New from H&Co: Nitro & Turbo

In contrast to our last release, a hundred-style family inspired by tiny engravings on vintage maps, today we’re introducing a two-style family of forward-looking, stadium-sized letters: meet Nitro & Turbo.

The irrepressibly energetic Nitro grew out of a commission from Michael Bierut at Pentagram, to create an original typeface for the New York Jets. An unusual project, Nitro started not with a moderate weight roman, but with a black italic, usually the most peripheral member of a type family. Instinctively we felt that Nitro could benefit from a companion design, but what? What additional style could offer a visual counterpoint, while sharing the design’s explosive energy and unstoppable momentum?

In place of a companion roman or a set of lighter weights, we decided to explore one of typography’s less obvious directions: the backslant. Like every project that begins with an unvoiced “how hard can it be?”, the answer came back, “harder than you think.” Backslants are eye-catching because they confound expectations, but tricky to draw because they go against the natural motion of the hand, the pen, and the alphabet itself, making them a design challenge as formidable as it is irresistible.

The result of the project is two fonts, the forward-leaning Nitro, and the backward-leaning Turbo. Both fonts have the versatility of a good hot pepper: they add a useful dash of fire to a surprisingly wide range of recipes, and in the right setting, they’re fantastic on their own.

Introducing Landmark

Typeface: Landmark

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.

Hoefler & Frere-Jones on PBS

Typefaces: Gotham and Tungsten

“Off Book” is a series from PBS Arts dedicated to documenting the creative process, and expanding the definition of art. Produced by New York filmmakers Kornhaber Brown, the series premiered with an exploration of “light painting”, and the intention to explore a new artistic genre every episode. Episode two focusses on typography, with our own Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones representing the sub-sub-sub-genre of typeface design. Pentagram partners Paula Scher and Eddie Opara discuss their unique perspectives on typographic identity (in both senses of the word), and designers Julia Vakser and Deroy Peraza of Hyperakt discuss the range and reach of data visualization, a genre unto itself. And kudos to Kornhaber Brown for wrapping up with the one-minute segment, “How to talk about type like you know what you’re talking about.” Required pre-holiday watching for our families. —JH

Ideal Sans: A New Font Family from H&FJ

Typeface: Ideal Sans

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.

These Aren’t The Fifty States You’re Looking For

Photo: Michael Moran. Typeface: Gotham Bold

In Fast Company, Ellen Lupton writes:

The graphic designer Michael Bierut, a partner working in the New York office of the firm Pentagram, designed a 21-foot sign for the new U.S.-Canada border crossing at Massena, New York. The sign, as well as the building, which was designed by architects Smith-Miller & Hawkinson, has received substantial praise as a bold and daring piece of federal design. Too daring, perhaps. The sign is being dismantled by the Customs and Border Protection Agency for fear that it will be a target for terrorists.

I share Michael Bierut’s hesitation in second-guessing the seasoned professionals at the Department of Homeland Security, who surely know more about armed extremists than I would ever want to. Still, I think there’s a compromise to be struck: if the goal is to create a typographic fig leaf that disguises one’s arrival at our 9,161,923 square kilometer nation, why not change the inscription to “Bienvenidos a México?” —JH

Guggenheim Redux

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

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 8

The arrival of a new year means it’s time for a new Pentagram Calendar. We’ll forever be partial to the 2006 edition, for which Pentagram commissioned us to design twelve new fonts of numbers; we subsequently added three additional styles, anticipating of course the post-revolutionary 15-month calendar under which all earthlings will unite in observance of Hoefluary, Frerember and Jonesember. (Reminder: font licenses must be paid in full by Tribute Day, Hoefluary 15.)

But until the revolution comes, enjoy your quaint 12-month ways with the stylish 2008 Pentagram Typography Calendar. 2008 looks like it’s going to be a vintage year, for this year’s edition is designed exclusively using the typefaces of Matthew Carter. Few things can make January more exhilarating than a brace of Galliard old-style figures, and the appearance of the scarce Walker typeface in February hints at many more treats throughout the months to come. —JH

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