Mercury: high performance meets high style.

Even while the headline font Mercury Display was still on the drawing board, we suspected that many of its ideas might someday lend themselves to a good text face. Mercury’s compact proportions and clear gestures would naturally reproduce well in small sizes, and we imagined that its spiky geometry and taut curves could make text sparkle. Alexander Isley gave us the opportunity to explore these possibilities in 1999, when he asked us to solve an interesting problem for the New Times newspaper chain.

Newspapers are one of typography’s most challenging environments, not only because their high-speed presses coincide with pulpy papers and thin inks, but because they contain so many different kinds of information — arranged in countless ways — that are composed not by designers but by software. The New Times faced all these difficulties, plus one more: its eleven weekly editions were printed in different regions, each of which was subject to different atmospheric conditions on press. We were asked to consider the idea of a type family whose design could anticipate and counteract these differences, so that formats developed for the Phoenix edition could be deployed in Miami as well.

We designed Mercury Text in a series of grades, sibling members of a type family which share the same underlying geometry, but offer different degrees of darkness on the page. (Unlike the weights of a type family, which grow progressively wider as they get bolder, a font’s grades increase in color without affecting copyfit.) For the New Times, this meant that different regional editions could use different grades to counteract the local conditions of each press, in order to achieve the same end result. In other media, grades offer the ability to separate typography from its physical substrate, so that the type-warping effects of handmade paper, roll film, flat-panel monitors, or retroreflective sheeting can be all corrected for in the font itself.

A year of press-testing ensured that Mercury Text would perform under the most adverse conditions, and in the widest range of formats. Its proportions were fine-tuned to suit those of the news column (offering space-saving advantages in any setting) and its styles were remastered with common editorial functions in mind. Another year spent studying more than 3,800 examples of informational typography in different publications ensured that the fonts’ character sets included all the numeric and graphic symbols necessary to tackle every part of even the most demanding project.

Mercury ScreenSmart: High-Performance Web fonts

Mercury ScreenSmart is an adaptation of the family specifically engineered for the screen, and available for use on the web. To ensure outstanding rendering on screen at sizes as small as nine pixels, we carefully adjusted the fonts’ fit, color, and proportions, and orchestrated their progression of weights so that each style is distinctly different from its neighbors. Like all ScreenSmart fonts, Mercury ScreenSmart is equipped with a set of detailed instructions called “hints,” which tell its outlines how to adapt themselves to pixel grids at different point sizes, to ensure that the fonts always retain both their legibility and their personality.


Colophon

The Mercury Text typeface was designed by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000, as a text-size counterpart to Hoefler’s Mercury Display of 1996. A loose adaptation of the sparkling baroque typefaces of Johann Michael Fleischman (1701-1768), Mercury was an inflection point in Hoefler’s typefaces, in which explicit historical revivals pivoted to more expressive interpretations inspired by historical themes. First appearing in the pages of Esquire in 2000, and expanded into a larger family of typefaces for the New Times newspaper chain, Mercury Text is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Designed by

Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones

Based on

Mercury Display by Hoefler&Co.

With contributions from

Jesse Ragan; Sara Soskolne

 

Special thanks to Alex Isley

Advance copies of Mercury Text were circulated under the working titles Esquire Text, Mercury News, and Alternative. These fonts have been replaced by the Mercury Text Grade 2 package. Mercury® is a registered trademark of Hoefler&Co.