It’s surprising how much writing that isn’t about design turns out to be about design. For years, I’ve been squirreling away sentiments that resonate with me, scribbling them into sketchbooks or thumbing them into many generations of smartphone. Their sources vary: a hard-boiled mystery that I read on vacation, an in-flight magazine interview with a restaurateur, a book about viniculture, Twitter. One is attributable to a cartoon character. CEO Marissa Mayer adroitly captured what connects geeks and designers, and Jay-Z perfectly articulated something I’ve always felt about typeface design. Taken together, they’re ultimately about the same things: the role of design, the creative process, entrepreneurship, and the significance of tradition and style. These are all things central to life at H&Co, both to us and our clients, and to lovers of typography everywhere. I thought you might enjoy them. —JH
Lately, we’ve been developing a taste for tight letterspacing. Our clients have been doing the same: designers know that tight tracking is an effective way to make any message seem more immediate and energetic. But not every typeface is designed for close quarters, and the wrong font can ruin the effect. Here are a few things to consider when setting type tightly.
We often reach for a condensed sans when looking for a typeface that can be mortared into a solid wall, but the right serif typeface can be just as successful — and sometimes a lot more lively. Serifs introduce a level of variation that helps relieve typographic monotony, and they can fill awkward spaces around curved letters. A typeface with unusually short serifs, such as Quarto Black, can be tracked especially tightly before its characters begin to touch. But don’t eliminate overlaps, since they contribute to giving typography an even rhythm: track your type so that lowercase Ns and Os nestle comfortably together, and let the others fall where they may.
Many typefaces make use of the superellipse, a shape based on the ellipse but with fuller curves. Gotham Condensed Ultra, shown here, is one such design: notice the way its upper- and lowercase O are drawn, with squarer “shoulders” than a regular ellipse, shown here as a dotted line. The extra weight in the corners helps letters take up as much space as possible, and further squares them against other letters’ vertical strokes. In the headline above, I’ve also added Gotham’s alternate lowercase A, which huddles more tightly against its neighboring letters. (This character is available as a stylistic set, both on the desktop and on the web.) Keep an eye out for typefaces that use superelliptical curves: you’ll find them at work in many of our boldest fonts.
Because flat and unbracketed serifs intersect more predictably on a line, slab serifs are some of the best choices for tight tracking. Pay attention to the tops of the lowercase F and R, and the concluding strokes of the lowercase A and T, which in most typefaces will feature rounded terminals and curved tails that add to a font’s variety. For even greater visual consistency, choose a slab serif like Vitesse Black, which streamlines these details into horizontal strokes. Vitesse’s boxy serifs lock neatly together, long before the letters themselves collide, helping preserve the legibility of the type.
While typefaces with flat sides seem like obvious choices for tight tracking, take care: these can be among the most perilous fonts to use. Serifs can help a letter keep its neighbors at arm’s length, and letters with plump curves can be legible even when partially obscured. But flat-sided letters, when set too tightly, meld into a single, indistinguishable mass. When using a flat-sided sans, look for one that’s specifically fitted for display sizes, such as Tungsten Bold. And if you’re considering a typeface with rounded corners, look for one that automatically resolves awkward collisions, such as Tungsten Rounded.
Our taste in type is always evolving. Keep an eye on discover.typography to see what we’re thinking about, or join our mailing list to keep up with what we’re working on. — 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.
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.
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.
We’re delighted to introduce Surveyor, a new family of fonts for print and web, and sizes large and small.
I love maps, and not just for their vintage charm. I admire them as highly functional pieces of design, packing extraordinary amounts of information into small spaces, and invisibly educating readers about how they’re meant to be read. Spend a few moments with a map, and you’ll find that you’ve learned to distinguish counties, cities, and towns by the styles of type they use, without ever checking the legend. And these are just three of a typical map’s two dozen styles of lettering.
Surveyor® is a new family of fonts inspired by the traditional mapmaker’s letter. It revives a style of lettering that’s unique to cartography, one that evolved in the early nineteenth century and endured for as long as maps were printed by engraving. Beyond reviving the shapes of these alphabets, Surveyor celebrates what maps do best, by providing an expressive typographic vocabulary to help designers articulate many different kinds of information. A peek at Surveyor’s style list hints at what’s possible.
We’ve designed Surveyor in three optical sizes: a Text version for body copy, a Display cut for headlines, and a Fine for sizes larger still. Surveyor goes beyond the mapmaker’s roman and italic by including five weights, each of them outfitted with both roman and italic small caps, swash caps, and swash small caps. In its Text size, Surveyor features tabular figures, fractions, and symbols, to help it conquer the most demanding content. And for Cloud.typography users, we’ve created Surveyor ScreenSmart, a family of webfonts for text that contains all of these advanced typographic features, engineered to work in the browser at sizes as small as nine pixels.
A good type family balances cohesion and diversity. Its styles need to feel related, but each is entitled to its own personality. Nothing’s worse than paying for a collection of two dozen fonts, only to discover that each speaks in exactly the same voice.
Tungsten began as a focussed set of styles that aspired to being disarming instead of pushy. “Smart, tough, and sexy” was how we described the design, a brief that gave us enough latitude to create four distinct designs: a sporty Medium, an articulate Semibold, a stylish Bold, and a persuasive Black. We stopped at four, discovering that so many of the strategies that served the design in these proportions became impractical at lighter weights. Tungsten is all about the interplay between positive and negative space, a relationship that disappears when the strokes become thin, and the spaces cavernous. So while we could make the design perform mechanically at lighter weights, it no longer felt like Tungsten.
But then we discovered something interesting. We found different strategies to use at these proportions, which could make the design look familiar but feel different. We created new designs whose forthrightness came through in different ways: some were elegant, others earnest. And when we started exploring different widths, we found we could gradually turn up the volume, and watch Tungsten go from cool to vibrant to ecstatic.
So today, we’re delighted to introduce The New Tungstens, a set of four different widths, each in eight weights, starting at $199. The full collection includes Regular, Narrow, Condensed and Compressed, and right now you can save $300 when you buy the complete collection of 32 styles.
Typefaces are born from the struggle between rules and results. Squeezing a square about 1% helps it look more like a square; to appear the same height as a square, a circle must be measurably taller. The two strokes in an X aren’t the same thickness, nor are their parallel edges actually parallel; the vertical stems of a lowercase alphabet are thinner than those of its capitals; the ascender on a d isn’t the same length as the descender on a p, and so on. For the rational mind, type design can be a maddening game of drawing things differently in order to make them appear the same.
Twenty-one years ago, we began tinkering with a sans serif alphabet to see just how far these optical illusions could be pushed. How asymmetrical could a letter O become, before the imbalance was noticeable? Could a serious sans serif, designed with high-minded intentions, be drawn without including a single straight line? This alphabet slowly marinated for a decade and a half, benefitting from periodic additions and improvements, until in 2006, Pentagram’s Abbott Miller proposed a project for the Art Institute of Chicago that resonated with these very ideas. As a part of Miller’s new identity for the museum, we revisited the design, and renovated it to help it better serve as the cornerstone of a larger family of fonts. Since then we’ve developed the project continuously, finding new opportunities to further refine its ideas, and extend its usefulness through new weights, new styles, and new features.
Today, we’re delighted to introduce Ideal Sans®, this new font family in 48 styles. Ideal Sans is a meditation on the handmade, combining different characteristics of many different writing tools and techniques, in order to achieve a warm, organic, and hand-crafted feeling. It’s distinctive at large sizes and richly textured in small ones, and available today in packages starting at $149.
There are stylized typefaces that speak in a singular, powerful voice, and there are versatile ones capable of expressing many different moods. We feel the pull of both extremes, and are especially fascinated by the typographic styles caught in between. Sans serifs based on the rounded rectangle are an interesting study: they’re adaptable enough to have survived almost two hundred years, but in every incarnation they return with a new but overly specific agenda. The ones on enamel railway signs are charming, but a little sleepy; the ones on battleships are somber, if a little aloof. We’ve long wondered if this style could be harnessed to create a more expressive family of types, and recently had the opportunity to find out: Wired commissioned us to design a square sans as their editorial workhorse, one that could handle everything from philosophical essays to down-to-earth service pieces.
The result is Forza®, a new family of sans serifs from H&Co. Forza’s sophisticated visual vocabulary makes it alert and engaging, and its broad palette of weights ensures that Forza can meet the needs of the most demanding designer, from painterly display typography to text-heavy listings. Ardent, disciplined, shrewd, and commanding, Forza offers a range of voices to choose from, and is now available in twelve styles, from $199.
Please welcome Vitesse®, a new slab serif in twelve styles.
Slab serifs are one of typography’s most vibrant categories, yet they remain dominated by two ancient forms: the nineteenth century Antique, and the twentieth century Geometric. Both are vital and living genres — we’ve explored each of them, in our Sentinel and Archer type families — but what of the twenty-first century slab? Vitesse revels in the tension between organic letterforms and mechanical grids, and offers designers a distinctive new voice that’s suave, confident, and stylish. Engineered for responsive handling and a sporty ride, Vitesse is now available, starting at $199.
A few years ago, we started wondering if there was a way to make a flat-sided sans serif that was disarming instead of brutish, one that employed confidence and subtlety instead of just raw testosterone. It was an unusual design brief for ourselves, completely without visual cues and trading in cultural associations instead: “more Steve McQueen than Steven Seagal,” reads one note; “whiskey highball, not a martini” suggests another.
The result is Tungsten®, a tight family of high-impact fonts in four weights: muscular and persuasive, without sacrificing wit, versatility, or style. Now starting at $99.
Fans of our Gotham typeface will be pleased to find that as of this morning, there are three times as many Gothams in the world as there were yesterday.
Designers who work with Gotham have enthusiastically deployed the fonts in a range of environments. We’ve seen Gotham on soda cans, boarding passes, billboards and banner ads; we’ve seen it engraved in marble on a cornerstone, and cast in rubber on the sole of a shoe. One newspaper used Gotham for financial listings, another for saucy tabloid headlines. But what we see the most are designers facing the challenge of making one typeface work across all channels. Last year saw one of the most remarkable examples of this: journalists couldn’t stop writing about something that designers have always known, which is that a candidate for president should use the same font for everything, from lawn signs and flyers to the campaign’s website.
Making a font work everywhere is a tall order. H&Co’s designers love these kinds of challenges, and are driven by an incurable compulsion to make fonts that can answer everyone’s needs. But designing a typeface is an arduous process requiring serious commitment, and we realized early on that if we weren’t careful, there could suddenly be an endless number of very specialized Gothams. The prospect of a “Gotham for embroidery” collection and a “Gotham for box scores” was daunting, and ran counter to one of H&Co’s core philosophies: that type families should be as small as possible, but as large as necessary.
So we organized all of these ideas into a coherent design brief, mapped out a way to bring a larger Gotham family to life, and then devoted years to drawing the new fonts that we’re delighted to present today. Today’s Gotham contains a total of 66 styles, neatly organized into four widths: regular Gotham, the new Gotham Narrow and Extra Narrow, and the newly-expanded Gotham Condensed. They’re all now available, in packages starting at $169, exclusively at H&Co.
Now that’s what I call a banner headline. Yesterday’s Indy Star had a nice enough 180pt Gotham Condensed on page one, but it took a win for the Colts in Superbowl XLI to produce this whopper: a 9,800pt headline emblazoned on the outside of the newspaper’s offices. Biggest Gotham ever?
Eli Manning’s got to be wondering why, after quarterbacking the Giants to a victory in Superbowl XLII, he hasn’t gotten the same reception as his brother Peyton here. Every single one of the New York dailies uses an H&Co font, and our office buildings are considerably taller: couldn’t 620 Eighth Avenue or 220 West 42nd Street manage a Gotham Condensed headline in 50,000pt? (Where’s that Christo guy when you need him?) —JH
Primary season means banner headlines, and banner headlines mean condensed fonts. Above, some of our favorite Gothamophiles working hard to cement Gotham’s connection to politics; here’s Gotham Condensed being put through its paces at a range of sizes. Scott Goldman wins the size prize at The Indianapolis Star — and his state wasn’t even voting yesterday!
We’ll post some political front pages from the New York papers, provided they ever stop talking about the Superbowl. —JH
We’re delighted to introduce Archer®, a new slab serif in forty styles. Sweet but not saccharine, earnest but not grave, Archer is designed to hit just the right notes of forthrightness, credibility, and charm. Romans and italics in eight weights each, including a delicate hairline for display work, and featuring small caps, fractions, tabular figures, and our Latin-X® character set for extended language support. Now shipping in OpenType, with prices starting at $149, plus special savings when you order two or more Archer packages.