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

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