Introducing Operator

A monospace typeface, a monospace-inspired typeface, and a short film about type design.

About two years ago, H&Co Senior Designer Andy Clymer proposed that we design a monospace typeface. Monospace (or “fixed-width”) typefaces have a unique place in the culture: their most famous ancestor is the typewriter, and they remain the style that designers reach for when they want to remind readers about the author behind the words. Typewriter faces have become part of the aesthetic of journalism, fundraising, law, academia, and politics; a dressier alternative to handwriting, but still less formal than something set in type, they’re an invaluable tool for designers.

I acutely felt the need for such a typeface, and immediately thought of places I’d want to use it on Discover.typography. And while I liked the idea of creating a new typeface that would have this kind of voice — minus the nostalgic clackety-clack look of an actual typewriter face — I wondered if we could achieve these results without the many compromises required of a fixed-width design. Fixed-width faces force every character into a box of the same size, creating charmingly long serifs on the capital I, but tragic, procrustean disfigurements of wider letters like M and W. So I suggested that we relax the system, to create a font that feels monospaced, but behaves more professionally.

Andy made an equally compelling counterproposal, reminding me that the command-line editor — these days, home to so many people who design things — could really be improved by a fully fixed-width typeface. What if, in addition to shedding the unwanted baggage of the typewriter, we also looked to the programming environment as a place where type could make a difference? Like many screen fonts before it, Operator could pay extra attention to the brackets and braces and punctuation marks more critical in code than in text. But if Operator took the unusual step of looking not only to serifs and sans serifs, but to script typefaces for inspiration, it could do a lot more. It could render the easily-confused I, l, and 1 far less ambiguous. It could help “color” syntax in a way that transcends the actual use of color, ensuring that different parts of a program are easier to identify. Andy hoped this might be useful when a technical pdf found its way to a black-and-white laser printer. It was an especially meaningful gesture to me, as someone who, like three hundred million others, is red-green colorblind.

So with designers, developers, and most of all readers in mind, we decided to design it both ways. Operator Mono® is our new family of fixed-width typefaces, with a broader range of weights than a typical typewriter face, and an italic that positively shines in code. Its more editorial companion is the natural-width Operator® family, which offers the voice of typewriting but none of the compromises. Operator extends to nine weights, from Thin to Ultra, and includes both roman and italic small caps throughout. Both families are supported by companion ScreenSmart fonts, specially designed and engineered for use in the browser at text sizes.

In developing Operator, we found ourselves talking about JavaScript and css, looking for vinyl label embossers on eBay, renting a cantankerous old machine from perhaps the last typewriter repair shop in New York, and unearthing a flea market find that amazingly dates to 1893. Above is the four-minute film I made, to record a little of what went into Operator, and introduce the team at H&Co behind it. —JH


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