Ampersands With Attitude

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By Huw Wilkins

Ampersands have long been the character in a typeface with which typographers can indulge themselves. Sweeping curves, flirtatious finishes and bold statements – these are the things that make ampersands an exciting character to use and, better still, to design.

Ampersands with attitude?

Can you spot what typeface is used to display the ampersand in the image above? Large view

There are, however, two problems. The first is that the English language gives us few situations to use such a daring character. We seldom get to show off these beautiful examples of typography. The second is that the poor little ampersand so often goes unnoticed.

Allow me to share with you my top 10 different styles of ampersands. Some are similar, but each have their own personality. In an effort to limit my sample selection, I have only chosen ampersands from freely available sans fonts.

1. Nilland

Nilland

Here we have a pretty run-of-the-mill ampersand. It comes from the font Nilland. You see this style in common fonts like Helvetica and Arial. It has the classic one piece figure-of-eight body. The little horizontal tail finishes this character off nicely, it seems to give a certain perkiness that it otherwise might have lacked.

2. Bitstream Vera Sans

Bitstream

You might recognise this style as well. This particular character comes from Bitstream Vera Sans. There are a few ways to look at this ampersand, and this is one of the reasons this character works so well. It looks like the ampersand above, only with the top right side of the figure-of-eight cut out (yet it actually ends up not looking very much like the above character). It also looks like a sweeping back-to-front 3 with a extension from the middle (you can see this better if you turn your head so your left ear is pressed against your shoulder).

3. BPmono

BPmono

This is where things start to get a little weird. Is it a ‘g’ gone wrong? Is it a swan? Is it a fishing hook? Actually it’s the ampersand from BPmono. I probably shouldn’t have likened it to a swan and a fish hook, because now you’re probably having a hard time seeing it for what it is… a sweet little ampersand with a cute tucked in style.

4. Kontrapunkt

Kontrapunkt

Here we have another style entirely. It’s an evolution of what you might see in handwriting. However, on paper the line would be drawn down the middle of the ‘E’ shape. This is the font Kontrapunkt, so it’s been given angles and a lovely boldness.

5. Diavlo

Diavlo

Diavlo is a great font with nice tips, and this character is no exception. At this size it looks like it has an oriental brush stroke style.

6. La Peruta FLF

LaPerutaFLF

Oh! I’m glad someone managed to prop up that eight before it fell over… wait let’s make that into an ampersand. LaPerutaFLF, with a name like that, you have to be cheeky.

7. Skia

Skia

Another more classical approach from Skia. The nice variation here is how the two halves intersect in that off-set way.

8. Tuffy

Tuffy

And. There’s no confusion here. It knows what it’s there to do and does it. Somehow, though, in this font it looks great. Nice one, Tuffy.

9. Lacuna

Lacuna

I’ve decided to finish off with two italicized ampersands. This one is from Lacuna and looks like some kind of crazy ‘e’. Somehow, with that cross bar and the horizontal plate at the end, it still ends up feeling like an ampersand.

10. Fontin

Fontin

And last, but certainly not least, here is the italicized ampersand from Fontin. It has a cheeky bulbous bottom and that classic plate finish.

So there we have it. 10 interesting takes on the ampersand. I hope you’ve been educated, I hope you have fallen in love with typography a little more, and I hope that next time you are creating a typeface you will be inspired to make an ampersand with attitude.

About the author

Huw Wilkins is the lead creative for a digital agency. He has a passion for user experience, usability, interfaces and good design. He also has a background in development. His little corner of the web is at huwshimi.com.


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  1. 1

    Really liked this, so many different variations on one little character.. Thats why I love typography..

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  2. 2

    Decent article, rated good for the typography exposure. Well-designed characters are always a plus in my book! :)

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  3. 3

    The first one is the only one that actually resembles an ampersand! The others either bear enough resemblance to other characters to cause confusion, or don’t look enough like an ampersand to be easily identifiable and could cause readers to wonder what character it actually is.

    Flash design is all well and good, but function must come first, no matter how funky the form is.

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  4. 4

    great examples
    i love the ampersand, and use it with fun
    also i do write them a lot per hand… just tried… i guess i failed… weird… first try came out a b…

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  5. 5

    You mention that number 9 looks like some kind of crazy e – it should! An ampersand is just a contracted version of the letters “et”, or French for “and”

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  6. 6

    Great article!

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  7. 7

    Dan Cederholm posted a similar article yesterday on Simple Bits showcasing Ampersands in different OSs

    http://www.simplebits.com/notebook/2008/08/14/ampersands.html

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  8. 8
  9. 9

    there must be dozens of these ‘ampersand’ articles, all of them simply copying the same ampersands from post to post.

    again, hard to believe these were among the ‘top 10′ articles selected?

    also, we’ve been seen these top 10 articles for days now, so it looks more like top 20 than top 10, is smashing magazine running on fumes now that it resorts to these quick, save the day kind of posts?

    hhmm…

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  10. 10

    Vitaly Friedman & Sven Lennartz

    August 15, 2008 7:41 am

    @Hector (#9): these are one of the last posts of the contest. Next week we’ll get back on track.

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  11. 11

    i was hoping for actually designed ampersand… not just characters from a bunch of fonts smashing mag has already posted…

    I do have my windows character map

    I’ve seen plenty of ampersands that have been modified and improved on in print / graphic design… why not focus on those

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  12. 12

    Is this the last guest article?
    I kinda expected better…

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  13. 13

    NaldzGraphics.com

    August 15, 2008 7:53 am

    im dont have an interest with ampersand.great effort anyways

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  14. 14

    Gordon [#3] is right on. Typography can be a wonderful way to make a statement. But when that statement is muddled by your typography being nearly unreadable or confusing, you’ve lost the whole point. Only a few of those ampersands even seemed like ampersands, and that’s to someone who knew this was an article on ampersands.

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  15. 15

    not French, but Latin

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  16. 16

    not wothy of my digg…

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  17. 17

    @hector, its the top 20 top 10 lists week ;)

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  18. 18

    Ampersands rocks! (my blog uses an ampersand in its logo)
    Another great post, thanks Smashing Mag.

    Joffrey,
    Geek&Hype

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  19. 19

    I kinda disagree with Gordon & Josh. I’d admit that, on their own some of those ampersands are funky enough to be a little confusing. But I believe that all of these are readily identifiable as ampersands when viewed in context.

    I’m drawn to ampersand as an easy, fun, & funky way to give your content a bit more of a personal & casual feel. I’ve tried not to overdo it, but the ampersand is peppered throughout my 2Dolphins site and used often within my blog posts.

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  20. 20
  21. 21

    “Can you spot what typeface is used to display the ampersand in the image above?”

    So what typeface was used on the large orange ampersand…did I miss the answer to this??

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  22. 22

    Actually, the second from the bottom most closely resembles the “traditional” ampersand, which is nothing more than a ligature for the latin “et al”. The word ampersand comes from ‘and per se and’.

    In a well designed font, the ampersand can be as “funky” as one wants, but should still fit in with the basic structure of the font (contrast, proportions, shape, etc…). If done right, one will be able to perceive it is an ampersand from context and from the shapes of other glyphs in the font.

    To myself, and from what I’ve heard from several type designers (of which I am not…yet), the ampersand is one of those glyphs that can be a personal “signature” for a font. Not to say one should sacrifice the function of the font (which may not always be just for reading in books), but it is a glyph designers tend to like having fun with.

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  23. 23

    I like this article. One of the more uncommon topics.

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  24. 24

    NIce Top 10 :) I really enjoyed it.

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  25. 25

    Well written and interesting. choices/topic. Really had the feel of a SM post. This post is a strong contender.

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  26. 26

    Catchy name and idea. Seems simplistic at first but once you start to delve you realise there’s potential for a top 100 – I’m glad it’s limited (free sans serif fonts). I agree that good typography cannot be confusing or unreadable. However, all of these characters – perhaps even Lacuna which comes dangerously close to resembling an “e” – would be neither confusing nor unreadable when in context. Look at any character long enough on a sea of blank space and you’ll be questioning its readability too!

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  27. 27

    Nice post! Thanks for drawing my attention to ampersands, I had never really looked at them in this light before. You quirky writing helped me see them in the fun light you obviously do!

    I also would have to say that none of these ampersands would be confusing in context. Even having the word ‘and’ by itself on a blank space could be considered confusing, but it unlikely ever to happen, so I think that’s a moot point.

    I’ll be paying more attention to ampersands from now on (just noticed the one in the footer on this page!)

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  28. 28

    Oh also, @Gabe Diaz, I got the impression it was a challenge for readers to work out, not a rhetorical question to be answered later in the post.

    I for one am stumped…

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  29. 29

    Great article! This was funny, informative, and quirky. It made me laugh, and it educated me on an interesting topic. Nice job!

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  30. 30

    Hrm, the above didn’t quite work…
    Great post.
    m/ >.

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  31. 31

    Great article. I can’t say I’ve ever particularly cared much about fonts (so long as it’s legible, I like it!). But I have to say this entertaining article has sparked my interest. The author was able to engage the interest of someone who never knew anything about (or cared about) the topic. Good work!

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  32. 32

    I’m only recently starting to take a major interest in typography. While I do love the graphic aspect of many of these samples, some are so stylized that they almost lose their function.

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  33. 33

    Great post. It really doesn’t matter if you agree which little ampersand is the cutest, this post is written in a style that excites interest and emotion for the subject … I’ll never look at an ampersand in the same way again . Great to see a font enthusiast with the writing flair of a wine buff. Good one Huw.

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  34. 34

    Enjoyed your post Huw … never knew an ampersand personally before.

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  35. 35

    This is a fantastic article. Your writing style really draws you in and smashes a simple character into a fabulous series of stories and oddities. Thanks. Keep it up! (I’ve tried so hard not to care about things like font – but you just broke me)

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  36. 36

    Just the article we need! We’ve decided to emphasize the ampersand for our journal (akaldankehendak.com). Thanks, real smashing!

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  37. 37

    Very interesting.

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  38. 38

    Nice post Huwshimi. I can’t say I have ever been sexually advanced upon by an ampersand but now their beauty has been brought to light I may be offering them a wink and a smile in the future.

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  39. 39

    Try the italicized ampersand in Garamond. Pretty fancy.

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  40. 40

    Love a good ampersand usage… so much it is my logo feature at http://www.lassandbonnie.com

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  41. 41

    @Vitaly + Sven:

    I hope this isn’t the last guest article? I know there will be plenty of people quite disappointed if it is! :)

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  42. 42

    Nice post,

    but to me as a typographer, the examples seem randomly chosen and there is no typographical explanation.

    i am a bit biased now, because on the one hand i like that there is typographical topics to smashing magazine, on the other hand theese topics will never achieve the quality the better typographic blogs have.

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  43. 43

    The ampersand for the font Walkway (you guys offered it for free a while back) is pretty awesome too.

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  44. 44

    So this is it? That’s all the guest articles?

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  45. 45

    @kleight: Looks like it. Think this was some sort of racket or something…. some of the “finalists” were pretty bad.

    Oh well, I guess no one is perfect, including people who run websites. :P

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  46. 46

    Christian Dalsvaag

    August 20, 2008 1:11 am

    Bitstream Vera Sans is so beautiful. Typography at its fullest!

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  47. 47

    I love this comment because people so frequently ignore the origins of anything we use or come in contact with. And after that piece of information you can look at the collection in an entirely new light.

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  48. 48

    The opening paragraph drew me into a topic I would not normally read and elevated ampersands to a great form for decoration of text without overstatement. I was even inspired by the article to decorate a cake with their ‘sweeping curves, flirtatious finishes and bold statements’. No longer will I relegate these typographic designs to merely saving space!

    Great article.

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  49. 49

    web design company

    August 22, 2008 8:02 pm

    A great, fun and cheeky take on the design of ampersands in fonts and typography.

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  50. 50

    nice page with many ampersands

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  51. 51

    Interesting article
    I´ve used another (in my humble opinion) quite interesting ampersand in my logo:
    The font is “Art Gothic Extra Bold”
    http://www.pixelunddesign.de
    Thomas108

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  52. 52

    I really like the Garamond typeface. I even used a large one on my business card/bookmarks because of its clean serifs.

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  53. 53

    Between the faux pas that is “it looks like a crazy ‘e’” and the fact that this is just another boring top-X-things article, I am completely disappointed. I gather that this is a guest article, but it speaks volumes of the lack of editorial rigidity on this site. An article that displays such blatant ignorance regarding the very character it’s supposed to be written on should not see the light of day.

    Smashing Magazine: “We smash you with any information that comes our way, regardless of how retardedly inaccurate it may be.” Perhaps you could go with a shorter —and way sweeter— tagline, from now on. Smashing Magazine: “We haven’t a clue.”

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  54. 54

    Your graphic is too wide for 1024×768 screens. It reads: Ampersands With Attitud. It looks like a z-index/float issue, with the sidebar covering the image.

    Just an FYI. You don’t want your 1024 readers to develop a negative attitud, do you?

    :)

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  55. 55

    Nice article!

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  56. 56

    Too bad you didn’t use my favourite ampersand, the one that looks like a backwards 3 with a line through it, like the dollar sign. You can see what I mean in the 8th and 9th row in this picture: http://abstractrandom.com/life/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/ampersand.jpg

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  57. 57
  58. 58

    A fun, light-hearted article. Some type designers really let loose when it comes to ampersand. That’s good, they tend to be rather straight-laced types otherwise.

    The master typographer Jan Tschichold wrote a book on the history of the ampersand:

    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=1268097089&searchurl=an%3Dtschichold%26kn%3DEt-Zeichen%26sts%3Dt%26x%3D71%26y%3D5

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