Uncharacteristic Characters

How the virtues (and pitfalls) of type, calligraphy, and handwriting came together in the design of a new typeface: a lecture at Typographics 2017.

I recently had the privilege of speaking at the third annual Typographics conference, an event organized by the Type@Cooper program at The Cooper Union, to share a new project with fellow designers. While visually this new typeface would be unlike anything we’ve ever done before, in many ways it’s the quintessential H&Co project, taking on many of the themes that have characterized our work over the past twenty-eight years. It pokes at the perimeter of the “type family” as it’s commonly understood (much like Hoefler Text, The Proteus Project, Knockout, Numbers, and Nitro), it meditates on the relationship between formality and informality in typography, like Ideal Sans, The Historical Allsorts, Archer, and Operator; it looks for clues in the observable world about how people interpret letterforms, like all of our typefaces, from Shades to Gotham.

The conference has just posted the video of the talk, which I’m pleased to share with those who were unable to attend. And attached below are my lecture notes, which may make up for my double-time performance: already someone who speaks too quickly, I’d mistakenly planned a forty minute lecture for a twenty-five minute slot! —JH


Adventure Typography!

Some new features at Discover.typography make it easier than ever to spot fonts in the wild.

Among the contributors to Discover.typography are a couple of serious campers, a few people who enjoy a good hike, and at least one fledgling birdwatcher. At least one of us may have been involved in scouting as a kid, where the pursuit of such outdoorsy merit badges as Indian Lore, Basketry and Leatherwork pointed damningly to a future as the proprietor of a type foundry. But even for an indoorsy designer-to-be, there was much to love about camping: compact kits where things cleverly nested together, secret codes involving flashing lights or colored flags, the iconography of uniform badges, and multi-functional Swiss Army knives that prepared gutsy woodsmen for fixing eyeglasses or opening bottles of wine on the frontier. There was also the night sky, the joy of telling a chestnut tree by its leaves or a cottontail rabbit by its tracks, and the discovered pleasures of both camaraderie and solitude. It was with all this reverie in mind that we set to work on Trail Mix, a meditation on the outdoor life, in type.


The new controller.

Trail Mix includes a couple of unexpected type treatments for the web, from type wrapping a three-dimensional object, to letters rendered in embroidery. But the most significant change is to the controller, which identifies which fonts are used in each piece of art. Now you’ll see more detailed information about the fonts that go into our work — for example, not just that we used “Gotham,” but which specific styles we chose from the Gotham Narrow 1 package. We’ve also made the controller and the artwork mutually interactive, so you can select a font’s name to see where it appears in the art, and vice versa. And as always, there are a couple of easter eggs in store for the eagle-eyed, Eagle Scouts among you. Be prepared. —JH

Introducing Surveyor

We’re delighted to introduce Surveyor, a new family of fonts for print and web, and sizes large and small.

I love maps, and not just for their vintage charm. I admire them as highly functional pieces of design, packing extraordinary amounts of information into small spaces, and invisibly educating readers about how they’re meant to be read. Spend a few moments with a map, and you’ll find that you’ve learned to distinguish counties, cities, and towns by the styles of type they use, without ever checking the legend. And these are just three of a typical map’s two dozen styles of lettering.

Surveyor® is a new family of fonts inspired by the traditional mapmaker’s letter. It revives a style of lettering that’s unique to cartography, one that evolved in the early nineteenth century and endured for as long as maps were printed by engraving. Beyond reviving the shapes of these alphabets, Surveyor celebrates what maps do best, by providing an expressive typographic vocabulary to help designers articulate many different kinds of information. A peek at Surveyor’s style list hints at what’s possible.

We’ve designed Surveyor in three optical sizes: a Text version for body copy, a Display cut for headlines, and a Fine for sizes larger still. Surveyor goes beyond the mapmaker’s roman and italic by including five weights, each of them outfitted with both roman and italic small caps, swash caps, and swash small caps. In its Text size, Surveyor features tabular figures, fractions, and symbols, to help it conquer the most demanding content. And for Cloud.typography users, we’ve created Surveyor ScreenSmart, a family of webfonts for text that contains all of these advanced typographic features, engineered to work in the browser at sizes as small as nine pixels.

Uptown App, for iPhones

Typefaces: Gotham, Mercury Text, Giant

Manhattan’s urban grid is a vaunted model of simplicity, a rectilinear plan of numbered streets intersecting numbered avenues. Never mind that West 4th Street crosses West 10th, that those walking from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue will seldom encounter Fourth Avenue, and that “North” in the New York sense differs from conventional “North” to the tune of 29°. It’s this kind of accuracy, transparency and accountability that makes New York the perfect home for Wall Street.

A fixture of the corner of Broadway and Houston, where H&Co makes its home, is a tourist population forever asking that question of the ages, “which way is uptown?” I can’t entirely blame them: in the math of the NYC grid, Houston is 0th Street, and local signs wickedly conceal the real names of avenues below fake labels that are designed specifically to ensnare tourists. (Watch the meter when you ask a taxi driver to take you anywhere on “Avenue of the Americas.”)

To the rescue comes our own Andy Clymer, whose joint interests in typography, programming, and human decency are combined in Uptown App, his new utility for the iPhone 3GS. Andy’s thoughtfully used some of our fonts on what’s actually a pretty handy app: because it uses the iPhone’s built-in magnetometer, it can give you a quick read on “uptown” in places where GPS signals and cellular networks are unavailable or slow to come online, like when stepping out of freezing cold subway stations. Compared to the inconvenience of frostbite, 99¢ is a genuine bargain. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 10

Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground is one of those seminal information graphics that has come to define an entire category. It must be as widely recognized as Mendeleev’s design for the periodic table of the elements; it’s surely been as influential, and as widely imitated and spoofed.

What makes both diagrams significant is that they bravely dispense with information traditionally thought to be crucial. Mendeleev described matter without any of its physical characteristics, which freed scientists to infer more significant information purely from the table itself. And Beck realized that the scale of a city was irrelevant to a commuter (as well as difficult to draw), so he bent the shape of Greater London to meet the needs of the map, in what’s technically called a cartogram.

Mark Ovenden’s Transit Maps of the World is a terrific and well-illustrated tour through the world that Beck created. It’s interesting to compare the choice of cartograms and equal-area maps in different cities, and at different times: Beck’s diagrammatic plan for the Paris Métro was rejected in favor of a beloved but impenetrable drawing, which is just the kind of Gallic gesture that has been confounding the English for centuries. The images in Ovenden’s book make it tempting to make inferences about the cultures behind the maps: the diagrams for Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhiny Novgorod have an undeniably Suprematist bent, and those for Beijing and Guangzhou look as if they could actually be the Simplified Chinese ideogram for “subway.” Closer to home, the map of Los Angeles looks likes an Anasazi petroglyph, and that of Washington, D.C. resembles nothing more than a pit of highly partisan snakes. —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

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