Introducing Peristyle

A new font family restores the chic long vanished from the condensed, high contrast sans serif.

So many of a typeface’s attributes have obvious associations for readers. Extreme weights can suggest delicacy or strength; extreme widths can be bustling or contemplative. Even the size of the lowercase sends a quick signal to the reader: a small lowercase can read as precious, and a large one can feel gentle and good-natured. Rare are those typographic qualities that have an immediate effect on readers but are open to interpretation, and chief among these is contrast, the quality we’re exploring with Peristyle®.

Contrast, the relationship between an alphabet’s thickest and thinnest strokes, is present in all typefaces. It’s a vestige of calligraphy, revealing the distant influence of the broad-edged pen, and it appears in even the most mechanical geometric typefaces. Amplifying a design’s contrast makes it less familiar, and therefore more dramatic, most often in the service of some kind of exoticism: there’ve been high-contrast faces that are newfangled, old-fashioned, futuristic or retro, ones that evoke the mechanized clichés of science fiction, or the streamlined motifs of Art Deco. With Peristyle, we wondered: could we turn up the contrast without looking either backward or forward, to create a typeface for today? Could we use this drama to create a strong personal style that was chic, fashionable instead of fussy, and elegant instead of eccentric?

Peristyle explores the effects of contrast across six weights, from a vertiginous Light to a groovy Black. In place of the repeated gestures that are common to condensed typefaces — a pattern that quickly becomes tiresome — we’ve added a couple of supplementary motifs to keep the design engaging and upbeat. Circular ‘ball terminals’ on letters like y and r help drive them apart from their cousins u and n, and vigorous wedges on letters like k and g help distinguish them from the workaday h and q. These dynamic shapes recur throughout the character set, and across the full range of weights, creating an effervescent rhythm everywhere the font is used.

Having distilled Peristyle down to a sufficiently expressive set of parts, we couldn’t resist further reducing the design down to its parts alone, so we added a stencil design to the family. It’s included as three styles: a standalone Peristyle Stencil font, and two bicolor layers that can be tinted differently and stacked together. (Letters that can be divided into left and right halves irresistably invite the use of color, to create a secondary rhythm of alternating hues.) Peristyle Stencil’s two layered fonts make settings like these easy to design — and an additional piece of back-end logic, built into the fonts themselves, makes it easier than ever to create two-color typography that’s balanced and consistent.

Separating a character into two colors works intuitively when the letterform has two equal halves, but becomes trickier in letters with one stroke (like i, l, and t) or with three (such as m and w) — not to mention more complex characters like g, Ǿ, or %. Without carefully managing which shapes get which color, two-color typography quickly develops unwanted concentrations: above, the sequences Illu, stra, and tio are overwhelmingly blue. Peristyle Stencil solves the problem by automatically reversing the color orientation whenever necessary, in order to maintain an even rhythm of color throughout the line, and a better balance of both colors everywhere.

The three-minute film above introduces Peristyle and the team behind it. Troy Leinster and I worked on the typeface together from its earliest stage, and H&Co’s Sara Soskolne provided valuable insights along the way. Our designers Andy Clymer, Colin M. Ford and Graham Weber helped bring the typeface home, and throughout the project, no one was more enthusiastic about Peristyle than our Creative Director, Brian Hennings. Brian found in Peristyle some unexpected affinities with a few truly far-flung species of typeface, and takes the time here to share the useful perspective of someone who uses fonts. We hope you’ll find Peristyle as practical, as companionable, and simply as enchanting as we have, and we look forward to seeing how it serves you. —JH

Introducing Operator

A monospace typeface, a monospace-inspired typeface, and a short film about type design.

About two years ago, H&Co Senior Designer Andy Clymer proposed that we design a monospace typeface. Monospace (or “fixed-width”) typefaces have a unique place in the culture: their most famous ancestor is the typewriter, and they remain the style that designers reach for when they want to remind readers about the author behind the words. Typewriter faces have become part of the aesthetic of journalism, fundraising, law, academia, and politics; a dressier alternative to handwriting, but still less formal than something set in type, they’re an invaluable tool for designers.

I acutely felt the need for such a typeface, and immediately thought of places I’d want to use it on Discover.typography. And while I liked the idea of creating a new typeface that would have this kind of voice — minus the nostalgic clackety-clack look of an actual typewriter face — I wondered if we could achieve these results without the many compromises required of a fixed-width design. Fixed-width faces force every character into a box of the same size, creating charmingly long serifs on the capital I, but tragic, procrustean disfigurements of wider letters like M and W. So I suggested that we relax the system, to create a font that feels monospaced, but behaves more professionally.

Andy made an equally compelling counterproposal, reminding me that the command-line editor — these days, home to so many people who design things — could really be improved by a fully fixed-width typeface. What if, in addition to shedding the unwanted baggage of the typewriter, we also looked to the programming environment as a place where type could make a difference? Like many screen fonts before it, Operator could pay extra attention to the brackets and braces and punctuation marks more critical in code than in text. But if Operator took the unusual step of looking not only to serifs and sans serifs, but to script typefaces for inspiration, it could do a lot more. It could render the easily-confused I, l, and 1 far less ambiguous. It could help “color” syntax in a way that transcends the actual use of color, ensuring that different parts of a program are easier to identify. Andy hoped this might be useful when a technical pdf found its way to a black-and-white laser printer. It was an especially meaningful gesture to me, as someone who, like three hundred million others, is red-green colorblind.

So with designers, developers, and most of all readers in mind, we decided to design it both ways. Operator Mono® is our new family of fixed-width typefaces, with a broader range of weights than a typical typewriter face, and an italic that positively shines in code. Its more editorial companion is the natural-width Operator® family, which offers the voice of typewriting but none of the compromises. Operator extends to nine weights, from Thin to Ultra, and includes both roman and italic small caps throughout. Both families are supported by companion ScreenSmart fonts, specially designed and engineered for use in the browser at text sizes.

In developing Operator, we found ourselves talking about JavaScript and css, looking for vinyl label embossers on eBay, renting a cantankerous old machine from perhaps the last typewriter repair shop in New York, and unearthing a flea market find that amazingly dates to 1893. Above is the four-minute film I made, to record a little of what went into Operator, and introduce the team at H&Co behind it. —JH

New from H&Co: Tungsten Rounded

There’s a wonderful materiality about rounded letters. Their lighter weights have an engineered quality: for me, they always bring to mind the controlled movements of a router, steadily cutting channels in brass or steel and leaving behind a spray of metal shavings. Their heavier weights are the stuff of the roadside, both the vacuform plastic letters that advertise gas stations and motels, and the painted signs that herald this week’s prices for groceries or liquor. Applying these tactile qualities to our suave Tungsten family gives us Tungsten Rounded, a new family of six fonts that’s at once earnest, energetic, and wry.

A common dilemma when working with rounded typefaces is what to do when two adjacent letters overlap. For the signpainter, the tiny divet created by two intersecting curves is quickly dispatched with a brush, but the letters in a typeface usually go unsupervised:

In Tungsten Rounded’s heaviest weights, we addressed this problem with a set of 151 alternate characters, designed to interact in more predictable ways. An OpenType feature automatically engages these characters when needed, to ensure that all of the 548 potential collisions are managed correctly, from common pairs like AX, to truly exotic ones such as .

The Making of Neon Signs

Every neon sign has a “start and stop position,” a point on each letter where a tube begins and ends. I’ve just learned how a signmaker chooses this point, and it’s something I’d never have guessed. It is fascinating.

It’s nothing to do with a letter’s traditional form, or its cultural dimensions. These are the first ways that neon speaks to us, whether it’s the plainspoken sans serif on a liquor store or the elaborate fantasy of a Las Vegas casino. In The Making of Neon Signs, an eleven minute film produced by Cpak Studio for M+, Hong Kong’s museum for visual culture, we’re introduced to a craftsman who first approaches signs from the their cultural angle: the bank that wants something honest, the restaurant that wants a simple semi-cursive script, or the sports club that uses the strong and powerful Northern Wei style. But none of this affects a letter’s start and stop position.

It also has nothing to do with neon’s visual aspects, how single-line letters work in small sizes, but different kinds of intricate doubling are used as letters get larger. Nor does it have to do with the physical considerations of the medium, the ways that inert gases combine with different kinds of colored glass to produce efflorescence, or the ways that glass can bend, or the order in which pieces can be attached. Even as I watched men without gloves hold incandescent glass rods over an 800°C flame, the obvious didn’t occur to me, which is this: you design the letter so that it’s possible to bend it into shape without burning your hands.

There are other great moments in the film that I won’t spoil, and some terrific footage of vintage sign maquettes that designers will love. Spend eleven minutes with it today. —JH

Introducing The New Tungstens

A good type family balances cohesion and diversity. Its styles need to feel related, but each is entitled to its own personality. Nothing’s worse than paying for a collection of two dozen fonts, only to discover that each speaks in exactly the same voice.

Tungsten began as a focussed set of styles that aspired to being disarming instead of pushy. “Smart, tough, and sexy” was how we described the design, a brief that gave us enough latitude to create four distinct designs: a sporty Medium, an articulate Semibold, a stylish Bold, and a persuasive Black. We stopped at four, discovering that so many of the strategies that served the design in these proportions became impractical at lighter weights. Tungsten is all about the interplay between positive and negative space, a relationship that disappears when the strokes become thin, and the spaces cavernous. So while we could make the design perform mechanically at lighter weights, it no longer felt like Tungsten.

But then we discovered something interesting. We found different strategies to use at these proportions, which could make the design look familiar but feel different. We created new designs whose forthrightness came through in different ways: some were elegant, others earnest. And when we started exploring different widths, we found we could gradually turn up the volume, and watch Tungsten go from cool to vibrant to ecstatic.

So today, we’re delighted to introduce The New Tungstens, a set of four different widths, each in eight weights, starting at $199. The full collection includes Regular, Narrow, Condensed and Compressed, and right now you can save $300 when you buy the complete collection of 32 styles.

New from H&Co: Forza

There are stylized typefaces that speak in a singular, powerful voice, and there are versatile ones capable of expressing many different moods. We feel the pull of both extremes, and are especially fascinated by the typographic styles caught in between. Sans serifs based on the rounded rectangle are an interesting study: they’re adaptable enough to have survived almost two hundred years, but in every incarnation they return with a new but overly specific agenda. The ones on enamel railway signs are charming, but a little sleepy; the ones on battleships are somber, if a little aloof. We’ve long wondered if this style could be harnessed to create a more expressive family of types, and recently had the opportunity to find out: Wired commissioned us to design a square sans as their editorial workhorse, one that could handle everything from philosophical essays to down-to-earth service pieces.

The result is Forza®, a new family of sans serifs from H&Co. Forza’s sophisticated visual vocabulary makes it alert and engaging, and its broad palette of weights ensures that Forza can meet the needs of the most demanding designer, from painterly display typography to text-heavy listings. Ardent, disciplined, shrewd, and commanding, Forza offers a range of voices to choose from, and is now available in twelve styles, from $199.

Typography Without Ink

This weekend, I replaced a DVD player that finally conked out after eleven years. Whatever delight I once took in acquiring a new piece of electronics has long been eclipsed by the responsibilities of dealing with its byproducts: its packaging, thankfully limited to recyclable cardboard and biodegradable packing peanuts, and also the carcass of the old device itself, which this year a local equipment recycler will be disassembling and recycling as responsibly as possible. Even the best process is not a perfect one, as industrial designers and packaging designers will be the first to admit, but every little bit helps.

The supplied accessories came in this cardboard box, which made me smile. Rather than print the cardboard before it’s cut and folded, whoever was responsible for this piece of packaging realized that the die-cutting step offered a no-cost opportunity to mark the sheet at the same time, by shaping the strikeline into letters that partially perforate the box. That I’m charmed by this solution probably comes as no surprise, since I have an admitted love of perforated letterforms, but I admire any effort that makes design more honest, easier to produce, and less wasteful to consume.

Because cutting dies can’t be curled too tightly, the medium demands big letters and brief messages, which I especially appreciate. Missing from this box is all the bumf to which we’ve become accustomed, but never needed in the first place: a reprise of the manufacturer’s name and motto from the outer box, a fuzzy rendering of the product that by now is on the coffee table, a wordy title like ETS1041E-ACC Supplied Accessory Parts Kit (US/120V), a list of serial numbers for other compatible components that you didn’t choose to buy, and finally a numbing set of bullet points that patiently explains in eight languages what you already know, which is that the box contains the power cord, a remote, and two AA batteries. “Accessories” says it all, and is a welcome relief to anyone now facing an evening of plugging it all in. —JH

Introducing Tungsten

A few years ago, we started wondering if there was a way to make a flat-sided sans serif that was disarming instead of brutish, one that employed confidence and subtlety instead of just raw testosterone. It was an unusual design brief for ourselves, completely without visual cues and trading in cultural associations instead: “more Steve McQueen than Steven Seagal,” reads one note; “whiskey highball, not a martini” suggests another.

The result is Tungsten®, a tight family of high-impact fonts in four weights: muscular and persuasive, without sacrificing wit, versatility, or style. Now starting at $99.

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 12

I liked samplers as a kid. In the fictional account of my life, I could trace this affection to my dear great-grandmother Abigail, who spent hours embroidering by candlelight (when she wasn’t busy repairing uniforms for returning Union soldiers.) But having grown up in New York in the seventies, it’s more likely that I first noticed the style while watching Family Feud, and that a steady diet of Atari 2600 and NAMCO simply predisposed my developing brain to a sympathy for bitmaps.

Etsy is carrying a charming little bag that pays homage to the cross-stitch, a gusseted Canvas Tote silkscreened in orange or blue. At 11" × 14" (30cm × 35cm) it’s big enough for the usual junk that designers lug around, and is of course a sound alternative to grocery store plastic, whether you’re ecologically responsible or just self-righteous. Either way, be stylish. —JH

On the Death and 441-Year Life of the Pixel

The struggle to adequately render letterforms on a pixel grid is a familiar one, and an ancient one as well: this bitmap alphabet is from La Vera Perfettione del Disegno di varie sorte di ricami, an embroidery guide by Giovanni Ostaus published in 1567.

Renaissance ‘lace books’ have much to offer the modern digital designer, who also faces the challenge of portraying clear and replicable images in a constrained environment. Ostaus’s alphabet follows the cardinal rule of bitmaps, which is to always reckon the height of a capital letter on an odd number of pixels. (Try drawing a capital E on both a 5×5 grid and a 6×6, and you'll see.) Ostaus ignored the second rule, however, which is “leave space for descenders.”

I’d planned to introduce this item with a snappy headline that juxtaposed the old and the new — for your sixteenth-century Nintendo! — before reflecting on the pixel’s moribund existence. Pixels were the stuff of my first computer, which strained to show 137 of them in a square inch; my latest cellphone manages 32,562 in this same space, and has 65,000 colors to choose from, not eight. Its smooth anti-aliased type helps conceal the underlying matrix of pixels, which are nearly as invisible as the grains of silver halide on a piece of film. And its user interface reinforces this illusion using a trick borrowed from Hollywood: it keeps the type moving as much as possible.

Crisp cellphone screens aren’t the end of the story. There are already sharper displays on handheld remote controls and consumer-grade cameras, and monitors supporting the tremendous WQUXGA resolution of 3840×2400 are making their way from medical labs to living rooms. The pixel will never go away entirely, but its finite universe of digital watches and winking highway signs is contracting fast. It’s likely that the pixel’s final and most enduring role will be a shabby one, serving as an out-of-touch visual cliché to connote “the digital age.” —JH

Atoms & Aldus

Last week I mentioned the atomic pen, which scientists used to construct some awfully tiny letters one atom at a time. These are small letters indeed: measuring two nanometers in height, they’re about ¹₄₀₀₀₀ the thickness of a human hair, which surely gives their inventor sufficient authority to issue the casual throwdown that “it’s not possible to write any smaller than this.” But it is, of course, and the technique for doing so has been known to typefounders for more than five hundred years.

Continues…

Two Fools

I pretty much agree with Anil Dash on the topic of wacky April Fools’ jokes for websites, so instead I thought that today might be a good day to share a piece of genuine idiocy from the archives.

By the time Tobias and I began working together in 1999, we'd been friends for a decade, and had spent most of the previous years in close contact by phone. Our biographers will report this as a period of august correspondence in which we developed the philosophical framework that would inform our later collaboration, but the truth is that much of this time was spent goofing off, and naturally the arrival of the internet helped this project immensely.

Since we’d always been the types to tackle exhaustive projects, we both spent most of the nineties utterly exhausted. Many of our late night conversations were wits-end grievances about the impossibility of doing something or other, and these commonly degenerated into a discussion of Dumb Ideas for Typefaces. One of these, which I suggested in 1995, was that the OCR-A font — used on bank statements and designed for optical character recognition — really needed to be outfitted with a set of swashes. Using Adobe Illustrator, I ginned up the image above in about ten minutes, and sent it to Tobias. His response, which arrived within the hour, was a file named ¡¡¡Estupido-Espezial!!!.sit, which contained the following:

Continues…

Digital Analog

Writing about the glories of the nixie tube last December, I wondered aloud whether there’s anyone alive who has any affection for the ubiquitous LED display. Today I have my answer.

At RISD, BFA candidate Alvin Aronson has made the witty and beautiful “d/a clock,” in which seven-segment LED numbers are made manifest in Corian and wood. There’s something irresistable about digital artifacts come to life; watching this mesmerizing video of Aronson’s functioning clock, I’m reminded of the Game Music Concerts in which the Tokyo Philharmonic performed the themes from Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. Like these, Aronson’s work is certainly mordant and entertaining, but it’s undeniably Art. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 7

It’s hard to begrudge the polish and flexibility of a good pixel, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the earlier technologies. Mechanical and electronic displays with fixed images were somehow knowable in a way that screens are not, lending a palpable something to the things they inhabited. Has train travel been the same since the disappearance of the thip-thip-thipping flap display? Didn’t buses seem more resolute when emblazoned with hand-lettered roll signs, before today’s dot-matrix mayhem doomed them to speak in half-hearted and confounding abbreviations (or cheerily exclaim Out of Service as they malingered along?) Has the person yet walked the earth who has fond feelings for the starburst display of a credit card terminal?

One of my favorite outmoded technologies is the nixie tube. A tiny vacuum tube containing individual glowing cathodes for each digit, nixies were once a staple of high-end office calculators and measuring devices. Every few years, someone unearths a cache of virgin nixies and brings a nixie clock to market, which promptly sells out; this year’s offering is the Chronotronix V400 Nixie Tube Clock, an especially attractive contender in a polished cherry case, candidly offered in a limited edition. —JH

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