Columbia is an unorthodox blend of multiple historical models. Initially commissioned by science magazine Sciences & Avenir, Columbia strikes a balance between rigorous topics and an approachable, informal tone. In its early drafts, the drawings could be considered a “sans-serif version of Times New Roman”, but Jean-Baptiste Levée soon extended the exploration to include the 16th- and 17th-century typography exemplified by Guillaume Le Bé and Christophe Plantin. Columbia also excavates the so-called Elzevir style, an example of permeability between French and Dutch flavours. It is a combination that establishes a confident and trustworthy voice. The type’s restrained nature eschews caricature, giving paragraphs a clean texture while retaining the classical touch expected from late Renaissance typefaces. The family’s lively italics brighten the mood.

Columbia offers two optical sizes which do not follow the expected stylistic features of the genre. For the purpose of space-filling large headlines, Columbia Display has a rather generous x-height and dense coverage, while Columbia, with its smaller x-height, sculpts a more distinguishable word silhouette. Despite its initial relationship to Times New Roman, Columbia rejects the idea of a rotating contrast axis between weights. As a result, Columbia’s oblique distribution of weight is maintained throughout the family.

Design: Jean-Baptiste Levée. Team: Mathieu Réguer, Quentin Schmerber.

Columbia Collection specimen