Bell Centennial Font 1978
Bell Centennial is a sans-serif typeface designed by Matthew Carter in the period 1975–78.
In 1976, AT&T commissioned the design of a new typeface whose sole purpose would be for use in their telephone directories. The design had to solve multiple technical and visual problems related with the existing phonebook typeface, Bell Gothic. The solution, named in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary, was Bell Centennial.
Bell Centennial font was designed specifically for AT&T, as mentioned earlier, by Matthew Carter at Mergenthaler to replace Bell Gothic with a typeface that made effective use of digital typesetting technology, Bell Centennial gets several more lines per page than Bell Gothic, reduces calls to information because of its significantly higher legibility under hostile printing conditions, saving AT&T many millions of dollars per year.
Bell Centennial is a condensed sans-serif design that sustains legibility at very small sizes, allows for clear information structures, is efficient on space, and accommodates for hostile production conditions; all while keeping to an intended typographic style.
Since the intended final use was so specific, the restrictions on the design were extremely harsh, down to the minimum thousandth-of-an-inch in stroke weight, but this was all solved through careful planning and extreme attention to detail.
The phone book’s production methods greatly affected the design of Bell Centennial. To start with, CRT composition removed the limitation imposed by the Linotype requiring the same letter in different weights to be the same width; i.e., the light M no longer had to be the same width as the bold M.
With this freedom, Carter was able to improve the clarity of visual hierarchy between all weights in the family. He made the Name & Number face heavier and wider, increasing its prominence over other information. Also, the width of the less prominent Address face was decreased; a reduction that would more than make up for the added width of the Name & Number face. This allowed more information to fit in a small space, thus saving paper, print time, shipping, and consequently, huge amounts of money.
Here are some examples of Bell Centennial in use;