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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Cloud.typography now supports even more integrated browsers, like the ones built into web development tools and mobile apps.
Cloud.typography is designed to identify the type of browser viewing a web page, and to respond with exactly the right kind of fonts. This offers advantages in terms of both render quality and filesize: IE6 for Windows gets the additional help it needs to render small type crisply, and Safari for iOS gets fonts that aren’t encumbered by excess data. Now, we’ve supplemented Cloud.typography’s long list of browsers and font types with a safety net, designed to deliver industry-standard woff files to any browser it doesn’t recognize. As a result, you’ll now see webfonts in new places, from the browser built into the Google app for iOS, to the preview tool inside Coda, the great web development app from Panic.
Best part: there’s nothing you need to do. All of these updates are already online, and delivering for every Cloud.typography project. Enjoy! —NW
If you’ve ever dated a graphic designer, this has likely happened to you. You’re seated comfortably at a charming restaurant, presented with menus, and you watch as your companion scans up and down the entrées. Menus are flipped over, brows furrow; eyeglasses are lifted as eyes squint at the details. You catch an occasional “huh” that suggests the discerning judgment of the true connoisseur, and think you’re in for a treat. “See anything you like?” you ask innocently. “I like the italic small caps on the wine list,” comes the response, “but they used Arial for the bottom two lines.” It’s amazing we get invited anywhere.
Lunchtime at H&Co tends to provoke these conversations, and with no civilians in attendance, we’re free to nerd out. We’ve been thinking a lot recently about the different typographic idioms that restaurants use to telegraph what’s in store — how the folksy barbecue joint distinguishes itself from the faux French bistro, or the more-Brooklyn-than-Brooklyn sandwich shop — and have been looking for ways to help designers communicate a restaurant’s culture without resorting to shopworn clichés. No wood type with the pulled pork, or belle epoque frippery with the poached eggs: you can definitely use modern, relevant, and satisfying typography, and still set the right tone.
You’ll find a few of our suggestions at What’s Cooking, a collection of thirteen typographic menus (plus a few amuse-bouches), today at discover.typography. These autumnal settings are a follow-up to Save the Date, our summertime celebration of the invitations that turn into cherished keepsakes once the first chill of fall enters the air. We hope you’ll enjoy them both. —JH
There’s a wonderful materiality about rounded letters. Their lighter weights have an engineered quality: for me, they always bring to mind the controlled movements of a router, steadily cutting channels in brass or steel and leaving behind a spray of metal shavings. Their heavier weights are the stuff of the roadside, both the vacuform plastic letters that advertise gas stations and motels, and the painted signs that herald this week’s prices for groceries or liquor. Applying these tactile qualities to our suave Tungsten family gives us Tungsten Rounded, a new family of six fonts that’s at once earnest, energetic, and wry.
A common dilemma when working with rounded typefaces is what to do when two adjacent letters overlap. For the signpainter, the tiny divet created by two intersecting curves is quickly dispatched with a brush, but the letters in a typeface usually go unsupervised:
In Tungsten Rounded’s heaviest weights, we addressed this problem with a set of 151 alternate characters, designed to interact in more predictable ways. An OpenType feature automatically engages these characters when needed, to ensure that all of the 548 potential collisions are managed correctly, from common pairs like AX, to truly exotic ones such as KÆ.