H&FJ: The AIGA Video

As part of the presentation of the 2013 AIGA Medal, the American Institute of Graphic Arts commissioned this short video about type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. In addition to offering an intimate glimpse at some recent works-in-progress, the video features an inside look at the H&FJ offices in a moment of rare repose.

Thanks once again to the AIGA for recognizing our work, and to Dan and Andre at Dress Code for presenting typeface design with such thought, care, and wit. —JH

The Finishing Touches

In the middle of Gotham, our family of 66 sans serifs, there is a hushed but surprising moment: a fraction whose numerator has a serif. So important was this detail that we decided to offer it as an option for all the other fractions, a decision that ultimately required more than 400 new drawings. Why?

Join us for The Finishing Touches, a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the invisible details that go into every font from H&FJ.

New Fonts: A Graphic Designer’s Perspective

Typeface: Tungsten

Most graphic designers choose the fonts that best fit their projects. Brian Hennings does the opposite: he chooses the projects that best fit the fonts. A resident designer at Hoefler & Frere-Jones, Brian shares with me the responsibility of creating all of the sample art you’ll find on this site. His is a strange universe of the fictitious: signage programs for mythical cities, book jackets for unwritten novels, product literature for items you cannot buy, broadcast graphics for live sporting events that you can’t quite identify. (They might have a ball, horses, cars, rifles, or all of the above.) His fake cookbook recipes have immaculate typography, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to cook from any of them.

Two weeks ago, we released our new Tungsten font family, accompanied by an unusually large collection of sample art: Brian and I just couldn’t put the new fonts down. The feedback we received was extraordinary in both its kindness and its volume, and I was especially happy to see so many designers specifically mention the art that we’d worked so hard to create. Since Brian’s job gives him a unique perspective on typography — plus enviable access to fonts that the rest of the world won’t see for years — I asked him to share some of his observations about the process: what it’s like to use a new font that no one’s ever used, what it tells you about itself, and what it reveals about typography in general. Without further ado, here’s Brian. —JH

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“Someone Found a Letter You Drew Me, On the Radio…”

Typeface: Gotham

This afternoon, typography joins the ranks of the wonderfully obscure on Please Explain, my favorite segment of the Leonard Lopate Show: Steven Heller and I will be on hand to discuss, if not actually explain, typography. If you’re in the New York area, join us around 1:20pm EST at WNYC-FM 93.9 or AM 820, or follow the podcast at wnyc.org. —JH

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize, Part 1: Outgoing

One charming aspect of the Gerrit Noordzij Prize is the design of the award itself. By tradition, it’s something created by the current prize holder, and presented to the incoming awardee. Past winners have used the occasion to create something that not only encapsulates their own work in some personal way, but postulates some connection to the interests of the next designer in succession. Erik Spiekermann, winner of the 2003 award, presented the above to Tobias in 2006: it’s a witty rendering of his twentieth-century Meta typeface, produced in the distinctly nineteenth-century technology of wood type. As a gift to a type designer whose work regularly engages with historical form, I thought it was especially poignant.

The set was made by Scott Polzen, who began exploring the resurrection of wood typemaking while still a student. His latter-day wood types are lovely artifacts, cut from cherry and finished with sandpaper and file, as Polzen explained in an essay in Letterspace, a journal of The Type Directors’ Club. As intriguing as the how of this project is the why: “I’ve come to understand,” Polzen writes, “that my real motivation for this project was to gain a greater sense of participation in the culture of reading and writing: making wood type forced me to think quite literally about how the written word works.” I thought this sentiment nicely echoed Noordzij’s own philosophy about the primacy of written, not printed, words; it makes Polzen’s connection to the award even more apt.

Wim Crouwel will receive the 2009 Gerrit Noordzij Prize on Friday, when we’ll have the first photographs of the award that Tobias designed for him. I will miss seeing it around our office. —JH

Type in Three Dimensions

Taking a break from my top secret Independence Day project that combines typography and patriotism (more about this later), I came across something marvelous that I had to share.

The August 2008 issue of Print has this arresting image on the cover. I recognized that the typography grew out of our Gotham Rounded font, which is the magazine’s signature typeface, and had assumed that this treatment was a clever and curious bit of digital rendering on someone’s part. It is and it isn’t: designer Karsten Schmidt used software of his own devising to give Gotham Rounded’s polished letterforms these intriguingly organic roots (using a branch of mathematical modeling called reaction diffusion) but then fed these digital inputs into a 3-D “printer” in order to produce a physical object.

I’m fascinated by 3-D printers (read: want one.) They’re essentially inkjet printers, but instead of rendering an image using a grid of ink splatters on a page, they produce successive cross-sections of an object by strategically injecting liquid binder into a polymer powder. Taken together, these high-resolution cross-sections form a dimensional object, like the one Schmidt produced here. Print is running an article describing the making of the cover, and its designer has detailed the entire process, step-by-step, in this illuminating Flickr set. Check it out! —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

Oakleaf: Behind the Scenes

Kathy Willens, Associated Press

The typeface we designed for The Nature Conservancy is an extension of our Requiem font, which explores the work of sixteenth century scribe Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi (1480–1527). Arrighi is best remembered as an exemplar of the written italic, but his upright roman capitals capture an interesting balance of calligraphic and typographic traditions. The three variations of the capital T on the left offer different ways of reconciling the influences of the seriffed inscriptional letter and the swashed written one, and it was this kind of tension that we hoped to explore further. On the left screen is an enlargement from Arrighi’s 1523 writing manual Il Modo de Temperare le Penne, and on the right are two variations of the capital E in the font we designed. The cursive form on the left was one of the first digital drawings made by designer Andy Clymer, and we all thought it was immediately successful. In the final font, it’s almost perfectly preserved from this initial stage.

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