An Italian Designer, A Deserted Island, And My Favorite Serif and Sans Serif Fonts That Are Timeless and Beautiful

Are you always in the lookout for new shiny and trendy fonts?

I shall confess: I do that too. It’s my only one of my design sins. I absolutely love type. Give me some free time and I’ll be looking at font catalogs for hours.

Massimo Vignelli – Via Wikimedia

But believe me –and I say this to myself too– you don’t really need that trendy new font to make exceptional designs.

Let me introduce you to Massimo Vignelli.

Massimo Vignelli was an Italian graphic, industrial and architecture designer. One of the most important designers of the 20th century. And he really made simplicity the ultimate ground for his work.

Does this map look familiar?

1972 NYC Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli – Via Flickr

It’s the NYC subway map designed by Vignelli himself in 1972, which became an undisputed symbol of modern information design.

And how about this logo?

American Airlines’ logo by Massimo Vignelli, used from 1967 to 2013 – Via Wikipedia

This is also Massimo Vignelli’s work. He designed it in 1967 and American Airlines used this same logo for 45 years.

Now, this guy -and please excuse my colloquialism- is also famous (and some times criticized) for sticking to just a few typefaces in everything he designed.

This is how I picture this…

Imagine you’re forced to move to a deserted island and you can only take with you 6 fonts (a normal everyday situation, amirite?).

That’s kind of what he did. Only a handful of fonts for everything.

And it went great for him, of course.

As Vignelli said in an interview:

“There are two main font families: serif (elzevirs) and sans-serif (grotesks). In both families there are some (few) great typefaces, the rest is commercial production. Among the serifs we have Garamond, Bodoni, Baskerville, Century Expanded, and Clarendon. Among the sans we have Futura, Gill Sans, Helvetica, Univers, and Optima. Sometimes it is possible to use a font with a weird look, but only to set a title or a logotype. There is no need to design a new font: What matters is the typographical structure, not the typeface!

–Massimo Vignelli for

[Ok, I had to google “elzevirs” myself – It’s a style of printing type with firm hairlines and stubby serifs, named after Lodewijk Elzevir, a Dutch printer born in 1540]


I don’t think I can massimo-vignelli my font toolbox that much, it would be too hard and too limiting for me.

But after over a decade of working in graphic and web design –and in Vignelli’s spirit– here’s what I did:

I finally sat down and put together a list of the noblest and most professional serif and sans serif typefaces that I think you can find out there.

And that are more than enough to cover almost every kind of design project you may work on.

So, in no particular order, let me introduce you to my favorite serif and sans serif typefaces that I think are both timeless and beautiful.

My Top Serif Fonts

Playfair Display





Libre Baskerville




Abril Display

Cormorant Garamond


IBM Plex Serif

Big Caslon



Source Serif Pro


My Top Sans Serif Fonts

Acumin Pro

Neue Haas Unica

Proxima Nova

Avenir Next

Nunito Sans


HK Grotesk


Work Sans


Open Sans




Helvetica Neue


Aktiv Grotesk



TT Commons


Bebas Neue

Cooper Hewitt


Franklin Gothic

The bottom line:

I’m so happy I put together this list. It’s like when…


Ok, I don’t think I can come up with an analogy. But I know I sleep better knowing there’s a list I can come to when I need to pick a safe, noble font.

Hope this is useful for you too.




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