Mercury: high performance meets high style.
The product of nine years’ research and development, Mercury Text is a family of high-performance text faces designed to thrive under the most adverse conditions.
Even while the headline font Mercury Display was still on the drawing board, we suspected that many of its ideas might someday lend themselves to a good text face. Mercury’s compact proportions and clear gestures would naturally reproduce well in small sizes, and we imagined that its spiky geometry and taut curves could make text sparkle. We had the chance to explore this idea in 1999, when the New Times newspaper chain asked us to solve an interesting problem.
Newspapers are one of typography’s most challenging environments, not only because their high-speed presses coincide with pulpy papers and thin inks, but because they contain so many different kinds of information, arranged in countless ways, that are often composed not by designers but by software. The New Times faced these problems, plus one more: its eleven weekly editions were printed in different regions, each of which was subject to different atmospheric conditions on press. We were asked to explore the idea of a type family whose design could anticipate and counteract these differences, so that formats developed for the Phoenix edition could be deployed in Miami as well.
In his legibility research with the Poynter Institute, which culminated in Font Bureau’s Poynter Old Style (1997) series of typefaces, Tobias Frere-Jones had invented the idea of “grades:” sibling members of a type family that shared the same underlying geometry, but offered different degrees of darkness on the page. (Unlike the weights of a type family, which grow progressively wider as they get bolder, a font’s grades increase in color without affecting copyfit.) For the New Times, this meant that different regional editions could use different grades to counteract the local conditions of each press, in order to achieve the same end result. For other projects, grades offer the ability to separate typography from its printed medium, so that the type-warping effects of handmade paper, roll film, flat-panel monitors, or retroreflective sheeting can be all corrected for in the font itself.
A year of press-testing ensured that Mercury Text would perform under the most adverse conditions, and in the widest range of formats. Its proportions were fine-tuned to suit those of the news column (offering space-saving advantages in any setting) and its styles were remastered with common editorial functions in mind. Another year spent studying more than 3,800 examples of informational typography in different publications ensured that the fonts’ character sets included all the numeric and graphic symbols necessary to tackle every part of even the most demanding project.