological too.

Parmigiano Rough, Caption, Text, Headline and Fine

The results are contemporary designs that aspire to be irreverent descendants of Bodoni’s letterforms. Bodoni never cut slab serifs or sans (these styles came in a few years after his death); neither did he cut typewriter or stencil styles which were introduced many decades later. Slab serifs were distant from the grace and grandeur that Bodoni strived for. The Parmigiano Rough style, with its rather clumsy proportions belongs to that same period; it is a parody of 19th century typefaces, a gross and ungraceful workhorse. Bodoni never cut such shapes and we can presume that he would feel offended by our choices. A good example can be found at Journal of Stress Management website.

Parmigiano Sans, Egyptian, Typewriter and Stencil

Nonetheless we cannot deny the influence of Bodoni’s work in the specimens that follow. In the 19th century, when other punchcutters followed in his footsteps, the typefaces that they produced would have angered Bodoni even more than ours.