An Essential Calligraphic Facsimile

Here’s why I backed this Kickstarter project to reprint the sketchbooks of typeface designer Hermann Zapf. If you love letters, you should too.

If you know Zapf Chancery and Zapf Dingbats, you know the faintest shadow of the work of Hermann Zapf. If you know exquisite mid-century books printed in Palatino, you’re getting closer; I never did, having come of age with the brutish digitization of Palatino that shipped with my first laser printer (along with other notable Zapf faces such as Optima and Melior, both too subtle to survive the barbarity of toner at three hundred dots per inch.) People under the age of fifty likely know Zapf only as a typeface designer, and while a deeper study of his typefaces will lead to such treasures as Hunt Roman and Saphir, even this is only half the story. Zapf is a consummate calligrapher — he has been for eight decades — and he is about to share with the world one of his private treasures.

My introduction to Zapf the calligrapher was Feder und Stichel (Pen and Graver), a monograph of 1950 featuring twenty-five calligraphic studies cut in metal by August Rosenberger. They show not only Zapf’s mastery as a shaper of letters, words, and paragraphs, but a catholic taste for historical forms that live apart from his commercially-produced typefaces. There are rustic capitals that date to the third century, two interpretations of the 16th century Civilité, and a spectacular alphabet of inline Fraktur capitals. Zapf and I have a mutual close friend, who recently mentioned an even more exotic bit of Zapfiana, the sketchbooks that Zapf carried with him after his conscription into the German Army at the outbreak of World War II. Only reproduced in excerpt, and never seen outside of Zapf’s home, it is these that the Kelly-Winterton Press is undertaking to produce in facsimile.

Behind the Facsimile

The proper execution of such a project will require an editor with a deep knowledge of letters, a printer intimately familiar with the demands of reproducing complex artwork, someone with long-established relationships in the fine press community, and a designer up to the challenge of presenting this work in an appropriate typographic context. This project has all of these contributors in the form of Jerry Kelly, a designer, printer, and professional calligrapher, who studied under Zapf in 1979. Kelly is a lover of letters: he wrote the introduction to The Art of the Type Specimen in the Twentieth Century (and designed it beautifully using a typeface to which I’d never given a second thought); he designed The Practice of Letters, which presents The Hofer Collection of Writing Manuals from the Harvard College Library, still an indispensable reference on the evolution of letterforms. Books-on-books can sometimes, cruelly, be careless in their details; this will not be such a project. The facsimile edition will cost $65, though a range of deluxe options include such premiums as additional enclosures and fine bindings. I’ll be adding one of these to my bookshelf, and I’d encourage you to do the same, both to encourage the preservation of this important work, and to enjoy the fruits of this wonderful labor of love. —JH

Adventure Typography!

Some new features at discover.typography make it easier than ever to spot fonts in the wild.

Among the contributors to discover.typography are a couple of serious campers, a few people who enjoy a good hike, and at least one fledgling birdwatcher. At least one of us may have been involved in scouting as a kid, where the pursuit of such outdoorsy merit badges as Indian Lore, Basketry and Leatherwork pointed damningly to a future as the proprietor of a type foundry. But even for an indoorsy designer-to-be, there was much to love about camping: compact kits where things cleverly nested together, secret codes involving flashing lights or colored flags, the iconography of uniform badges, and multi-functional Swiss Army knives that prepared gutsy woodsmen for fixing eyeglasses or opening bottles of wine on the frontier. There was also the night sky, the joy of telling a chestnut tree by its leaves or a cottontail rabbit by its tracks, and the discovered pleasures of both camaraderie and solitude. It was with all this reverie in mind that we set to work on Trail Mix, a meditation on the outdoor life, in type.

 

The new controller.

Trail Mix includes a couple of unexpected type treatments for the web, from type wrapping a three-dimensional object, to letters rendered in embroidery. But the most significant change is to the controller, which identifies which fonts are used in each piece of art. Now you’ll see more detailed information about the fonts that go into our work — for example, not just that we used “Gotham,” but which specific styles we chose from the Gotham Narrow 1 package. We’ve also made the controller and the artwork mutually interactive, so you can select a font’s name to see where it appears in the art, and vice versa. And as always, there are a couple of easter eggs in store for the eagle-eyed, Eagle Scouts among you. Be prepared. —JH

What’s New in Gotham

Now Gotham’s more cosmopolitan than ever: starting today, the entire family speaks another 60 languages, including Russian and Greek.

H&Co is delighted to introduce a massive expansion of our Gotham family. With the addition of more than 29,000 character drawings, all 66 styles of Gotham — plus all 48 Gotham ScreenSmart fonts, specifically designed for the web — now feature the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets. These characters are now included standard in all Gotham packages.

The Languages

Today’s Gothams tackle sixty additional languages, including Greek, Russian, and a host of languages that use variants of the Cyrillic alphabet. Featuring H&Co’s Cyrillic-X™ spec, the fonts can render not only the major Balto-Slavic languages (Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Belarusian, Bulgarian and Macedonian), but also many of the more widely-spoken and under-served languages of Asia, from Abaza (48,000 speakers) to Uzbek (27 million.) In all, today’s enhancements help designers communicate with more than one quarter of a billion new readers worldwide.

Got Gotham?

For those designers who have already purchased Gotham, we’re delighted to make these upgrades available free.

We’re rolling out these upgrades today, so if you’ve purchased Gotham for your computer, sign in and visit your Font Library. You’ll find a list of all your H&Co fonts, along with links to download their latest versions. If you’re using any of the Gotham webfonts via Cloud.typography, you’ll see an option within your project dashboards’ Character Set panel to add Greek, Basic Russian, or the full Extended Cyrillic set.

Get Gotham!

And if you haven’t yet made Gotham a part of your collection, now’s the perfect time. Packages begin at $169, with savings of $69 when buying specially-priced Gotham Bundles — and an additional $100 when buying bundles together.

Nicely Done: Purcell Heli-Skiing

With the imminent return of snowstorms to New York, we can't help but mention a wintry website that uses typography to great effect: Purcell Heli-Skiing, who have spent forty years choppering more than 50,000 adventurous skiers and snowboarders to the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. The website, designed by Ontario-based They, plays with the scale of its typography in a thoughtful and deliberate way. Text faces Gotham SSm and Sentinel SSm are used throughout, punctuated by the lighter weights of Tungsten Light in all caps, creating a monumental but hushed tone that evokes the striking terrain itself. —NW

Fonts in Fiction

Typefaces occasionally escape into the wild, sometimes to find themselves in unfamiliar literary climes. No designer has ever read Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco without being startled by the arrival of a certain Mr. Garamond early in the story; even the most pedantic typographer can’t help but love this delicious scene in American Psycho, in which jousting arbitrageurs boast about their business cards, all of it in nonsense designerese. (The cardstock? “It’s Bone. The lettering is something called Silian Rail.”)

While type designers are accustomed to seeing their work appear in fictional settings — movie props, mostly, many of them anachronistic — there’s a special strangeness that comes from reading about one of your fonts in a work of fiction. Having just tucked into A Little Life, a novel by Hanya Yanagihara, H&Co’s Carleen Borsella shot bolt upright when she saw our Archer typeface namechecked on page ten. I can only imagine that the fictional Jasper, who’s “using Archer for everything,” even body text, is himself a graphic designer: those of us on the inside know that Archer is indeed a text face, one that’s fitted with all kinds of features designed with text in mind. We’ll have to keep an eye on Jasper, remembering what happened last time an H&Co typeface enjoyed a brief literary interlude. —JH

The Inspiring Everyday

Whether they’re typeface designers, graphic designers, web developers, or part of our business group, nobody at H&Co is immune to the charms of found typography, and we’re all compulsive sharers. Recently, our chief operating officer paid a visit to the garage to have her car serviced, and returned with a souvenir that made us smile: a paper tag left dangling from the rear view mirror, designer unknown, indifferently printed with a giant number in four inch block type. It prompted a conversation about the pleasures of anonymous typography, and how even the humblest bits of ephemera can suggest visual strategies for solving far more complex design challenges. So for those who take pleasure in life’s little typographic moments, we’re pleased to share a few of ours, today on discover.typography. —JH

Introducing Obsidian

I’ve always wanted to create a decorative display face in the Regency style, one of those stout, industrial alphabets enlivened by bright, detailed illumination. Toward the end of our Surveyor project, a deep exploration of engraved map lettering, this idea started to feel especially relevant: engraved maps were often badged with elaborate title pieces, and the more time we spent with these hatched and shadowed letters, the more we could imagine how some of their visual qualities could be successfully interpreted in a contemporary typeface — and one that would be useful and relevant to designers today. But then there was the matter of draftsmanship: how do you do it? Type design is still largely a manual art, and the thought of devoting years of our lives to drawing tiny curlicues was a bleak prospect indeed. Like the best of dead ends, this was where things started to become interesting.

I’d been discussing this puzzle with Andy Clymer, a senior typeface designer at H&Co. As part of the Surveyor design team, Andy had spent a lot of time with the heaviest members of that family, the ones most closely connected with the Regency style. An accomplished programmer and a procedural thinker generally, Andy had taken a short sabbatical in 2013 to attend the first class of the School for Poetic Computation, an artist-run school in New York that explores the intersections of code, design, and theory. Returning with some fresh ideas about particle studies and 3D modeling, Andy and I met to reframe the project: what sorts of rapid prototyping tools could we build to help explore different options, and how might these help us execute our ideas across the massive scale demanded by a contemporary typeface? Not content to be a mere set of decorated capitals, our typeface would need 1,400 glyphs spanning both roman and italic styles, bringing its esprit to the most esoteric of punctuation marks and accents.

Ultimately, Andy’s scripts would become an entire suite of proprietary tools for interpreting two-dimensional letterforms as three-dimensional objects, through the application of virtual light sources that vary in position, angle, and intensity. Like the best projects at H&Co, the typeface was shaped not only by exchanges between designer and editor, but by the iterative cycle of what the tools can do, what we need the tools to do, and what the tools turn out to be able to do that we didn’t foresee going in. After 53 weeks in development, I’m proud to present a project that seemed unattainable just 54 weeks ago: the new Obsidian typeface, from the designers at H&Co.

Webfonts with Stylistic Sets

Now there’s a way to transform your web typography at the touch of a button: introducing Stylistic Sets for webfonts at Cloud.typography.

In search of the perfect form for each of a font’s thousands of characters, typeface designers sometimes encounter questions that have more than one answer. Perhaps a flowery capital Q captures a font’s elegance, but one with a shorter tail is more practical when there’s no room for flourish. Perhaps a smart and serious typeface suddenly becomes cool and playful, with a subtle alteration to its lowercase a. H&Co loves making typefaces that offer different voices, and ones that anticipate and solve problems, which is why we’ve long furnished our desktop fonts with alternate characters that offer designers stylistic and functional options. Starting today, Cloud.typography users can achieve this same sophistication on the web, fine-tuning webfonts using a powerful OpenType feature called stylistic sets. Uniquely, we’ve implemented this feature so that it works not only in cutting-edge browsers, but in all browsers that support webfonts, so that your typographic preferences can be a fundamental and consistent part of the way you work with type.

At its simplest, a stylistic set replaces one character with an alternate form, such as the optional “single-storey” lowercase a available in Gotham, above. Activating this option affects not only the letter itself, but all of its related forms, including the à accent seen here. Usefully, Cloud.typography automatically makes this same change across all of a family’s styles, a welcome bit of housekeeping in a sixteen-style family like Gotham:

These adjustments are known as stylistic sets because they allow related transformations to be grouped together and controlled by a single switch. The “curly commas” option in the Whitney typeface affects not only the comma, but the semicolon, and both the open and closed forms of the single quotes, double quotes, and baseline quotes. The ability to manage complex adjustments with a single checkbox makes it easy to ensure consistency across your typography: not everyone would guess that turning on Whitney’s flat-sided M would change not only the capital and small cap forms, but also the symbols for trademark (™) and servicemark (℠).

Each of our type families has different stylistic sets, inspired by the natural properties of the design. There are versatile typefaces such as Surveyor in which common characters like f and g can be dramatically reshaped, straightforward headline faces like Tungsten Rounded that let you fine-tune details as esoteric as the percent sign, and exuberant display faces such as Landmark that include five different mechanisms for managing accents. Our Stylistic Sets FAQ details the things that await you in the H&Co library, a few highlights of which appear below. On behalf of our type designers who devise these characters, and the Cloud.typography team who brought this work to the web, I look forward to seeing what you build with these new tools! —JH

Introducing Quarto

Meet Quarto, a new family of display faces.

Dutch Old Styles are marvelous and versatile typefaces, and one of typography’s dominant species. The style, which dates to the late sixteenth century, features a large lowercase, compact descenders, and a dense texture, together making them an excellent choice for setting headlines. We had the opportunity to explore the style when we were commissioned to create an original typeface for Portfolio magazine, a business title launched by Condé Nast, and designed by Robert Priest and Grace Lee. From out of this work comes Quarto®, a new family of display faces for print and web.

In reviewing the historical artifacts that served as a foundation for the project, we decided that Quarto should not record this period style, but rather interpret some of its more intriguing and open-ended ideas. In one typeface, created by a Flemish punchcutter 444 years ago, we found a compelling tension between opposing qualities: dark, gothic strokes were offset by bright, crisp serifs; a forest of vertical stems was punctuated by moments of lavish roundness. This controlled tension became a theme for the project, and would serve us when Quarto left history behind — which would be sooner than usual.

The typeface that inspired Quarto included only a roman alphabet, so beyond the usual effort of designing plausible numbers, punctuation, and symbols, H&Co Senior Designer Sara Soskolne was faced with inventing a sympathetic and historically appropriate italic. (Our Flemish punchcutter, Hendrik van den Keere, worked in a range of styles throughout his career, but apparently never created a single italic.) Also unsupplied by the historical record were any suggestions about how to design additional weights: “boldface” is a nineteenth century concept, unknown to sixteenth century typefounders, and one of the reasons that contemporary Old Style faces often have either a small range of weights, or none at all. Quarto pushes beyond bold into black, offering a spectrum of styles that preserves the design’s fire and intensity throughout.

Toward a Philosophy of Webfonts: A Lecture at Beyond Tellerrand, Berlin

If you’ll be in Berlin next week, I hope you’ll join me and my fellow speakers for Beyond Tellerrand, the design technology conference that’s quickly become a favorite locus for interesting design thinking. Equal measures of visual design and web technology always combine for an inspiring and provocative couple of days.

I’ll be talking about webfonts, and a critical framework that I’ve found useful in understanding their intentions and assessing their quality. And if all goes well this week, I’m hoping to have the opportunity to introduce some new features that we’re developing for Cloud.typography, our second such announcement this month. —JH

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