News: Tagged as Interview

The Making of FF Dora

‘You can make a beautiful book using only one style and one size of the typeface.’

Slávka Pauliková’s headstrong FF Dora is the newest addition to our library — A type family consisting of five styles; as the weights expand, the contrast increases but still retains the characteristic handwritten personality of pen-flicked strokes and culminates in its most playful face, FF Dora Display.

We spoke to Slávka about the making of FF Dora, where the name comes from and how her experience in book design has contributed to her type design.

FF Dora

The process behind FF Dora started out as a study of today’s handwriting styles and transforming them into a serif text typeface. For some the easier (or perhaps more obvious) option would have been to turn the handwriting styles into a script face. What was it that made you decide to explore the serif text form?

I had the idea in my mind for a long time, even before my studies at Type and Media began. I dedicated several self-initiated book projects to the topic of today’s handwriting and was fascinated by how everyone develops their own handwriting and how it differs from the form we were taught at school as kids. The results I came up with through my research were pretty interesting. Some handwritten letterforms completely change their forms from the handwriting of a grown-up person. People formulate their own visual language which is sometimes not readable to anyone else but themselves.

FF Dora Sketch

The 15th century typefaces are based on calligraphy and handwriting. There is a fascinating translation of the fluid calligraphic letterforms into a serif typeface which had to be designed because of the letterpress technique. My initial idea when I started designing Dora, was to explore the boundaries between the transition of a handwritten letterform into a serif typeface. After many trials and tests of combining handwritten letters with serif letters, I decided to minimize this relationship to increase the balance of the typeface. However, I think my starting point is still visible in letters such as the italic ‘k’.FF Dora

The name Dora is derived from the nickname in Slovakian for a headstrong girl. Was there a particular girl or woman you had in mind when designing FF Dora?

Naming the typeface took me really long time and I actually named it at the very end of the design process, right before my graduation. I picked the name because it was short and clear and it suited the character of the typeface. I also find it fitting because I was quite determined to finish it the way I wanted it. Since I named the typeface after drawing it, there was no person I was particularly thinking of while designing.

FF Dora Sketches

FF Dora suits small sizes but its qualities and styles, especially the display style brings a certain playfulness to the larger text. Where would you love to see FF Dora being used?

I would love to see FF Dora being used in any kind of printed or web material. FF Dora is suitable for longer amounts of text, editorial design, non-fiction books, any selective types of reading I designed the type specimens for FF Dora very simply without any graphic styles or colour suggestions. I am really curious as to how people will use it.

FF Dora

What has the experience of book design taught you and how has it fed into your own type design?

Editorial and book design taught me that the use of small type families is generally sufficient to achieve well-designed books. You can make a beautiful book using only one style and one size of the typeface. Except newspaper design, book and editorial design allow a typography in which small type families can play an important role. I am working with content-heavy books that need to have different levels of information emphasized typographically. Even a couple of styles or combining two different typefaces is plenty to distinguish different levels of importance in such books. I think this also explains why FF Dora is a small type family.

For more images of the process behind FF Dora, visit our Behance profile.

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Interview with Mitja Miklavčič on FontFeed

‘Whenever I design a typeface, I learn something new. This is one of the best things about typography.’

FF Tisa Sans

Over on the FontFeed there is an exclusive interview with Mitja Miklavčič on his newest design, FF Tisa Sans.

Read the interview in full.

About FF Tisa
FF Tisa Sans is Slovenian designer Mitja Miklavčič’s follow-up typeface to one of the new-millennium favorites in the our library, FF Tisa. Whether used together or separately, both of his families are excellent choices for branding projects and complex editorial applications.

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In-use: FF Quadraat in ‘The Shape of Design’ – An interview with Frank Chimero

‘A fieldguide for makers. A love letter to Design.’

FF Quadraat in use: ‘The Shape of Design’ by Frank Chimero

The Shape of Design is a beautiful and thought-provoking insight into the role of design as a way of planning and as a medium for change. It’s a veritable handbook not just for designers but for anyone who wants to make something.

Frank Chimero, photo by Jessica HischeWritten by Frank Chimero, a designer, illustrator, teacher and writer based in New York, the book came about following a highly successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011. Set in our very own FF Quadraat by Fred Smeijers,  the Shape of Design is available both in print and as an eBook.

FF Quadraat is one of the FontFont classics and has been part of our library since the early days. Over the years, it has grown into a formidable super family and in 2011 was completely overhauled and updated by Smeijers and our Type Department

We spoke to Frank Chimero about his experience writing the book, his love of reading and his choice of typeface.

Over the past year, numerous great ideas have been brought about through Kickstarter, including films, products, even typefaces. Indeed at the next TypeCon 2012 there will be a whole panel discussion about using Kickstarter as a means to fund new typefaces. How did the experience influence your approach to writing the book?

Kickstarter opens up the creative process to an audience, and makes it feel less like a black box where ‘magic’ happens. This is both good and bad. It’s great because that openness turns a book into a continuum of experiences for the audience. They now have back-story and can connect to the work before they read it. There’s the story of making the story, and you can build a small community of people with that.

On the negative side, that openness turns the process into a kind of performance. The writer has people watching, and that can be stunting. There were several points while writing where things were a total mess, and I felt like I had to be very strategic about what I shared with the backers to make it seem like the train was still on the rails.

But let’s not be too dour about this stuff. The Kickstarter campaign gave me a year to think about the ideas I wanted to pursue. And now, there’s a group of smart people considering those ideas, and in certain cases, running with them. That’s marvelous. A miracle.

FF Quadraat in use: ‘The Shape of Design’ by Frank Chimero

Frank Chimero’s ‘The Shape of Design’ – Table of contents; © Portrait by Jessica Hische

Your book is somewhat classical, in terms of proportion and layout. Your website is more whimsical and light-hearted. Did you find the printed book as a medium somewhat limiting, in terms of design and production possibilities?

No. My design choices were based on the writing, and I decided the words required a simple presentation. There was no need to get fussy with it, because I was confident in the ideas and happy with the writing’s clarity.

Many of the design decisions were also influenced by the affordances of ebooks and their readers. The cover was designed to be very iconic so I had a design system which could transition to each reading environment. The page size of the printed book was chosen to be similar in size to what would be experienced on an iPad or Kindle. The illustrations are two-color, because I knew I could make them look good on a Kindle, iPad, and in print.
Basically, I wanted to design a system that was flexible enough to keep its identity intact as the words went from place to place. I think it is possible to craft books in a way so that no reading environment is obviously inferior to another, whether printed book or ebook. Each piece has to shine on all the other parts to make a better whole.

Would you agree that The Shape of Design isn’t a traditional design book? Whilst there are passages where you mention things about your working process, there aren’t specific case studies presented, images of your work (other than the beautiful illustrations!), or a list of favorite clients, etc. Instead, your book is more a collection of stories about the design process?

I never wanted this book to be about my work or specifically anyone else’s. I think the title speaks to that: The Shape of Design is more about the field’s body of work. What happens if you group all the work together? What are the similarities, and what is it trying to do? Once you start thinking this way, personal examples or in-depth, individual case studies seem inappropriate.

The book is about being tasked to make useful things for others. That means being generous in who it uses as examples, whether graphic designer, poet, or chef. I wanted to pull insight from the outside. It also requires me to shine a light on the creative process in an abstract way, then consider the products of design as things that seek to produce change and be consequential. This runs counter to the usual presentation of design as a set of beautiful artifacts. There’s an important place for that sort of treatment, but this wasn’t it.

FF Quadraat in use: ‘The Shape of Design’ by Frank Chimero

What was your ‘Why’ behind the Shape of Design?

I wrote the Shape of Design because I thought it was important to have a reminder of the effects of our work. There is beauty and consequence and joy to making things for other people, and I thought it deserved a rumination. I initially wrote it for my students, but in the process I discovered I needed it as well.

The Shape of Design is set in FF Quadraat, a rather traditional and classic text typeface. Why did you choose this one?

I read a book of essays by Michael Chabon typeset in FF Quadraat, and was really happy with the effect. The type felt warm and friendly, yet still refined and thoughtful. As you said, FF Quadraat isn’t a traditional text typeface, so reading Chabon’s book was a little bit less fluid than I was used to. It metered my consumption, and gave a better opportunity to reflect after each essay. I decided that this was something important to my book since it’s a shorter title, and while having a full arc, each of the chapters stands on its own.

You were an early adopter of webfonts. Is FF Quadraat the text typeface on your website at the moment because it is also the face of your book? Or, perhaps the other way around?

At first, my selection of FF Quadraat Web wasn’t an overtly conscious decision. I chose it as the typeface in Pages as I wrote, and my words seemed to grow into it. Then I stumbled upon Chabon’s book, became pleased with the fit, and changed my site to use the webfont. We’ve had a good relationship since then.

FF Quadraat in use: ‘The Shape of Design’ by Frank Chimero

Screenshot shapeofthesignbook.com — FF Quadraat is also used
in the book PDF as well as on the website (FF Quadraat Web)

Your book is offered in a printed version and as an eBook. What is your preferred way of reading?

Fiction in print to shut out the world, non-fiction as an ebook to keep track of my marginalia. In either case, if I enjoyed what I read, I buy the nicest printed copy I can find. I want the things I love to be a part of my day-to-day life.

FF Quadraat in use: ‘The Shape of Design’ by Frank Chimero

How did the process of writing this book compare to other long-term graphic design projects you have tackled?

I wrote this book over the course of a year, and I noticed that I developed a ‘window of approval’ that my lengthier design projects never had. I felt the things I had recently written were good, but the old parts always needed work, even if liked them before. So, I was perpetually out of sync with myself, where the person who was reading the words was conceptually further along than the writer who wrote them. It meant that I was growing, but it also felt like I was never getting closer to finishing, because I’d always have to go back two months later and fix what I wrote. Snake eating its tail, and all that.

My frustration came from a misunderstanding I think many of us have about creative work: we forget that doing the work makes us better, and being better makes us dislike the work that made us that way. Design seems to be more friendly to this problem, because big projects are typically released piece by piece, and you can course-correct over time. The work can exist in flux, where as a book has a canonical version. Books, unfortunately, must be printed all at once, so it’s easier to worry and toil endlessly. Now I understand why many authors spend five years on a book.

I thought writing a book wouldn’t be much different from writing essays. That was a naive thought. It is totally and fundamentally different, simply because you can’t hold a whole book in your head at once.

You have a fantastic ‘library’ section on your website, with brief descriptions of 45 books. Do you think that we’ll see more and more books like The Shape of Design in the future?

I hope so! There are solid fundraising platforms like Kickstarter, and small-run and vanity presses like Lulu and Blurb. Right now, there’s little in the way of someone publishing their thoughts, they only need to muster up the time and focus (which is a battle on its own).

I am excited about what’s to come. I foresee more opportunities to share what we write, and better things to read. It’s a good time to like words.

FF Quadraat in use: ‘The Shape of Design’ by Frank Chimero

Find out more about the Shape of Design and buy it online and see more pictures of FF Quadraat in use in the book in our gallery.

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“Hard and fast categorization is anathema to creative typography”

We caught up recently with Nick Shinn, type design expert, founder of ShinnType and creator of FF Fontesque, FF Merlin and FF Oneleigh on pushing the possibilities of type design and unlocking the delights of OpenType. 

Nick Shinn
Nick Shinn, April 2012 (Photo by David Sudweeks)

You’re known for developing fonts that push the possibilities of the OpenType layout features to their limits. Do technical possibilities inspire you to create new typefaces?

Absolutely! The Contextual Alternates feature in particular. The idea that character forms can respond to text is a genuinely new idea—“smart fonts”. And the degree and manner in which glyph forms may interact with one another is way beyond traditional ligatures. In ten years, we’ve only scratched the surface.

During the revision of FF Fontesque, you conceived a very sophisticated contextual feature. Would you agree that it is no longer possible to design typefaces with handwritten-character without implementing some sort of random effect?

FF Fontesque
FF Fontesque’s contextual alternates make for a better handwritten character.

That’s a question which gets to the heart of type design and its relationship to mark-making technology, be it pen, printing or pixels. It seems to me that there are three design spaces involved—for the writer, for the font designer, and for the typographer. And there is interplay between these.

For the typographer the distinction between pseudo and faux is crucial. One can choose an OpenType font which imitates writing through a pseudo-random Contextual Alternates effect, for a convincing naturalism—or one can exploit the faux quality of a basic script font as a signifier. In that case the font would be set against the grain of naturalism, with typographic regularity (flush left, on evenly spaced, dead straight baselines), and with no concern that doubled characters have identical glyphs. So for a brand of organic food, the packaging would not need to “really” look like it was hand-written, because there is a point at which that has negative connotations; nonetheless, typographic use of a basic, amateur-looking handwriting font would signify the brand’s market position, used in the manner of any other one-glyph-per-character typeface, a manner that graphic designers are very comfortable with. I think one should be aware of both approaches, and choose where to position one’s work on the axis of mimicry accordingly.

For the writer who is a polished scribe, if one ignores flourishes, the genre of formal calligraphy may often aspire to a strict regularity. So even within the world of natural media, there is spectrum of possibilites between icy perfection and haphazard extemporization, and this distinction provides creative tension and design space—aided and abetted by happy accidents—in which the calligrapher operates, deciding whether to disguise artifice or put it on show like hammer marks on Arts and Crafts pewter.

As a type designer, I have to admire how a type such as Mistral distills dramatic gestural style into a minimal alphabet where every glyph combines perfectly with every other glyph. But what interests me now is of course contextuality, with multiple glyphs for each character, and my intention is to invent new ways of integrating it into type design. I’m designing fonts that are novel tools; the challenge is for typographers to find ways to leverage that newness in their work, ways that I can’t anticipate.

In Duffy (2008), your random code cycled between four alternates of every character. In the more recent FF Fontesque OT, there are only two versions of each. What made you decide that was enough?

I reasoned that enough letters could be put between repeating characters, that two glyphs of each would suffice to produce the pseudo-random effect. It helps that there are no words in which any characters are tripled (except for a very few in German). Then I devised coding to switch glyphs to avoid any repetition with fewer than three letters between the same character repeating. That amount of separation is beyond a single saccadic impression in the macula (centre of the fovea), which registers no more than three or four letters, so glyph-repetition irregularities cannot be physically perceived during immersive reading—because that’s below the threshold of what the brain registers in text decoding.

FF Fontesque
Some of FF Fontesque’s alternate characters

But why bother with randomness if the eye can only see a maximum of four letters sharply at a time—wouldn’t it be enough just to deal with doubled letters? Well, I don’t believe that one only “reads” the text encoded in letters—I think one is aware of pattern and texture, in the way that one may identify a piece of music from its timbre (even from a single chord, such as George Harrison’s opening strum in A Hard Day’s Night), with no melody or tempo. And in display work, of course, repetition is far more likely to be noticed. Also, one doesn’t just design a document for its immediate users, it also has professional-grade meaning for the design trade, where it may be examined minutely for non-textual plastic qualities. Ultimately, it exists on its own terms as a cultural artefact with an infinity of possible meanings.

One of the original ideas for FF Oneleigh’s Italics was to design letters like T, V, W and Y so that kerning would be almost unnecessary. While you made the Pro update, what was it that convinced you to switch to more “normal” forms, and to offer the originals as Swashes?

I love this face so much, I wanted to shower it with features. Small caps and all kinds of alternate figures, of course, discretionary ligatures, even. Then, as several swash capitals already existed in the face, a full Swash feature [see following images] was a no-brainer—and it didn’t hurt that they were fun to draw! It also gave me the opportunity to further explore a theme I happened upon several years ago, when designing a book title in Bernhard Tango and realizing that face set quite nicely in all caps.

FF Oneleigh
FF Oneleigh
FF Oneleigh

Now, with the Swash feature in layout applications, if it’s applied to any particular character, I don’t want the typographer to think something’s wrong with the font if nothing happens. So there’s a swash alternate for EVERY capital letter of the alphabet. However, the original idea, that a handful of italic capitals could be swash as default (as in Baskerville and some of Goudy’s faces) has not been abandoned—it’s available as a Stylistic Set.

New ideas and concepts, drawing, digitizing, font programming, marketing… do typeface designers today have to be jacks of all trades?

Not necessarily. I’m a generalist anyway, with a varied career before becoming a type designer, fortunate enough to get into it in the early days of digital, and the learning curve over 20 years has thus been fairly manageable. So being jack works for me. But the industry has evolved with more specialization, to meet the demands of increasing complexity, and I do find myself working more collaboratively now.

On top of your design work, you’re very active in online forums like Typophile. How do you manage your time? Is it difficult to keep up with the technological changes in font production?

I’m afraid I don’t manage my time, and my studio is very messy. I just work on what I feel like at any given moment—apart from commissions of course, which do tend to focus one’s mind. I keep up to date with the latest technology, in the sense that I’m fairly aware of what’s happening, by online surfing and going to conferences—but I pick and choose what I incorporate into my workflow. No doubt I could be more efficient, but I try to strike a balance between hands-on artist and production-line technocrat.

You are primarily self-taught as a type designer. You have your own foundry, and you make commissioned typeface, too. You retail typefaces through several distributors. Why are FF Fontesque, FF Merlin, and FF Oneleigh FontFonts?

Historical contingency: before the World Wide Web, it took a full-time commitment to run a foundry profitably. Marketing floppy discs though direct mail was expensive and time consuming. But afterwards, one could establish a presence with a web site, sell through e-commerce distributors, and build up one’s catalog incrementally while keeping one’s day job—and make a higher percentage royalty to boot.

In 1993, when I first started making digital fonts, FontShop had a bricks-and-mortar retail franchise in Toronto, and I had known its proprietors, David Michaelides and Tina Hadjidimetriou, since they started out—selling graphic design books, actually. As an art director, I frequently licensed fonts from them. David realized that the FontFont range was Eurocentric, and while up-to-date in the deconstruction department, could do with some representation of the North American Grunge phenomenon. So he persuaded a number of Canadian designers to submit loosely-drawn types to FontFont’s TypeBoard. As an already published type designer (Gryphon and Shinn Sans), I was a likely suspect, and submitted Fontesque. Not really grunge, but casual enough to ride on its coat-tails. Since then, it’s been a breeze working with the people at FontShop International (they also distribute Shinntype through FontShop), and I was quite thrilled when they completely commited to all the OpenType upgrades to FF Oneleigh and FF Fontesque which I proposed, and then some—it was a deal of work for all concerned.

What is the story behind FF Merlin? At first glance, it looks like another 1990s grunge typeface. But a second glance reveals typographic sophistication. The Italic uses “true Italic” letters, and all three of the fonts show understanding of letterform construction – no surprise, since they came from you, but still unusual for this style of fonts.

I’ve had a long working relationship with newspaper designer Tony Sutton; he’s a bit of a fontaholic, always pestering me for new fonts, bless him—so I thought it would be amusing to design something he’d have a hard time using. Hence Merlin. There are some other ideas in it too—it’s the evil anti-Fontesque, and has fractal serifs (serifs on serifs on serifs).

FF Merlin

FF Merlin

How does the process of working on your FontFont families differ from your other typefaces?

Other than the fact that I’m not designing any new FontFonts, not much; I’ve been upgrading earlier designs to OpenType and Webfonts, both Shinntype fonts and FontFonts. In both cases, I’ve had some production assistance.

Do you ever miss Art Direction?

Yes. There is some compensation in producing type specimens, though. And I do collaborate with my wife Karey, doing the graphic identities for her art projects.

FF Fontesque’s Cyrillic characters came out especially vivid, especially in the Italics. Did you need to do a lot of research into those forms? Did you have something like a Cyrillic “supervisor?”

No, I’m not interested in other people’s opinions of what my glyphs should look like. I was already familiar with Cyrillic typography, having studied it during the development of the Modern Suite, and I knew what the Cyrillic characters looked like in different type styles. So I was able to shape them according to the same principles I had applied in the original Latin of FF Fontesque.

FF Fontesque

FF Fontesque includes Cyrillic glyphs, and in your own library, Figgins Sans and Scotch Modern include both Cyrillic and Greek. Do you have plans for any more Greek typefaces? Might Greek extensions appear in later revisions to your FontFonts?

That’s for FontFont to decide; I’m game if they are. There’s not much of a market for Greek fonts per se: it’s a country of less than 10 million, and the academic Classics community is flooded with free fonts, and too conservative even for FF Oneleigh. But there is a market for “Pan European” fonts that service corporations operating in the European Union—which includes both Bulgaria (Cyrillic) and Greece. I’m presently working on the release of Richler, which will have Greek and Cyrillic support.

Your FF Fontesque and FF Oneleigh Pro revisions were among the first FontFonts to include capital Eszett glyphs. This is still a relatively new character in the type scene, and its validity is questioned by some type designers and typographers. How do you feel about it, and how did you decide upon the specific forms for the letter?

In terms of validity, it’s a legitimate Unicode character—and, as almost virgin territory (if such a thing is possible), a fascinating design challenge. When the Unicode status was first announced in 2007, a thread developed at Typophile in which the whole issue of grammar and design was discussed. There are two basic forms the character can take, depending on whether the right side is treated more like an S or a 3. In both FF Fontesque and FF Oneleigh, I’ve opted for the S, which I think is more appropriate for types informed by the classic serif tradition. However I’ve used both approaches elsewhere, having employed the character in eleven typefaces up to now. It’s a question of getting a feel for it, and how it can be designed to best harmonize with a particular face.

FF Oneleigh
German capital sharp s in FF Oneleigh

About FF Fontesque Text, you’ve written, “I've seen Fontesque used over the past few years, that in many instances people would prefer a little more heft.” I’d like to hear more about how FF Fontesque Text and FF Fontesque Display diverge from the original FF Fontesque design, especially since FF Fontesque is one of those types where my knee-jerk classification would be a “display” face!

Yes, it’s a display face, but as we all know, hard and fast categorization is anathema to creative typography. What Display signifies here is optical scaling for use at very large sizes, with the glyphs having fine details. I imagine it being used in an understated manner for posters, signage, magazine headlines or book titles, as a script might be used, with a very organic presence.

FF Fontesque Sans does not have optical sizes. Do you think that optical sizes are less necessary, generally, when it comes to sans serif designs?

FF Fontesque Sans

As far as I know, there are only two sans faces with optical sizes—the new Haas Helvetica, and my Brown Gothic. Generally speaking, changing the tracking is all one needs to do to optically scale a sans. I would say that FF Fontesque Sans, with its tight fit, is more of a display face, and recommend adding tracking, and dare it be said, a touch of horizontal scaling, for body text setting!

Of the articles that I’ve read from you, your research into the 1830s British inspiration behind continental typefaces like Akzidenz-Grotesk and Helvetica is my favourite. Are you particularly inspired by the history of British design, or is there another country whose tradition interests you to a higher degree?

I’m not interested in national cultures per se. A face like FF Oneleigh, which is speculative fiction informed by the historicist movement of the early twentieth century—which was international—draws its influences from designers in the USA (Goudy, Cooper), Germany (Schneidler, Koch, Bernhard), Holland (de Roos) and so on.  

FF Oneleigh
How do you think your work fits in to the larger story of contemporary Canadian graphic design?

Outside the type industry subculture, type designers are rarely recognized for their œuvre as a whole, but individual typefaces do make it into graphic design history. I’d say there are three of mine that might have relevance in a specifically Canadian context:

FF Fontesque pairs with Val Fullard’s FF Mambo as the happy face(s) of the Grunge craze of the mid 1990s. They were huge in Canada, and internationally.

The Richler commemorative type is worthy of mention, due to Mordecai Richler’s ongoing celebrity as a Great Canadian Writer.

And perhaps too my custom types for The Globe and Mail (“Canada’s National Newspaper”), given that the paper is such an institution, and an anomaly, both in terms of design (oldstyle types, modernist layout with no justification) and performance—increasing its readership when the newspaper industry in general is declining. Its 2010 redesign was voted best in the world in the 32nd Society of News Design awards.

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FF Scuba: Deep diving with Felix Braden

Following the release of Felix Braden’s first FontFont, FF Scuba we caught up with him to find out about his newest typeface, the design scene in Cologne and who his dream client would be. 

FF Scuba In Use

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 Outlines

FF Scuba Outlines
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?

FF Scuba First Sketch

FF Scuba Sketch

FF Scuba Sketches
First sketches

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.

FF Scuba Corrections

FF Scuba Corrections
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?

I love FF Absara by Xavier Dupré and FF Suhmo by Alex Rütten.

 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 BradenFelix 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.

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