A fast moving script by Process Type Foundry, a versatile sans from The Northern Block, a decorative serif by Zeune Ink, an energetic script from Sudtipos, a characterful grotesque by Commercial Type, a harmonious slab from Dada Studio, a comfortable sans by Font Bureau, a spirited grotesque from Latinotype, a condensed sans by MCKL, and a neutral face from Type Dynamic.
Designed by Nicole Dotin
A script with a crisp energy and buoyancy that only the collaboration of paper and screen can lay claim to.
Designed by Jonathan Hill
Loew is a versatile sans serif with simple and honest geometry aimed at a wide range of modern applications.
Designed by Sandi Dez
Wallington is a decorative serif embodying vintage & elegant curves with functional structure.
Designed by Panco Sassano & Alejandro Paul
Relaxed, energic and very natural. With different alternatives of proportion, a wide range of ligatures, initial letters, terminals, floritures, Horizontes Script comes in two weight for large and small formats.
Designed by Paul Barnes & Dave Foster
Marr Sans revels in the individuality of the nineteenth century, and is like an eccentric British uncle to Morris Fuller Benton’s Franklin and News Gothics.
Designed by Michał Jarociński
The light and bold weights are perfect for display use and the regular weights create a harmonious structure that provides good legibility in long texts.
Designed by David Berlow
The plain-spoken geometry is regular and balanced, without being static or mechanical, for a friendly and forthright familiarity.
Designed by Eli Hernández & Daniel Hernández
A complete family of 40 fonts, 10 different weights and their respective cursives, and an alt version, Grota Sans is a grotesque font with a latin spirit.
Designed by Jeremy Mickel
Neutral enough to take on information design, corporate identity, and small text sizes, the refined details and personality of Fort Condensed shine in display.
Sailec is a low contrast, neutral typeface that includes 7 weights, from hairline to black, with corresponding italics.
I love letters. All kinds and types of letters: small, large, drawn, sketched, painted, rough, smooth, serif, sans serif, script, roman, italic, oblique, digitized, old and new, uppercase, lowercase, all materials and media, three dimensional… Yes, I love letters, except for those that are poorly or incorrectly proportioned. For those poor ugly letters, I feel pity and sadness.
In the hope of creating an appreciation of beautiful letters and avoiding further letterform abuse, I try to share my passion for letterform design with my graphic design, typography and calligraphy students at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
My challenge in teaching calligraphy and typography is to make letters and words come to life: to make letters exciting, tangible and meaningful. My objective is to instill in my students a passion for the inherent beauty and integrity of letterforms, an understanding of history, terminology, structure and proportional relationships, and a highly developed sensitivity to the selection and application of alphabet designs for effective and powerful communication.
Helping students with letters. Photograph by Elizabeth Torgerson-lamark
It has been my experience that not all students come to typography or graphic design with an innate love of letters or type. Over the years, I have tried many methods of infecting students with the type virus…the term I use to describe the typographic obsession acquired by designers. I have found that introducing calligraphy in my typography courses has been the most successful, fun and interactive way to reinforce fundamentals and to develop a high level of typographic sensitivity. It is a far more satisfying approach than tracing letters, which is viewed by most students as torture and which they pursue as such. Calligraphy, on the other hand, is a rewarding and meaningful skill that reinforces lessons learned in typography lectures and demonstrations. Graphic design student Elizabeth McGrail said: “Calligraphy is very beautiful and it was fun to learn about it as well as learning how to do it. I love knowing that I know calligraphy and I can do it whenever I want!” This year’s Hand Lettering Club President and graphic design student Elizabeth Wells stated: “After studying calligraphy, I felt that I understood the anatomy of typography better. Making characters by hand makes you think about every aspect of the letter and the words as a whole.”
Photograph by Elizabeth Torgerson-lamark
Drawing letters is an interactive, physical experience in which students learn proportions, stroke sequences, anatomy, and letter, word and line spacing without even realizing it. They begin to see letters as beautiful and functional symbols that have artistic and expressive potential. Students develop a comprehensive understanding of the systematic nature of typographic design. They see letters as physical forms and not just as shapes on a screen or a page. This in turn helps students understand the process of designing an alphabet and the challenges faced by a typographer in creating a new typeface. Many design students have an AHA! moment when drawing an oblique letter such as a W, finding that they understand stroke weight variation for the first time. Similarly, a student drawing an O by hand may comprehend the meaning of stress for the first time, although he or she may have traced an O or read previously about typographic stress in a book. Mysteries of letterform design and structure are solved when students have firsthand experience drawing letterforms. As graphic design student Lauren Spath said, “Calligraphy was one of the most eye-opening things I have done in awhile. It showed me how to appreciate the letters in typefaces I use every day and changed how I think about letterforms and their intricacy.”
In this 6–9 hour exposure (two or three studio sessions), students use broad-edged steel nibs and ink to draw the minuscules of Chancery Cursive. Drawing families of similar letters (such as n, h, m, r, u) helps students see the systematic foundation of alphabet design. When creating bowls, counters, serifs and flourishes, students become highly aware of the tiny, yet critical details and nuances that give typefaces personality and uniqueness. As they begin to write words, students practice the letter proportions, and incorporate letter and word spacing. In writing sentences and paragraphs, students begin to understand the importance of line length, sense breaks, and line spacing. Graphic design student Emily Butler expressed this well when she said: “Learning calligraphy helped me to understand how the letters flow together. Each character needs to work with the surrounding characters to create words and to look beautiful as a whole. Calligraphy opened my eyes to the different widths and heights of individual characters as well as the terminology that goes with typography. Calligraphy was a great introduction to learning the mechanics of typography.”
Studying calligraphy also provides students with great respect for the challenges faced by lettering artists and typographers in the creation of alphabets. This makes it less likely that they will bastardize typefaces in the future. (Bastardization is the term I use for pseudo-italicizing or scaling type on the computer without making visual adjustments.)
At various times during this process, students have an AHA! moment when they see the connections between the past and present and the hand-drawn and the machine-made. Letters become exciting, tangible and meaningful.
Although today’s students have little experience in drawing letters, I have found that they LOVE working with their hands. In fact, they CRAVE it. Certainly, a part of the attraction is that it is a new experience and a welcome break from the digital world. As graphic design student Giovanni Leoni said: “The art of calligraphy is extremely zen and relaxing. It causes the artist to focus on each and every stroke, revealing the secrets of typography.” And graphic design student Samantha Watson described the experience: “Having calligraphy in a course was a very relaxing way to end the day… the kind of homework I would save as a treat because I looked forward to it.”
In addition to the change of pace drawing by hand provides, I believe the current trends in calligraphy and expressive lettering represent the human need for personal, unique and expressive communication that is difficult to achieve exclusively through digital media. Inspired by lettering seen on websites and blogs, students regularly experiment with lettering in their projects. A fundamental understanding of letterform structure, proportions and relationships is more important than ever if we are to help students create gorgeous, competent letters and not more ugly ones. It is critical that students have a fundamental background in order to create alphabets that are cohesive and aesthetically pleasing.
This is one of the many benefits of the the RIT Hand Lettering Club, a multidisciplinary group consisting of illustrators, fine artists and photographers in addition to graphic designers. Offering lectures, demonstrations and workshops, the club provides students with no typographic background with the key fundamentals of good letterform design with feedback and encouragement. Hopefully, this contributes to the creation of some beautiful new letters!
Image of demo letters. Photograph & letters by Lorrie Frear
Through the years of incorporating calligraphy in my typography courses, I have used the terminology and information from both areas in a reciprocal, back-and-forth dance. This has assisted students in gaining sensitivity to typography that occurs naturally and with a sense of personal accomplishment. I have also found that introducing calligraphy as part of a university typographic education increases refinement of design issues such as the use of negative space and composition. Graphic design student Autumn Wadsworth stated: “Learning calligraphy and lettering by hand makes a huge difference in your design skills. Every little typographic detail just makes so much more sense, and my typographic and design skills have improved because of it.”
In conclusion, graphic design student Rachel Nicholson provided her viewpoint:
“I have found an outlet in lettering. Whether it’s calligraphy or custom hand lettering, there is something so powerful about language and words in general and then to pair that with the artistic ideals of composition and balance and flow…there is a real a beauty in that. The natural connection between the pen, hand and paper is relaxing, rewarding and immediately gratifying. Lettering allows you to see the alphabets as shapes and lines. I found this new way of “seeing” not only to be a challenge, but a wonderful lesson in design: to simplify the world around you into contours and forms that have endless potential to inspire, create and function.”
It is greatly rewarding for me to introduce students to calligraphy and type, to witness their genuine enthusiasm for letterform design, and to observe their growth as they explore and improve. It’s an inspiring, humbling and magical experience.
Header: Photograph by Elizabeth Torgerson-lamark
Lorrie Frear is an Associate Professor in the School of Design/College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, where she teaches graphic design and calligraphy. Lorrie also conducts calligraphy and lettering lectures and workshops nationally that are tailored to the needs and interests of the audience. Her professional and student work can be viewed at the RIT website.
A friendly brush script by Nikola Giacintová, a new classic from Jason Vandenberg, a flexible sans by Fatype, fluid & friendly structure from Latinotype, a new sans by Monotype, a multi-colored face from Underware, an elegant serif by FontFont, and a practical sans from Ludwig Type.
Designed by Nikola Giacintová
Rukola is a friendly brush script that follows in the footsteps of sign painting.
Designed by Jason Vandenberg
Bodoni Sans is a new classic built on the foundation of two centuries of history.
Designed by Yassin Baggar
A flexible, medium to high contrast, sans serif — less about designing a stylish decorative design and more about applying contrast onto a neo-grotesk skeleton.
Designed by Javier Quintana
Modernica seeks to go beyond the grotesque style and instigate a more fluid and friendly structure while remaining solid in its use.
Designed by Jim Ford
Quire Sans performs with confidence in virtually any setting.
With Tripper Tricolor all patriots can set text in their national colors, or in any other color they prefer.
Designed by Jakob Runge
FF Franziska elegantly closes the gap between the artistic formulation of the individual glyphs and the rational functionality of the overall type design.
Designed by Ludwig Übele
Clear and practical, yet warm and polite, Riga is a space-saving and legible typeface designed to work equally well on paper and on the computer screen.
Three years ago MetaDesign Berlin asked us to design a custom Serif and Sans typeface for the German federal government. They had been assigned to redevelop the government’s corporate design with the typefaces as part of the update. The project was to cover all communication issued by the government and their ministries, online or offline, national or international. It was a demanding and interesting task. Though we were accustomed to working on projects like these for corporations, we were now asked to design “for the people”.
A custom type design job begins with the definition of aesthetic and technical goals, dictated to a large extent by the target group. A typeface for an art school can be more liberally designed than the typeface for a company of financial advisers or a newspaper font, though all three have easily definable target groups. Assumptions about a client’s target group are based on lifestyle, age group, likes and dislikes, etc. and shape the development of an aesthetic design.
The new typefaces for the German federal government
The technical savvy of the target group — how current their technology is, what devices, browsers, etc. they use — is also crucial. It informs us on the font technology required: font formats, hinting, and so on. The more homogenous the target group, the more straightforward the definitions are upon which we base our design.
Custom typefaces for the Glasgow School of Art, the northern Italian region of Südtirol, the Dutch weekly newspaper Staatscourant SC, and the Berlin Lottery (an assignment from Connex Advertising, Berlin). Custom type designs with set target groups and applications.
For this project we were faced with the challenge of mapping a goal for a target group that encompassed the general public — all citizens and persons coming into contact with information issued by the German government and its agencies, ranging from the age of 9 to 99, from all educational and cultural backgrounds — which was basically everyone. The written word, whether just a footnote or the headline on a billboard, had to be accessible and user-friendly to this widely diverse group.
Besides the public audience, the other target group for the typeface was the government itself: employees and officials using the fonts, creating information and communicating with them in an office environment. Though smaller than the first target group, it was crucial that their needs be met as well.
Our foremost goal in considering this broad audience was outstanding legibility — creating glyph shapes that made for pleasant reading. Not only because the user group was so diverse but also because the official text issued by the government could at times be complex and detailed.
The second aim was a consequence of the first: the typeface should have no extroverted details. By ornamenting information we would run the risk of distracting the reader. We chose therefore not to give the typeface too much personality, and aimed to design an unbiased yet friendly “transmitter”. This impulse was the opposite as that for a corporate typeface design, where we would enhance the profile with strong recognizable details. We were not competing with another brand in the free market, the typeface did not have to look “cooler” than the one before, it just needed to work “better” by serving a public function.
Translating our next two goals into definable shapes was more straightforward. We wanted to balance femininity and masculinity as well as infuse it with determination and sure-footedness. Both aspects have visual correlations and reflect the values implicit in “democracy”. One recognizes the equality of both sexes, while the other acknowledges the authority of government, tempered by democratic and humanitarian ideals. We strove to make an inclusive typeface, not an exclusive one.
Both writing and construction were part of the design concept for the two families.
The typefaces the government previously used were a combination of Neue Praxis and Neue Demos by Gerard Unger. These typefaces, originally designed in the 1970s, were built up of fairly coarse pixels and made to function within a specific technical environment where letters were formed by a cathode ray tube. This meant that the design had to match the technology and not the other way around.
Previously in use for the corporate design of the government: Neue Demos by Gerard Unger. BundesSerif has more definite and dynamic features.
The technical requirements for the BundesSans and BundesSerif were more demanding, requiring cross media, cross platform and cross browser usage. Again, with their heterogenous target group, our aim was to foster the government’s obligation to make information accessible to everyone. As not everyone has the latest computer or software, we had to create backwards-compatible typefaces. That meant the fonts would require hinting on various levels for good display on screens, especially under difficult conditions with font smoothing switched off.
The fonts rendered in Firefox Windows (left) and Mac OS. The ClearType and grayscale hinting for the web and office fonts was made by Monika Bartels from fontwerk.de
We approached the actual design of the typefaces on the macro and the micro levels. The macro meant defining the general profile or cornerstone of our design. Only after that did we start sketching and drawing letters on the micro level.
The foundation of our design began with general proportions, vertically (especially the ratio uppercase, ascender and x-height) and horizontally. We knew the typefaces should not demand too much space but also should not appear too compact or cramped. Then we looked at the possible shape of the letters for Sans and Serif, and at the level of individuality — recognizability — of the characteristic shapes.
Our first macro approach to vertical and horizontal proportions.
Balancing the proportions within the letters, design options (top and middle, blue is our choice) and some problem letters and combinations we needed to aware of.
On the micro level, we methodically considered how pointy/round the curves should be, compared dynamic (humanist) with more solid (constructed) shapes, and tested symmetrical/asymmetrical serifs. At that point in the process we gave great thought to each detail, questioned and discussed — sometimes fiercely — all the features that led us in the end to conclusions and possible design options. These were discussed with MetaDesign who assisted in streamlining our decisions to correspond with their modernized corporate design. Only after that did we present the development to the clients.
The glyphs’ individuality increases recognizability.
It is not easy to present individual letters to a client, laymen of type, and ask them to make decisions on details. Commonly, the client finds certain features strange because they have never been exposed to them close up. Characteristics of Times New Roman and Arial might be not questioned because they are never examined in detail, but when viewing a new alphabet through a magnifying glass, questions on forms and proportions suddenly arise — “why isn’t the letter ‘t’ as tall as the ‘h’ or ‘b’?” For this reason we always use meaningful words in our presentations — in this case, Bildung, Berlin, Demokratie — rather than individual letters.
Presentation of the typeface to the client.
After finalizing the last design decisions, we presented the complete glyph set of each weight/style on A2 boards (tabloid format x 2) to the client and after a few more detail tweaks, received the final “go ahead” signature on each — a green light for the last step of the production process. The result was two families for DTP, web and office use with each available weight in Roman and Italic, containing about 580 glyphs covering the European languages that use Latin script.
We have learned from this assignment that the usual corporate type design reasoning only applies to a certain extent. It is not a quest for the most groundbreaking “winning” solution or a visualisation of a company profile, because it is outside ‘commercialistic’ thinking where the sole objective is to increase and maximise financial gain. Our objective here was to create an understated design with a sense of integration, not exclusivity — universality instead of selectivity.
The project ran smoothly and our progress was viewed with great interest by the Bundespresseamt (German government press office) who mediated the assignment. Though their communication specialists were familiar with the processes of corporate design, the development of a typeface was something new to them. They came to see great advantages in a new, custom typeface over having their previous typeface overhauled. The latter would have meant an upgrade from Type1 to OpenType and web fonts, resulting in considerable license fees. The custom font allowed them to freely use and distribute it within the governmental bodies and ministries.
BundesSerif and BundesSans received awards from the International Forum Design and the German Designers Club.
Requested by the client: the design of an uppercase ß, the German double s (a ligature of ſs, a long s followed by a regular one) which typically becomes SS in uppercase writing. The letter has been included in the Unicode standard in 2008 as U+1E9E.
Prof. Jürgen Huber and Martin Wenzel are two experienced and enthusiastic type designers forming the custom type design partnership, supertype.de.
Jürgen studied Communication Design at the Folkwang University in Essen with Prof. Volker Küster before he worked for MetaDesign until 2004. Since 2012 he runs http://typedepartment.de together with Malte Herok. He currently teaches typography at the University of Applied Sciences HTW, Berlin.
Martin studied at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, while embarking on his own type design projects, eventually launching his foundry http://martinplusfonts.com in 2011. Martin also teaches typography part-time at the University of Applied Sciences HTW in Berlin.
Sponsored by Hoefler & Co.
BundesSans and BundesSerif — truly democratic typefaces
An Erik Spiekermann exclusive from Hamilton Wood Type, a sturdy slab by Rene Bieder, a high-class display from Avondale Type Co, a brush script by Mika Melvas, a modest slab serif from Type Me Fonts, a monospaced family by Matthew Butterick, a contemporary script from Petra Dočekalová, and a super family by Playtype.
Designed by Erik Spiekermann
HWT Artz was designed by venerable type designer Erik Spiekermann exclusively for his own print studio, specifically to be cut into large size wood type.
Designed by Rene Bieder
Choplin is a modern and clear geometric slab serif with a sturdy heart.
Designed by Alex Sheyn
ATC Timberline is a wide display font, evoking the high class side of speed and mechanics.
Designed by Mika Melvas
Sanelma is a brush script inspired by hot rod lettering and sign painting.
Designed by Jürgen Schwarz & Jakob Runge
Muriza is a modest slab serif with temptious curves.
Designed by Matthew Butterick
Triplicate is modeled on several faces from the golden age of the typewriter — a time when designers treated monospacing not merely as a limitation, but also an opportunity.
Designed by Petra Dočekalová
Monolina is a contemporary monolinear script that is based on the contrast between classical calligraphy and quickly jotted manuscript.
Designed by Jonas Hecksher
The design is carefully balanced to deliver significant modernization while paying homage to a unique heritage.
A versatile sans from TipoType, a dynamic script by Sudtipos, an extreme display face from Hoefler & Co, a quirky hand-drawn family by Thinkdust, a geometric sans from Mint Type, a pair of playful stencils by Font Bureau, a multi-sources-inspired titling family from Kyle Wayne Benson, and a robust stencil by House Industries.
Designed by Fernando Díaz
Libertad is a sans-serif that mixes humanist and grotesk models.
Designed by Yani Arabena & Guille Vizzari
Abelina can be used in display sizes for titles where part of the central premise is to emulate certain features of gestural handwriting.
Most type families begin with a roman font of moderate weight, and build outwards toward their peripheral bolds and italics. Nitro starts from the extreme — an aggressively sloped italic of massive weight — and adds an equal and opposite form, a backslanted style called Turbo.
Designed by Alex Haigh
Nanami Handmade comes in two styles — a solid and a hand-drawn, each of which has eight weights — and carries a quirky, mischievous charm.
Designed by Andriy Konstantynov
Proba Pro is a geometric sans with lowered x-height, prominent ascenders & descenders, and subtle humanist touch.
Designed by Cyrus Highsmith
Tick & Tock play the same game in two different ways; they’re distinct typefaces that see themselves in each other.
Designed by Kyle Wayne Benson
Designed by Ken Barber
Yorklyn Stencil’s robust curves and deceptively delicate breaks will withstand a wide variety of harsh conditions with unprecedented aplomb.
A graceful sans from Typotheque, a modern grotesk by Suitcase Type, a contemporary serif from Bold Monday, a letterpress family by Yellow Design, a versatile sans from Milieu Grotesque, a brush script by Doubletwo, a bold display face from Monokrom, and a modern sign painter family by Kyle Wayne Benson.
Designed by Nikola Djurek
Valter is a graceful and slightly cheeky collection of sans-serif display fonts inspired by pointed-pen writing.
Designed by Tomáš Brousil
Urban Grotesk attempts to follow the best of traditions of Grotesk typefaces: rounded arches, slightly thinner connecting strokes and a vertical shadowing axis, where outstrokes are terminated strictly in perpendicular to the stroke direction.
Designed by Mike Abbink
Brando is a contemporary serif with humanist proportions, exploring the balance between mechanical and egyptian forms.
Designed by Ryan Martinson
Eveleth is a high-resolution letterpress family with exceptional realism and vintage charm.
Designed by Timo Gaessner
Patron is an expressive yet versatile grotesk, characterized by a generous x-height, distinctive stroke endings and an unconventional shift in balance.
Designed by Lecter Johnson
XXII YeahScript is a brush script with a large range of alternates — a great fit for any sign painter job.
Designed by Sindre Bremnes
Mønster’s odd letter forms and exaggerated shapes combine into powerful, vigorous patterns, making a bold statement of any title.
Designed by Kyle Benson
Kansas Casual provides a completely unique take on a overdone classic with proportions and crossbar heights inspired by the more friendly Chicago style.
An “old Hollywood” inspired sans from Jessica Hische, a harmonious family by Laura Worthington, a contemporary serif from Grilli Type, a stylish slab by FaceType, a gentle sans from Production Type, a versatile sans by Tour De Force, a brush inspired face from Commercial Type, and a calligraphic script by Aerotype.
Designed by Jessica Hische
The name Silencio references silent films, but this font would feel as at home in magazines, invitations, and fancy food packaging as it does on the silver screen.
Designed by Laura Worthington
Adorn arms designers with a breathtakingly large number of faces that work harmoniously, despite the distinctiveness of each.
Designed by Marc Kappeler, Dominik Huber & Noël Leu
A contemporary serif typeface combining the calligraphy of the broad nip pen with the sharpness of the scalpel.
Designed by Marcus Sterz
Adria Slab is a stylish slab serif that comes in seven weights and charming upright italics.
Designed by Jean-Baptiste Levée
Initially designed as a personal remix of mechanically engineered typefaces, Cogito has all the clarity of its models but with a calmer tone.
Designed by Dusan Jelesijevic
Hedon is a neutral, versatile and legible partner for any kind of publication.
Designed by Paul Barnes & Miguel Reyes
Gabriello is slanted on two axes, both horizontally and vertically, giving the energy of a script without causing production problems.
Designed by Stephen Miggas
Arbordale communicates with casual confidence, a calligraphic script with roots in the midwest.
Cloths of Heaven is Seb Lester’s interpretation of ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, a poem by the renowned Irish poet W. B. Yeats. It is a continuation of his exploration of the theme of beauty in the context of letterform design. He has produced a limited edition screen print and also collaborated with The London Embroidery Studio to produce an embroidered piece, available as a small-run limited edition.
“Yeats’s poem references ‘embroidered cloths’ and ‘gold and silver threads’, so I wanted to try to make the screen print look like an exquisite and timelessly beautiful piece of highly ornamental needlework. I’ve drawn from Medieval, Renaissance and 18th-century sources but I have also tried to integrate personal, progressive and irreverent flourishing ideas. The result is a hybrid stylistic treatment that I think could only exist in the 21st century.”
He explained that his relatively new-found love of traditional calligraphy has given him new insights into the Latin alphabet. “In calligraphy I have found a joyful and visceral way to construct letterforms. The letters that appear before my eyes as I write have a warmth and humanity that is very hard to achieve with computers. Calligraphy, combined with my knowledge of digital letterform design, has given me the confidence and I hope the understanding to explore and challenge preconceived notions about what constitutes correct flourishing and decorative ornament technique.”
More information at seblester.co.uk
‘Cloths of Heaven’ by Seb Lester, 2014, available as a print and embroidered artwork. Based on the poem ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ by W B Yeats.
A2 (594mm X 420mm) limited edition screenprint, edition of 100.
Metallic gold ink on midnight blue Plike art paper, 330gsm.
Signed and numbered by the artist.
A2 (594mm X 420mm) limited edition embroidery, edition of 5.
Gold and silver thread on Italian midnight blue silk twill.
Each piece comes with a hand written, signed note of authenticity.
Aware that there is no such thing as total neutrality, Neutral typeface explores how the absence of stylistic associations can help the reader to engage with the content of a text.
Is the typeface neutral?
Neutral began as my graduation project for my BA in graphic design from the Royal Academy of Art (The Hague) in 2005. It is the result of an attempt to create a typeface free of all connotations or associations that could distract a reader from the text, a font that delivers the character of the written material untouched by the character of the typeface design. The whole project started with a discussion about why certain typefaces seemed to ‘age better’, or indeed age less than others: there seemed to be something about some of the big milestones of the 20th century like Times or Univers that kept them fresh after more than 50 years.
This got me thinking about Plato’s doctrine of Ideas, ‘original, perfect and unalterable’ mental archetypes representing every class of object that exists in our material world. Plato posits that these idealised, abstracted forms enable us to identify real-world instances of their type by comparison, and I imagined that this had to be true for typefaces as well. Neutral uses design principles to examine timelessness, archetypes and neutrality in graphic design, and specifically in type design.
The project consisted of various parts: a book describing the design process, a website recording email discussions of the project with Daniel van der Velden, Experimental Jetset, Uwe Loesch, Bernd Kuchenbeiser and Helmut Schmid (among others), a series of posters by various international designers using the typeface, and of course the typeface itself.
As the discussion with other designers unfolded, I found neutrality to be an elusive, ambiguous quality, one that I would have to explore in order to define for myself what it would mean for a typeface to be truly neutral.
I touched upon various fields along the way, for example, the Conceptual Art movement of the 1960s, which emphasised the purity of the idea-as-artwork over its materialisation, and whose proponents produced artworks that in many cases only existed in written form.
Joseph Kosuth is one of the main proponents of the Conceptual Art movement, and has been part of it since its beginnings in the 1960s. His famous One and Three Chairs (1965) is also based in the Platonic idea theory and first prompted me to explore it. The above quote is taken from his 1996 article “Intent” (in: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 78 No. 3).
Another source of inspiration were the ideas of 16th-century tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyū, who greatly influenced the wabi-cha style of chanoyu tea ceremony. This style tries to attain perfection in the essential aspects of the ceremony by the removal of anything which could divert the focus from the essential elements: the tea and the interaction of host and guests.
According to historical tradition, these were the words Rikyū used to explain all the secrets of the tea ceremony (from A.L. Sadler, Cha No Yu, Japan, 1933).
Through these explorations of various design disciplines and the exchanges with other designers I arrived at a clearer definition of neutrality that could be applied to a typeface:
Neutrality can be regarded as an auxiliary construction that lets us describe things and events that appear free of connotations to a specific social and cultural group at a specific point in time. Because everybody’s backgrounds and expectations differ, however, the more closely we attempt to answer the question ‘What is a neutral typeface?’, the fewer people agree on various details, and the more the proposal of a neutral typeface becomes a paradox.
If I asked you to draw a water glass
The Platonic Idea or archetype was one of the starting points. We often find it at work in design: if I asked you to draw a water glass, I could be quite certain that you would draw a cylinder (or more precisely, a conical frustum) within a rather narrow range of parameters. These Ideas are not innate, but are acquired from our cultural background, which is why Neutral could be neutral in our culture, but not, for example, in Elizabethan England.
Chope Unie water glass by Duralex, France, courtesy of Duralex.
Measuring old typefaces to construct a new one
In order to discover this Idea of a typeface I sought to distill all typefaces (excluding a few fringe groups) into an average. To keep my own background from interfering with the design process, I devised a system of comparisons of typeface genres and sub-genres to establish what kind of typeface Neutral would have to be to do any justice to its name. This system addressed questions such as: Which shapes are more restrained, closer to a possible archetype? Which of two forms is more commonly used? Which form is less dependent on physical methods or technologies? Which forms are more likely to result in distinguishable (but unobtrusive) letterforms? Which forms are more likely to provide a coherent word-image? Which of two otherwise equally suitable groups of shapes are the plainer, simpler ones?
Ideally, I would have measured all Latin-based typefaces, but that was hardly practical. To save time, I first compared first different genres (such as Serif vs Sans Serif) and later sub-genres (Grotesk vs Humanist Sans) with one another; according to the outcome of this, the neutral typeface would be a grotesk with a slight humanist touch.
How can the roundness of a curve be measured? How can I define the angle of a stroke termination? New insights and lots of math at every step of the parameter-gathering process.
With these results in hand, I then began to measure key parameters of representatives of these most archetypal genres. The averages of these would then produce the scaffolding onto which Neutral was drawn.
You could easily think that designing Neutral was much like a process of just blending different typefaces with each other. But apart from a list of design principles, all the measurements resulted only in a very loose scaffolding within which I had to draw the typeface. The illustration also shows how important key horizontal and vertical proportions are to the appearance of a typeface. Neutral’s proportions are as average as was possible, to make a typeface as unnoticeable as possible.
One great advantage of being both a graphic designer and type designer is that your work in one discipline feeds back into your work in the other: you can make the typefaces that you want to use (or imagine that you would want to use), and then you can evaluate your typefaces based on how they perform in application. But over the years I noticed that I wanted to use Neutral less and less frequently, and whenever I did, I wanted to make some small corrections here and there. That’s how I knew I wanted to go back to Neutral, and make it as good a typeface as it was an idea for a typeface.
Measurements of the aperture size in the lowercase e, again as a placeholder or indicator for the design of many other apertures in the typeface: This lineup shows a gradation from the most constructed grotesk to the most ‘humanist’ sans.
Keeping it the same, but changing everything about it
Basically I decided to draw it all over again — pretty much from scratch — but was immediately confronted with a fundamental decision: Should I re-evaluate the steps of comparing and measuring typefaces that had initially provided the parameters for Neutral’s construction?
In the end I decided against it, because the result would not be a new version of Neutral, but a new typeface altogether. I just wanted to design the same typeface, only better. My plan was to eventually upgrade all existing users of the original Neutral to this new version, so I would have to keep everything the same, yet change everything about it.
Very soon, I came to a point where I did want to use it again, indeed very much so. And there was still a steady demand for the typeface from others. These two things were nice accelerators that finally pushed me towards the finish line.
Thousands of invisible changes
What is new about this new Neutral? In a word, everything. Using the original typeface as a guideline to trace over, every glyph was carefully redrawn, every spacing and kerning decision revisited and subtly improved. At the same time, my goal was to keep the original qualities of the typeface the same: the quiet evenness, the unobtrusive character, and the great performance in long text, even in smaller sizes.
There are a few areas where the improvements are quite obvious: the new Neutral’s punctuation is much more refined, many accents that were less familiar to me in 2005 are now drawn in a way that their users actually want them to look, and spacing is much better. The biggest improvement, however, and the one that I am the happiest with, are the figures. Years of practical design experience gave me insight into working with figures that I incorporated into the new design. Also, I decided to make lining figures the default instead of text figures, since many people don’t use all-caps features.
Neutral’s figures have been completely redrawn, and exist in four versions per style. The default figures are proportional lining figures at the height of caps, but they also exist (together with currency, math symbols and selected punctuation) in tabular versions. Instead of old style figures, Neutral additionally features text figures that are smaller than cap height and stand out less in running text. They too come in proportional and tabular versions.
Is the typeface neutral?
Many times during the process I caught myself asking the question that you are also perhaps asking now: Is it still Neutral? And is it still neutral?
A typeface is both a tool for designing, and a tool for reading. The fewer distracting details there are, the more invisible the typeface, and the clearer the text becomes. In the old version of Neutral, there were a couple of things that were not as invisible as I wanted them to be when I started redrawing it. In that way, I guess it’s more neutral now than it ever was.
As stated earlier, however, neutrality is determined by the expectations and norms of a group of people, and the closer we look at the details, the fewer people will agree with any one particular decision. That means that while the parameters were only a loose framework that could be filled in with anyone’s ideas of neutrality, the finished typeface was of course filled in by me and me alone, and so in the final analysis, it is only absolutely neutral for the smallest possible group – just me.
And while the goal of the methodology designed to create this typeface was to abstract the design process away from me, in the end I was still the one who designed this process, who both formulated the questions and answered them. This would have been true regardless of whether ten or a hundred or a thousand comparisons and measurements had been made. A larger data set might have diminished the room for interpretation, but it could never have eliminated it completely.
The plain, reserved nature of the typeface that resulted from filling in this framework of parameters will be quite neutral to a quite large number of people, even though we may argue about the details. In the end we can not create something completely neutral, something to which none of us can attribute any qualities. But we can approximate the formal idea of neutrality to some degree.
And even if some would not consider this typeface to be neutral at all — maybe it was only through this project that their own thinking about neutrality was triggered. And in that respect also the project would be a success. It is more important to ask the question than to answer it.
A monumental family from Hoefler & Co, a casual sans by Type Supply, a seaworthy display from Kyle Wayne Benson, a ferry inspired face by Letters from Sweden, an extensive script family from Martina Flor, a strong grotesk by The Northern Block, a functional slab from ReType, and a bright iconset by Symbolset.
A monumental family of typefaces designed for print and screen, and for sizes large and small.
Designed by Tal Leming
A casual typeface that was drawn with serious typography in mind.
Designed by Kyle Wayne Benson
This peacoat grubbing, all hands on decking, accordion serenading font is not for the faint of heart. He’s all caps all the time.
Designed by Erik Moberg
The second contribution to Letters from Sweden’s “Fabrik Suite”.
Designed by Martina Flor
Wonderhand is new extensive family of scripts designed in six widths and 3 weights.
Designed by Jason Aitcheson
Rein Grotesk is a low contrast typeface with a strong, neutral personality.
Designed by Paula Mastrangelo & Ramiro Espinoza
A comprehensive suite of 20 fonts conceived for editorial purposes.
Designed by Joseph Wain
Glyphish is an array of bright icons in two complementary styles.
An elegant script from Sudtipos, an aggressive face by Blackletra, a hand made family from Latinotype, a dynamic sans by Rui Abreu, a geometric sans from Rene Bieder, a cursive fat face by Dzianis Serabrakou, a lively script from Lián Types, a well-balanced slab by Parachute, a lovely sign painting font from Liebe Fonts, and a contemporary serif by Schwartzco.
Designed by Alejandro Paul
Courtesy Script captures the elegance and propriety of finely practiced Spencerian penmanship.
Designed by Daniel Sabino
Haltrix is an aggressive and angular script.
Designed by Daniel Hernández & Paula Nazal Selaive
Showcase is a hand made font consisting of four styles with a set of ornaments & dingbats.
Designed by Rui Abreu
Signo is a dynamic sans-serif with reverse contrast, designed for editorial and branding.
Designed by Rene Bieder
Campton is a simple sans-serif with a geometric skeleton.
Designed by Dzianis Serabrakou
Bouquet is a cursive fat typeface influenced by brush writing.
Designed by Maximiliano Sproviero
Designed by Panos Vassiliou
Bague Slab Pro is a very clean and legible typeface with a warm and well-balanced texture.
Designed by Ulrike Wilhelm
Liebe Doris — the beauty of all-American sign painting and the meticulous craft of German engineering.
Designed by Christian Schwartz & Dino Sanchez
The First Printed Page Numbers
The image below is a scan of a recto leaf printed by Arnold Ther Hoernen, Cologne, 1470 (Cologne’s second printer after Ulrich Zel). The book, Sermo in festo praesentationis beatissimae Mariae virginis (ISTC: ir00303000) is special in that it is the first (extant) book to include printed foliation (‘page numbers’*), here printed in the recto margins, half way down the page.
© Copyright 2010 Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf
Printing page numbers (something that appears quite necessary and obvious today) only became common typographic practice from the second quarter of the sixteenth century. And prior to the printed book, ‘foliation remained rare till the end of the Middle Ages’**; and of limited indexical or citational use as manuscripts were very rarely identical.
Today it is hard to imagine books without pagination. Page numbers make it easy to quote, cite, and to cross reference — they make accessing, studying, and comparing texts much easier.
Perhaps you noticed that the Arabic numerals — 4, 5, and 7 — in my composite image differ from those we use today. These forms were common in medieval manuscripts. (The J is simply the Roman numeral 1.)
Figure charting the partial evolution of Arabic numerals. Source: The Development of Arabic Numerals in Europe Exhibited in Sixty-Four Tables.
It wasn’t until the tenth century that Arabic numerals came to Spain, though they were not commonly used until the fourteenth century. From the end of the fifteenth century, the numerals 4, 5, and 7 begin to take the forms we are familiar with today.
*Foliation is the sequential numbering of leaves; pagination is the sequential numbering of pages.
** The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, p. 33
Margaret M. Smith. “Printed foliation: forerunner to printed page-numbers?” — Gutenberg Jahrbuch 63 (1988), pp. 54–57
Introduction to Manuscript Studies — Clemens & Graham, pp. 92–94
Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages — Bernhard Bischoff, p. 132
The Development of Arabic Numerals in Europe Exhibited in Sixty-Four Tables (Oxford, 1915) [available at archive.org]
The Oxford Companion to the Book
, Vol. 2, p. 726 & 994
Every typeface taken seriously enough by its designer will teach valuable lessons. From Signo I learned that in designing a reverse contrast typeface, the challenge isn’t so much in the contrast, or in the black part of the letter for that matter. The conventions for that part are being disregarded, played with, reversed, so the white part of the letter has to assume greater control. And it leads one to rethink what ‘reversed’ really means.
Signo started as an attempt at designing a sans serif with reverse contrast. However, I didn’t really want an eccentric type suitable only for headlines; rather I wanted to design a usable and versatile typeface and try to use the reverse contrast in service of readability and functionality. I had in mind some advantages of the reverse contrast: the concentrated weight at the top and bottom of the letter would favor the horizontal continuity in lines of text, and the thinner stems meant that the letters could be narrower — a good thing for a versatile and functional typeface. The x-height could also naturally be taller, since the black of the letters would be “expanded” vertically.
Reversing the contrast
In the first sketches I tried some letters with reverse contrast, in witch the contrast wasn’t merely reversed, but had a deeper relation to a calligraphic modulation of the strokes. These shapes were fun but I also wanted to design a usable typeface both for headlines and text, so after the first outlines in FontLab I soon went astray from these sketches towards more conventional shapes. That begun a long process of going back and forth, between an experimental and fun, but less usable approach, and a conventional but functional one.
At this point I was thinking too much in terms of ‘reverse contrast.’ I was going for a logical, mathematical approach, so my objectives were being reduced to the mere reversal of the conventional ratio between thicks and thins. And sure enough, the results were quite simply ugly letters (not shown here). Reversing the contrast, felt more and more like an arbitrary act, an imposed mathematical inversion of a basic optical principle of letter forms. In Signo, I was trying to find a way to make this feel natural. How could a reverse contrast typeface be designed in a way that felt natural?
I knew I didn’t want anything to feel artificially reversed or strange in Signo, even if the horizontal strokes were heavier than the vertical strokes. I slowly left the notions of contrast aside and approached the shapes more freely. That meant coming to terms with the first sketches and realizing that If the stress axis is rotated far enough, the weight would shift towards to top and bottom parts of the letters, without anything having to be artificially inverted. Most importantly, I didn’t have to insist so much on notions of contrast, which is just the rate between the thick and thin parts of the strokes, which in turn are only the black part of the letter. This return to the sketches also made the designing of Signo really fun again.
Since I stopped concentrating so much on the strokes, I began playing more with the angle of stress as the commanding principle for rotating the different concentrations of black around fixed counters. The shapes grew increasingly more organic and playful, a bit freer from the traditional conventions (or reversed conventions) in sans serif typefaces, and the counters began to rule the design. In a way the black felt like soft, pliable matter, easy to mold around hard and solid white shapes. The black in Signo, is ‘blobby’ with an asymmetric distribution of weight, but it is shaped around solid, open counters, which provide the order and rationality I was looking for.
Drawing from Roger Excofon’s idea of shifting the weight to the top half of the letters in the beautiful Olive Antique, In Signo too, the black is distributed asymmetrically around the counters. The letters are heavier at the top, with more concentration to the right. This way, especially when set big, the letters seem to be lifted up slightly. The stems are also shaped to accentuate this effect, with some stems curving outwards at the top, while others shrink slightly in width towards the baseline.
The constant element of the design process, even with all the experimenting across an entire year, were the vertical metrics. That probably had to do with the use I had in mind for Signo, from the outset. I imagined a charismatic yet versatile typeface used in magazines for both headlines and text. The ascenders and descenders are short and the x-height is relatively tall, facilitating open counters. Good proportions for smaller text sizes, but also for punchy headlines.
Signo comes with 6 weights from thin to bold. The matching italics have a cursive flavor and will add warmth and variety to the page. The weights include two variations for text, regular, and book. The Regular provides stronger headlines and darker captions to match the main text, while the book is a lighter option for text.
By Rui Abreu.
An indulgent display face from Positype, a toolbox of type by Hold Fast Foundry, a versatile family from Bold Monday, a whimsical swash by Latinotype, a flag building typeface from Always With Honor & Scribble Tone, a humanist sans by Type Dynamic, a highly legible sans from Tipografies, and a modern sans by The Northern Block.
Designed by Neil Summerour
Lust Slim is packed with alternates to play with — enough to turn you on and satisfy.
Designed by Mattox Shuler
Industry Inc comprises numerous standalone styles along with a layered type system.
Designed by Pieter van Rosmalen
Designed by Francisco Galvez
Over 100 shapes and 1,000 alternates that can be mixed and matched to create a sea of unique flags.
Revisal is a humanist sans family with 7 weights, from hairline to black, with corresponding italics.
Designed by Jordi Embodas
Nomada explores the concept of typefaces on the move continuously: sometimes printed, in books, catalogues, posters or packaging; at other times projected on screens of mobile and fixed devices, as text or as image.
Designed by Mariya V. Pigoulevskaya
Acrom is a geometric sans with a minimal stroke contrast designed with a modern, contemporary context in mind.
Unusual Fifteenth-century Fonts
Günther Zainer from Reutlingen introduced printing to Augsburg, Germany in 1468. He likely trained in Strasbourg with Johann Mentelin (who later went into business with Jenson and Johannes de Colonia in Venice). Zainer, during his decade-long career (he died in 1478), published some 100 books.
Günther Zainer used two Gothic types and three Romans. His Roman types are among the most unusual produced during the fifteenth century.
Zainer’s first roman (Type 3:107R) of 1472 is already leaving behind the Gothic influences of the very earliest roman types, but note the H with the ‘pearl’ in the crossbar.
Günther Zainer (Type 3:107R)
This decoration is taken a step further with his next Roman (Type 4:95R)** used from 1472 through 1477. Note the ‘pearls’ in the letters H, I, L, M, N, and T.
Günther Zainer (Type 4:95R)
His third roman (Type 4*:95R), first used in 1473, is unusual in that it mixes Roman and Gothic majuscules (capitals). You can see too very clear Gothic (Gothic Rotunda / Semitextualis Formata) influences in the lowercase.
Günther Zainer (Type 4*:95R)
This typeface is better classified a semi-roman, an interesting devolution and departure from his two earlier Romans.
Images courtesy of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
** Konrad Haebler attributes this font (Type 4:95R; GfT0464) to Johann Bämler who used it for Sententiarum variationes, seu Synonyma (ISTC: if00201700) ca. 1479. However, it is almost certainly the work of Günther Zainer.
Image: Gif by Erik Kwakkel, from images in the National Library of Sweden.
Follow @erik_kwakkel on Twitter for more.
An eroded display by HVD Fonts, a wide sans from Type Dynamic, an inline slab by Yellow Design Studio, a versatile monoline from Parachute, a geometric sans by Graviton, an elegant script from Fenotype, an experimental face by Onrepeat, and a titling face from Type Together.
Designed by Hannes von Döhren
An eroded, printed look with four variations of every letter.
A wide sans type family inspired by old lettering from the Netherlands.
Designed by Ryan Martinson
An inline slab serif with a retro yet contemporary vibe.
Designed by Panos Vassiliou
A versatile monoline typeface with a distinct and eye-catching personality.
Designed by Pablo Balcells
A geometric, sans serif typeface with a slightly condensed design.
Designed by Emil Karl Bertell
An elegant and versatile connected script family of three weights.
Designed by João Oliveira
An experimental Didone typeface with a modern twist.
Designed by José Scaglione & Veronika Burian
A low contrast typeface for headlines.