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Typefacial Recognition (#3) – Harmonix

Company: Harmonix Used in: Product Logo, in-game content Typeface: ITC Avant Garde Font: Standard, Bold, Gothic
Many logos, in-game text, and art assets use fonts that are common to most home computers or readily available on the internet. ‘Typefacial Recognition’ is a series that will uncover and shed some light on these fonts.

Since the inception of the franchise in 2007, the Rock Band series has made heavy use of a particular typeface family to present its unique brand of cartoonish, retro, tattoo shop-inspired aesthetic. This has continued into Harmonix’ latest offering with Dance Central and is at the center of this typeface’s revival in the recent years. Appropriate then that ITC Avant Garde (or just ‘Avant Garde’) is of all things, a typeface with a strong musical and artistic history.

Around 2006 Avant Garde enjoyed a sudden explosion in popularity; the why and the how of this is lost to me other than it was potentially a by-product of the ever increasing focus on graphical styles and motifs from the 1980s at the time. This correlates with the development timeline when the aesthetic and art design choices were being made for Rock Band, released a year later in 2007. The typeface is everywhere in the game and its sequels. The easiest and most obvious place to start is the game’s logo itself. A uniquely modified setting of Avant Garde Gothic Bold:

Rock Band logo and approximate overlay of Avant Garde Gothic Pro Bold

Beyond the game’s packaging design the typeface is prevalent throughout all facets of the game, even appearing in its entirety for use in the logo creator tool. As I mentioned previously Harmonix has gone on to utilize the typeface even in Dance Central, most notably spotted in the menus and as the flash card titles on the right-hand side of the in-game UI.

Rock Band 2
Music Store menu
Rock Band 2
Photo creator tool
Rock Band 1
Difficulty Selection screen
Rock Band iPhone
Song purchase

Beyond the game’s packaging design the typeface is prevalent throughout all facets of the game, even appearing in its entirety for use in the logo creator tool. As I mentioned previously Harmonix has gone on to utilize several fonts of the Avant Garde typeface in Dance Central, most notably spotted in the menus and as the flash card titles on the right-hand side of the in-game UI.

Dance Central Logo Dance Central – Song selection screen Dance Central – In-game space

About the Typeface

Originally created in the late 1960s as a logotype for the magazine of the same name, Avant Garde Gothic was developed into a fully-fledged typeface in 1970 after rising demand in the graphic design community. Containing a “text” version and a “headline” version, Avant Garde went on to become one of the most ubiquitous fonts used in the 1970s and 80s much to the chagrin of its original designer Herb Lubalin who felt that the font’s ligatures were used incorrectly by most designers and became tarnished by its over-saturation. It is fairly impossible to open a magazine from between 1975 and the late 1980s and not see Avant Garde used somewhere in its pages.

Avant Garde magazine cover

The typeface itself is heavily influenced by both Futura and Kabel, typefaces; both having been designed and released in 1927. Century Gothic, designed in 1991, resembles all of the above as it too uses a very rounded and clean style seen in the other typefaces. The “ITC” in the full name of “ITC Avant Garde Gothic” stands for International Typeface Corporation

Its important to note that until 2005, the “complete” version of Avant Garde Gothic was not available as a digital font. Prior to the release of “Avant Garde Gothic Pro” the OpenType version of Avant Garde was the “text” version only; it did not contain the many uniquely designed ligatures and shapes contained in the original “headline” letter set. I the magazine logo above, the “AVA” and “GA” are ligatures specifically designed to appear that way. The “text” version of the font is spaced for legibility and does not contain these the uniquely slanted or combined letterforms.

Avant Garde Medium typeface
(text version)
Avant Garde special ligatures

Lubalin was no stranger to breaking the conventional rules of design of the day, and Avant Garde as a short-lived publication focused mainly on exactly what its name implies: poignant, opinionated, and boundary-pushing creativity. In the decade that followed its creation, the typeface received Condensed and italic versions and was utilized on everything from movie posters, advertisements, concert flyers, and television commercials; just about anything related to the arts and entertainment was touched by Avant Garde at some point.

Oxygene – album cover using Avant Garde
w/ ligatures (1976)
Billboard Magazine logo
(1984)
Ad using Avant Garde
(1985)
Altered States movie poster
(1980)

At the time of its release, Rock Band exploded onto the gaming scene.  An improvement over the then single instrument Guitar Hero series, the game was a hit critically and commercially, ensuring that it’s prominent use of Avant Garde was seen almost everywhere a television existed.  I certainly remember seeing the font crop up in all kinds of places after the fall of 2007.

Below are a few examples of Avant Garde as seen after the release of Rock Band:

America’s Best Dance Crew logo To Write Love On Her Arms logotype Travis – The Man Who album cover Eric Prydz – Pjanoo EP cover

Just as it became the flagship typeface for the entertainment industry and subsequently abused by the commercial machine at-large in the 1970s and 80s, Avant Garde has experienced a similar arc in the first decade of the 21st century. Regardless of its saturated use in the culture of today, Harmonix’s place as a front-runner for its use has been cemented. Their games stand as prime examples of how far a singular typeface family can be used (with the use of its many fonts) and most obviously, Avant Garde just looks good in the Rock Band and Dance Central franchise entries.

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Posted in Dance Central, Interface/UI, Logos, Rock Band, Typography

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