Introducing Quarto

Meet Quarto, a new family of display faces.

Dutch Old Styles are marvelous and versatile typefaces, and one of typography’s dominant species. The style, which dates to the late sixteenth century, features a large lowercase, compact descenders, and a dense texture, together making them an excellent choice for setting headlines. We had the opportunity to explore the style when we were commissioned to create an original typeface for Portfolio magazine, a business title launched by Condé Nast, and designed by Robert Priest and Grace Lee. From out of this work comes Quarto®, a new family of display faces for print and web.

In reviewing the historical artifacts that served as a foundation for the project, we decided that Quarto should not record this period style, but rather interpret some of its more intriguing and open-ended ideas. In one typeface, created by a Flemish punchcutter 444 years ago, we found a compelling tension between opposing qualities: dark, gothic strokes were offset by bright, crisp serifs; a forest of vertical stems was punctuated by moments of lavish roundness. This controlled tension became a theme for the project, and would serve us when Quarto left history behind — which would be sooner than usual.

The typeface that inspired Quarto included only a roman alphabet, so beyond the usual effort of designing plausible numbers, punctuation, and symbols, H&Co Senior Designer Sara Soskolne was faced with inventing a sympathetic and historically appropriate italic. (Our Flemish punchcutter, Hendrik van den Keere, worked in a range of styles throughout his career, but apparently never created a single italic.) Also unsupplied by the historical record were any suggestions about how to design additional weights: “boldface” is a nineteenth century concept, unknown to sixteenth century typefounders, and one of the reasons that contemporary Old Style faces often have either a small range of weights, or none at all. Quarto pushes beyond bold into black, offering a spectrum of styles that preserves the design’s fire and intensity throughout.

Letterror at the Graphic Design Museum

Photo: Erik van Blokland

When we first met at the ATypI conference in 1989, Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum and I were branded the “young turks” of typography, presumably because we were fifteen years younger than ATypI’s next-youngest member. Erik and Just were already notorious for their Beowolf project, which hacked the PostScript format in order to produce self-randomizing letterforms; this mischievous bit of culture jamming was enough to endear them to me, and to a generation of designers who have followed their work ever since.

Beowolf (and its sister font, BeoSans) are now an established part of typographic lore, and both rightfully received attention in the opening exhibit of the world’s first Graphic Design Museum in Breda. The place is swimming in typography (like the Netherlands in general), but it’s especially gratifying to see that in this new installation, visitors can experience BeoSans’ two-dimensional letterforms with the benefit of the fourth dimension as well. The addition of a timeline makes the faces’ randomness seem as natural an attribute as size, color, weight, or width, hinting at a future in which our screen-driven civilization could come to regard mutability as an integral part of the typographic experience. As always, I’m curious to see where Erik and Just’s original thinking will ultimately take us. —JH

The World’s First Graphic Design Museum

On my first trip to Amsterdam in 1992, I spent a couple of hours having lunch at a pleasant café on Willemsparkweg. I’d come from seeing an exhibit of the year’s best book covers, and planned to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city’s many graphic design bookshops. A passing waiter, noticing my open sketchbook, idly asked me what I was designing. I took note that he’d said “designing” rather than “drawing,” and on his return trip he surprised me further: “are you designing a typeface?”

A nation whose visual literacy is such that the lay public is familiar with the concept of typeface design is surely a designer’s paradise. And if there were any doubt that Holland is the world’s preeminant design capital, tomorrow will see the opening of the world’s first graphic design museum in Breda. There’ll be live coverage on the museum’s website, emceed by none other than Queen Beatrix! I love the Dutch. —JH

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