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What are Meta Fonts?

Meta Fonts are a dynamic typographic system designed by Erik Spiekermann, revolutionizing how we interact with text. They adapt to various contexts, enhancing readability and aesthetic appeal across digital and print media. As fonts that respond to their environment, they're reshaping design norms. Imagine fonts that change just as fluidly as the world around us—what possibilities does that open up for you?
S.A. Keel
S.A. Keel

The meta fonts are a family of typefaces with strong calligraphic features, not to be confused with the metafont programming language. The characters that make up the fonts have some variation to their line widths and are very readable. For this reason, the family of fonts is referred to as a humanist sans serif font style. The font family is frequently referred to by name of the library it belongs to, FF Meta®, and has found international acclaim among graphic designers, with extensive use as a corporate typeface.

The original design for the meta fonts came about in 1985 when the London-based Sedley Place Design firm was hired by the Deutsche Bundespost, the German Post Office, to create a complete corporate design. Part of this involved a new typeface that would serve on stamps, packaging, and fleet vehicles for identification purposes. For this reason, it needed to be highly legible at a range of sizes, easily printable on a variety of paper stock, and have distinct characters. The font's original conception and design was handled by Erik Spiekermann, who worked at the Berlin office for Sedley Place Design. The Bundespost eventually decided to forgo the use of a new font family, and so the meta fonts were temporarily abandoned.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Spiekermann, however, decided to continue work on the meta fonts through his own font foundry, FontShop International (FSI). He recreated the fonts by scanning the original outlines into a computer for reworking, and subsequently published them as part of the FontFont library. FF Meta® was released in 1991, with normal, small capitals and bold versions for the family. Within a year, an italic and bold-style small capitals set of characters was added, and the font rapidly grew in popularity throughout the rest of the decade. Ultimately, the sans serif FF Meta® family grew to nearly 50 different styles and weights, including a Cyrillic version that was released in 2001.

Throughout the 1990s, while the sans serif meta fonts were gaining in use, Spiekermann struggled to create a serif version of the font. He was often forced to recommend other typefaces that would complement FF Meta® in a single design, such as Swift™ or Minion™. Eventually, he recruited Christian Schwartz and Kris Sowersby to help with the new serif design.

The initial serif versions contained the same x height, the height of an "x" character from the baseline, as the original meta fonts, but the serifs on the new characters were still overpowering. The design team finally decided to adjust the metrics of the meta serif family so that even though the serif characters didn't match the sans serif meta fonts mathematically, they were still perceived as the same. In 2007, the FF Meta® serif family was released.

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