Meet Isotope

Inspired by a style of lettering invented to convey precision and reliability, Isotope is a new family of typefaces designed to be both luxurious and fit.

If your idea of a luxurious product is one that’s stainless steel rather than gold, you may be a Functionalist. Functionalism is an approach to design that gained popularity in the decade after World War II, especially among German manufacturers of consumer goods, for whom a thing’s visual design was the natural expression of how it was meant to be used. In their desire to be intuitive and straightforward, the designers of a generation of unobtrusive radios, bathroom scales, and turntables would define a new aesthetic, one that still resonates with us as useful, well-built, honest, and timeless.

In the years that followed, the Swiss International Typographic Style would supply the letterforms for this philosophy, and industrial design would forever be associated with Helvetica and Univers. But briefly, before Swiss typography swept the continent, there was a strikingly beautiful species of letterform that arose in Germany — never produced as a typeface, but popular among lettering artists, through whom it became fossilized in company logos. For their precision-built products, companies like Sennheiser, Liebherr, Soehnle and Leifheit would adopt this new style of letterform, to convey the solidity, reliability, and practicality of products from kitchen appliances to bulldozers. It’s this style that we’ve explored in Isotope®.

Where Functionalist lettering was limited to boxy capitals, Isotope reimagines the style across a full range of weights, and a complete character set including a lowercase. The broadest strokes of the style have been preserved — contrasting vertical and horizontal weights, complex letters like S reduced to their most linear essence — to which Isotope brings new subtleties that help make the design not just purposeful, but luxurious and elegant. Corners are intermittently softened, to heighten the momentum through letters like A, M, N, V and W; in the numbers, strokes are sheared at unexpected angles to give them a welcome liveliness. From the initial Ultra at the heaviest end of the spectrum, Isotope descends through eight discrete weights down to a sinewy Thin, where subtle details rescue the design from sterility, to create a typeface that’s smartly clinical, and reassuringly exact.

My thanks to our typeface designers Troy Leinster and Sara Soskolne, who joined me in developing this idea into a fuller and more practical family of typefaces than any of us ever imagined. Their backgrounds in graphic design helped keep the project focused on its end uses, and prompted an ongoing conversation about what the fonts were for. In lesser hands, this lettering might have remained a nostalgic curio — or worse, veered into the sort of streamlined lettering that’s the exclusive province of science fiction. Instead, we found ourselves able to steer Isotope towards associations of luxury, fitness, health, fashion and beauty, as well as engineering, technology, and industry. We’re looking forward to seeing what designers will do with it. —JH

Introducing Chronicle Hairline

Six new typefaces born of fashion, and designed for all kinds of dramatic visual storytelling.

Fashion changes, yet fashion typography endures. Ever since Alexey Brodovitch adorned the pages of Harper’s Bazaar with high-contrast ‘Modern’ typefaces more than eighty years ago, typefaces with billowy curves and fine hairlines have remained a signature of the fashion industry. More recently, as typography has begun to play a more central role in visual storytelling, these typefaces’ exquisite details and proud features have invited larger-than-life applications, allowing them to create the same kinds of enticing visual fantasies as enthralling fashion layouts and well-dressed windows.

Because readers can identify the style at a glance, high-contrast faces are widely used for fashion titles from the newsstand to the web. But Modern typefaces in the elegant and formal Didot style aren’t the only option for creating stylish, transporting typography. To offer designers a new voice to work with, we’ve taken our Chronicle Display family, a smart and newsy design in the ‘Scotch’ style, and extended it into this new collection of bright and graceful typefaces for creating grand, expressive, and picturesque typography. Meet Chronicle Hairline®.

In contrast to the steely detachment of a Modern, Chronicle Hairline is direct and welcoming: a tweed to the Modern’s silk, a Savile Row to its Place Vendôme. Its subtly shaded curves and neatly bracketed serifs give Chronicle Hairline the kind of warmth normally associated with Old Style typefaces. But the clear geometry of its beaks and terminals, its unfussy numbers, and its alert and practical italics, mark Chronicle Hairline as an indisputably contemporary design.

Perhaps most usefully for anyone who works with big type — whether on book covers, posters, banners, architectural lettering, or identity programs — Chronicle Hairline is designed in three different widths: an approachable Hairline, a cosmopolitan Hairline Condensed, and a dignified Hairline Compressed, each in both roman and italic. Together with the Chronicle Display headline faces, the Chronicle Deck series for subheads, and the Chronicle Text collection for text, the new Chronicle Hairline adds an extra helping of sophistication to one of our most versatile and hardest-working type families.

Wearable Rococo

Look up and you’ll see the floriated, ornamented, shaded letters of our logo (l. gravura tuscana), as well as an italic cousin used for the News, Notes & Observations nameplate. I have a special fondness for these kinds of letters, which reflect a synthesis of traditions from both typemaking and engraving. Is it therefore any wonder that I love these alphabet brooches from Bena Clothing, spotted by our friends at Design Sponge? They’re made from laser-etched cheery veneer over mahogany, thoughtfully offered as set of 53 pieces with duplicates of popular letters. (I wonder how the frequency distribution of initials differs from that of other kinds of words: extra Js, I imagine?) —JH

The Timeless Typography of Harper’s Bazaar

ASME has announced its winners for Best Cover of 2007, and we’re thrilled to see that of the six covers that feature typography, five are clients of H&Co. You’ll see Chronicle on the cover of O, and our forthcoming Sentinel font on the cover of Texas Monthly. But especially gratifying is the 2007 award for Best Fashion Cover, which went to Harper’s Bazaar: it was Bazaar who commissioned our HTF Didot typeface in 1992, and fifteen years later, they’re still winning awards with it.

The flagging magazine that Liz Tilberis and Fabien Baron reinvented in 1992 has earned a place as one of the most significant redesigns in modern history. It debuted with an iconic cover that ASME ranks as one of the top ten covers in history, memorable not only for its striking portrait of Linda Evangelista, but for its arrestingly simple typography: in a font commissioned to be as crisp as possible, there appeared the single headline “Enter the Era of Elegance.” In an age when it’s not uncommon to run the entire table of contents on the cover, this was a brave and startling move. It’s telling that this same strategy is still serving Bazaar after all these years, and it speaks to the strength of the magazine’s editorial vision and the thought that went into its typography. So thanks to Stephen Gan and Glenda Bailey for including us in your continuing tradition, and to Fabien Baron and the unforgettable Liz Tilberis for making us a part of this extraordinary institution. —JH

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