Review a font: Friz Quadrata

Review a font: Friz Quadrata

My first font review of Adobe Caslon Pro turned out to be a popular read, so I’m definitely going to make a series out of this. I don’t plan to discuss the history or context of particular fonts,  or at least not immediately: all I want to do is pick out fonts that I think look interesting, and talk about what catches my interest, and why.

So, the next entry in our little tour will be about Friz Quadrata.

This font has popped up in a lot of places, but I only first noticed it and paid attention to it when I (tried to) read Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstatder. Visiting Amazon and reviewing the interior of the book shows that chapter titles and headings within the book are in this font. However, I only realized a few days ago that you can see this font in action on almost any daytime TV station. Behold – it’s the font used for pretty much every Law & Order series!

Reading Wikipedia lead to further enlightenment, as I found out that it’s also the main font used for character names and in-game figures for World of Warcraft. Considering I played that game constantly for more than two years, you’d think I’d have noticed that, but no. WoW videos abound, but there’s so much happening on screen in a lot of them that seeing the font in action is difficult. However, you can easily find several examples of it in play on YouTube, or the video host of your choice.

So here’s a picture (taken from Identifont, which is a wonderful typography resource) that shows what Friz Quadrata looks like:

Friz Quadrata, in all its gloryFirst things first, this is  a serif font, just like Caslon last time. However, it’s a serif font that could easily be mistaken for sans-serif, since the serifs themselves are so small. As well, like a lot of sans-serif fonts, there is very little variation in line width between strokes in different directions on the same character – for example, compare the capital “W” above with the capital “W” in Times New Roman. The capital “W” in Times clearly shows that the diagonal strokes going from southeast to northwest are easily twice as wide as the diagonal strokes going from southwest to northeast.

I believe that this lack of variation in stroke width is part of what makes Friz Quadrata look so distinctive – it’s ostensibly a serif font, but it’s dressed in the somewhat more utilitarian clothing of a typical sans-serif font. It looks robust and clean, but the infinitesimal serifs on the end give it a really refined, if somewhat blocky, look.

Contributing to this blockiness are the proportions of the ascenders and descenders compared to the font’s x-height – it looks like they are approximately half the length of the x-height. Part of me wonders whether these proportions are meant to approximate the Golden Ratio in any way, but I have no way of measuring that currently. It would be an interesting property, wouldn’t it?

However, the thing I find truly interesting about Friz Quadrata are the open bowls on certain characters – “bowl” being the term for the circular or oval shape of letters like “c” and “o” and “b.” Some bowls will always remain open – the letter “c” for instance. However, in Friz Quadrata, bowls that normally stay closed remain open: the lowercase “a,” “b,” “d,” “p,” and “q,” and the numbers “6” and “9.” I’m sure fonts that incorporate this typographic feature are common, but this is the only one I really know. Furthermore, the bowls don’t do a full vertical stop before they reach the stems they would normally connect with. Instead, they gradually taper. This is a subtle feature, and one that really makes this font so distinctive in comparison to other fonts.

In my review of the Caslon font, I mentioned that the tail of the capital “Q” stuck out dramatically from the rest of the letters, like a peacock fan. I’m going to say that in parallel, the open bowls are Friz Quadrata’s “peacock” feature – unusual and distinctive.

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