The Serebro Nabora type conference took place this past week in Moscow. In the spirit of the event and as part of our recent Cyrillic updates for FF Mister K, FF Mister K Informal, FF Profile and FF Tisa Sans we asked the designers of these typefaces, Mitja Miklavčič, Julia Sysmäläinen and Martin Wenzel, about their experience with non-Latin extensions, as well as the difficulties they faced in these design processes.
Creativity and communication is always at the FontFont forefront along with the aim to build typeface collections with different styles and purposes. Cyrillic is one of the most used writing systems in the world and the alphabet has been adapted to write more than 50 languages. Of the many scripts in use around the world today, Cyrillic is probably the closest in appearance and structure to Latin, particularly in the case of upright typefaces. For Mitja Miklavčič, the design process was not significantly different compared with his Latin designs, as in the case of FF Tisa or FF Tisa Sans. “The italics were a bit more demanding to draw, and personally I always find kerning in Cyrillic a bit more challenging, too.”
Mitja Miklavčič began the Cyrillic portion of FF Tisa while studying on the MA Type Design course at the University of Reading. “We had some Cyrillic specialists visiting the Department. My initial sketches there were done for the serif part of the FF Tisa family. Although they were over six years old, they were a helpful start for the FF Tisa Sans Cyrillic.”
In contrast to Cyrillic type, Cyrillic handwriting is more abundant in its form variety. Julia Sysmäläinen’s primary challenge while designing FF Mister K Cyrillic and FF Mister K Informal Cyrillic, was how to interpret handwriting typographically. “Like all kinds of handwriting, Cyrillic handwriting can be very expressive. I had to find solutions that suited Franz Kafka’s manuscripts, which were always written in German. For this I studied both historical and contemporary samples of Cyrillic handwriting, asked Russian friends and colleagues to produce samples – and of course, I made many myself. Before 1907, Kafka wrote in a German Kurrent script, and analyzing this was interesting, because some of the letterforms resemble Cyrillic characters. I also found a prominent Russian contemporary with a handwriting style that fits surprisingly well to Kafka’s.”
Julia Sysmäläinen had always planned to make a Cyrillic companion to FF Mister K. “Kafka was strongly attracted to Russia, and he admired Russian writers like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Kropotkin. Soon after the release by FontFont, I made a limited Cyrillic version of FF Mister K Regular to submit to the International Design competition “Modern Cyrillic”, where it received a Certificate of Typographic Excellence. Later, I went at the design more thoroughly, creating extended Cyrillic character sets for both FF Mister K Regular and FF Mister K Informal.”
FF Profile Cyrillic isn’t Martin Wenzel’s first endeavor into this writing system. “In 1992, FontFont asked me to draw a Cyrillic extension for my FF Marten typeface, which made me look closely at the script for the first time. The end result was no masterpiece, but still a good attempt to apply a simple modular concept to a different script. This was before I even studied Type and Communication Design at the Royal Academy in The Hague. With FF Profile’s Cyrillic, I talked with several designers about the script’s challenges in general, as well as specific letterforms. Over time I’ve consulted various books on the subject and completed my own calligraphic trials, which formed the basis for the structure of each glyph. If you can write it, you can draw it!”
Like Martin Wenzel, Mitja Miklavčič also had professional experience designing Cyrillic typefaces. He has previously worked with noted specialists, such as Maxim Zhukov. “I grew up in the former Yugoslavia, so I learned Cyrillic in primary school. Serbian and Macedonian both use Cyrillic. That might also explain why I’ve decided to draw language-specific forms for those two languages as well. I always consult with any other designers, no matter what type of type design project I work on. A few colleagues have become close friends in the process.”
FF Tisa Sans is unique in that it not only includes support for Balkan languages that use the Cyrillic script, but also many Central Asian languages, like Turkmen and Kazakh as well, which are not frequently a part of many Cyrillic typefaces.
While Martin Wenzel and Mitja Miklavčič are not native readers of the Cyrillic script, Russian is Julia Sysmäläinen’s mother-tongue. “I’m the child of a Russian mother and a Finnish father, so I learned both languages during childhood. As a native reader, you grew up with all kinds of Cyrillic texts accompanying your everyday life, everything from shopping lists to letters, notebooks and advertisements. You get a pretty clear feeling of how far and where you can move away from some kind of norm, without your result looking awkward. If the script is new to you, you run the risk of being overcautious, or making naive mistakes.”
In terms of OpenType features and character set size, the Cyrillics of FF Mister K are the most ambitious of FontFont’s new Cyrillic releases. “In Kafka’s manuscripts, readability was not a priority,” Julia Sysmäläinen mentions. “I carried this over into FF Mister K Regular as well. In its Cyrillic version, expressiveness and personality are paramount. Its style is easily readable for people who are at home in Russian and other languages with Cyrillic script, because context makes things clear, but it is not for learners of these languages. FF Mister K Informal Cyrillic is much easier to read, just like FF Mister K Informal’s Latin is. In Cyrillic handwriting some characters – especially д and т – can be written in various ways that do not really resemble one another; these forms can even be mixed within a single word.” This lively mixture is part of FF Mister K’s OpenType features, and it harmonizes well with Kafka’s turbulent manuscripts. FF Mister K Informal is more regularized, to stress readability.
As new communication methods continue to bring the world closer together, great typefaces have grown to speak for more languages and writing systems. FF Tisa Sans, FF Mister K and FF Profile join 30 other typeface families in the FontFont library with Cyrillic support, including FF Dax, FF DIN and FF Meta.permalink
Explore and sample FF Kievit and FF Kievit Slab in full flight at www.ffkievit.com.
To see more, go to our Behance page.
Every three months we name our highest climbing fonts in the popularity charts for the past quarter. We call these our ÜberFontFonts.
Seven years in the making, the striking and classic letterforms beautifully matured into a flexible and versatile typeface containing eight harmonized weights and an extensive character set. Additional language support including Greek and Cyrillic are also included. The top climber in the popularity font stakes, FF Sero has indeed proven to be every bit worth the while.
Mike Abbink is one of those rare designers whose careers successfully straddle the worlds of typeface design and graphic design — two disciplines that are actually further apart than most people think. He also straddles another chasm: the Atlantic Ocean. With strong ties to a Dutch heritage, being born in America has never kept him far from his roots, both physically and culturally. It could be argued that it is Abbink’s ability to draw from these diverse experiences that has made his FF Kievit thrive. It’s perennially on the list of FontFonts that are best known and used. Now the family has a Slab partner as individual yet interrelated as its designer’s divergent backgrounds.
Mike Abbink: FF Kievit Slab has its origins in early 1998 when Nike asked MetaDesign to revisit its original script logo and make a more modern version. One of my ideas was to use FF Kievit and add slabs to it. This was even before FF Kievit was even finished and a few years before its release by FontFont.
FF Kievit is rooted in the proportions of a serif and it only makes sense that it should have serifs and in this case slabs as well. This led to the exploration I did to determine what the slabs should look like. The obvious first sketches were straight forward Egyptian-style block slabs but these ultimately felt too clunky for FF Kievit. They needed to have some elegance and a finesse to match what I think is inherent in some of the typeface’s forms. The slabs have a heaviness to them but they also taper and have a subtle wedge-like quality in the ascenders.
When Method rebranded Autodesk they used FF Kievit as the corporate typeface but wanted the logotype to have something different about it. The designers had been sketching using slab serifs and it was only natural to try one with FF Kievit to keep the link to the typeface. This is where I really spent more time trying to determine what a FF Kievit Slab would look like and what changes needed to be made. Unfortunately, Autodesk recently changed the identity again so they no longer use FF Kievit or the logotype I did.
A few years ago the agency responsible for the rebrand of WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk, a German broadcasting institution) asked me if I had any slab sketches or serif sketches which I did have but were not totally worked out. This is when Paul van der Laan and I really started working out the details and presented to them what these could look like. Luckily for us, the WDR decided to go for it and we have spent many hours together designing the serif and of course finalizing what is now FF Kievit Slab.
Adding the weight of the serifs also meant that the contrast needed to increase. The horizontals and thin joints got a little thinner across all glyphs. In addition, many of the forms needed to be made wider and accommodate the slabs. You’ll really see this in the lowercase k, s, v and x for example.
FF Kievit underwent a painstaking transformation in order to
gracefully accommodate serifs.
Stephen Coles: So FF Kievit Slab began “way back” in 1998. In our rapid release tech startup culture it’s unusual to see creative projects with such a long timeline. What are the affects of a multi-year gestation on a design?
MA: The duration lasts long for me since I’ve always worked full-time as a designer working long hours already. You can imagine working the late nights and weekends can get exhausting. The ongoing years can affect the typeface but overall I would say very little. The early FF Kievit Slab sketches for the Nike logotype had a slightly different purpose than say the Autodesk logo which came years later. The prior was meant to connect to the original Nike script logo, so the slabs had round bottoms and it was using italic forms.
For the Autodesk logotype the letters were roman but in either case the top slabs were already pretty much defined and they in turn defined the bottom later on. I knew early on that I did not want the slabs to be straight up block serifs. They needed to have a bit of finesse and continue the inherent humanist qualities that FF Kievit already had in it. If I continued exploring too much it would extend my already very long design process as it is.
SC: Commissions and special requests often lead to new typeface designs. Since FF Kievit Slab began as the answer to specific needs (from Nike, Autodesk, WDR) I wonder how much they are responsible for this design’s existence and how they influenced the final product.
MA: In all the above mentioned cases FF Kievit (sans) was a finished design with an already strong vision for what it should be moving forward. I always wanted it to have a slab and serif (oldstyle) as part of the family. The Nike exploration was done even before FF Kievit was finished. The slab version was sketched out and pretty refined but across a limited amount of glyphs. The slab got more refined years later when Paul and I began the development on the WDR project three years ago. Early decisions like increased contrast and width adjustment were fairly obvious and took a lot of time getting right across all the weights. We also have different designs for certain characters in the bolder weights. But we really got excited when the WDR asked to add a serif to the mix. I knew my earlier sketches were not right yet and this gave us an opportunity to really develop the serif properly along with refining the slab.
The serif as a whole really went through a change from my original sketches, and that’s when Paul van der Laan and I got a chance to collaborate more than ever. It also influenced some decisions that required adjustments made in the slab version, like the bottom of the leg in the capital ‘R’. It was a great project because we were able to really focus on extending the FF Kievit family the way I had always envisioned it to be. I definitely look forward to finishing FF Kievit Serif because to me it represents my end goal of FF Kievit as a type family after well over a decade in the making.
SC: What are other catalysts for new designs?
MA: It varies a lot for each typeface I’ve been working on. For FF Kievit it was finding that spot on the scale that was somewhere between Frutiger and Garamond. For Brando, which will be released with Bold Monday in the next few months, it was trying to think of what a contemporary serif might and should be and balancing humanist and mechanical traits within each letterform. FF Milo was also meant to be universal, contemporary but very compact, with very short ascenders and descenders. Each project has a different set of goals, whether it’s my personal typefaces or commissioned ones for clients.
SC: Some type designers work best in isolation and find it very difficult to work with other designers on a single typeface beyond quick auxiliary feedback, but it seems like you and Paul van der Laan collaborate in a deep way. How did this partnership begin?
MA: I think collaborating with the right people is great and makes for stronger results. Paul and I started working together when Autodesk asked me to make additional light weights and also Greek and Cyrillic for FF Kievit which they were using as part of their new corporate redesign Method was responsible for. This was a pretty big project and I was super busy at work as a design director at Wolff Olins. The light weights were the first phase and that’s where I gave a lot of feedback, but Paul was able to tackle the project and really own most of the development, especially the Greek and Cyrillic. We again worked together in a similar fashion to add three additional light weights for FF Milo.
By this time we had a great working relationship and started a friendship that has been going on for over ten years. Paul also helped with FF Milo Serif on spacing, kerning and interpolations, as well as collaborate on NBCU Rock for NBCUniversal along with Pieter van Rosmalen. We are now all three working together on extending the GE Inspira family.
SC: How do you divide the workload? What are your respective strengths?
MA: It’s different for each project. For the FF Milo weight extensions (FF Milo 3) it was mostly Paul, but for FF Milo Serif I drew the forms and Paul helped refine spacing and kerning, and interpolate the additional weights. It’s a lot of work and he is better at it than I am anyway. In the case of FF Kievit Slab we divided and conquered. For instance, I started work on Regular and Black and then Paul jumped in on the Black and continued with Black Italic. We pass the weights back and forth until all the glyphs and refining is done. Then Paul really owns the files and does interpolations, final spacing, and kerning. We look at proofs together until we feel all the details are covered. It’s real team work, immersive collaboration. I prefer to work that way.
SC: FF Kievit (and the Slab) feels like it has a strong Dutch influence. Does that seem true to you? What does that come from?
MA: I would say it’s both American and Dutch! I’m a first generation American from parents who are both Dutch. I have been going there my whole life since the rest of my family lives there, and my Mom even moved back to Amsterdam seven years ago. This background plus my design education has definitely influenced my design taste and sensibilities. I also learned early on in school about the great history of Dutch type design, as well as the new generation that has developed over the last two decades. FontShop International (with its roster of Dutch designers like Martin Majoor, Evert Bloemsma, Erik van Blokland and Fred Smeijers) also attracted me early on and I wanted to be part of that by trying to make typefaces that were well crafted and functional.
SC: Of course FF Kievit Slab is more than FF Kievit with slab serifs attached, and readers can see evidence of that in the samples. The most obvious adjustment made to the new family is the opening of apertures to make room for the serifs. But I noticed other lettershape changes too, such as a smaller upper bowl on the ‘g’. What accounts for that? What other structural changes did you make?
MA: After FF Kievit was released in 2001, the larger upper bowl in the lowercase ‘g’ started to stand out a bit too much to me. This was primarily in the lighter weights. I’ve been wanting to change it ever since then. So the Thin and the Regular poles were adjusted to have a smaller upper bowl and I left the Black as is with the exception of making contrast adjustments. The sans version of FF Kievit is now updated with this new ‘g’, too. The counters in the slab got even smaller, so it was an obvious change I wanted to make. That’s the only real structural change to original FF Kievit shapes besides some problem glyphs like the lowercase n, k, v and x which lost their inside serifs to get some negative space inside the tight counters. The comma and parentheses are different, too. I thought the originals were too vertical so we used the ones from the italic.
SC: I assume you would call yourself primarily a graphic designer who happens to also design type. How does the perspective as type user influence your typeface design?
MA: That’s a hard one for me. Recently I’ve been thinking of myself more a type designer caught up in doing graphic design. I hope to spend more time doing type design in the future. I do think my design thinking has influenced my type design. I tend to be very straightforward and minimal about my type just as I approach graphic design. FF Kievit, FF Milo and the upcoming Brando are great samples of how I try to reduce, but at the same time I like to maintain humanist qualities to showcase a kind of craftsmanship.
SC: Have you used FF Kievit Slab in any of your own projects yet?
MA: Not yet, but I plan to. I do find it weird to use my own typefaces, but I really like the Slab and the upcoming Serif which I think I’ll use a lot.permalink
Imagine a bar staffed by robots. Yes, robots are not unheard of, but it’s fair to say that three orange robotic arms that can mix and serve bespoke drinks in real-time classifies as impressive.
Cue in Makr Shakr. Unveiled at this year’s Google I/O conference, the fun, but serious installation and social experiment saw many a cocktail concoction crafted by three KUKA robots and delivered via a conveyor belt. And not to mention the elegant live digital tessellations of honeycombed data on-screen behind the “bar” and across mobile screens, keeping track of every shake and stir. People gathered with Makr Shakr app in hand, drinks were ordered, robots made and shaked.
The robotic bartending system was developed and designed by MIT Senseable Lab in collaboration with the Coca Cola Company and Bacardi Rums in partnership with Pentagram’s Eddie Opara and team, who were responsible for the identity, web application and data visualisation.
The design intent of the app was to match the agility of the robots, as well as the scientific, step-by-step process of assembling the drinks. Cue in FF ThreeSix. Paul McNeil and Hamish Muir’s experimental geometric yet optically balanced typeface embodies this sentiment visually and conceptually. On why it was chosen, Opara, lead Pentagram partner on the project explains – “It exudes technology and the future”.
FF ThreeSix is subtle and humanistic in an absurdly mathematical rigour. It has been sublimely applied as part of the Makr Shakr identity not just as an alphabet, but also shape and form. The beautiful lines, dots and sometimes blobs work seamlessly in large and small scales together with the organic and mechanical honeycomb system.
The beauty of the identity is not only in the conceptual execution, but is also in its application across the various platforms (desktop, web, app) and mediums (digital, motion, spatial). Opara and his team have played to the strengths of FF ThreeSix taking advantage of the distinguishing qualities between the various styles, mixing and matching them at different sizes and scales typographically and graphically.
The identity and application also demonstrates the versatility in the FontFont product offering and the benefit of having a library of typefaces available for multiple uses. The diversity in formats and licenses allows for more possibilities in application.
Male, Female. Bourbon, white rum. Lemon, lime, orange peel, mint. Mojitos or old-fashioned. Whether it be recipe, ingredient, drink or drinker demographics, or even what was currently on-drink-trend, the identity and data was magnificently visualised and optimised for the app and large screen display.
Makr Shakr is a fine example of possibility and how a typeface can work holistically to transform an identity.
For more on the making and shaking of the project head to Pentagram’s website.
We are delighted to announce that we will be sponsoring this year’s Typo_Mad 2013, the Typographic Festival of Madrid, taking place 27 September – 10 October.
The event combines conferences, typographic workshops together with the Type Directors Club (TDC) exhibition and on-line exhibition. It is open to all professionals, students and type fanatics with the aim to showcase and strengthen design and typography in Madrid on an international level. The cast of Spanish type talkers include Andreu Balius, Pablo Abad and Sergio Jiménez.
There are still a few tickets left so don’t miss out and get yours today!
Calling mad types!
If you can’t make it to Madrid this year, you can still be part of the Typo_Mad action via the Typo_Mad Expo.
The theme for this year is “the experimental and the amateur”, with the expo taking form in two parts – the curated exhibition showcase at Central de Diseño in Matadero Madrid as well as a virtual online gallery.
The exposition will accept typographic pieces that speak to the theme through applications such as: typeface design (calligraphy, dingbats, lettering), identity design, digital formats (opening titles, websites, TV spots, on-line works, animations, interactive project), emerging projects and yet-to-be published degree final projects.
The deadline for submissions is tomorrow, September 20, so get in quick!permalink
More than half of the world's population live in major cities. Developed by Lend Lease, The Green Building Converter is a sustainability tool that takes users on an interactive journey allowing people to navigate and learn about green building development. Daniel Utz’s clean and rounded geometric FF Netto strikes the perfect typographic balance alongside the 3D diagrammatic pictorial renders and animations throughout the site and brand identity communications.
Last week, Berlin hosted Jüdische Kulturtage 2013 (“Jewish Culture Days”), Germany’s largest festival of Jewish art and culture. The diverse programme of culture, music and literature features the four basic weights of Mitja Miklavčič’s FF Tisa Sans for headlines through to body copy across the site as well as festival collateral.
Designed and curated by Ryan and Tina Essmaker of Designing Monsters, The Great Discontent is a journal of interviews focusing on creativity, risk and what connects people as artists. A simple, clean, responsive and impeccably editorially considered site, the choice to use Erik Spiekermann, Christian Schwartz and Kris Sowersby’s FF Meta Serif as body is a great complement to “The Great Discontent”.permalink
In our latest ‘At Home With’ series, we caught up with our founder Erik Spiekermann as he takes us through the Berlin townhouse he shares with Susanna Dulkinys and talks about printing presses, his most hated typefaces and what led him to become a typomaniac.
You have an enormous printing workshop packed with extraordinary machines and all kinds of type. Can you talk us through what you have in your workshop?
I have a small proofing press, a Korrex Nürnberg 38 by 55 cm. It prints letterpress from wood or lead type, woodcuts, polymer plates or anything higher than its surroundings. I have lots of metal and wood type, from 8 point Akzidenz Grotesk to 33 line wood type, plus all the other stuff needed to set type. And also two table-top platen presses which in German we call Boston-Pressen.
Can you recall how your interest for paper, type and the smell of (ink) color – the aphrodisiacs of printing – first came into being?
Yes. When I was around seven or eight, we had a neighbour who was a printer. I remember him showing me a piece of white paper. Then he showed me a printing forme – some columns of type and all the furniture around it – which looked very complicated and messy to me: a lot of metal and ink. Then he took a proof from that forme onto the white paper, and like magic it showed only a few precise black marks, while the paper was still clean and white. Those marks were letters that I could read and the whole process was a miracle to me. That is when I fell for type and printing. Now I come back to that original technology of putting marks on paper: letterpress printing.
You had a printing workshop back in the seventies but unfortunately it caught fire. It must have been absolutely devastating … Now looking back with healed wounds: do you think there was something positive about it?
After my workshop, presses and type burnt down, I had only pencil and paper left, plus my brain and experience with type – all the tools a graphic designer needed at the time. I was forced into a career that I had no formal training for. And still don’t. But in a situation like that it didn’t matter. I just sketched type for other people to set and became knowledgable about photosetting and type design. Two years after the fire in 1977, I designed my first typeface for Berthold, LoType.
When working on a project for the press, what criteria do you have for choosing the right typeface? What are the differences with working on a computer?
If I had to print letterpress, longer text – which I would never do – but if I had to, obviously then you pick what you have and when I used to work in printing in the 60s and 70s, a printer had a certain amount of typefaces and you would pick from those. And if you didn’t have a 9 point you would pick 8 or 10 and make it fit somehow. That was both inhibiting and also at the same time ... – maybe these days, I realize how liberating it was. Lack of choice just made your day a lot shorter because you just didn’t have to think about, you just took whatever was there.
Now of course we have all these choices and I’m spending a lot of time trying to keep updated with what’s going on and I have no hope of being updated at all ever. I have some friends, like Stephen Coles who is younger and therefore even more in touch than I am, but I call people, I ask people, I try to look at everything. When it comes to picking a typeface I still do what I always did, I look at the potential (font) size, the size of the page, the readership, the way it’s printed. Does it need to be heavy or light? Is there a lot of copy? Is it 9 and a half point, is it 10 point? And then you narrow down your choices and in the end you take something that fits the copy.
I just did a book that is kind of like a diary where somebody wrote about her parents who both lived in the 50s and 60s. So I didn’t want to use a nostalgic typeface because the 50s and 60s stuff was mostly ugly, but I didn’t want to do something that was too fashionable. Obviously it couldn’t be Bodoni or Helvetica, so I ended up using a typeface that was made for magazines/newspapers that looks fairly ordinary and has a little edge to it maybe and I picked a slightly heavy version which does exist and is not so thin on the paper. The paper is even a little yellowish, so the whole book has a slightly… not nostalgic, but period feel about it. It’s not brand new, it is not glossy white but it’s not nostalgic either. In the end it’s down to the length of copy, form and the size. I first set the book in 10 point on 14, and then it was just too long. It looked too big on the page, because of the page size given. So I went back to 9 and a half on 13, and it looked perfect. So it’s always a mix of things. There are also some faces I don’t like at all and some stuff I’ve always loved and I’m always waiting for an opportunity to use them. And luckily, this face is Lyon and I finally could use it.
Which typefaces don’t you like?
I don’t like typefaces that everybody uses. I don’t like Helvetica, because it’s boring and it’s not a typeface, it’s an attitude. Or lack of attitude. And I would never use it in a million years except romantically. Ironically, I said to my wife, that I want my tombstone to be set in Rotis, because that would be ironic and my friends would get it. That is sort of the last word. And I don’t like mannered typefaces, those typefaces that are designed on a principle like Avant Garde Gothic. Everything is meant to be geometric. Those don’t work. Same as Rotis. I like the ones that are a new take on an old classic. Lyon is a take on Times. Like FF Scala is a take on Garamond – it’s not a re-creation, but it’s that same kind of thinking, it has the same kind of feel, it just makes it new. Not in details, it’s not about having a triangular serif or some corners cut off – it just has a different feel to it. I like bread. And I try different breads all the time, they’re all made from wheat or rye, but they are all slightly different. You don’t know what’s different but the taste is different. I don’t care how they make it. I just like the choices. In German we call it Brotschriften – the daily bread of type.
No, I think they were made digitally and they should remain digital. It would be totally ridiculous to cast them in metal. I might have a text that would look good in one of those typefaces and then I would maybe make a polymer plate – a nyloprint as we call it in Germany. I don’t even think I’m going to print books because everybody prints books. I’m not sure what I’m going to be printing. I like bigger size stuff. It may just be words. Single letters, words. I like a poster that just says RGB – in black of course. That is some sort of stuff I want to do. I actually have a project where I want to print a series of sixty or a hundred three-letter words in English. And then you can make sentences from it. I might even do two-letter words. Or in German I might have to do twenty five-letter words, whatever. I’m just want to explore language, because if you print a word on a poster, it has a different life. It’s different from just writing on a piece of paper. People want it to make sense. If you put twenty words in front of somebody, they try to make sense. They try to build a sentence, because that’s how we are. We want to read stuff. That interests me. Using my own type is sometimes due, because they are there, I don’t have to pay for them anymore, I get a free sample when I license them through FontFont, and I know them well and they usually work. Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing like in this case with this book. I would have never done it in one of my typefaces. It would have been quite appropriate, but it’s kind of embarrassing. Oh yeah, here is Spiekermann using his own typefaces, bla bla bla, boring boring boring. No, it wouldn’t be right, just because it’s mine. I do use them whenever it’s appropriate but not all the time. There is too much stuff out there. It’s too boring using my own stuff.
But you have a wood type version of FF Meta, right?
Yes, a student from Vancouver cut it. There is only one letter each, so it’s going to be difficult to use it. Well, you can set “Hamburgerfonstiv” from it and some pangrams, where you have only one letter each. But I haven’t used it yet. I will do, now that I’ve got all the big machines together. I’m trying to move into a big space and then I’m going to have 5 proofing presses, or maybe 6 proofing presses. I think I’m going to get in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most proofing presses in one shop. And they are all going to be painted gray: RAL-Lichtgrau 7035, like this place.
You have a passion for numbering stamps. Can you tell us more about that?
Essentially, it is a little device that prints a number and then on the next print a plunger comes down, moves a number on a wheel and it prints the next number, so you’re numbering the prints that you do.
I like the mechanical device. It is incredibly beautiful. It has those generic numbers. It’s difficult to print because you really have to give it a lot of pressure, so the plunger goes down, and then moves to the next number. Also it means I keep track, because you always forget how many numbers you’ve printed. Was it a 110 or 120 I never know. This counts it. Also, if you’re printing letterpress, you do tend to print limited runs. And this is a good proof. Because you can’t forge that. Well, you can print 200 and then you can print 200 again, I guess. But for me it is a good reference and it’s genuine and I like the fact that it always looks a little messy. They’re very mechanic and I have 20 stamps and I’m going to buy another 20. Then I’m going to make a poster that has only 40 numbering stamps on it and they are all going to be set to a different number and they all change every time I print them, for instance, 20 to the power of 20 minus 1, which is pretty cool. So I have to print over a million posters before they repeat themselves.
The structure and layout of your house is pretty interesting and unusual for German conditions. It is rather narrow, tall and deep. Floors also separate the rooms, instead of walls. Are there any major benefits compared to living on a classical single floor layout with walls separating each area?
No, there are only disadvantages. A quarter of the house is taken up with staircases. It’s a total waste. This is the townhouse model that in Berlin we don’t usually have but some planner decided that this area will be rebuilt using the townhouse model that we have in Hamburg, or Bremen, or London, or Amsterdam, but not really in Berlin. So, we got one of these spaces and built a house and it’s 6 and half meters wide and 13 deep, so it’s a double square, which is kind of nice. And there is a limit of 22 meters tall in Berlin. So we managed to squeeze 7 floors in, while you’re allowed to do 5 floors, so we did 2 floors under full height, so they don’t count as floors. We actually have 8 floors, if you include the cellar. So you come in on floor 1, or floor 0 as we say it in Germany; 1 and 2 are rented to an office, so it gives me some income; floor 3 is the printing press and the washing machines and the storage and stuff; floor 4 is my studio, where we are now; and floor 5 is the living room/kitchen. Floor 6 is the bedroom. There are 7 floors altogether plus the basement. It’s a little wasteful but it’s interesting to run up and down, and it’s nice to have the division, so you have different kinds of spaces but it’s still very unpractical but kind of romantic. It is essentially a box. A Schubladenschrank, this is what this is.
You were pretty hard on Otl Aicher’s Rotis. You called it a “Kopfgeburt” – something that is born from the head and is not useful in application. Yet you actually own a Bulthaup kitchen, and funnily enough Otl Aicher was integral in shaping the design during the 80s and 90s. In your opinion was Aicher a better kitchen designer than a type designer?
Yes. Because a kitchen has a maybe romantic appeal but it is very practical. You can define the way a drawer works, where everything is. People have sort of all the same height and the same processes when you cook. You cut stuff up first, and you throw away rubbish and then you need to boil water. That is pretty obvious. Whereas a typeface is a lot more emotional. It is significant that Aicher helped to design kitchens but not design cooking. Because cooking is like designing type. The result is always different. You give the same ingredients to different people, it’ll come out different. Even if you give them the same amount of ingredients, it’ll come out different because you can cook longer or shorter, you can cut onions thick or thin, the same happens for type. It’s always A to Z but it looks different and Aicher had so much theory behind his letters that they became very unemotional. It’s almost like you would design a lab instead of a kitchen. A kitchen has still to be a little messy and there are elements in that kitchen we did ourselves and the way it is arranged. We use the elements from Bulthaup but we arranged it ourselves. I think kitchen design and letter design can’t be compared which is the mistake that people like Aicher always made. They thought that it’s something you can totally and utterly plan. But you can’t plan the emotional aspect of a curve or of letters when they come together. Because a letter doesn’t exist on its own. A knife does, but not a letter.
Alongside printing, you played bass in bars when you were studying. Now that you have revived your printing passion, when will we get the chance to see you performing bass on stage?
No, it won’t be bass. It’ll be guitar. I have a couple of guitars and I intend to get back into guitar playing next year when I retire. My Martin is over there and I have all the good intentions into playing guitar – and I will.
Our July round up of Web FontFonts in use features the likes of FF Typestar by eBoy’s Steffen Sauerteig, Mitja Miklavčič’s subtle yet graceful FF Tisa and Michael Abbink’s ever so popular FF Kievit. Silvio Napoleone’s FF Hydra Text and Ludwig Übele’s FF Tundra also make an appearance.
Rob Meek is an information architect, interface designer and developer with a fair few typography-related projects under his belt. His portfolio site features the geometric but typographically refined FF Typestar Web as headers teamed with the softer serifs of FF Tisa Web as body copy.
Portland Oregon will be playing host to this year’s Lean Day:West – a series of events focusing on implementing and practicing lean startup in the enterprise. Both thicks and thins from the FF Kievit family are used extensively throughout the site including FF Kievit Black Web as headlines through to FF Kievit Regular Web for copy.
Is wood your type? Wood Type Research is a blog dedicated to current research in wood type design, manufacture and use circa nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The sans of Silvio Napoleone’s FF Hydra Text Web along with the serifs of Ludwig Übele’s FF Tundra Web is fitting to set the tone for this homage and documentation to all things wood type.permalink
Definition of Tundra: sub-polar regions found north of the Arctic timberline and characterised by permafrost
“Five years ago, I saw a page of text from St. Augustine’s The City of God. It was hand set in the Bremer Press’s 12-point Antiqua face and had been printed in 1925 at the Bremer Press in Munich. I was thrilled. The even colour of the text on the page fascinated me, as did the balanced lines of readable text and the liveliness of the letters. How did this typeface manage to do all that? How should a typeface be designed so that it can lead the eye so perfectly along each line of text?
Two years later, I picked up the question again. At that time, I was thinking about condensed text faces. Condensed types are popular because they save a lot of space; they can bring about a better line-wrap in narrow columns. For headlines, they are naturally advantageous, because they can pack more information into a line. Admittedly, condensed faces are usually more difficult to read, since their narrowness allows for less differentiation of form. They squeeze the text image too much and present a more monotonous appearance.
Generally speaking, a typeface has two directions: the horizontal movement of the line, which helps move the eye forward during the reading process, and the vertical ‘picket fence’ effect. Vertical strokes in close proximity to one another are so loud, visually, that a monotonous grid develops automatically. This looks very much like the fences found around gardens or yards. Too much emphasis on the verticals bores and tires the reading eye and slows down its natural movements, because too much information is pressed into a line (with extended typefaces, the opposite occurs: the eye travels at a faster speed than it can actually read at). My conclusion after this consideration was as follows:
A condensed type must suppress the dominant vertical strokes by emphasising horizontal movement. In order to preserve their specific character, particular detail must be paid to the rounded forms.
How could I bring both directions – the horizontal and the vertical – together in the best possible way? The question brought me back to the Bremer Press’s Antiqua, because in my opinion, this typeface did just that.
The beauty of The City of God is primarily brought about by its perfectly-tuned typography: point size, line-spacing, and line length. The typeface itself is relatively broad and spaciously set. Due to multiple width versions of the letters f, r, s, t, ch and ck, word spaces could be more easily balanced. Asymmetrical serifs in the reading direction lead the eye forward and support the band-form effect of the lines. Flat shoulders and open apertures emphasise the horizontal. Would it be possible to bring these features over to a condensed type, and minimise the dominance of the vertical strokes?
FF Tundra is not an extremely narrow typeface, and it should not ever become one. Rather, it is intended as a versatile and usable serif face. It is compact and space-saving, offering great readability in small sizes. Short ascenders and descenders allow for tight linespacing, which is particularly advantageous in magazine design. Like the Bremer Press Antiqua, I gave the letters in FF Tundra’s first draft asymmetrical serifs. These looked pretty good on the lowercase letters. Uppercase letters are constructed differently, however. They are more static, and do not have the same written dynamic that lowercase letters do. For the uppercase letters, it did not make any sense to only have serifs on the top-left and bottom-right sides; the letters looked mutilated, and the missing serifs contradicted the logic of the uppercase forms. I decided to give the typeface serifs on both sides of each stroke, as is typical.
Rather untypical for condensed typefaces, however, are the serif forms that made it into in the final typeface. These are strong – almost cantilevered. The round bracketing on the serifs gives the vertical strokes an elegant conclusion and diverts the eye towards the reading direction. The serifs tie the individual letters together, so to speak. And – perhaps more importantly – they limit the vertical extent of the typeface. Particularly along the baseline and the x-height, they form the edges of a band that gives the lines of text a calmer feeling.
For the reading process, the area between the baseline and the x-height is the most important: this is where the most complex parts of the letterforms are found, and these are the elements that give the typeface its unique character. In order to further strengthen the horizontal flow, the letters’s shoulders and joining stokes have been flattened. The apertures of the rounder letters are robust and open. Due to their minimal stroke contrast, the c and the e appear as if they have come out of a sans serif design. The rounded outstroke of the t is sturdy and flat. The outstrokes of the a, d, and u run directly to the baseline. The thickest parts of the curves are not at the left and the right, but have been pushed to the top and the bottom, in order to create a light northwesterly axis.
Overall, the forms have been drawn to fill up as much space as possible. Because of this, when the typeface is set in small point sizes, FF Tundra appears larger than it actually is. The r is not a cropped n, but rather an independent form. Contrary to the other letters, the transition from the tail to the stem is rounded. This references related forms, like the c and the f. The top half of the g is larger than is common. The sweep of the strokes in y and j are projecting and ample. The tail of the J, on the other hand, tapers out in a similar fashion as the Q. K and k are each made up of two separate forms. The lower legs feature serifs on just one side, which is nevertheless strengthened on the left, to increase stability. The same is true for the foot of the R. In general, all diagonal strokes are tapered towards an internal acute angle.
The italics also follow the principle of the best-possible line formation. Their lowercase letters feature real serifs at the top-left, whereas their outstrokes at the bottom-right are the sort of rounded forms typical for italics. Nevertheless, these are still somewhat flattened in FF Tundra. f, p, and q have calligraphic terminals. The base of the z points diagonally downwards, referencing its written origin. Even the diagonal letters v, w, and y are zestfully formed.
FF Tundra is available in six weights. The specific letter construction model is particularly beneficial for lighter styles. This might be due to the moderate stroke contrast. Because of this, I drew an Extra Light weight, in addition to the Light. In the Extra Light, the stroke contrast is lessened even further. In my opinion, many of the finest contemporary serif typefaces are designed with too much stroke contrast. Maybe this is a result of careless extrapolation.
FF Tundra includes multiple figure options, including proportional and tabular oldstyle figures as well as superiors and inferiors. The loops of the 6 and the 9 are open. A slashed-zero is available via an OpenType feature. Also available via the OpenType features is an automatic substitution mechanism for problematic letter combinations. The f will be replaced with a narrower version when it is followed by specific characters – usually accented letters – that would collide with it. There is a beautiful g-y ligature, too.”permalink