A new family of typefaces. And the discovery that everything I’ve ever learned about optical size might be wrong.
Today, we’re publishing a new family of typefaces called Inkwell Condensed. These six new styles are part of the Inkwell universe of ‘handwritten typefaces,’ designed to have the informality and expressiveness of writing, but the credibility and ease of type. We’re rolling them into the Inkwell Complete package, so they’ll be a free download for existing licensees of those fonts, and available to purchase individually if you’re new to Inkwell.
But first, an observation about size and shape that has me wondering if everything I’ve ever learned about optical size is wrong.
A typeface’s optical size is the scale at which it’s intended to be used. When a display face is redesigned for smaller sizes, its thin strokes are thickened, its gestures are amplified, its proportions are adjusted to favor small shapes (the entire lowercase usually gets substantially bigger), and additional white space is added wherever it can help relieve congestion: counters are enlarged, apertures opened, and inter-character fit is loosened. The net effect of these changes is an overall widening of letterforms as they get smaller, as a quick comparison of related text and display faces will confirm. Our tidy conclusion is that at small sizes, wider letters are easier to read.
And while this is demonstrably true, it conceals a cunning logical fallacy. We can’t prove its reverse statement (its ‘contrapositive’), that at large sizes, narrower letters are easier to read, and wider ones harder. This is observably not true, so something’s up.
When Jordan Bell and I first began drawing Inkwell Condensed, we had a hard time keeping the design from looking too slick. Inkwell is a collection of informal, unmannered designs, expressly designed to reveal the presence of an author behind the words. Yet our earliest drawings for the Condensed were almost instinctively polished, like the lettering of signs in supermarket windows (whose bouncy nonchalance belies the practiced hand of a master signpainter.) Somehow the other Inkwells had succeeded in feeling less like the work of a commercial artist, and more like the patient block lettering of a competent and determined doodler. But the Condensed was going its own way.
What neither of us noticed was that we’d been drawing at a larger size than usual, where it was easier to control the design’s steep angles and compact curves — and this is where size, proportion, and style begin to connect. The other Inkwells had been drawn at handwriting size, where the fingertips can comfortably guide a pen in circular motions. But these new drawings came from the wrist, which is given to large, fluid curves — and, because its functional range of motion is twice as vertical as horizontal, it draws shapes that are taller than they are wide. Our wrists are more flexible with up-and-down extension and flexion than with side-to-side ulnar and radial deviation. Try it: with a stiff arm and loose wrist, draw wide circles in the air with your index finger, and notice how much easier it is once you compress the circle into an upright ellipse. This fact of our physiology may be part of our comfort and familiarity with condensed letterforms at display sizes: it’s not that they’re easier to read, but that at large sizes, narrower letters are easier to write.
If Inkwell Condensed has the same optical size as the other members of the Inkwell family, it might be said to have a larger carpal size, feeling most natural when it’s taller than the handwriting-like typography it accompanies. We’ve worked to ensure that it has the same candor and lack of pretense as the rest of the Inkwell family, and feels like the product of the same capable but unstudied hand. Because we’re used to seeing tall writing in public, Inkwell Condensed ably handles the kinds of lettering that once went only to signpainters: price lists, placards, covers and posters seem to be its métier.
With the hope that Inkwell fans will want to use the fonts immediately, I’ve decided to make it a free download for anyone who’s already bought Inkwell Complete. If you’re new to Inkwell, you can pick up the six-style Inkwell Condensed for $129, or the fifty-four style Inkwell Complete for $399. I hope they’ll make a valuable addition to your collection! —JH
Some of the most interesting discussions about typography never get shared with designers. I’d like to change this, and hope you’ll join me in a conversation that explores typography.
Typeface design has a lot of discarded bycatch: small discoveries and observations that aren’t large enough to develop, but are nonetheless interesting and useful. Instead of allowing these ideas to perish, I’d like to preserve and share them, with the hope that they’ll be helpful, diverting, or inspiring to other designers.
This month, researchers made official something that typeface designers have long known: that horizontal lines appear thicker than vertical ones. At left, a square made from equally thick strokes; at right, the one that feels equally weighted, its vertical strokes nearly 7% thicker than the horizontals. This phenomenon, central to typeface design, has implications for the design of logos, interfaces, diagrams, and wayfinding systems, indeed anywhere a reader is likely to encounter a box, an arrow, or a line.
Published in the journal Vision, this peer-reviewed paper confirms that most people overestimate the thickness of horizontal lines. This is the very optical illusion for which type designers compensate by lightening the crossbar of a sans serif H, an adjustment that’s easily revealed by looking at a letter sideways. When rotated, the evenly-weighted Gotham is revealed to have thicker verticals than horizontals; try the same in Ideal Sans, a typeface designed to push against the boundaries of what we normally notice when we read, and it becomes clear how little we actually see of what is there.
This new study by de Waard, Van der Burg, and Olivers explores different theories as to why we see these things the way we do. Cultural forces presumably play some part: Western typeface designers have long been taught that our bias about weight and directionality stems from the role of the broad-edged pen in European calligraphy, which still underpins our expectations about what letters should look like. (Even the most monolinear letter A has a thin side and a thick, an enduring vestige of calligraphic patterns.) Intriguingly, the divergent traditions of Arabic and Latin calligraphy have a detectable influence on perception, for which the authors offer some interesting statistics.
But they go further, to offer some compelling physiological explanations for the phenomenon. One possibility, proposed in an article from the Journal of Experimental Psychology cited by the authors, suggests that our field of vision — more horizontal than vertical — has an effect on the relative perception of size. Also mentioned is a 2002 article by Catherine Q. Howe and Dale Purves, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, which hints at a larger explanation for all optical illusions, a theory to which I’ve long subscribed but never seen argued: that, because our brains evolved to reckon with the three-dimensional world, the expectations that bring to bear upon two-dimensional forms often don’t apply. When there’s a disconnect between what we see and what we expect to see, we experience this as an optical illusion.
Is it possible that all of typography’s many optical illusions can be correlated with misapplied learning from our experience of the real world? So much of perception involves reflexively adjusting for the effects of context, light, or perspective, in order to make quick judgments about size, distance, color, or mass. Do we perceive round letters as shorter than flat ones because we intuitively understand something about the weight of cubes and spheres? Is it a lifetime of looking at foreshortened things above us that leads us to expect a well-balanced letterform to be smaller on top than on the bottom? These are half-thoughts that I’d love to see explored by further research. In the meantime, it’s a good reminder to design not for what we expect to see, but for what we actually believe we’re seeing. —JH
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Five non-obvious ways to use type to evoke the speed, power, and control of performance racing.
Typeface designers frequently speak of curves being fast or slow. We’re often talking about the kind of motion that we imagine having created a shape, whether something feels like the product of a relaxed wrist loosely holding a pen, or pinched fingers meticulously turning a compass. A common topic is changes in speed, whether throughout a curve, an alphabet, or even a family of typefaces. There are curves that breathtakingly decelerate in exciting ways, letterforms that employ different strategies (so that a boxy W feels as nimble as a sinewy S), and the constant battle to ensure that lithe alphabets aren’t paired with sluggish boldfaces. Here are some of the techniques we use to convey speed in our letterforms, and some things that you as a designer can do when choosing and applying typefaces. —JH
Relieve the corners. Above, in the IsotopeN, the font’s energetic movement comes from the placement of its curves and corners. In a typeface that generally has sharp edges, subtle curves on the outside diagonal corners help to heighten the momentum through the line.
Choose extreme proportions. Idlewild’s pronounced width is accentuated by gestures that extend outward, like the elongated tail of this capital R. A typeface originally inspired by lettering on cruise ships and jet fuselages, these proportions have long been used to symbolize the perfect balance of speed and control.
Look for controlled dissonances. Even unexpected genres like the slab serif can achieve a feeling of speed. Above: more sophisticated than a simple rounded rectangle, the Vitesse typeface contrasts round sides and flat bases to introduce a dynamic tension. Even the simple letter O has moments in its ‘corners’ where its material seems to bend almost to the point of breaking, adding a little drama to what could otherwise be a unadventurous letterform.
Tighten the curves. Letters in the Tungsten Compressed family take every opportunity to square up against their sides, to convey a clean, engineered feel. Instead of slowly moving through a graceful curve, the spine of Tungsten’s S has tight turns that quickens the movement, creating a brisk, staccato tone.
Turn up the contrast. In the Peristyle typeface, the stark contrast of thicks and thins is never more dramatic than in its letter M, which cycles rapidly between quiet and loud timbres. As the font gets heavier, and the distinction between dark and light strokes becomes more pronounced, adding a little letterspacing helps make the font rev louder.
Retail displays, packaged goods, financial reports and apps all present readers with a dizzying array of data. Here are a few ways to make quick work of their long lists, tiny annotations, and mighty stacks of numbers.
by Jonathan Hoefler
Type designers work with a diverse clientele, and yet common themes always seem to emerge in our conversations. This seems to be the season of complex typography, in which designers everywhere are faced with the challenge of presenting different and competing kinds of information to readers. An agency we’re working with is designing a demanding identity for a fast-moving consumer goods brand; an in-house art department is creating a responsive website for complex financial disclosures; a freelance graphic designer is doing the identity for a local coffeeshop, and discovering the joys and perils of digital menu boards. As always, the wrong fonts can lead designers into sticky dead ends, but the right ones can be immeasurably helpful. Here are some of the things our clients consider when faced with complex typography, and some of the typographic strategies that can be the quickest routes to success.
Strategies for Small Sizes
Information can often be divided into data and annotations. A web form needs a way to distinguish entry fields from labels; a graph needs not only labels for its x and y axes, but most crucially a verifiable reference for the source of its data. (#fakenews, I’m looking at you.) The most familiar and obvious way to establish this hierarchy is through type size, using palpably smaller type to distinguish the content from its notes. But at smaller-than-text sizes, even the most lucid typefaces can become difficult to read, their spacing overly tight, their counters congested, and their x-heights measly. Compare the tiny type in these two examples.
Helpfully, there’s an adaptation designed for the web that proves useful in any medium: a typeface’s ScreenSmart fonts, which are designed to compensate for the effects of scale. Above, two compositions using the Whitney typeface, the one at the right substituting Whitney ScreenSmart for the tiny annotations below the graph. ScreenSmart fonts always deliver greater clarity and more comfortable reading at smaller-than-text sizes, making them a useful companion to a multipurpose typeface for setting the fine print.
Dealing with Lists
Fine print is the bugbear of typography not only for its tiny size, but often its prodigious length. Disclosures, disclaimers, and lists of ingredients may be the sections that readers most often ignore, yet they’re among the most heavily regulated part of any typographic object, and therefore the content that’s most heavily scrutinized by an alarmingly large portion of an organization. Hands up if you’ve ever received a request from Legal to fit in a few more sentences once a design has been approved. Hands up if this wasn’t exacly a “request.”
A non-designer’s first impulse is often to reach for a condensed typeface, on the principle that narrower letters take up less space. Yet it’s almost always a better option to make the counter-intuitive choice of a wider typeface, and to set the type in a smaller size with tighter leading. Wider letters have more comfortable proportions, they’re more generously spaced, and they have more ample counters, collectively making them the more legible choice. Above, two ingredient lists in Gotham: at left the passable Gotham Condensed, but at right the far more inviting Gotham Narrow, a family that’s two steps wider. TIP: Use not only a wider font, but a wider ScreenSmart font as well, for maximum clarity.
Working the Character Set
The humble annotation can give designers the chance to flex their creativity, and an excuse to explore the more colorful quarters of the character set. Reference marks, starting with the asterisk and dagger, are sometimes a welcome grace note whenever the subject matter becomes dry, but beware their use if there are more than three notes in a document. Readers can be counted upon to recognize the cycle of *, †, and ‡, but probably not the longer series of **, ††, and ‡‡ — or §, || and #, depending on your house style. If there are more than three footnotes, stick with unambiguously numbered superscripts instead:
Superscripts are included in every H&Co font that has a Pro edition, as well as Gotham, Ringside, and Inkwell. TIP: In the text, mark your footnotes with superscripts, which ascend above the cap height. But in the notes themselves, use numerators instead, which are lower on the body. This connects them more clearly with the explanations that follow, and gives them greater clearance from the preceding lines.
Numerics, Numerics, Numerics
The same Pro packages that contain superscripts and numerators contain tabular figures, the most vital part of any composition that includes numbers. Unlike a font’s traditional proportional figures, whose widths vary with the natural shape of each number — from a narrow 1 to a wide 0 — tabular figures are all built on the same horizontal measure, ensuring that columns of data always align correctly.
Tabular figures have a second and equally important characteristic: they maintain their equal widths across a range of weights. (This runs counter to the typical behavior in a typeface, in which heavier weights become progressively wider.) Known as “duplexing,” this is one of the essential characteristics of tabular figures, because it allows designers to highlight individual lines in boldface without disrupting the width of the column.
TIP: The word “tabular” may imply the dense tables that are annexed to annual reports and financial disclosures, but don’t forget how often stacks of numbers appear in other contexts. Tabular figures are essential in menus, indexes, and directories, and anywhere that a design includes prices, statistics, account numbers, or scores — or any kind of dynamic data online. Any digital experience that shows changing numbers such as stock prices, sports scores, product skus, exchange rates, flight numbers, timetables, or membership points will absolutely demand tabular figures. Design your projects with tabular figures from the outset.
Making Creative Choices
Advanced numeric characters like tabular figures and superscripts aren’t the exclusive province of workhorse type families, and not every project demands a sober serif or sans. When a project’s complexity requires a hard-working typeface, but its subject matter invites a more individual tone, look for unexpected typefaces that feature extended numerics. The handwritten Inkwell contains all the features needed to articulate demanding content, but its relaxed demeanor has a natural affinity for entertainment, retail, food services, the arts, hospitality, pediatric care, and even philanthropy:
TIP: If your tables will use only a single weight, consider a typeface whose numbers have equal widths without the regular-and-bold duplexing of true tabular figures. The Indicia, Claimcheck, Revenue and Greenback typefaces in our Numbers collection are designed on a fixed width, as are the cheeky digits in each weight of Inkwell Blackletter.
Branding Custom Collateral
The last mile of visual communications are often the things created not by designers, but by software. It’s frequently the operators of word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation packages who need to speak in the organization’s voice, but lack the tools to do so properly. For these projects, we’ve created Office Fonts.
Office Fonts are adaptations of H&Co’s hardest-working typefaces, specifically engineered for use in business packages such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. These are the same families whose ScreenSmart fonts invite use at small sizes, and whose Pro character sets can tackle complex data. Reimagined for the non-designer, Office Fonts are limited to a familiar four styles per family (roman, italic, bold, and bold italic), and feature exclusively tabular figures, to avoid typographic mishaps that might go undetected. (And they ship in TrueType format, for maximum backward compatibility with even the most antiquated operating systems.) TIP: If a brand’s communications will ultimately include custom collateral like reports, proposals, statements, and presentations, design these documents from the outset using Office Fonts, to take advantage of their unique characteristics. —JH
While good typefaces have prodigious families of carefully related styles, some of the best typography builds unexpected relationships between unrelated fonts. Here are five ways to create typographic connections, to help keep your design engaging and inventive.
by Jonathan Hoefler
1. Avoid the Obvious
When reaching for a different weight, turning to a sympathetic but distinctively different typeface can add drama to a design. Sentinel and Archer are two slab serifs with very different origins — one a nineteenth century ‘Antique,’ the other a twenty-first century invention full of circular ‘ball terminals’ — but using them together adds visual interest to an otherwise muted composition. Among sans serifs, Verlag and Gotham are two plainspoken typefaces whose unique flavors are sharpened by the contrasting of their details, Verlag’s pointy apexes (in its A, N, and W) offering a sparkling counterpoint to the upright candor of Gotham.
TIP: Changes in both weight and scale help to accentuate the differences between these pairs, and draw out the unique character of each design. Used together, Sentinel seems especially prudent and Archer especially happy; Verlag seems doubly elegant and Gotham twice as direct.
2. Create Practical Pairings
No task is more familiar to a designer than selecting two typefaces that can work hand in hand, each chosen to present a similar but distinctive kind of content. Text-heavy applications, whether printed or digital, often need two contrasting faces to highlight different kinds of information. A practical text face with a large x-height, such as Mercury Text, can be usefully matched by a sans serif with similar proportions, such as Ideal Sans. (Try a ScreenSmart font, even if you’re working in print: their generous fit and open gestures make ScreenSmart fonts especially readable at text sizes — and at sizes smaller still.) And don’t be bound to the convention of pitting serif against sans: if your body face is a sans serif workhorse like Whitney, try a more colorful sans serif alternative for contrast, such as Operator. Operator’s taut curves and punchy gestures offer a nice counterpoint to the sobriety of Whitney, and the fixed-width Operator Mono can introduce a strikingly different rhythm that usefully contrasts with the text.
TIP: A fixed-width typeface like Operator Mono helps to quickly identify something as a computer program. But when the manuscript calls for highlighting a code fragment in the middle of a paragraph of text, switch to the font’s natural-width cousin, Operator. Since Operator shares the same underlying design as Operator Mono, these bold keywords are instantly recognizable as pieces of code. But their more traditional rhythm of wide and narrow letters makes for a more comfortable read.
3. Strike Subtle Contrasts
Sometimes the most engaging combinations are the ones that aren’t immediately apparent. Even though Gotham and Vitesse are manifestly different typefaces — one a sans based on the circle, the other a slab rooted in rounded rectangles — both fonts are equally dramatic in their use of geometry, and can be rendered in very similar weights. But typefaces don’t need to share a common weight to be good comrades, especially if they’re used at different sizes. Compared with the smaller Sentinel, the stems in Quarto are nearly twice as heavy, and its hairlines one-fifth as wide, differences that disappear when the reader sees each at its own set of sizes.
TIP: Rendering two contrasting typefaces with a similar fit can help close the distance between them. In both the examples above, careful thought has been given to the tracking of each typeface, with the intention of synchronizing the rhythm of letters and the spaces between them, even as the fonts themselves change.
4. Assemble Elegant Duets
Whether a sans serif with finely-drawn strokes or a serif face with delicate hairlines, light typefaces have long been a mainstay of fashion and luxury typography. Many species of hairline fonts pair handsomely together, especially when additional motifs reinforce their elegance. Here, the “low-waistedness” of Landmark, clearest in its A, R, and K, gives the design a deco-era elegance, a smart counterpoint to the crisp and evenly balanced Chronicle Hairline. Another strategy is to match faces with both common weights and a common approach to construction, like the starkly geometric Vitesse and Gotham — which careful readers may have noticed, reversed, in the section above.
TIP: When working with hairline fonts, decide early what size each font is suited for: some can perform at large text sizes, others are best used only for the largest display typography. When evaluating a serif face such as Chronicle, look not only at the weight of its hairline strokes like the crossbar of its H or the thinner arm of its Y, but also the weight of its serifs. Serifs are often considerably thinner than hairlines, and it’s these delicate gestures that will define how small the font can go.
5. Introduce Strange Bedfellows
Some of the most dazzling typographic pairings — and certainly my favorites — are those that use unexpected fonts together. At left, the grey flannel suit that is Tungsten Compressed is paired with crimson silk doublet of the St. Augustin Civilité, a fiery sixteenth century typeface that demands a good foil. The contrast between Tungsten’s restraint and the swashbuckling Civilité makes for a marvelous palette, and the contrasting proportions of these faces emphasizes the solemn verticality of one and the racy horizontality of the other. At right, the unconventional Acropolis Italic, made only of straight lines, meets the energetic Surveyor Display Italic, a typeface without a single straight line. Lending the fonts extra cohesion is their insistent angle of incline: both lean forward considerably more than a typical italic.
TIP: Keeping eccentric typefaces at arm’s length helps accentuate their uniqueness, something that’s easiest to do by segregating each font by size. In these examples, each typeface is assigned a specific range of sizes that’s free of other fonts, a clear and inviolate ‘altitude’ that further distinguishes its role in the design. —JH
When exploring how new fonts work together, we always find ourselves talking about dinner. The world of cuisine offers so many natural parallels for typography, and a robust vocabulary that we’re quick to borrow: What does this font taste like? Is it a garnish, or the entrée itself? Is it adding heat, or sweetness, or spice? What might it go with? Food and dining offer indispensable reference points, which by analogy can make it easier to communicate what we see in a piece of design. One designer to another, we’ve described fonts as “somewhere between the small batch bourbon made in Brooklyn, and the one your granddad drank,” or “the menu for an oyster bar, but reimagined without a New England accent.”
If the type is right, you’ll know what you’re getting into.
Add wine to the mix, and whole new dimensions open up. There’s the balance of old and new, and the stance that every winemaker takes toward tradition. A label communicates at once whether a wine is trading on its heritage, or interpreting it in a new way; perhaps it’s standing apart from convention, or thumbing its nose at history. Wine labels succeed when they play with the instantly recognizable tropes and clichés of typography, from the engraved foofaraw of an old Bordeaux, to the haute modernism of a New World white. As with all packaging, if the type is right, you’ll know what you’re getting into.
For Discover.typography, we challenged ourselves to see just what kinds of flavors we could coax out of unexpected pairings. Could a pair of brutalist sans serifs be paired with a pattern of renaissance arabesques, to evoke the kind of bottle that your favorite Italian restaurateur brings out at the end of a gathering? Could we project a flavor using just one font, or crashing six families together? Could we take typefaces that we’ve never seen used on wine bottles, and use them to evoke recognizable flavors? You’ll find twenty-two different studies for typographic wine labels today at Discover.typography. Cheers! —JH
Designers are trained to believe that similar typefaces should never be used together. But breaking this cardinal rule can sometimes be the perfect way to create ordered, elegant typography.
by Jonathan Hoefler
As powerful as typography can be in setting a reader’s expectations, it’s often the dialogue between typefaces that most effectively communicates how information is meant to be understood. Dictionaries use bold Antiques and delicate Ionics to distinguish their headwords and definitions; wayfinding systems use different fonts to identify routes and destinations. Find the most monotonous piece of design you can, and it’s still likely that its logo, headlines, and text are wearing different typographic dress.
It’s therefore customary for designers to reach for palpably different typefaces when assembling a palette. If not, why use more than one font in the first place? It’s hard to imagine the design that truly needs both Univers and Helvetica, and designers who mix both fonts indiscriminately do so at their own peril. Think of a trustworthy website, whose login page is one day mysteriously rendered in Times Roman. Even the most visually indifferent readers feel these disruptions.
But just as the most stylish person you know can pull off wearing four different kinds of check, or live in a room painted six different shades of orange, there are techniques for successfully bringing together typography’s first cousins, its doppelgangers, and its long-lost twins. Here are three types of font pairings that are traditionally scorned, but when used with purpose, can be supremely successful. We’ll be retiring that old chestnut “don’t use fonts that are too similar” in favor of a more constructive philosophy: “make each font’s purpose clear, and use every one consistently.”
1. Two Fonts in the Same Category
Designers contemplating two different fonts of the same general style often limit their choices to designs that have distinct personalities and pronounced characteristics. No one would consider “two serifs” likely to clash if one were tall and lithe, and the other a stocky text face. But few would consider pairing two different Old Style faces, let alone two Dutch Old Styles with the same large x-height and dark strokes, and many similar details. Quarto and Mercury are two such typefaces, and while their differences are clear enough to the typographer, we should assume that the vagaries of serifs and ball terminals are lost on the average reader.
Curiously, it’s this very ambiguity that suggests a union of the two typefaces, in which each is free to assume the role for which it’s best qualified. Quarto is a display face, with the snug fit, delicate hairlines, and discreet serifs that recommend it specifically to headline sizes. The Mercury family contains two kinds of faces for smaller sizes, each with the generous fit, thicker hairlines, and clearer gestures necessary for reproduction at text sizes: Mercury Text was designed for print, and Mercury ScreenSmart was designed and engineered for the screen.
On their website, filmmakers Not To Scale pair Quarto and Mercury ScreenSmart beautifully, by assigning each font a specific and exclusive range of sizes. Quarto is restricted to headlines, with Mercury ScreenSmart supplying everything else. The relationship between these two designs is further articulated by the designers’ use of Quarto’s heaviest weight and Mercury’s lightest, and by routinely pairing one font’s roman with the other’s italic — something the designers archly do in both directions.
WHY IT WORKS: Related typefaces can be successfully used together if each inhabits its own altitude, one at text sizes and the other at display. For this to work, each typeface must have the visual characteristics appropriate for its size range, with the hairlines, proportions, and fit that are tuned for either text or headlines. For large sizes, look for serif fonts with Fine, Display, or Titling in their names, as well as sans- and slab serifs with extreme weights such as Hairline or Ultra. For small sizes, look for print fonts named Text, and webfonts that are specifically built for small pixel sizes, such as the ScreenSmart collection.
TIP: Explore the contents of the text and headline faces you choose, reviewing both their styles and their character sets. Display faces often have a broader range of weights to choose from, offering subtle shadings that come alive at large sizes. Text faces often contain features such as small caps, tabular figures, fractions, or symbols, which can help both articulate and decorate text at small sizes.
2. Fonts with Similar Drafting Styles
Typefaces that have similar mannerisms, if they’re intended for the same range of sizes, can make truly ponderous companions. Sometimes such fonts are the work of the same type designer, who exhibits a strong personal style; other times the resemblence is coincidental. The following two typefaces are each the product of a radically different brief: Ideal Sans is a sans serif that renders a Humanist framework with handmade gestures, and Operator is meditation on the technical aesthetic of the typewriter. Yet both faces meet at some unforeseen crossroads, sharing the same motifs of angled stroke endings and asymmetrical curves, similarities that would seem to disqualify them from ever being used together.
For the publication of his longform essay The First Roman Fonts, author and publisher John Boardley chose this very pairing for his website, I Love Typography. Both faces, in their ScreenSmart versions, are used at small sizes, Ideal Sans for text, and Operator for the supporting footnotes and commentary. That both fonts were designed and engineered for small sizes might make either one a good choice to satisfy both functions, but Boardley’s selection of different fonts for different textual roles helps formalize the site’s distinction between text and annotation.
On the site, each typeface serves a function that’s sympathetic with its origins. Ideal Sans, with its large vocabulary of organic shapes, produces the kind of complex texture traditionally associated with seriffed text faces. Operator, with its roots in typewriting, can effect an authorial, academic voice, the perfect choice for the commentary that surrounds the text itself.
WHY IT WORKS: Instead of dividing the typography by type size, these typefaces have been assigned different semantic functions. The choice of typeface is prompted by the structure of the content itself, with each selection informed by both the fonts’ abilities and their intentions. Spending time with the fonts’ character sets revealed that their superficial resemblence goes no deeper than a handful of letters in a few core styles, and uncovered some useful textures in the auxiliary styles, such as these very different forms of italic.
TIP: Remember that even fonts that share the same visual cues can have wildly different proportions, which affect the leading, column width, and tracking they require. Compared with Ideal Sans, Operator has narrower letters, a larger x-height, and dramatically shorter ascenders, descenders, and caps, which together invite much tighter settings. Varying these parameters can help play up the differences or similarities between the two typefaces.
3. Two Revivals of the Same Source
To many designers, historical revivals are the core of the typographic canon. Those who depend on these classics are tasked with the duty of presiding over many different revivals of the same original, and choosing a single correct version for every project. (To see something beautifully set in Adobe Garamond, with a late addition hastily added in itc Garamond, produces a special kind of dissonance. Typography is that art in which the tiniest errors are always the most conspicuous.)
Many consider the idea that revivals aim to be definitive — that history is heading toward one ultimate Garamond revival — to be outmoded. Instead, contemporary designers often approach historical material in a more interpretive way, finding qualities in historical artifacts that resonate with ideas and requirements of their own. Some of the most interesting contemporary typefaces are those that are grounded in historical forms, but are less “recreations” of old typefaces than “occasioned by” them. This invites the possibility that a type designer might revisit the same historical source many times during his or her career, and produce many different interpretations that have both differences and similarities. Sometimes these designs will conflict with one another, other times they’ll be compatible. Most often, they’ll do both.
An example from our library is the pairing of Champion Gothic with Knockout, two divergent type families created years apart, and both inspired by the same historical source. Champion Gothic was my first typeface, designed in 1990, and intended to be a modern interpretation of nineteenth century American wood types. Designed for Sports Illustrated, its sentimentality is checked by the needs of an energetic editorial art department, and its design shaped by a magazine format that required five closely-related condensed faces plus one heavy outlier.
A few years later, I revisited these typefaces with different goals in mind, thinking about how this material might be rationalized into a larger grid of both widths and weights, to ultimately produce the 32-member Knockout family. Above are nine of Knockout’s styles, alongside all six of Champion’s, showing the common ancestor that both fonts share.
Just as a designer might pick the most appropriate Garamond revival for a project, most designers can evaluate Champion and Knockout’s merits and decide which fits the project at hand. But some designers use styles from both families together, and sometimes to great effect: the example below is a favorite, pairing two styles of Knockout with Champion Gothic Heavyweight.
WHY IT WORKS: When working with two different families built on the same historical ground, look for points of overlap and differentiation beween them. If both families have the same range of styles, and include the same kinds of features and character sets, stick with the one that feels best for the project. But if there are outliers in one family that aren’t represented in the other, try using them together. This design works because its central style, Champion Gothic Heavyweight, is the farthest afield from the styles in Knockout, not only in weight and width, but in character. Similarly, the two weights of Knockout used here are ones that have no analogue in Champion, whose weights never go this wide, this narrow, or this light.
TIP: Look first to the extreme ends of a family to see what makes it unique. Many historical revivals take on the challenge of adapting traditional models to new purposes, often including the weights, widths, or optical sizes for which the original source wasn’t intended. Also spend some time with both fonts’ character sets, looking for any points of departure. Subtle adjustments like the alternate Rin the top line here serve to heighten the differences between this font and its neighbors, further ensuring that these closely related designs never clash. —JH
Italics can be the most colorful part of a type family, diverging dramatically from their roman cousins. Here’s a look at twelve kinds of italic typeface, with some notes on their cultural contexts, historical backgrounds, and practical applications.
For as many kinds of typefaces as there will ever be, there’ll be even more kinds of italics. Nothing in the design of a roman typeface dictates what its italic will look like, and since the role of an italic is to be not only sympathetic with its roman but visibly different from it, italics are often free to explore unexpected constructions, or divergent visual traditions.
More so than romans, italics have a close connection with handwriting. Like handwriting, which can be as casual as a shopping list or as formal as a calligraphic invitation, different italics can express profoundly different moods. Understanding what goes into these many kinds of italics can make them even more valuable tools for designers.
Some calligraphers believe that cursive letters reached their finest form in the sixteenth century, in a style known as the chancery italic. These are calligraphic letters, their thick and thin strokes and sharp upward angles a product of the broad-edged pen. Chancery italics have long signaled magnificence, expressing the joy of a wedding invitation or the pathos of a book of verse. We explored this lovely style in Requiem Italic, and outfitted the design with an extended set of decorative ligatures to attractively resolve collisions such as the “s–t–f–l” above.
TIP: Because chancery italics have elegant, long-limbed ascenders and descenders, they need ample leading. Consider a font like Requiem when the format has lots of space — or for projects in which the text needs to be inflated to fit the format.
Many boisterous italics are made in a postmodernist style, freely borrowing from different genres. This design riffs on the various fixed-width letters found on typewriters, taking cues from both upright and script alphabets, and emerging with a welcoming and informal tone. This type family extends to nine different weights, with the extreme Thin and Ultra styles having especially distinctive personalities.
TIP: The eclecticism of Operator’s italic letters is echoed by the family’s many different and varied styles. Shifting between its small caps and lowercase, or its lighter and bolder weights, can be as striking as switching between romans and italics. And don’t be afraid to set whole paragraphs — or even whole texts! — in the italic.
These sinewy letters in the english vernacular style come not from the history of typefounding, but from map engraving, where they were traditionally used to label bodies of water. In place of serifs, they have long and fluid “exit trails” at the bottom, which help them follow curved baselines like the meandering paths of streams and coastlines. For designers, this makes them a great choice when wrapping type on a curve, especially in logos and seals that need to reproduce at small sizes.
TIP: Control the delicacy of Surveyor’s lines by matching its optical size to the circumstances. Surveyor Text was designed for small sizes, Surveyor Display for headlines, and Surveyor Fine for sizes larger still. Using the Text font in display sizes can be useful whenever you need heavier hairlines, such as when dropping type out of a photograph, and even the Display font can be helpful at smaller sizes, in situations where the hairlines will naturally gain weight, like when printing letterpress.
Typefaces in the dutch old style manage to be dark and bright at the same time, like a rousing symphony in a minor key. An invention of the seventeenth century, when the airy types of the Garamond style gave way to a darker, northern European fashion, these faces are useful when typography needs both a dense color and a classical air. Their dark color can be especially useful if display type will appear against a non-contrasting background, like the white-on-grey above.
TIP: Bold strokes and ample curves make a typeface like Quarto a good candidate for thoughtful tracking, either tight or loose. Loose all caps settings like this one are stately and monumental, while a tightly tracked upper- and lowercase setting can be warm and accessible.
The arrival of the mass-produced poster, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, gave rise to typography’s first expressly eye-catching italics. These typefaces, unsurprisingly called fat faces, can be equally effective at sizes both large and small, provided the design has been correctly drawn. This family features three optical masters for Text, Display, and Fine typography, sturdy enough to withstand small sizes, and delicate enough to thrive at large ones.
TIP: This typeface, Surveyor Fine Black Italic, has a decorative counterpart in the Obsidian family. Obsidian Italic features the same deep character set as Surveyor, full of small caps, alternates and swashes, all drawn with vibrant shading that comes alive at large sizes.
An italic’s angle shapes its personality. A font with a gentle slope of just six degrees can be lovely and lyrical; fifteen degrees and it’s positively brisk. This powerhouse superitalic achieves its speed and urgency with a 28° slope, making it our most italic typeface ever. Useful in everything from political campaigns to motorsports, it’s a typeface that designers call upon whenever typography needs to communicate raw power. And it’s supplemented by a backslant with contrary motion, offering an intriguing alternative to simply “roman or italic?”
TIP: Although it’s tightly fitted by default, the Nitro typeface responds beautifully to letterspacing. Its insistent lean provides more than enough momentum to carry the eye forward on the line, ensuring that even dramatically tracked type remains coherent and legible.
Swash capitals, which have been part of typography since the very earliest italics, came to full flower in the french old style types of Garamond and Granjon. This family of typefaces, designed for display sizes, celebrates this tradition with a frolicsome set of swash caps that introduce each word with grandeur. Though swashes are customarily used only at the start of a word, many typefaces include swashes that work mid-word as well, when setting italics in all caps. Look for letters without elaborate curlicues on the left side, to ensure that they don’t interfere with their neighbors.
TIP: In Hoefler Titling Italic, the swash C, E, J, K, Q, S, T, X, Y, and Z are designed to avoid neighboring letters. Other typefaces with medial swashes are Hoefler Text Italic, which also features a few swash italic small caps, and Surveyor Italic, whose swash caps and small caps are managed by an automated collision avoidance system.
Some italics are cursive, following the natural motion of the hand; others are oblique, designed to look like slanted romans. Typefaces in the modern style often have elements of both, pairing a fluid lowercase with highly rational caps. This balance of mechanical precision and artistic brio has made them a popular choice in the applied arts, often providing the signature typography for cultural institutions, architectural practices, and most famously, fashion.
TIP: Fashion typography, both editorial and commercial, has long relied on the precision and delicacy of this typeface, HTF Didot. In addition to its famous romans, try the family’s rarer italics: they provide the same keenness with an extra dash of grace, and some welcome moments of wit in the lowercase, figures, and punctuation.
Typefaces in the antique style have blocky, unbracketed serifs — or at least their romans do. Equally distinctive is the far rarer Antique Italic, whose swelling curves and staccato ball terminals deliver a contrasting texture to the roman, but with the same dependability and courage. The most versatile Antiques are not only sober and trustworthy, but warm and lively, with extreme weights that are bright and alert.
TIP: Though they’re often thought of as display faces, typefaces like Sentinel are tremendously useful in text. Across their entire range of weights, the fonts’ clear gestures and careful fit recommend them to even very small sizes. Depending on your taste, the family’s Light, Book, or Medium might all serve as the “normal” weight for text.
Many sans serifs, in their rationality, have dispassionate italics that simply look like slanted romans. But typefaces with a humanist inflection can take a different approach, using the kinds of cursive forms more commonly found in seriffed designs. A sans serif whose roman has organic qualities, like these flaring strokes and gently bowing lines, invites an italic with a similarly handmade feel.
TIP: A sans serif with a flowing italic can be an asset at text sizes, where it produces a texture that’s distinctly different from its roman. Ideal Sans Italic has not only cursive gestures and an elliptical motif, but a narrower gait than its roman, giving it a recognizably contrasting rhythm in text.
One way to bridge the gap between the formality of print and the informality of writing is to create hybrid letterforms, in which typographic and calligraphic elements are fused together. Archer Italic, a cursive slab, uses this approach to satisfy a set of oppositions that were part of the design’s brief: the typeface was created to be instructive but not priggish, pretty but not overindulgent, and sweet but not saccharine, a balance it strikes by featuring both rigid serifs and flowing exit trails on the same letters. Many of the cheerful details in the design’s lowercase, such as the ball terminal on its lowercase C, have been imported into the caps, an unusual move that further softens the tone of an otherwise tough slab serif.
TIP: Slab serifs with ball terminals can be tricky in their extreme weights, often losing their balance at the light end of the spectrum, and becoming gawky in their heaviest weights. Look for a design in which the lightest weights are both crisp and measured, and the heaviest ones are both steady and exuberant. A typeface that performs at small sizes can be useful as well, since it sidesteps the need to look for a coordinating serif text face.
Some of the most interesting italics have no historical precedents. This one, exploring the idea that cursive typefaces don’t need to be curvy, was invented to accompany a grecian roman, a nineteenth century style of wood type with angular corners. Taking a more interpretive approach to type design can yield fonts whose styles aren’t readily identifiable, making them useful in projects that need to avoid specific historical associations or visual clichés.
TIP: Italics with unexpected design motifs can be most dramatic when used in small doses. Some of the most arresting applications of this typeface are those where it’s used most sparingly, from logos and monograms to solitary drop caps. —JH
Now you can use Cloud.typography to style email campaigns with your favorite H&Co fonts.
Designers who love type want to use it everywhere. And that’s an obsession that perfectly aligns with what clients need: why not brand all of a company’s communications consistently? Subscribers to our Cloud.typography service, who use H&Co fonts for their web and mobile communications, have recently begun asking about extending their typography to email as well. So we’re delighted to announce that starting today, all Cloud.typography subscriptions now include the ability to use fonts in email campaigns. We’re pleased to offer yet another way to use the power of typography to extend a brand’s voice.
A distinctive, high-quality typeface helps email stand out.
For many companies, email is the most direct way to communicate with their customers. It’s a critical part of any marketing strategy, but still a tough puzzle to crack: while people check their email constantly, and one-third of marketers say their subscribers read most of their email on mobile devices, nearly two-thirds of companies are looking for new ways to improve email personalization. It’s harder than ever to make email stand out — which is where the right typeface, chosen with care, can help. Now, your email campaigns can take part in everything that makes your brand unique, including its typography.
With Cloud.typography, readers of email can experience the same high-quality screen typography that they’ve come to expect from H&Co fonts on the web. Because email uses type at text sizes — and often, features so much text — email campaigns are the perfect place to use H&Co’s ScreenSmart fonts that are optimized for reading at small sizes. Take a look at our growing collection of ScreenSmart fonts specially tuned for text sizes, and then log in with your Cloud.typography subscription, where you’ll find an option for “email campaigns” included in all of your webfont projects.
Now, your email campaigns can share the same branding as all of your other communications.
Email is still a new frontier for typography. On the reader’s side, support for fonts is limited, but growing: many desktop and mobile apps like Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook support webfonts, but most browser-based clients like Gmail don’t. In other words, a branded email sent to a gmail.com address will render with webfonts if it’s being read in an application like Mail or Outlook, or on the mail app on the owner’s iPhone, but it won’t show the branded fonts if it’s being read inside a web browser. But as always, Cloud.typography won’t interfere with your message getting through: when someone reads a branded email in an application that doesn’t support webfonts, they’ll simply see it appear using the same system fonts that you’re using today.
Cloud.typography uses your available pageviews to satisfy email opens, with each open counting as a single pageview. You’ll find more information in our email FAQ, and some best practices for using fonts in email in the Cloud.typography user guide. If you’re using H&Co fonts in your other communications but aren’t yet a Cloud.typography subscriber, join today and you’ll have instant access to all the H&Co fonts you’ve ever purchased in the past, without the need to buy them again. Subscriptions start at $99/year.
We’re excited to offer designers a new tool to both elevate their typography and expand their reach. Fonts are the foundations of so many memorable experiences, and we’re glad to see H&Co fonts playing yet another role in the ways that successful and timeless brands communicate. —H&Co.
It’s surprising how much writing that isn’t about design turns out to be about design. For years, I’ve been squirreling away sentiments that resonate with me, scribbling them into sketchbooks or thumbing them into many generations of smartphone. Their sources vary: a hard-boiled mystery that I read on vacation, an in-flight magazine interview with a restaurateur, a book about viniculture, Twitter. One is attributable to a cartoon character. CEO Marissa Mayer adroitly captured what connects geeks and designers, and Jay-Z perfectly articulated something I’ve always felt about typeface design. Taken together, they’re ultimately about the same things: the role of design, the creative process, entrepreneurship, and the significance of tradition and style. These are all things central to life at H&Co, both to us and our clients, and to lovers of typography everywhere. I thought you might enjoy them. —JH
Lately, we’ve been developing a taste for tight letterspacing. Our clients have been doing the same: designers know that tight tracking is an effective way to make any message seem more immediate and energetic. But not every typeface is designed for close quarters, and the wrong font can ruin the effect. Here are a few things to consider when setting type tightly.
We often reach for a condensed sans when looking for a typeface that can be mortared into a solid wall, but the right serif typeface can be just as successful — and sometimes a lot more lively. Serifs introduce a level of variation that helps relieve typographic monotony, and they can fill awkward spaces around curved letters. A typeface with unusually short serifs, such as Quarto Black, can be tracked especially tightly before its characters begin to touch. But don’t eliminate overlaps, since they contribute to giving typography an even rhythm: track your type so that lowercase Ns and Os nestle comfortably together, and let the others fall where they may.
Many typefaces make use of the superellipse, a shape based on the ellipse but with fuller curves. Gotham Condensed Ultra, shown here, is one such design: notice the way its upper- and lowercase O are drawn, with squarer “shoulders” than a regular ellipse, shown here as a dotted line. The extra weight in the corners helps letters take up as much space as possible, and further squares them against other letters’ vertical strokes. In the headline above, I’ve also added Gotham’s alternate lowercase A, which huddles more tightly against its neighboring letters. (This character is available as a stylistic set, both on the desktop and on the web.) Keep an eye out for typefaces that use superelliptical curves: you’ll find them at work in many of our boldest fonts.
Because flat and unbracketed serifs intersect more predictably on a line, slab serifs are some of the best choices for tight tracking. Pay attention to the tops of the lowercase F and R, and the concluding strokes of the lowercase A and T, which in most typefaces will feature rounded terminals and curved tails that add to a font’s variety. For even greater visual consistency, choose a slab serif like Vitesse Black, which streamlines these details into horizontal strokes. Vitesse’s boxy serifs lock neatly together, long before the letters themselves collide, helping preserve the legibility of the type.
While typefaces with flat sides seem like obvious choices for tight tracking, take care: these can be among the most perilous fonts to use. Serifs can help a letter keep its neighbors at arm’s length, and letters with plump curves can be legible even when partially obscured. But flat-sided letters, when set too tightly, meld into a single, indistinguishable mass. When using a flat-sided sans, look for one that’s specifically fitted for display sizes, such as Tungsten Bold. And if you’re considering a typeface with rounded corners, look for one that automatically resolves awkward collisions, such as Tungsten Rounded.
Our taste in type is always evolving. Keep an eye on discover.typography to see what we’re thinking about, or join our mailing list to keep up with what we’re working on. —JH
Some new features at Discover.typography make it easier than ever to spot fonts in the wild.
Among the contributors to Discover.typography are a couple of serious campers, a few people who enjoy a good hike, and at least one fledgling birdwatcher. At least one of us may have been involved in scouting as a kid, where the pursuit of such outdoorsy merit badges as Indian Lore, Basketry and Leatherwork pointed damningly to a future as the proprietor of a type foundry. But even for an indoorsy designer-to-be, there was much to love about camping: compact kits where things cleverly nested together, secret codes involving flashing lights or colored flags, the iconography of uniform badges, and multi-functional Swiss Army knives that prepared gutsy woodsmen for fixing eyeglasses or opening bottles of wine on the frontier. There was also the night sky, the joy of telling a chestnut tree by its leaves or a cottontail rabbit by its tracks, and the discovered pleasures of both camaraderie and solitude. It was with all this reverie in mind that we set to work on Trail Mix, a meditation on the outdoor life, in type.
The new controller.
Trail Mix includes a couple of unexpected type treatments for the web, from type wrapping a three-dimensional object, to letters rendered in embroidery. But the most significant change is to the controller, which identifies which fonts are used in each piece of art. Now you’ll see more detailed information about the fonts that go into our work — for example, not just that we used “Gotham,” but which specific styles we chose from the Gotham Narrow 1 package. We’ve also made the controller and the artwork mutually interactive, so you can select a font’s name to see where it appears in the art, and vice versa. And as always, there are a couple of easter eggs in store for the eagle-eyed, Eagle Scouts among you. Be prepared. —JH
Now there’s a way to transform your web typography at the touch of a button: introducing Stylistic Sets for webfonts at Cloud.typography.
In search of the perfect form for each of a font’s thousands of characters, typeface designers sometimes encounter questions that have more than one answer. Perhaps a flowery capital Q captures a font’s elegance, but one with a shorter tail is more practical when there’s no room for flourish. Perhaps a smart and serious typeface suddenly becomes cool and playful, with a subtle alteration to its lowercase a. H&Co loves making typefaces that offer different voices, and ones that anticipate and solve problems, which is why we’ve long furnished our desktop fonts with alternate characters that offer designers stylistic and functional options. Starting today, Cloud.typography users can achieve this same sophistication on the web, fine-tuning webfonts using a powerful OpenType feature called stylistic sets. Uniquely, we’ve implemented this feature so that it works not only in cutting-edge browsers, but in all browsers that support webfonts, so that your typographic preferences can be a fundamental and consistent part of the way you work with type.
At its simplest, a stylistic set replaces one character with an alternate form, such as the optional “single-storey” lowercase a available in Gotham, above. Activating this option affects not only the letter itself, but all of its related forms, including the à accent seen here. Usefully, Cloud.typography automatically makes this same change across all of a family’s styles, a welcome bit of housekeeping in a sixteen-style family like Gotham:
These adjustments are known as stylistic sets because they allow related transformations to be grouped together and controlled by a single switch. The “curly commas” option in the Whitney typeface affects not only the comma, but the semicolon, and both the open and closed forms of the single quotes, double quotes, and baseline quotes. The ability to manage complex adjustments with a single checkbox makes it easy to ensure consistency across your typography: not everyone would guess that turning on Whitney’s flat-sided M would change not only the capital and small cap forms, but also the symbols for trademark (™) and servicemark (℠).
Each of our type families has different stylistic sets, inspired by the natural properties of the design. There are versatile typefaces such as Surveyor in which common characters like f and g can be dramatically reshaped, straightforward headline faces like Tungsten Rounded that let you fine-tune details as esoteric as the percent sign, and exuberant display faces such as Landmark that include five different mechanisms for managing accents. Our Stylistic Sets FAQ details the things that await you in the H&Co library, a few highlights of which appear below. On behalf of our type designers who devise these characters, and the Cloud.typography team who brought this work to the web, I look forward to seeing what you build with these new tools! —JH
A font’s shapes might be designed, but its personality is discovered. It’s only in its natural habitat, surrounded by other typefaces, that a font truly develops a unique voice. For the designers at Hoefler&Co, designing with a font — even while it’s still being drawn — is a vital part of the creative process: seeing how a font performs, especially in the company of other typefaces, helps us better understand its character, articulate its purpose, and perfect its voice.
Starting today, we’re going to be sharing some of these explorations on a new site at Discover.typography.com. You’ll find typography that’s inspired by the things that delight us, and typography that reveals the techniques we’ve learned for achieving different moods. Discover.typography is a new way to experience type, an environment that makes it easy to identify typefaces, see them up close, and get to know their many subtleties. Check it out, on your phone, tablet, or computer, and let us know what you think! —JH
In the middle of Gotham, our family of 66 sans serifs, there is a hushed but surprising moment: a fraction whose numerator has a serif. So important was this detail that we decided to offer it as an option for all the other fractions, a decision that ultimately required more than 400 new drawings. Why?
Join us for The Finishing Touches, a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the invisible details that go into every font from H&Co.
Learning to draw letters is hard enough, but learning to create typefaces is something else entirely. For those with an interest in both, H&Co’s Sara Soskolne will be teaching “Turning Letters into Type,” a week-long workshop at New York’s School of Visual Arts, July 12–16. Registration is now open, and seats are limited.
Soskolne, who has contributed to some of our most exhaustive projects (Verlag, Chronicle, Gotham) and some of its snappiest (Tungsten, Sentinel, Numbers) will introduce the tools and principles of digital typeface design by working with students individually on projects of their own invention. “Be it systematizing your own lettering, imagining a complete alphabet from a found fragment,” she says, “articulating that ideal set of forms in your mind, or reviving a non-digital typeface you love,” letters will come alive as type. The workshop will foster a critical eye for shapes and spacing, and a deeper understanding of how typefaces work, all skills critical to both type design and typography. Prerequisites include experience with Bézier drawing (know Illustrator?), and either lettering or typography. —JH
Every font shown on this site is accompanied by a set of suggested pairings. These are all personal selections (would that they could be automated!) and we’re often asked about our methodology for deciding what fonts go together. The truth is that these are intuitive choices: since we design all the fonts ourselves, we’re intimately familiar with their visual, functional, cultural and historical qualities, and just have a general sense of “what goes.” And yet there are always surprises: I’d never have guessed that the geometric sans serif Gotham had any affinity for the humanist sans Whitney, nor that Vitesse and Archer — two slabs serifs with dramatically different personalities — could get along so well.
Lately I’ve been wondering if it might be possible to abstract from these examples some generalities about font pairings, and have come up with a couple of thoughts. Curiously, everything seems to revolve around a single idea about how fonts relate: you’ll find the whole story below. —JH
Most graphic designers choose the fonts that best fit their projects. Brian Hennings does the opposite: he chooses the projects that best fit the fonts. A resident designer at Hoefler&Co, Brian shares with me the responsibility of creating all of the sample art you’ll find on this site. His is a strange universe of the fictitious: signage programs for mythical cities, book jackets for unwritten novels, product literature for items you cannot buy, broadcast graphics for live sporting events that you can’t quite identify. (They might have a ball, horses, cars, rifles, or all of the above.) His fake cookbook recipes have immaculate typography, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to cook from any of them.
Two weeks ago, we released our new Tungsten font family, accompanied by an unusually large collection of sample art: Brian and I just couldn’t put the new fonts down. The feedback we received was extraordinary in both its kindness and its volume, and I was especially happy to see so many designers specifically mention the art that we’d worked so hard to create. Since Brian’s job gives him a unique perspective on typography — plus enviable access to fonts that the rest of the world won’t see for years — I asked him to share some of his observations about the process: what it’s like to use a new font that no one’s ever used, what it tells you about itself, and what it reveals about typography in general. Without further ado, here’s Brian. —JH
Annual reports offer designers a marvelous opportunity to strut their stuff. In the hands of a thoughtful typographer, a dense volume of technical text can become warm and welcoming, its changing rhythm of introductions, statements, analyses, and disclosures calling for a beautiful typographic system to help organize the text. Financial data can be uniquely satisfying to design, offering an irresistible opportunity to work with large type families in intricate ways. There are tables both long and short, as well as charts, graphs, and diagrams, all studded with headings, footnotes, and legends that defy even the most ingenious grid.
Each of these details places a special burden on the fonts, making it especially important to choose the right palette up front. We’ve gathered some thoughts about choosing fonts for annual reports for our Techniques library, here you’ll find four things to think about when considering a typeface — and a collection of font families specifically designed to meet these unique challenges.
Last spring, when answering a reader’s question about our favorite characters to draw, I got to spend some time with some of our beloveds: the ¶ and ß that rarely see the light of day, as well as H&Co’s middle name, &. It took great self-control not to spill the beans about another pair of favorites, the dagger and double dagger, for already waiting in the wings were my favorite daggers to ever come out of H&Co. They’re the ones in our just-released Sentinel family, seen here.
Daggers come from that archipelago of typographic symbols known as reference marks, which refer readers elsewhere for explanatory or exegetic notes. The traditional first-order reference mark is the asterisk¹¹The New Oxford English Dictionary advises: “Avoid pronouncing this word ‘astericks’ or ‘asterik,’ as many regard such pronunciations as uneducated.” Frighteningly, Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2003) cites some printed examples of the spellings “astericks” and “asterick,” in The Washington Times (1998) and Florida Today (1999), respectively., a longtime favorite: in The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst observes that asterisks have been in continuous use for five thousand years. Asterisks can take countless forms, though custom favors ones shaped like stars, flowers, or bathtub faucets; any number of petals is permissible as well, with five-, six-, and eight-lobed asterisks being most common. [Clock starts now in anticipation of the world’s first seven-lobed asterisk. —Ed.] The approach that a designer follows in the asterisk is usually echoed in the typeface’s second-order reference mark, the dagger (also known as the obelus, obelisk, or long cross), and its third-order mark, the double dagger (a.k.a. diesis or double obelisk.) Both characters have functions in genealogy and other life sciences, where the asterisk indicates the year of birth (*1499), and the dagger the year of death (†1561). There are standard fourth-, fifth- and sixth-order reference marks, too: they are the section mark (§), parallels (||), and number sign (#), after which the cycle repeats with doubles, triples, and so on: *, †, ‡, §, ||, #, **, ††, ‡‡, §§, ||||, ###, ***, †††, ‡‡‡, etc. Beyond three, numbered footnotes are always preferable, even if you are David Foster Wallace.
Daggers afford the type designer a rare opportunity to quote from more widely recognized visual languages, such as architecture and other applied arts. The daggers in our H&Co Didot family echo the kinds of details common in period decoration, and those in Whitney evoke the simplified asterisk of the typewriter, its center removed to prevent the buildup of ink. In Sentinel, we wanted the design’s industrial brawn to be mellowed by some lyrical flourishes, which in the daggers produced a ‘twisted quillon²² Dagger anatomy, for the quiz: the quillon is the guard that separates the hilt of a knife from its blade, and the choil is the notch where the blade meets the quillon.’ that you’ll find in another place slab serifs traditionally reside: find a pack of playing cards, and look closely at the dagger of the “suicide king.” —JH
Hands-on instruction in typeface design is notoriously hard to come by. Those interested in learning the craft have either to content themselves with a one-hour workshop at a professional conference, or commit themselves to a year of graduate school abroad. But this month, the Book Arts Center at Wells College Summer Institute is hosting a one-week class in typeface design with Sara Soskolne, Senior Typeface Designer at H&Co. The class is limited to ten students, promising a rare chance to work with a professional type designer one-on-one.
The facilities boast large classrooms dedicated to lettering arts and digital imaging (all blissfully air-conditioned), and those with broader interests in the book arts will find two binderies, two press rooms, and seven Vandercook proofing presses. Those with broader interests still will find Wells College handsomely placed on New York’s Lake Cayuga, suggesting post-typographic swimming and birdwatching, magnificent sunsets, and fireflies by the kilowatt. Bring your “Co-Ed Naked Intramural Kerning” t-shirt.
Registration is now open: contact Nancy Gil, Summer Institute Director. And soon! —JH
A nifty feature of Mac OS X 10.5 (“Leopard”) is Quick Look, a tool in the Finder that allows you to preview collections of files at a glance. Popular for images, Quick Look is useful for fonts as well, as it allows both styles and families to be examined without leaving the Finder.
In the Finder, select a bunch of fonts and hit the space bar. Shown here is the result for Archer; clicking any individual style reveals the core character set for that font, along with buttons for paging through the collection one font at a time. There’s even a slideshow mode, and the obligatory animation when switching modes that’s completely gratuitous but charming nonetheless. Check it out! —JH
My last post made passing mention of the pleasures of designing the paragraph mark, prompting one reader to rightly ask, “how much fun can it really be to draw a backwards P?” [No more fun than it is to draw the rest of that font you’re using, matey. —Ed.] It may not seem obvious, but the lowly paragraph mark really does offer ample opportunity for invention.
Like most punctuation, the paragraph mark (or pilcrow) has an exotic history. It’s tempting to recognize the symbol as a “P for paragraph,” though the resemblance is incidental: in its original form, the mark was an open C crossed by a vertical line or two, a scribal abbreviation for capitulum, the Latin word for “chapter.” Because written forms evolve through haste, the strokes through the C gradually came to descend further and further, its overall shape ultimately coming to resemble the modern “reverse P” by the beginning of the Renaissance. Early liturgical works, in imitation of written manuscripts, favored the traditional C-shaped capitulum; many modern bibles still do. A capitulum is by no means out of place in a modern font, either: top row center is H&Co Didot, whose neoclassical origins suggested the inclusion of a shape from antiquity.
Above, a pageant of pilcrows from some of our fonts, suggesting that the possibilities are indeed endless. There seem to be eight fundamental questions that inform the shape of the pilcrow: (1) Should the form be P-like or C-like? (2) Should there be one stroke or two? (3) Should the bowl be solid or open? (4) Should the bottom of the strokes be plain, seriffed, or flourished? (5) Should the top right corner finish with a serif or not? (6) Should the bowl exhibit contrast to match the alphabet, or be monolinear like the mathematical operators? (7) Should the bowl connect with the first stroke, the second stroke, both, or neither? (8) Should the character align with the capitals, or descend to match the lowercase? Together these simple decisions offer 768 possible outcomes, none of which even begins to anticipate the stylized can-opener of Whitney or the bent paperclip of Cyclone. [Or the post-mounted mailbox of Idlewild, or the ski rope handle of Landmark Dimensional, now included above.]
In any case, Pilcrow & Capitulum would make a fine name for a pub, and a grand place to host a typographers’ wayzgoose. Or perhaps it’s a buddy movie about crime-fighting bibliographers: Capitulum wears cable knit sweaters and drinks single malt, and Pilcrow is a ladies’ man who drives an Austin Healey. Catch their zany antics and madcap adventures, etc, etc. —JH
Our designers are often asked if there are particular letters that we especially enjoy drawing. Office doodles testify to the popularity of the letter R, perhaps because it synopsizes the rest of the alphabet in one convenient package (it’s got a stem, a bowl, serifs both internal and external, and of course that marvelous signature gesture, the tail.) A quick straw poll names a, r, f and e as popular letters too, as well as the figures 2 and 5, and our resident Cyrillist admits a soft spot for the swash capital dje (Ђ.) The back end of the character set definitely invites invention as well: steely designers always appreciate a well-made paragraph mark or double dagger, and we certainly have our fun drawing them.
One character that’s especially gratifying to get right is the eszett, if only because it so stubbornly resists being figured out. Eszetts can follow any number of constructions, from the romanized long-s-short-s of Archer to the more Teutonic long-s-meets-z of Verlag. Most fonts strike some balance between these extremes, introducing internal shapes that echo other parts of the character set (as in Mercury) or using simplified geometries that reinforce the philosophy behind the overall design (as in Gotham.)
Historian James Mosley has posted an essay about the eszett to his indispensable Typefoundry blog, which sheds some light on the character’s checkered past. (The eszett lives in contemporary German as a ligatured form of the double s, but its very name means s-z; Mosley explains why.) An especially welcome gift from the essay is the correct technical name for the romanized ß: it is the “Sulzbacher form,” after Abraham Lichtenthaler, the seventeenth century printer denizened in the Bavarian town of Sulzbach, who is credited with introducing the character to roman printing type. —JH
If you suspect that my typographic leanings affect my taste for other visual arts, it will come as no surprise to learn how much I love the work of Elliott Puckette. There’s a show of her recent work at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, which runs through February 23: do not miss it.
An interesting counterpoint to the works themselves is Judith Goldman’s interview with the artist, published in the exhibition catalog. Puckette counts Oleg Grabar’s study of Islamic calligraphy among her influences, along with the asemic writing of artists such as Henri Michaux. She mentions other influences that are further afield, and less directly evident in her work: the physiognomical portraits of Johann Caspar Laveter, the Celestial Alphabet, and the Walam Olum, among others. But most striking to me was this comment, in which Puckette describes how she began using a razor as a tool:
I warmed up to it slowly. I was looking at penmanship books and doing paintings of the letter O and A, and I thought about making the image negative by painting around it.... I thought, if I scratch it out, that would be easier, and I’d get there faster. Cutting and scratching was a way to slow the line down. In the end it wasn’t about adding; it was about subtracting.
What’s remarkable is that this is exactly how typefaces are designed: not by constructing letterforms in black, but by drawing counters in white. That Puckette chose an implement for stripping away, rather than building up, is also fascinating: files and gravers, the traditional tools of typemaking, are tools for creating whitespace. (Their profound affect on type design, which cannot be underestimated, is the central thesis of Fred Smeijers’ excellent Counterpunch.) I can’t help but wonder what a Puckette-designed typeface might look like; perhaps we’ll someday find out? —JH
With the arrival of a new year comes a new Zagat Survey, and with this year’s edition comes a special typographic surprise: a complete redesign using our Whitney family. The indomitable Zagat team has given the fonts one of their most rigorous workouts ever, using Whitney’s many special features to excellent advantage — here’s some of what’s inside.
Pocket guides have an especially compelling need to keep page count low and legibility high, making Whitney’s compact forms a good match for the project. In its pro edition, Whitney contains a set of even-width tabular figures, which the Zagat team used for this very clear and sensible wine vintage chart, above.
Since guidebooks feature both maps and numbered lists, a set of numbered indices is often useful. Here, Zagat’s heavily-automated pagination system is able to call upon the pre-built Whitney Index font, rather than demanding the intervention of a designer for every single table. (If you’ve ever tried to make numbers in circles yourself, you know how treacherous they can be — especially when lists spill over into double digits!)
Newsprint is an appropriate choice for a pocket guide, since it helps reduce both weight and cost, but it’s an especially hostile environment for typography. To survive newsprint, letterforms need to have clear gestures and open apertures, to prevent their forms from clogging up at small sizes. And because type on newsprint can gain weight unpredictably, sans serifs with a broad range of weights are especially useful. Whitney has six weights, each of which makes an appearance somewhere in the 2008 guide. —JH