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.

Lettering of the WPA

Our creative director Brian Hennings stumbled across a great resource this morning: on the website of the Library of Congress, a collection of 926 posters from the Works Progress Administration. The LOC has done a nice job with this collection, providing for each poster not only the relevant archival information, but high-resolution TIFF files that are free to download.

I’ve yet to meet the designer who doesn’t have at least a little affection for optimistic lettering of the WPA. We’ve stopped short of ever developing a full-tilt Art Deco revival, but many of our sans serifs undeniably feel the pull of the Machine Age. Verlag’s stark geometries include a conscious nod to the bold logo of the National Recovery Administration, while Tungsten is a modular typeface that resists the retro vibe of WPA “gaspipe” lettering. The Library of Congress collection offers a rare opportunity to see rarer styles still, perhaps ones that might obliquely inform some future font from H&FJ. —JH

Typography Shared

Typefaces: Ziggurat, Archer, Gotham

Designers who use our fonts have been sharing their work on our Facebook page, much to the delight of both the designers at H&FJ, and our followers online. Some recent lovelies, clockwise from top left: Christopher Simmons designed this cheerful festival poster using Ziggurat, Leviathan, and a little Hoefler Text; a corporate identity that uses Archer (and a clever emboss) by Mike Kasperski; Gotham in a terrific typographic abecedarium by Paul van Brunschot and his students; a lovely collection of journals by Jodi Storozenko, featuring Archer in a moment of quiet repose; and a bit of Gotham in Anna Farkas’ exhibition identity for The renaissance of letters. Feel free to share your own creations: more then 6,500 other designers are tuned in. —JH

The 21st Century Object Poster

In 1906, the Priester Match Company held an open contest for the design of a poster. Art Nouveau was in full flower, so surely the judges expected to receive decadent renderings of languid smokers, things perhaps in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec or Alphonse Mucha. What none of them expected was a shockingly bold drawing of two matchsticks, almost antagonistically free of nuance: this winning entry, by a twenty-three year old designer named Lucian Bernhard, would come to be recognized as the world’s first Sachplakat, or “object poster.” It was arguably one of the most important design artifacts of the twentieth century, and came to define an entire approach to design that lives on in everything from corporate logos to desktop icons.

104 years later, Austrian designer Albert Exergian has explored this ever-modern idea in the creation of a marvelous set of posters offering witty reductions of television shows. Some of them have Bernhard’s brash disregard for subtlety (Twin Peaks is a pair of mountains), most are considerably more sophisticated and wry (I hadn’t considered how essential the red and blue stripes are when representing a Ziploc bag: see Weeds, above.) Each matches the cleverness of the show it portrays: Exergian’s X-Files is a not merely an X, but the secret signal masking-taped to Special Agent Mulder’s window. Is it possible not to love an interpretation of Charlie’s Angels that features not the girls, not the guns, but the speaker on Bosley’s desk? Is there any better symbol for MacGyver than a bent paperclip? Some of my favorites are above, but the entire collection is worth a look: if nothing else, you’ll be delighted by Exergian’s interpretations of Boston Legal, Miami Vice and Lost. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 17

I wonder what sort of psychological profile one could draw from my favorite childhood possessions. I neither played nor followed football, but clung to my NFL lunchbox that showed all the team helmets with their different insignia. I had no special interest in English History, but was fascinated by the chart in our living room that traced the succession of British monarchs from William the Conqueror to Queen Elizabeth II. A kindergarten teacher gave me a chart of rocks and minerals found in the northeast; a kindly docent at the South Street Seaport Museum gave me a diagram showing how to communicate the alphabet using morse code, semaphore, and maritime signal flags. The list goes on and on, and only a graphic designer will understand the common thread: I had a thing for data visualization.

Whether these objects provoked my interest in design or simply resonated with it, they were marvelous things to have around as a kid. I’m therefore delighted to see that a company called HistoryShots is offering for sale a similar collection of visually engaging prints, not merely suitable for framing but actually framed. Clockwise from top left: The History of the Union Army and Confederate Army, The Conquest of Mount Everest, Visualizing The Bible, Death and Taxes, The History of Political Parties (Part II), and the Race to the Moon. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 14

Hot on the heels of my open question about artists and fives, I came across this marvelous photograph by Berenice Abbott featuring a pair of gorgeous fives in starring roles. Abbott is best remembered for Changing New York, her seminal collection of photographs that documents New York of the 1930s; it’s both an inspiration and a great resource for designers, especially typeface designers whose work is influenced by the public sphere.

For eighty years, the A. Zito Bakery stood at 259 Bleecker Street, a short walk from the H&FJ offices. In a street now dominated by bar room neon and vacuform plastic, Zito’s window looked in 2004 much the way it did when Abbott photographed it in 1937. Bread Store is among a collection of Berenice Abbott Photographs now available from AllPosters.com as high-resolution Giclée prints, lovely not only for the glimpses they offer into a grander New York, but for some marvelous lettering as well. These barber shop windows (1, 2) must be tremendous up close, and the humble decals in Zito’s window above have long been a favorite of ours: our Delancey font is based on them. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 11

Typeface: Ziggurat Black

Picking up where we left off last year, we thought we’d round out 2008 with some holiday ideas for the recovering typophiliac in your life.

I’m intrigued by Jen Bekman’s 20x200, which every week produces small runs of small works on paper, at prices to match. Among their collection of prints and photographs is this limited edition print by Superdeluxe, the studio of designers Adrienne Wong and Karin Spraggs. The appropriately named Ziggurat 5 is a happy riot of color and type, featuring of course the figure five from our own Ziggurat Black typeface. (What is it about artists and fives?) The print is produced in three different editions: a small 8½" × 11" (22cm × 28cm) in archival pigments, a larger 17" × 20" (43cm × 51cm) that includes a letterpress impression, and the largest 30" × 40" (76cm × 102cm) which combines printing and silkscreening. Collect all three. Fives. —JH

Taxonomy Meets Typography

Tina at Swissmiss turned me on to this lovely poster by Decoylab, which wouldn’t you know it makes lovely use of Gotham Extra Light. I’m amazed that designer Maiko Kuzunishi came up with so many recognizable silhouettes, more so that she found so many that are sympathetic with the shape of their initials. (The B is almost a butterfly already, but who’d have seen the J in jellyfish?) Maiko imagines her poster as a fine addition to a child’s room, and I agree: it’s cheerful, engaging, and subliminally inculcates in tomorrow’s animal lovers a taste for fine typography. —JH

Politics Without Gotham

Typeface: Knockout No. 48

Not all political typography has to be set in Gotham (though it seems that way) — here for example are some calls to action by Shepherd Fairey that don’t use any Gotham at all. They use Knockout No. 48.

Designers in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, and Maine have primaries this weekend; Virginia, Maryland and DC, you’re up Tuesday. This means you. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 6

I’ve yet to meet a designer that didn’t have a thing for cartography. In any medium (to this day, maps are printed, engraved, drawn and painted) cartographers have to be excellent and inventive typographers, and mapmaking has given typography some of its most interesting styles. Some of the more exotic letters we’ve drawn certainly owe something to mapmaking, in this case the engraved maps of the very fertile Age of Enlightenment.

Equally interesting are the artists and designers who interpret maps. I hope to someday own one of Paula Scher’s fantastic paintings (which incidentally are on display at New York’s Maya Stendhal Gallery through January 26), but in the meantime I might outfit myself with one of the five City Neighborhood Posters from Ork Design. Chicago, San Francisco and Boston are represented, as well as Manhattan and Brooklyn; gift certificates are available for the itinerant among us. Hand screen printed, and signed and numbered, $22 each. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 4

Every design studio has at least one of Edward Tufte’s books. They’re traditionally distributed during the sacred initiation ceremony through which one becomes a Graphic Designer: a cloaked celebrant makes the sign of command-option-escape and anoints the novice with toner, the congregation recites the paternoster from Paul Rand’s Design, Form, and Chaos, and the now-ordained Designer is presented with the Holy Relics that will form the heart of his or her own workplace: a manga-inspired wind-up toy, a framed fruit crate label with a smutty pun, an overwrought and temperamental stapler with a European pedigree, and a copy of Envisioning Information.

Whether you share Tufte’s love of clarity, or haven’t read his books and simply want the shortcut to intellectual street cred (I’ll deal with you later), you’ll want a copy of this poster showing Napoleon’s March to Moscow, which Tufte correctly calls “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” Designed by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869 and now reproduced by Graphics Press, the diagram simultaneously shows the position, direction, and strength of Napoleon’s army, as well as the time and temperature at each turn — a remarkable amount of information for such an intuitive and tidy diagram. —JH

Aesthetic Apparatus Explained

I started a typeface called Feldspar some years ago, which I’ve yet to complete. After eight years, most such projects would have lost their inertia, but this one’s moving steadily along, driven by a single, fervid dream: I am determined to one day see it in the hands of Dan and Mike at Aesthetic Apparatus.

Aesthetic Apparatus is one of those studios we love to see using our fonts. It’s not merely because they’re fans of our more American-inflected designs (above, some AA posters featuring Cyclone, Acropolis, Gotham, Knockout, Ziggurat, and Giant), it’s because they put the screws to the fonts: they juice them for every last drop of flavor, and then come back to coax still more out of every design, creating new and unexpected textures that you wouldn’t think possible. The driving philosophy behind the studio’s work is — well, here: let’s let Dan and Mike explain the process in their own words:

A transcript is not yet available. —JH

Greek Week Continues

Typeface: Acropolis Black Italic

Right on the heels of yesterday’s post about Grecian italics comes this, a reminder that Swing University is back in session. Swing U, a production of Jazz at Lincoln Center, is a terrific series of courses directed by jazz authority Phil Schaap. Design Director Bobby Martin Jr. developed this identity for Swing U using none other than Acropolis Black Italic, what was heretofore the world’s only Grecian italic typeface, and certainly one of the most exotic faces in the H&Co collection. Every octagonal typeface has a collegiate quality, and Martin cleverly teased this out of Acropolis by adding a double outline that’s right off a varsity jacket. That he’s got the swash T in there adds a nice note of syncopation — a great way of marrying academics and bop. It makes perfect sense and looks great; to paraphrase Count Basie, “if it looks good, it is good.” — JH

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