I recently disovered the existence of this design stackexchange, reviving my hope to maybe resolve a font identification problem that I had a long while back, but that I was never able to solve (or actually, get the internet to solve, because I myself do not really know a lot about fonts..) (So yes, BTW, I did try, I would think, pretty much all font identification sites online, at least at the time.)

The font in question is the one featured in the image below, which is a little assembly of screenshots taken, as the book is partly online on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Design-Everyday-Things-Donald-Norman/dp/1452654123). I recommend the book, by the way :)

I find the font, and in particular its italics, to be quite beautiful—if a bit strange. I highlighted some of my key delights of its italics in the image:

  • how unnaturally large the capitals look in comparison to the lowercase letters, because the latter are so horizontally compressed into one another;
  • specifically how rigidly parallel/straight the capital M is, which seems to contradict typographic principles, but which I actually quite love;
  • the ff/fi ligatures;
  • not a delight, but maybe a clue as to its origin: the horrible kerning in "don't".

Does anybody have a clue which font this might be? And why it is so peculiar, or maybe just why I might think it is peculiar?

  • In many books, it actually says what font it is typeset in.. I checked my copy, but alas! I think it is the italic version of whatever is the standard it is set in, and it does not look all that peculiar to me, though... I will give it a shot, but promise nothing.
    – benteh
    Nov 19, 2016 at 22:37
  • another thing... you could actually just ask him. Or his publisher...
    – benteh
    Nov 19, 2016 at 22:39
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    I actually think I did send an email to the publisher back when I encountered it first, but did, as I'd expected, not get a reply. But, you're right, I've now sent a mail to Donal Norman as well :) Nov 19, 2016 at 22:54
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    @daycaster: But I don't see how that works, because the capital M, of all Palatino's I can find on the net, have non-parallel vertical sides (and other differences). Nov 20, 2016 at 0:10
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    @Benteh: Don answered already! Although the answer was as unsatisfactory as possible: "Authors have almost zero influence over book design. I have no idea what font was used." and "The original edition was published in 1988, so there is nobody around anymore." For the revised edition of 2013, he said that the body font was Palatino. This can indeed be verified (on Amazon look inside), but doesn't help us. Nov 20, 2016 at 0:15

1 Answer 1


I think the book is mostly set in Palatino:

From the book:

image from book

A recent version of Palatino:

Palatino Bold

(The book is available in facsimile online at archive.org).

Since the book was published in 1988, that's probably too early for digital setting, but too late for letterpress... Perhaps a version of Palatino (phototypesetting) had an inline old-school true italic (narrower than Roman characters).

It doesn't help that Palatino was one of the more copied fonts of the 20th century.

It's difficult to find a similar italic on the web. Maybe it just fell out of fashion and didn't feature so much when fonts were digitized...

  • 1988 was early days for digital fonts, and lots of printers would still be using older techniques. Adobe Type 1 fonts were only just being introduced at the market, and even if this was a digital font, it might have been a custom implementation (trying to avoid saying "a blatant rip-off of the original design" :P) for one of the digital typesetters in their own custom font formats. But looking at the quality, I'd guess it was produced with a non-digital technique.
    – Jongware
    Nov 20, 2016 at 11:16
  • Thanks for the helpful answers! I was worried something like that would be the case (custom implementation, old typesetting stuff..) On a different note: suppose I'd endeavor tracing the italics (because I simply really want to use them), would you have any recommendations on method / software? Nov 20, 2016 at 12:39

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