Didot: Characteristics, Personality, Rhythm & Flow

c studio mini: fall 2020

Sarah Xi
10 min readSep 26, 2020

9/25/2020: Part 1 Essay

  • Create a list of adjectives that describe your typeface.
  • Use that list to develop a narrative and sequence to introduce selected typeface and family.
  • Write a 1–2 page essay that highlights the unique characteristics and personality of selected typeface — in the context of its use and relation to its larger family (if applicable).
  • Then create a 50–65 word brief statement that encapsulates what was learned from the essay.

Additional things to consider in the narrative:

  • Name of typeface + family
  • Name of designer(s), country of origin, and date of design
  • Type classification, expressive qualities, personality
  • Description of visual characteristics of family
  • List or description of various weights + slants of the family

Initial Research:

There was a video Vicki showed us in class that I thought was interesting. It was a nice animated short of a typography history recap.

This made my realize that I wasn’t really familiar with the more technical aspects of typography, such as the different classifications, types of serif/sans serifs. As such, I decided to some more digging before looking into the specifics of my selected typeface.

Types of Type Classifications:

There are many different sub-types of type classifications within serif and sans serif typefaces. Here are a few that I looked into specifically under the serifs category:

  • Old Style: Oldest typefaces, known for diagonal stresses on letterforms, character stroke weight is not dramatic.
  • Transitional: Typefaces represent the transition between old style and neoclassical designs, incorporates some characteristics from each. Strokes of letterforms oftentimes have a vertical stress, although axis of curve strokes can be inclined as well. Thick and thin strokes are more pronounced than old style serifs, but less than modern serifs.
  • Modern (aka Neoclassical + Didone): Have a more pronounced contrast between thick and thin lines in letterforms, axis of curved strokes is vertical with little to no bracketing, earliest typefaces date back to late 1700’s.
  • Slab/Square: Gained popularity in 1800’s for advertising display, typefaces have very heavy serifs with little to no bracketing, also have very little stroke contrast.


  • Flat, unbracketed, hairline serifs
  • Vertical and horizontal stress
  • Some letterforms have teardrop terminals
  • Skinnier counters
  • Regularized capital widths
  • Average x-height


9/29/2020: Thumbnail Sketching + Exploration

Thumbnail Notes:

  • All these thumbnails are iterations of the same concept: having kinetic type on the spread.
  • Maybe explore the more fashion, editorial side, along with historical — see what you like.
  • Try thumbnails that highlight the image?
  • Try thumbnails that highlight image?
  • Experiment with thumbnails that feel more editorial? (think fashion, vogue, harper’s bazaar)
(above) experimentation with leading etc.
(above) applying essay into columns

Matching typefaces:

  • Proxima Nova: size and x-height feels readable/appropriate.
  • Avenir: shorter x-height, flatter? letterforms than Proxima, kerning is tighter, a bit harder to read.
  • Helvetica Neue: letterforms are bigger (need to size down), higher x-height and thicker than Proxima and Avenir (x-height too high makes it hard to read).
  • Open Sans: Thinner, avg. x-height and large typeface, tracking tight like Avenir.

Since Didot is more of a serif, display typeface, I ended up looking at sans serif typefaces to match with it. After looking at various sans serif typefaces, I ended up picking Proxima Nova because it was more readable + legible than the others no matter if it was set really small or big in size.

Editing Essay:

10/2/2020: Explorations Cont.

Before discussion what to do next with Vicki and Jaclyn, I had started expanding some of my previously started explorations:

(above) exploration including image of Firmin Didot
(left) 120% larger; (right) 140% larger
(left) capitalized D in Didot; (right) Didot in all caps — emulating how Didot was used in the past

Discussion with Vicki + Jaclyn:

  • Idea of exploring a more ‘editorial’ feel is interesting, how would you do it?
  • Tidbits would be nice.
  • Look into fashion photography (i.e. black and white photography etc).
  • Would you be more interested in a spread with a historical figure’s face on it or fashion photo?
  • Even though Firmin Didot is the creator, the spread is about the typeface, not the designer.
  • Does ‘Didot’ letterforms have to connect?
  • Manually tab your paragraphs!!!1!!
  • Does Didot have to be largest? Could have a large image with small Didot surrounded by negative space and highlighted by red.
  • Open it up, try out historical and fashion direction of spreads, see what you like.
  • Remember to do loose sketchy thumbnails.
  • Colors we associate with ‘fashion’: magentas, reds, pinks, purple, warm colors.
  • Experiment with shape of body text — how can it relate to selected image? (Look @Alexey Brodovitch’s work).
(left) pointed out that top ‘i’ overlaps to second page while lower ‘d’ is cut off—interesting; (right) ‘didot’ isn’t really readable but interesting composition.

After the discussions, it cleared my indecisiveness in what approach I wanted to take with Didot. Originally, it was either Didot and its origins from metal letter typing presses or its current presence in fashion. Vicki’s comment/question of whether people would be more interested in looking at Firmin Didot’s face or a fashion oriented photograph made a good point. A point that perhaps focusing solely on history may not intrigue the reader to the text as much.

And so, I created a folder dedicated to fashion photography. Majority of the images I found came from https://www.jumbophotographe.com/, website of a fashion photographer based in Tokyo and Beijing who has worked for numerous companies like Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar.

(above) compilation of fashion photography

All explorations with select images:

Out of all the iterations I did, I was more drawn to two compositions.

(left) composition 1; (right) composition 2

In the first composition, I thought the interaction the word Didot had with the image was effective. In addition to that, the ‘o’ and ‘t’ switching colors helped bring interest to the page, while the letters that spell out “Didot” led the eye to the body copy.

In the second version, I tried a different image and shifted it more towards the center to break the strictly ‘half-half’ composition seen a lot in my past iterations. However, the letter ‘d’ in black on the far left began to get distracting as it was too much of a stand alone.

(left) composition 1; (right) composition 2
(left) looking at placement of short statement; (right) making the pull quote smaller and aligning with the cross of the ‘t’
(above) composition 1 printed untrimmed


  • The red on the ‘Didot” printed out more vibrant than anticipated.
  • Surprisingly, the white border around the first page made the overall spread feel a bit more harmonious — more breathable room on first page
  • Placement of “didot” in composition 2 felt successful, however, overall layout including text felt a bit cramped to the right — no room for additional content.

10/6/2020: In-Class Critique

In class, we paired up with someone else and swapped spreads for feedback (via a Google Form). I paired with Caitlyn, who had the typeface Helvetica.


Feedback from Jaclyn and Vicki:


  • Could consider adding centered headers on each page, in the same red i.e. “DIDOT TYPEFACE” in small.
  • Smaller weight for bolded text in center of second page.
  • Can consider fixing rag.
  • The composition using the black and white image felt like it took the ‘fashion’ connection a bit too far: expects to see the ‘Chanel’ brand rather than a Didot typeface.


  • Visually pushing the eye.
  • Left side does give a subtle sophisticated feel.
  • If a non-designer saw this spread, how to show modulation, the vertical stress etc? Add translucent circles to emphasize characteristics? Tip of letterform ‘t’ is very unique to Didot.
  • You want to encourage us to read the text, pull quote should be the CORE idea of text.
  • Experiment with the hang line of the paragraphs.
  • Think about placement of image source and page numbers/potential headers.
  • Goal is for typographic readability.
  • Think about how this spread might translate over to next project, type animation.

Tweaking For Final Critique:

Before the final critique, I had a list of things I wanted to tweak on my spread. This included editing the pull quote (as it didn’t need quotations since it came directly from my own words), adding image source, page numbers, and shifting some element(s) on the page in general.

(left) Pull quote from text on characteristics of Didot; (right) No more quote, added statement related to fashion to make better sense with overall spread feel.
(left) image source on right side of page (too much visual clutter); (right) bottom left corner of page, more subtle.
(above) shifted “Sophisticated, with a hint of grandeur” next to page number and sized smaller for less distraction.

Alternate Version:

(above) highlighting characteristics of Didot
  • Definitely highlights personality of Didot more.
  • May be a bit unclear what some of the indicators are pointing to.
  • Highlight on letterform ‘t’ may feel a bit left out.
  • May be a bit too much on the page??? (but also a tad too empty without it) :(
(above) where the eye goes on the page

Final Spread for Critique + Version with Grid:

(above) final
(above) with grid

Critique Notes for Didot:

  • First glance, can tell it is associated with fashion.
  • Visually, nice to look at (clean).
  • Break on ‘Didot’ (with color change) feels a bit unnatural.
  • The interaction with ‘Didot’ + person in image creates nice movement with text on second page.

General notes:

  • If you’re going to do something playful/artistic, adding a subtle header that let’s them know what it is exactly resolves potential confusion (i.e. Chris’s Serifa spread)
  • Think about natural breaks, including in body copy (hyphens etc), you can think of it as a designer (“oh they aren’t anywhere near each other at least”), but you have to read it to see if its natural or not.
  • Think about if image is taking too much away from expressing the type.


Overall, I enjoyed doing and seeing other people’s work on this project. Even though I initially struggled to decide on what path to take (historical or fashionable) for Didot, I’m glad that I went a more modern (literally) route as it really spoke out me and my personal tastes. I enjoyed bringing back the concepts of grid and hierarchy, but also learning and focusing more on the text itself with typography. That being said, my final spread for critique ended up being very minimalistic, and there are no obvious indicators/sections that showcase the characteristics of Didot or ‘graphical theme’ outside of change in color/text composition that indicated to Didot’s personality. Looking at other people’s spread made me wish I tried being a little more creative in composing my spread. It also made me wonder if maybe I focused too hard on the specific fashion vibe that may have led me to iterating on a specific style. However, after thinking about it some more, I‘ve come to terms that that the main goal is to get the people to be intrigued to read the text rather than purely get noticed from afar. And since this is the theme I decided to go with, it was perfectly fine as it is. (Although… I know this’ll give me some challenges in brainstorming for the next animation project oop.)

P.S. Even though my spread wasn’t talked about as much as others during critique, I found that some of the comments given to others was very mind opening. One piece of advice in particular that stuck out to me (that I’m now trying to always keep at the back of my mind), is to not worry too much and let loose in your idea making. Sometimes, we all like to stay in our comfort zone, but by exploring and venturing out, you may come across something interesting to play with. :)

I have reached a new high~

Revised Final Spread:



Sarah Xi

Hey! I’m currently studying design @CMU with a focus on communications design + minor in HCI. You can find some of the projects I’ve worked on here.