11 February, 2013
LANDMARK: A New Font Family from H&FJ
When Tobias and I first started working together in 1999, we received an irresistible commission from Michael Bierut at Pentagram: to design a typeface for Lever House, one of New York’s most significant architectural landmarks. In a neighborhood of skyscrapers designed simply to warehouse the maximum amount of rentable real estate, Lever House is a rare building with thoughtful urban values, featuring a grand public colonnade, a welcoming sculpture garden, and an enormous setback that showcases that rarest of midtown luxuries: the sky.
The typeface we created was an airy sans serif, patterned after the existing lettering on the building’s Park Avenue window, and related to the style of its cornerstone inscription. The project revealed some interesting discoveries about the way architects use capital letters, and how a typeface designed specifically for architecture could serve designers especially well. A decade after completing the project, we set about creating a collection of decorative variations inspired the material and environmental qualities of buildings: the interplay of structure and surface, the effects of shadow and light, and the transformative power of perspective. Bringing typographic qualities to mechanical forms turned out to be a formidable challenge, but a fascinating one, ultimately absorbing our designers for more than a year. The result is the family of four new typefaces that we’re delighted to introduce: Landmark Regular, Inline, Shadow, and Dimensional.
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7 May, 2009
Typeface: Verlag Light
For one quarter of its lifetime, the Guggenheim Museum has enjoyed the use of a signature typeface created by H&FJ. The project originally commissioned by Abbott Miller, a sans serif in six styles called Guggenheim, has since grown into a family of thirty styles, now known as Verlag. This expanded set of fonts, now including five weights in three different widths, is now available from H&FJ. And gratifyingly, it’s still being used by the Guggenheim — now more than ever.
If the fonts’ thirteen years of continuous use can be attributed to anything, it’s the careful formulation of the original brief. The iconic lettering on Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous rotunda furnished the seed for the project; unchecked, this might have grown into an overly stylized typeface, too eccentric to be of much use. A more short-sighted designer might have made the easy play for nostalgia, but Miller took a more thoughtful approach, envisioning all the different applications that the typeface would come to serve. The family of types we created was therefore more interpretation than facsimile, a versatile family that we all hoped would evoke the qualities of the museum without simply replicating its signature. It was the right call: the fonts once used only by the Guggenheim New York’s publication department now serve the signage programs of four museums, the institution’s Webby Award-winning website, and now the new identity for the Guggenheim Foundation, also designed by Miller, and premiering this year as part of the Guggenheim’s fiftieth anniversary. —JH
15 December, 2008
Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 14
Hot on the heels of my open question about artists and fives, I came across this marvelous photograph by Berenice Abbott featuring a pair of gorgeous fives in starring roles. Abbott is best remembered for Changing New York, her seminal collection of photographs that documents New York of the 1930s; it’s both an inspiration and a great resource for designers, especially typeface designers whose work is influenced by the public sphere.
For eighty years, the A. Zito Bakery stood at 259 Bleecker Street, a short walk from the H&FJ offices. In a street now dominated by bar room neon and vacuform plastic, Zito’s window looked in 2004 much the way it did when Abbott photographed it in 1937. Bread Store is among a collection of Berenice Abbott Photographs now available from AllPosters.com as high-resolution Giclée prints, lovely not only for the glimpses they offer into a grander New York, but for some marvelous lettering as well. These barber shop windows (1, 2) must be tremendous up close, and the humble decals in Zito’s window above have long been a favorite of ours: our Delancey font is based on them. —JH
7 April, 2008
How We Know Our ABCs
“Collation” is the technical term for the order in which the letters of the alphabet are arranged. Anyone who’s ever glanced at a foreign alphabet has noticed the consistencies that have been preserved over the millennia: our Latin “A, B, C” resembles the Greek “alpha, beta, gamma,” as well as the Arabic “’alif, bā’, tā” and Hebrew “aleph, bet, gimel,” all of which are traceable to the Phoenician “’āleph, bēth, gīmel.” By the time we’ve passed through the Proto-Canaanite “’alp, bet, gaml” to the Ugaritic “alpa, beta, gamla,” we’ve travelled back 3,500 years; what's interesting is that the shapes of these letters are unrecognizable, but their order is utterly familiar.
I came across a passage last night that speaks to the significance of alphabet collation. I’d always imagined that the modern practice of labelling parts for assembly using the alphabet — insert tab A into slot B, etc. — must be a post-industrial innovation, one which relied upon modern standards of literacy. Not so:
Ancient Near Easterners used fitters’ marks, single letters of the alphabet apparently used to indicate the order in which various building materials are to be assembled. Various decorative ivory pieces from Nimrud, Iraq, were letter-coded to show the order in which they were to be inserted into furniture. In a temple at Petra, Jordan, archaeologists found “large, individually letter-coded, ashlar blocks spread along the floor of [a] room ... in the temple structure.” In a 1971 salvage expedition of a ship downed off Marsala, Italy, Honor Frost discovered “letters at key places where wood was to be joined ... the ship assembly [was thus] a colossal game of carpentry by letters, like a modern paint-by-numbers project.”
This is from The World’s Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. Oxford University Press, 1996. —JH