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Mike Abbink is the designer of several internationally recognized typefaces, including most recently FF Kievit Slab and FF Milo Slab, FontFont (2013, 2014); and Brando, Bold Monday (2014). In 2014 Mike teamed up with designers Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen of Bold Monday to create serif and sans additions to the GE corporate typeface family Inspira. Both Brando and the GE Inspira have recently won awards in the 61st Annual TDC Type Competition. Mike is also Senior Creative Director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and has a broad typography background from personal, in-house, and design agency work including MetaDesign in San Francisco, Apple, Wolff Olins on two coasts, and Saffron Consultants.
FontFont caught up with Mike at his home in Brooklyn. We toured his neighborhood, studio space, and dropped in to the city to see his office at MoMA.
What have you been drawing lately and what projects are you in the middle of?
I can show you work that was just finished for the Henri Matisse exhibit that my design team worked on in the MoMA design studio. It’s a Futura inspired black weight with roman, italic and reverse italic. I designed it to work well with the bespoke typeface (Henry) created for the Matisse catalog and designed by the Fraser Muggeridge studio in London. We developed this identity to be used as the Matisse exhibition title wall and products in the MoMA Design Store. We also ended up redoing the street-facing store windows using the Matisse identity typeface. I’m also very pleased by the way our print advertising has turned out. One that stood out for me was a full page ad in the New York Times, showing a single artwork and just small caption set in 7 point type. No tag line, call to action, exhibition info, address… just the image of Matisse’s Nuit de Noël. I have not seen that approach with any museum adverts which was quite refreshing and bold.
I’ve also been working on Brando Sans and what will ultimately become FF Kievit Serif; right now we’re currently getting the weights within the family fine tuned so it mixes well together with the sans and slab versions. I’ve been working on FF Kievit my whole career with the goal of building a cohesive family which includes a sans, slab and serif. The Serif and Slab versions have been done in collaboration with Paul van der Laan.
I see you’re working in Fontlab here; Is that your editor of choice at the moment?
Yeah. I’ve got RoboFont and I’m learning it, but all my current projects are in Fontlab and it’s the one I’m most comfortable in. When I’ve got some time, I like to learn in RoboFont, but if I’ve just got a couple of hours and want to jam I go with what I know. Erik Spiekermann has mentioned Glyphs to me recently so that is on my list to learn as well.
Since you’ve lived and worked in both, how would you describe the difference in design culture between San Francisco and New York?
San Francisco is a great place to work as a designer, and it’s got connections to tech culture which is obviously pushing everything toward digital media and new ways of interacting with design and technology. But I’d say New York has a certain kind of gravitas that’s hard to beat based on the number of influential and legendary designers like Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Vignelli, Chermayeff & Geismar, Paula Scher and Michael Beirut (just to name a few).
What’s the story behind FF Kievit? Where does it get its name? How do you say it?
It’s ‘key-veet.’ It’s a Dutch word. My parents are Dutch, and I spent summers visiting my relatives there in the Netherlands as a kid. FF Kievit was my first release. I started it when I was a student in Leah Hoffmitz’s digital font design class at Art Center in California. I was looking closely at designs like Frutiger that introduced humanist elements to a sans model and the skeletal structure of great oldstyle designs like Garamond. I wanted FF Kievit to land somewhere in the middle with the modernist flesh and the bone structure and proportions of a serif. I tried to make something with a natural personality, but that’s cooler in tone, not too expressive. The name Kievit is a Dutch name for a little bird that nests on the beaches there, it’s called a plover or Lapwing here in the states. There was a Dutch tradition to present the first found kievit egg of the year to the Queen, who took it and pronounced the official beginning of Spring. So in a small way, this first typeface is my little offering of something new. It also happens to be my mom’s maiden name so I’ve always had a connection to the name and the bird!
It seems like nearly every independent type designer these days has his or her own foundry label. Is yours next?
Maybe in 4–5 years, but for now I like things as they are because I still like my career as a graphic designer as well. Collaborating with designers who operate their own successful foundries gives me an idea of how much work goes into the marketing and technical and business ends. I’d rather focus on design and continue to collaborate with FontFont and my friends Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen at Bold Monday. We have a great relationship and have worked on multiple bespoke typeface projects together as well as some personal type development.
PAGE is one of the leading design publications in Germany for creatives and professionals in design, advertising and media.
Working in conjunction with the agencies digitalmobil and SQUIECH Design, the team has recently overhauled their online presence. Both their print and online publications have been set in FontFonts including FF Mark and FF Quadraat, bringing a fresh, contemporary yet timeless look to the brand.
Combining the new with the old and with its roots firmly seated in 1920s German geometry, FF Mark has seen a meteoric rise since it’s release in 2013. Designed by Hannes von Döhren and Christoph Koeberlin, it was a special project initiated by Hannes and FontFont with input from Erik Spiekermann and the FontFont Type Department. Strong, simple and bold, and crafted with the utmost consideration and perfection (aka German Engineering), it is “ze Germanetric sans”. In the print magazine the headers are set in a variety of weights of FF Mark, whilst the whole website is set in FF Mark Web.
In the print magazine the body text is also set in another famous FontFont — Fred Smeijers’s FF Quadraat. One of the earliest typefaces to join our library it has become a go-to choice for many editorial designers.
Photos by Alex Rothpermalink
The latest “In-Use” case for the lively typeface of eight weights was designed by the Aclewe Werbeagentur Köln agency for a campaign for the official tourist office for Flanders and Brussels in conjunction with DB Bahn.
Across the advertising campaign, we see FF Scuba effectively put to use in highlighting the key promotions and points of interest for potential visitors.permalink
Next up in our Über FontFont series is Hannes von Döhren and Livius F. Dietzel’s functional and versatile FF Basic Gothic. Released in 2010, Hannes and Livius took inspiration from the letterforms of Gill Sans and Antique Olive to come up with a sans serif that was optimized for maximum legibility. At first glance it has a strikingly stripped back appearance but on closer inspection the precise, refined curves and straight lines add a touch of finesse.
Über FontFonts are typefaces that have been in demand the most during the last three months.permalink
We recently spoke with Martin Majoor, designer of FF Nexus, FF Scala and FF Seria, about his move into running type design workshops for students. He is a prolific Type and Graphic Designer, who has been designing type since the 1980s. His first FontFont, FF Scala was one of the first typefaces to be included in the library back in 1990. We caught up with him last week to discuss his motivation for running workshops for students and to find out more about the challenges and surprises he encounters when running such groups.
You rarely teach nowadays, instead you run workshops. Why is that? What motivated you to make the change?
A long time ago I was a regular teacher at two art schools in The Netherlands. After five years I came to the conclusion that most teachers, including myself, keep their teaching jobs too long. Their practical experience as a graphic designer gets under pressure and slowly they lose touch with the practice. So I decided to immediately quit both jobs.
Teachers who lead a workshop are doing this mostly out of practical experience. Workshops are short and extremely concentrated, after a few days of work there is an end result. This is highly satisfying for both the students and the teacher.
Do you give workshops on a regular basis and do you have different scenarios you apply dependent on factors like the experience of the attendees for example?
In my type design workshops I don’t differentiate between – let’s say – first-year students and post-graduates, or between Spanish and Korean students. The starting point is the same for everybody: a piece of paper and a double pencil.
Not surprisingly the experienced students go faster than first-year students or those students that grew up with other language scripts (like Arabic, Korean etc.). Strangely enough the end results often don’t reflect this difference. Experienced students tend to be more traditional in their shapes whereas new students come up with surprising ideas and unconventional solutions, they are not yet a prisoner of ‘how it should be’.
On the other hand, the more mature students mostly work cleaner, faster and more logically, whereas inexperienced students sometimes don’t understand what they are doing. In any case, it is my goal to make the design process transparent. My job is to steer the students through a process of writing (with a double pencil), sketching, designing and finally presenting.
Could you tell us more about the structure and length of your recent workshop in Warsaw?
The workshop in Warsaw lasted five days. There were no computers involved, all work was done by hand. The structure was, like in all my workshops, quite simple. All students start with a blank piece of paper and a calligraphic writing tool of two pencils that are tied together with two rubber bands. We call it the ‘double pencil method’, producing an outline shape of a letter.
A lowercase italic ‘n’ is the first letter to write. As soon as the outline ‘n’ is satisfactory this will be filled in with a black marker. Parts of its shape could then be used for the ‘a’ or ‘p’: in type design a lot of shapes can be copied, turned and used again. Much attention is given to the spacing between the letters, because bad spacing can ruin a good type design. The end result after five days was a word we made up ourselves: ‘galponks’.
Who were the attendees and what do you want these people to learn?
To be honest I don’t know from which year the students were. I believe half of them were from the first year, but then this is not important to me, anybody can join.
It is not my intention to deliver a new generation of type designers. What I do want is to show the students how they can judge their own work. Most students think that I, ‘the professor’, is going to tell them what is wrong (and what is right). In stead I ask the students to tell ME what is wrong and what is right in their own work.
Most of the students have better eyes than I have (I’ve got minus 4,5 and a certain degree of astigmatism). I am convinced they are perfectly able to see what is not well balanced in a lettershape. You must realize that most students have a good visual intuition, after all they all came to the art school because of their drawing skills that they already had developed in their childhood.
What is the biggest challenge for you in conveying knowledge?
I want students of graphic design to know where our letter shapes come from. These letters will be their main building blocks, graphic design and letters are inextricably linked. By designing a few letters most students will suddenly understand the construction of it, they will look at existing typefaces in a way they have never done so before. In the end, I hope they will see the beauty of letters.
Can you recall the last time you learned something from one of the attendees regarding type design? Does it happen at all?
Sometimes students surprise me with their original approach. They can make letterforms that are formally ‘wrong’, but these shapes can be inspirational, even for me. Thanks to teaching it is much easier for me to experiment with unusual shapes myself. More than ever before I can put things into perspective.
A funny thing happened in the last workshop. Two students came up with a new ‘construction’ of the double pencil: instead of putting a small piece of eraser in between the pencils they had put a third pencil there in the opposite direction. Brilliant! From now on I will make the double pencil in this way.
How can our readers take part in one of your workshops and what material should they bring along to participate?
I don’t have time to organize workshops myself. It is mostly done by art schools who invite me to lead a workshop for three, four or five days. But if other organizations (like design conferences or a professional association) would like me to do a workshop, I would be happy to do so. And don’t forget, anybody can join!
Photos by Marianna Paszkowskapermalink
How does the extension of a font family influence the overall concept? Started as a graduation project in 2002, FF Utility was entirely reworked and expanded towards the end of 2014 with the addition of two new thin weights. We spoke to Lukas Schneider about his reasons behind the extension.
Designing a typeface seemed like an obvious thing for Lukas Schneider to do. During his studies they “were dealing with type all the time”, and he had six precious months to spend on his graduation project. One day Lukas found a notice from Linotype on the bulletin board (“it was like a revelation for me”): Akira Kobayashi was looking for a student assistant. “I immediately grabbed that note before anyone else could see it”. This meant Lukas enjoyed the mentoring from the famous type designer while developing Gazoline, the typeface that would ultimately become FF Utility. But after graduating “it laid around for quite some time”.
Lukas, does the name “Utility” have any deeper meaning with regards to the design?
“Not really. If I remember correctly Stephen Coles made a couple of suggestions for a name – to me Utility suited the design the best. Sometimes you approach this pragmatically. While designing I was reminded of those 50s faces seen on gas stations in the US. I found the image quite powerful. Unfortunately the name Gazoline was not available anymore – I guess it was already in use. Moreover, the aesthetics of the typeface had changed during the design process.”
Why this extension now? What was your motivation?
The extension – or more precisely the idea for an extension – was already floating around when FF Utility was released in 2008”. This sounds as if FontFont pushed you. “Well… yes.” (laughs) “For example they always want the four figure sets. We initially made five weights from light to black. Then I thought it would be nice to have something thinner for big headlines, or a condensed series. I did some tests in 2008, but these ideas ended up in a drawer. I felt it was time to pick those up.”
Lukas explains “Now I can concentrate more exclusively on type. I realized that if you don’t, it simply doesn’t happen. Otherwise your project lays around for so long that you start questioning every single aspect. Earlier this year I said to myself: ‘Now you do it’. It helps that the people from FontFont are always looking ahead. Ivo keeps asking questions like ‘what about adding Italics?’ and so on. So we created two light weights – I drew a very thin one, and then we interpolated the extra light”.
The process turned out to be surprising on a conceptual level. “It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Back then I didn’t plan those two thins. This means that if I had simply drawn them following the existing concept, the overall proportions would not have been harmonious. This forced me to go back and rework the proportions of the original fonts as well, which I had not intended. I never planned to even touch the old weights”. Lukas chuckles. “You start seeing things you never saw before. And then you don’t want to leave the characters the way they were. I think the adaptations have made the font family more modern, and the extension of the character set – for example the addition of small caps – has also made it more versatile.”
Lukas, why not an italic after all?
“When writing about FF Utility some people think it doesn’t need italics because you can use a heavier weight or small caps for highlighting. Now that the latter is also available you can use both techniques”. Lukas’ reasoning is pragmatic – and honest. “For me it was simply too much work back then. You must not forget this was my very first typeface design after all, and it was not planned to have them. Maybe I will add italics at some point”.
Do you think there is a tendency to do without italics? “When I look around I must say I haven’t seen see any trend of that kind. Even current monospaced typefaces tend to have italics.”
Lukas doesn’t exclude the possibility. “Design-wise the family certainly is geared towards it. Also, in general I am very critical about my own work. I invested a lot of time reworking FF Utility. These days users expect a typeface to have at least 16 variations. However I think sometimes less is more. It makes sense to publish the upright versions first before looking any further”.
“I guess the planning of the family was maybe a little naive back then. For future typeface designs I would also plan italics in the initial phase, or at least consider them and make rudimentary sketches.”
We could leave it at that.
Lukas Schneider seems to be alleviated. “It is difficult for me to talk about a typeface – or maybe especially this one.” With FF Utility Lukas made his first steps into type design, which at that time he approached “without any conceptual motives”, without considering specific applications, basically making things up as he went along. Interestingly enough, his FF Utility carries its name with appropriate dignity.
So what does Lukas Schneider do when he is not creating? He seems surprised by this question. “Oh dear… that has become less and less frequent recently. I like to ride my bike; a little more intensely than most people: I have a racing bike, but … hm … that is always really difficult”. I am not sure if he means “always” these questions, or “always” finding spare time, and I don’t want to torture him any longer. Lukas concludes: “I like crafting, upcycling bulk trash, a designer sofa for example – I recently rebuilt an old plotter. And beyond that… much of it has to do with letters anyways. I walk around with eyes wide open, taking pictures, collecting.”
We look forward to seeing him continue crafting and tinkering with FF Utility.
Thanks a lot, Lukas!permalink
Towards the end of 2014, FF Meta Condensed was recognized in the Modern Cyrillic Type Design Competition.
FF Meta Condensed is part of Erik Spiekermann’s superfamily FF Meta. One of the foundations of the FontFont library, FF Meta was released back in 1991 and it quickly became one of the most popular typefaces of the computer era. With numerous extensions and companion families, FF Meta is now a highly flexible superfamily.
The Modern Cyrillic awards are held in memory of two eminent members of the Russian type design community Vladimir Yefimov and Emil Yakupov. This year there were 356 entries from 26 countries.permalink
In need of a little font inspiration for the festive season? We asked Inka, one of our Font Engineers and Type Designers, to come up with her list of favorite festive FontFonts. Inka talks us through her choices:
FF Acanthus is a beautifully drawn typeface, one that invites you to tell a story. If you look closely in the OpenType features you can even find Rudolph the Reindeer’s nose!
FF Nexus Serif is a real hidden gem and the added swash features give it a real festive feel.
Hans Reichel’s first FontFont, FF Schmalhans is simply splendid. Graceful and space-saving, it’s very legible. Perfect for Christmas Card greetings or a long Christmas wish list.
FF Prater Script is fresh, jolly and hip.
FF Kievit Thin set in large text is a real delight for the eye.
How to compile your own favorites list
- Browse our FontFonts and find something you like
- Then just ‘heart’ the single weight or the entire family and it will be added to your favorites
To share your list with others, just tick the box ‘link is public’ and you can send the link to friends or colleagues. To edit your list, you just need to make sure you are signed up for an account on our site.permalink
We are hiring! If you have a passion for type and typography and would like to work with us in the heart of Berlin, read on.
We are looking for a highly skilled and experienced Type Designer & Font Technician for our Font Development Team in Berlin (formerly Fontshop International). We hope to welcome our new colleague as soon as possible.
- Coordinate font development projects for new library fonts as well as customer-orientated font solutions, in collaboration with type designers and QA staff
- Take on type design tasks to accelerate defined projects
- Work independently on fine-tuning tasks such as definition of OpenType features, mark positioning, and font administrative core data.
- Develop macros or scripts to automate manufacturing processes
- Continuously extend knowledge about current font technology trends, Non-Latin scripts and corresponding writing systems, as well as general typographic aspects
- Provide support to our sales and marketing teams on request
- Bachelor or Master Degree in Visual Communication or a software oriented technical course of studies; ideally combined with 2–5 years experience as a font engineer or type designer with a technical background
- Very good font editing skills using standard font tools (i.e. Fontlab, Adobe FDK, RoboFont, Glyphs, DTL Font Master, etc.)
- Font technology knowledge with respect to different font formats, OpenType layout features and Unicode. Ideally Python scripting know-how and solid knowledge of XML.
- Ideally basic knowledge of at least one complex script or writing system (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Devanagari, Hebrew, etc.)
- Project management experience. Well-structured work methodology and capability to handle multiple projects in parallel
- Good to very good communication skills in English. German language skills is a plus
- Berlin, Germany
- Be part of an enthusiastic team working closely with type designers, established and new talent, from all over the world
- Lots of opportunities to learn as well as determine the future of font making
- Close cooperation with the web development and marketing teams
- Attractive salary package
Please send your application with CV to Andreas Frohloff: firstname.lastname@example.org
The FontFont library is part of the Monotype family. Monotype is a leading global provider of type, technology and expertise, enabling optimal user experiences and brand integrity. We offer one of the world’s largest and most highly regarded typeface libraries, as well as innovative solutions that bring the power of type to life. We help creative professionals distinguish their work by employing exceptional type and advanced technologies in service to their imaginations.
Read all about the team in Berlin.permalink
A creative and contemporary sans serif, Lukas Schneider’s FF Utility has acquired Thin & Extra Light weights to its now seven weight roster. Both new weights are perfect for anyone working with larger text such as headlines.
The original design grew out of Lukas Schneider’s graduate thesis project, a small family of typefaces named Gazoline, designed while he was studying at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach (HfG) in Germany.
With its Thin to Black weights there is no real need for italics, as it is customary to use weight to create emphasis in this type of design—Bold for text set in the light weight, or Black for text set in regular.
Each FF Utility font contains four figure sets, small caps, as well as an alternate ‘a’ and ‘g’ to increase its typographic flexibility.
With the additon of Thin and Extra Light, the family now contains seven weights. Thin and Extra Light were designed to be set in larger sizes and work great as headlines or for display use.
Each weight has a corresponding set of arrows.
The alternatives of the ‘a’ and ‘g’ give you the option of a more streamlined look.
FF Utility Thin
FF Utility Extra Light
FF Utility Light
FF Utility Regular
FF Utility Medium
FF Utility Bold
FF Utility Blackpermalink