Nicely Done: Tré Seals

It’s always thrilling to see designers combining type in interesting ways, an excitement that’s amplified when a designer uses an exceptionally large set of fonts in a single project. But it’s icing on the cake when that designer shows you ways of combining fonts you’d never have expected. Designer Tré Seals accomplishes all of these things in his new portfolio site, which uses a whopping six font families from our collection: Obsidian, Surveyor, Ideal Sans, Ringside, Operator and Tungsten are daringly diverse choices, which Seals uses to great effect, in clever and delightful ways. He takes a methodical, systems-based approach to select and deploy his type: most of the typefaces are only used in one context, others on just one page in the site. Finding them all is a bit of a typographic scavenger hunt, and a rewarding one for the design-minded.

For his project, Seals took inspiration from vintage postal labels, choosing the engraved Obsidian as his cornerstone when creating the type system for the site. Like Obsidian, the Surveyor, Tungsten and Ringside families have historic roots that connect with the traditions of stamps and labels, an assortment to which he added two novel ingredients: the quirky Operator, which serves as a bridge between the old and the new, and for a neutral voice, the clean, Humanist lines of Ideal Sans.

But Seals’s work isn’t only exciting because of the number of faces he uses or the themes they share. What makes it truly special is his creative eye in deploying the fonts in unexpected ways. When many people think of Tungsten, they immediately recall the robust bolder weights with their industrial presence, but Seals opts instead for a lighter weight that achieves an elegant and refined tone. Ringside is a similarly surprising choice: in less careful hands, its Grotesque construction might feel out of place next to Humanist designs like Operator and Ideal Sans, but Seals makes it work by using only uppercase letters, which naturally have simpler and clearer shapes. Overall, the site is a typographic delight that gives the audience a glimpse of Seals’s design inspirations, his systems-based problem solving abilities, and his creativity. He uses each of these six typefaces thoughtfully and with restraint to create an experience that shows off his work in the best possible light. — Bethany Heck

Introducing Obsidian

I’ve always wanted to create a decorative display face in the Regency style, one of those stout, industrial alphabets enlivened by bright, detailed illumination. Toward the end of our Surveyor project, a deep exploration of engraved map lettering, this idea started to feel especially relevant: engraved maps were often badged with elaborate title pieces, and the more time we spent with these hatched and shadowed letters, the more we could imagine how some of their visual qualities could be successfully interpreted in a contemporary typeface — and one that would be useful and relevant to designers today. But then there was the matter of draftsmanship: how do you do it? Type design is still largely a manual art, and the thought of devoting years of our lives to drawing tiny curlicues was a bleak prospect indeed. Like the best of dead ends, this was where things started to become interesting.

I’d been discussing this puzzle with Andy Clymer, a senior typeface designer at H&Co. As part of the Surveyor design team, Andy had spent a lot of time with the heaviest members of that family, the ones most closely connected with the Regency style. An accomplished programmer and a procedural thinker generally, Andy had taken a short sabbatical in 2013 to attend the first class of the School for Poetic Computation, an artist-run school in New York that explores the intersections of code, design, and theory. Returning with some fresh ideas about particle studies and 3D modeling, Andy and I met to reframe the project: what sorts of rapid prototyping tools could we build to help explore different options, and how might these help us execute our ideas across the massive scale demanded by a contemporary typeface? Not content to be a mere set of decorated capitals, our typeface would need 1,400 glyphs spanning both roman and italic styles, bringing its esprit to the most esoteric of punctuation marks and accents.

Ultimately, Andy’s scripts would become an entire suite of proprietary tools for interpreting two-dimensional letterforms as three-dimensional objects, through the application of virtual light sources that vary in position, angle, and intensity. Like the best projects at H&Co, the typeface was shaped not only by exchanges between designer and editor, but by the iterative cycle of what the tools can do, what we need the tools to do, and what the tools turn out to be able to do that we didn’t foresee going in. After 53 weeks in development, I’m proud to present a project that seemed unattainable just 54 weeks ago: the new Obsidian® typeface, from the designers at H&Co.

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