Didot Type Specimen


Print / Adobe Illustrator / 2015 / Individual Project


Our aim was to showcase a particular typeface through extension of gestalt concepts, document hierarchy, typography, and color. Each poster was required to have content such as the name of the typeface, designer, year founded, a full character set, and a brief overview of the typeface’s design, history, and context. Overall, I enjoyed experimenting with various iterations of my designs, and chose the poster above as my final composition.

Early Iterations

I began by taking a more traditional and conservative approach to the typeface. Didot is one of the most recognizable modern types ever created. It exudes a luxurious elegance that few typefaces can content with. It’s used extensively in the world of fashion and its dramatic weight contrasts command attention. In the following few sections, I outline the process behind an iteration that I did not chose for my final piece. The ideas within it, however, significantly influenced my final iteration.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.01.59 PM

Above is a very early iteration for the title. I had a blown-up, low-opacity ampersand in the background that would later be removed to enhance simplicity. I included the tagline, “Fashionable for over 200 years” because Didot is used by fashion giants such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in their logos. The “Paris” subtitle was used as an acknowledgement to popular fashion as well—many brands include their birth-city on their designs.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.02.07 PM

Next, I began to explore how to incorporate the character set. Above, I did the simplest configuration I could think of: one line with all uppercase alphabetical characters, and another line with the lowercase ones. This sort of unembellished layout exemplifies the clean and crisp nature of Didot. Below the character set, I was just playing around with some of the letter forms.


Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.19.30 PM

Above is a screenshot of the top half of one of my iterations, mid-way through the process. I thought my early versions of the title looked too cramped and disproportionate. I significantly decreased the character size in the title, changed the weight to bold, and adjusted the kerning to give each letter ample room to breathe. The differences were drastic, and I realized that Didot is a typeface that shines when it’s given generous amounts of whitespace.

This prompted me to radically alter the way I presented the character set. I realized that a strict grid system would be more suitable. Instead of two unstructured lines of 26, I switched to a grid consisting of 4 rows of 13 columns. The arrangement was still able to preserve distinction between uppercase and lowercase—there was no case-mixing as a result of a strict grid layout. Furthermore, I divided the 13 columns into 3 groups. I thought that aligning each group with “Paris”, “Firmin Didot,” and “1783” would increase the sense of order even more. (I would later revert this decision).

In addition, I added a series of lines that flank the title. On each side of the title, I added two lines—one thick and one thin. The thin line was a mere 0.5 pt while the thick line was 3.o pt. This significant contrast was made in order to exemplify the contrast between thick and thin in the typeface itself. The lines also create a nice separation between the title and the rest of the poster.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.19.38 PM

At this point, I also added the numeric and special characters. I chose to not use a grid this time, as there were not enough elements to justify the use of a grid.



For my final first iteration, I decided to reverse black and white. I felt that this made the inherent contrasts of the type even more dramatic. As stated before, I changed the grid back to a 4 x 13. I also added my content paragraphs. Formatting these two paragraphs was particularly cumbersome. I wanted both sides to be justified such that each paragraph looked like a perfect rectangle. This was to preserve the overall grid of the poster. In order to achieve this without significant hyphenation, I first modified the content of the text. I would take out words, rearrange sentences, and replaced some phrases with synonyms that better adhered to the grid. As a result, I only had to hyphenate three words, and I was able to entirely preserve the strict grid I had established. The large quotation marks were a stylistic decision I made to enhance the aesthetic quality and draw visual interest to the content paragraphs.

The general layout of the poster was created with special attention to symmetry and balance. At the top and bottom, the tagline and numeric character set are narrower than the elements they enclose. This gives the appearance of the poster tapering in and out as the eye scans from top to bottom. The middle elements, which consist of the title, character set, and paragraph content, are roughly the same width. All element groups are centered on the poster, and each is given ample whitespace to separate it from the others.

I think the result is a fair presentation of Didot. Though monochromatic, the poster makes use of variable contrast to create visual interest. The strong grid is indicative of Didot’s almost scientific construction. Finally, the generous use of whitespace (or in this case, blackspace) allows each element ample room to breathe.

New Explorations

In class, we’re often told not to fall in love with our first iterations. As I was creating the first iteration, I was exploring various other ideas on the side as well. The thing about Didot that I liked the most is its nearly interchangeable use of serifs.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 4.07.47 PM

Above are a few early explorations I made. On the left, I overlaid an ‘f’ on a ‘d’. The vertical stems overlap entirely. In the middle, the contours of the ‘e’ fit perfectly into the contour of the ‘o’. On the right, the arm of the ‘T’ fits neatly into the arm of the ‘Z’.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 4.15.13 PM

Some letterforms were even more dramatic. The ‘c’ and ‘o’, for example, fit beautifully together, with the ‘c’s serif extending just outside the ‘o’s outline. I wanted to create a design that exemplified how Didot’s characters fit so well together. Naturally, the most meaningful combination of characters would involve ‘d’, ‘i’, ‘o’, and ‘t’. As seen above, these letters fit nearly perfectly together as well.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 4.23.33 PM

I decided to overlay the four characters that spell ‘didot’ and play around with color. My instructor provided me with an interesting idea to use CMYK colors. For example, I made the ‘d’, ‘i’, and ‘o’ the three primary colors: cyan, yellow, and magenta, respectively. This meant any overlap would produce some secondary color. This created an interesting visual effect.

I moved the name of the typeface, designer, and other information to the side, and decreased their sizes. Now, the main focus of the poster would be the colored letters and not the name. Since the inclusion of color lightens the overall mood, I changed the words to be lowercase.

Final piece

Final piece

In the final iteration, I modified the colors a bit more. Making the ‘o’ yellow made the composition too bright, so I colored the ‘i’ yellow instead, as the space it took up was significantly less. By changing the blend mode to multiply, I could get a better mixing of color as well. I added the 4 x 13 character grid from my previous iteration, and modified the content paragraphs to fit in the remaining space.

My final composition was a drastic departure from my previous iteration, which was much more stoic. Both compositions, however, share many similar design themes. Both emphasize the dramatic line contrasts found in Didot, and it’s modern and elegant style. In the end, I chose the poster with color, as I felt the overlaid characters provided more visual interest and meaning.

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