FF Scuba: Deep diving with Felix Braden
Felix, your Internet-persona is tied up with the identity of one of your websites, Floodfonts and your twitter. Your website’s been around for about 12 years now. I remember seeing your free fonts for the first time around in 2004. Will any of these be upgraded or expanded to commercial families some day?
I actually have the most fun with the first 52 characters when designing type. The chance that I extend an old alphabet is therefore slim as there only remains the hard and fiddly work. It must therefore be for a special occasion. Just recently Typekit approached me and asked whether they could offer Moby, Hydrophilia and Bigfish in their library and that was an opportunity. Their idea to look after the complete hosting of webfonts so that the web designer doesn’t need to worry about it, really enthused me. I still offer the extended printer fonts with the additional character sets free on my website.
FF Scuba is your first typeface in the FontFont library, but you have released other families through Fountain, URW++ and Volcano Type. What was it like working with FontFont? How are we different from other foundries?
Without wanting to suck up, the collaboration with FontFont was super. The intensity of the mentoring and the effort that was invested in the development of FF Scuba is really remarkable. Big thanks again to Andreas Frohloff who made numerous suggestions for corrections and who brought the font a gigantic step forward. During the two years that we worked together on FF Scuba I learnt so much about type design.
You studied graphic design at the FH Trier. In the past few years, the German type design scene has gotten to know several Trier students and graduates through their attendance at Typostammtische (German type meet-ups), or from the work of other designers like Stefan Hübsch and Sascha Timplan. Did you have any classes in type design while you were a student?
Unfortunately, type design wasn’t offered as a subject whilst I was studying in Trier. As far as I am aware this hasn’t changed. However, there is a great Typography teacher, Professor Andreas Hogan, who encourages students to engage with type design. He really encouraged me with the design of my alphabets. One had at least the possibility in Typography to design a typeface as a term paper.
Even before you started your studies, you had already created your first digital fonts. Were these typefaces just 1990s-era design explorations for you – like so many graphic designers who discovered Fontographer at that time – or was it something more deep … like love at first sight?
Somehow both – in 1993 after completing my secondary school studies I wanted to absolutely design and study Graphic Design. Without having a proper perception of what it was like, I looked for an internship at an advertising agency. With luck I got a position at Gaga – an ambitious Design office where exactly the experimental atmosphere of departure of the 1990s prevailed and opened for me a whole new world. There I met the designer Jens Gehlhaar who was before my studies a really good teacher in type design. The fact that Fontographer was at that time really hip, and every designer ‘played about’ with it, was of course helpful to reduce inhibitions. I created my first alphabet within a week for the demo tape of a friend’s metal band.
FF Scuba outline tests
Aside from typeface design, you also work as a graphic designer. How would you best describe yourself? As a type designer? A communications designer? Or are specific labels within design not something that you identify with?
I am actually very happy that I don’t just do type design and also engage with editorial design, corporate design and illustration. The excursions into other design areas have always brought me a great deal and also the exchange with other people in other disciplines. If I was to classify myself then it would be somewhere between illustration and typography. My designer roots lie definitely in drawing and type is the topic that in the past few years has interested and engaged me the most. Lastly, I think that drawing and designing with type are very helpful skills if someone wants to draw letters and logotypes – so what I do now is inevitably a result of my background.
You live and work in Cologne, a city on the Rhine River and one of the oldest settlements in Germany. What is the design scene like there? Do you think that designers in Cologne work in a different manner than in other big German cities?
I don’t know, whether it is because of the times of Behance or the immense opportunities to exchange and share amongst designers, whether there actually is something like country specific styles, let alone city specific styles.
For me, the direct exchange with other designers is very important. At the moment, the type design scene in Cologne is very small and I don’t think I can find a typical Cologne style. We rarely get together for a Typostammtisch, but when we do, I spend weeks getting excited about it. There are always really interesting guests there, who are a great source of inspiration to me, such as Indra Kupferschmid, Dan Reynolds or Alex Rütten. Sometimes, I look somewhat wistfully at the design scene in Berlin and Munich, where every week there are opportunities to meet up.
Yet when it comes to the history of the town, I find that Cologne is extremely interesting. As soon as you dig a bit deeper into a town area you find something spectacular. Alone in the Romano-Germanic Museum you can find so many magnificent classical typographical finds that it is really worth a visit.
When you compare your first sketches on paper with the final release-version of a typeface, how much of the original feeling remains in the finished design?
When it came to bringing FF Scuba to market, I fished out some old sketches and was very surprised at the similarity that the end result had with the first drawings. The double page spread ‘cobang’ is actually the first sketch that I did for FF Scuba (at that time it was called Adria). I removed some of the oddities, such as the tapered ascenders but other than that it is very close to the release version, isn’t it?
I’ve read that part of the inspiration behind FF Scuba was to create an offline companion for Verdana. In which way do you think that FF Scuba is most similar to Verdana, and where is it the most different?
I think the biggest similarity that FF Scuba has with Verdana is at a distance or on a screen in small pixel sizes. Also when it runs closer together and the letters are narrower- you can compare Verdana and FF Scuba in size 12 in TextEdit, the fonts are differentiated through a number of letters such as I, J or M but the appearence is very similar.
As soon as the letters become bigger the details such as the tapered ends of the stems or the almost rectangular o are noticeable and then the two typefaces bear little similarity. Also with the bolder weights the differences are particularly apparent: with Verdana Bold the horizontals – through the orientation on the pixel – are only half as heavy as the verticals, FF Scuba doesn’t have this contrast, the horizontals appear study/massive.
Are there any specific design applications where you think that FF Scuba would be a particularly apt choice for graphic designers?
I think FF Scuba has a lot of character, especially for a sans serif optimized for long body texts. That makes it a good tool for branding. I believe that with FF Scuba I have succeeded in allowing a warm, human aspect to flow into a very dry technical design. A contrast that in my opinion also illustrates the uniqueness of the typeface - therefore is FF Scuba perfectly appropriate for firms with a high technical affinity but that see people at the heart of their business for example in the media or computer industry.
Felix Braden’s correction notes
Every type designer has their secret dream client. If you had to pick one “long shot” area for FF Scuba to be uses, where would that be?
Like many other type designers, I was shocked by the announcement a few years ago that Ikea was using Verdana as their corporate font and with that placed comfort and cost-saving above all design criteria. I can’t quite exactly remember, but I think at this time I began working on FF Scuba. I would be really excited if Ikea used FF Scuba as the corporate font for print media and Verdana for the screen – I don’t mind if they also used it for correspondence.
Aside from FF Scuba, do you have a favourite FontFont?
If you were to give someone starting out in typography one piece of advice what would it be?
Don’t hesitate, just do it! With type design, plan-less work sometimes avenges itself later, but you don’t have to start with a super family.
Felix Braden studied communication design at the Fachhochschule Trier with Prof. Andreas Hogan and worked as assistant of Jens Gehlhaar at Gaga Design. He was one of the founders of Glashaus-Design and has worked as Art Director at MWK and freelance type designer in Cologne since 2003. In 2000, he founded the free font foundry Floodfonts and designed numerous typefaces which are available as webfonts via Typekit. His commercial fonts are distributed by Fountain (Capri, Sadness, Grimoire), URW++ (Supernormale) and Volcanotype (Bikini).
For a limited time, FF Scuba Regular OT and Web are available for free download.