Knockout, the functional family.
A sweeping collection of 32 sans serifs, Knockout restores some much-needed vitality to an overlooked corner of the typographic spectrum.
The notion of the “type family” is so central to typography that it’s easy to forget how recent an invention it is. Throughout most of its history, typography simply evolved the forms that were the most useful and the most interesting, generally with indifference toward how they related to one another. Italic faces existed for decades before they were considered as companions for romans, just as poster types shouted in a range of emphatic tones before they were reimagined as “bold” or “condensed” cousins. The notion that a type family should be planned from the outset is a Modernist concoction, and it’s one that type designers have lived with for less than a century.
The organization of typefaces by weight and width may be one of Modernism’s great gifts to typography, but the expectation that fonts should cohere to some prefabricated schedule of styles is one of its greatest fallacies. Demanding that every typeface march to the drumbeat of roman, italic, bold, bold italic is an arbitrary imposition on a naturally diverse world; in other professions, this kind of universalist thinking gives us brutalist worker housing, or prairies planted with monocultures. Knockout defies the Modernist canon, in order to reclaim one of typography’s great natural wildernesses: the American sans serif.
For more than a century before Helvetica, the sans serif landscape was dominated by unrelated designs. Gothic woodtypes in a dazzling array of proportions lived comfortably alongside anonymous foundry types, each design’s integrity the product of its autonomy. Because none of these faces were intended to relate to one another, none of their design characteristics were beholden to any external constraints: what worked for a supercondensed boldface need only work for that design, not also for the extrawide light face whose design afforded different possibilities and faced different challenges. This sort of “situational” approach to type design allowed for more varied and interesting designs, and it’s this approach that Knockout celebrates. With the functional benefits of a family that’s well-organized, and the visual appeal of styles that are individually designed, Knockout’s nine-width, four-weight family offers a range of voices that’s impossible to achieve with even the best Modernist sans serifs.