I Love Typography

Designing Armitage

This is the doorway to The Claremount, an apartment building in Manhattan. I think that it was built in the 1890s. Those letters over the door just reached out and grabbed me from across the street and I had a typeface coming on.

The Claremount, 229–31 East 12 St, New York.

I had been studying this style of letters on similar buildings in Washington, D.C., and something about them always felt a little dull. But in the Claremount letters I found life in the charming way the awkward proportions and loose spacing came together.

Screenshot of the Claremount font in FontLab.

So I set about designing a Claremount typeface. A few hours later I had drawn what looked like an incompetent attempt to revive Eurostile. I felt the ghost of Aldo Novarese stabbing me in the kidneys every time I looked at it. Clearly these letters would not carry their charm from cast concrete to vectors.

Egyptian Letters from Poilkilographia (1812) by Samuel Coates, from The Nymph and the Grot p. 38

But I still saw potential in those wonky letters. So I stuck them into a lower layer and began drawing something over them. Inculcated with strategies absorbed in life drawing classes I prefer to draw from a model. I did not want to revive any particular typeface, so I put aside my specimen books and looked at the images in The Nymph and the Grot, James Mosley’s history of the early development of sans types.

Engraved by H. Moses for the book Household Furniture (1807), from The Nymph and the Grot p. 36

The “Egyptian Letters” on page 36 and in fig. 28 of The Nymph and the Grot predated any sans type, much less one hundred fifty years of efforts to smooth off every rough edge of the genre. Some of the Egyptian letters were downright weird and they oozed vitality. These images became my model for the Armitage capitals. I drew a matching lowercase without a model, focusing on harmony with the capitals.

Proof of an early version of Armitage

Proof of an early version of Armitage.

I was tempted to release the typeface as an oddball single-weight historical design, but the alphabet just did not work—at least not in a way that suited this century. A mix of odd terminal styles and angles were clashing in a way that looked like Franklin Gothic at war with Stephenson Blake’s Grotesque No. 8. It came together as a messy whole in the way a crowd does at a punk/metalcore doubleheader. Paul Shaw urged me to update the design by harmonizing the terminals of C, G, S, c, g, s, and a.

Proof of Light and Black weights used to reconcile differences.

Somewhere along the way I had also lost interest in the idea of a single weight and drawn a thin version. After it was done I harmonized the two and interpolated a regular weight, which needed a serious overhaul to fix problems caused by interpolating from extremes. By the time I was happy with the roman masters and knew they would interpolate properly it was mid-October, and with designers wrapping up their holiday ad work it seemed like a bad time to release a new typeface. So I started on the italics, and got through January developing the complete twelve-font family.

Note: Images from The Nymph and the Grot were used with the kind permission of James Mosley.

James Puckett left a career in IT to study at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, where he graduated with honors. While at the Corcoran he developed a passion for typography that resulted in a thesis on versatility in type design. The interest in type design sparked by his thesis led James to pursue commercial type design after graduation. James now resides in Manhattan where he designs type for release through his foundry, Dunwich Type Founders. @jamespuckett



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  1. And for anyone interested in buying Armitage, it is available from Fontspring and MyFonts:
    http://www.fontspring.com/fonts/dunwich-type-founders/armitage
    http://new.myfonts.com/fonts/dunwich/armitage/

  2. This is a great looking typeface, and seeing the process behind it makes it even more enjoyable.

  3. Anders Jespersson

    This seems like an interesting beginning to a story, but then it ends quickly and I wonder what happens? How does the italic exist, and so forth? It comes by magic perhaps! To look at the image, it seems like the process is more complicated than just to lean it over? Also I am confused that he says that he likes to draw from a model, but the lowercase was drawn without? It reminded me anyway of my old favorites Akzidenz Grotesk och MT Grotesk.

  4. Anders Jespersson

    To be clear, I asked because I like the story and find the typeface interesting also!

  5. How does the italic exist, and so forth?

    I left out a lot of details because I did not want to bore people. I have over 1,000 pages of proofs other design documents left from the process, so I could easily have written ten times what I did. But others have been there before, so I thought it seemed best to keep it short and focus on the origins—in retrospect I should have come up with a more representative title.

    It reminded me anyway of my old favorites Akzidenz Grotesk och MT Grotesk.

    There are bits of Akzidenz, MT Grot, Univers, Folio, Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, Inland Gothic, and many other typefaces in Armitage. I love these designs and have spent hundreds of hours studying them. No one typeface served as a model for the lowercase, but they’re all in my head, so of course they end in everything I do.

  6. Mathias

    Where’s “C”

  7. Very interesting post, which goes to show that it is very difficult to transpose “sculpted” letters into a font. Also, what may work as a logo, does not necessarily work as a font!

  8. Wonderful, thanks for sharing your process!

  9. RJ

    Is there a reason why the “C” is missing?

  10. Is there a reason why the “C” is missing?

    Apparently my parents paid far too much for those preschool years.

  11. RJ

    Ha ha i was just concerned there was a strange rule i wasn’t aware of, like how “4” is left out on countdowns because it sounds like “fire”…

  12. Jane McGovern

    “This seems like an interesting beginning to a story, but then it ends quickly and I wonder what happens?”

    You’re supposed to think wow, what a great job of mixing up “Akzidenz, MT Grot, Univers, Folio, Helvetica, Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, Inland Gothic, and many other typefaces”, then rush out and buy it.

  13. (Colonel) John Matrix

    Wow, this is really sad, ILT is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. The articles have just been getting worse and worse and now this half-ass attempt at writing about a below average ‘myfonts’ fodder typeface. Sigh.

    Just look at the fonts chosen for the monthly side bar, what a joke!

    Imagine a blog where they talked about actual quality type/typefaces in depth. I may as well start reading typofail! God.

    Also the comments:
    ‘Wow, this is wonderful’, Wow great thanks for sharing your process’

    WTF? You comment like you design: weak/shallow and useless.

    You may as well just punch yourselves in the face!

  14. gary lonergan

    I like Armitage but from the original drawing it seems to have lost its way. I wonder if you had kept some of the awkwardness and made a headline rather then a text face.

    I think that the grotesque typefaces of the 19th century in there original wood and metal versions are a bit too rich for today’s tastes.

    Sorry if I sound picky Armitage does has a lot of warmth and charm

  15. It’s hard to tell what the heavier weights look like from the sample, but it seems like a lot of the character was refined right out of the lowercase. The “early” version is indeed a mess, but the ‘r,’ for instance, had a nice shape to it.

  16. Also, I admit to preferring double-story lowercase g’s.

  17. johno

    (Colonel) John Matrix

    Rough week at work? I have no problem with readers expressing their opinions, but why the anonymity, ‘Colonel’?

  18. Perhaps the Colonel could share his own groundbreaking work?

  19. Victor Zuniga

    I agree if the “Colonel” has an issue, why the anonymity? I would like to see his work.

  20. @Justin
    @Victor Zuniga

    While I find anonymous comments a bit distasteful (how are to know if Col. Matrix and Jane McGovern are not in fact the same person, for instance), I cannot agree with the sentiment that only excellent designers are permitted to give design criticism.

    Anyone, whether they are a designer or not, is entitle to criticize typefaces, or any other sort of design. We don’t expect art critics to be accomplished painters, or music critics to be great musicians, do we? Someone outside of our field may be fully qualified to judge our work. Even designers who may not produce the best work may still see things that others might not. A portfolio is not a requirement for opinion stating.

    An expert typedesigner may be able to point things out that posters outside the field might not see… finer points of spacing, handling of bezier curves, similarities to lesser known designs, etc. But there is a broader perspective to design, which others may also be able to see.

    On the other hand, readers expect art and music critics to be able to write. One reads their work for the enjoyment of reading, and for general enlightenment, as much as one reads their articles for their point of view on a new album or exhibition. I myself would prefer Jane McGovern and Col. Matrix to write more in depth comments, and to try and engage in some sort of dialogue, rather than participate in the insult-driven, hit-and-run nature of their present statements. But, to each his or her own, I guess!

  21. (I wish that iLt comments were editable! above, I meant “how are we to know if Col. Matrix and Jane McGovern are not in fact the same person” and “Anyone, whether they are a designer or not, is entitled to criticize typefaces, or any other sort of design.”)

  22. Victor Zuniga

    @ Dan Reynolds,

    I agree, anyone should be able to give criticism, but there has to be some boundaries. If only they had engaged in some sort of dialogue like you said, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Anyway… I came here to read the articles, not criticize anyone.

  23. i simply can’t get enough. i’m obsessed with your site!

  24. as a newbie here, love your work and looking forward to more informative and truly artistic posts.

  25. Jane McGovern

    I have nothing to do with the Colonel.

    “If only they had engaged in some sort of dialogue like you said, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

    And nobody has a problem with the inane drivel from ‘xtine the bean’? Only positive comments allowed?

    “I myself would prefer Jane McGovern and Col. Matrix to write more in depth comments”

    Because you need it spelled out: You cannot mix elements from eight separate typefaces and expect to get a decent result.

    This article isn’t really that informative, sorry. You should at least get someone else to review it, fairly, otherwise it’s just a self-promotional puff-piece.

  26. Well, if you fell that way, it would be nice for you to spell it out, and compose a list of which parts of which letters and other elements come from which typefaces. That’s a contribution to the discussion, and might be of service to this site’s other readers.

    >This article isn’t really that informative, sorry. You should at least get someone else to review it, fairly, otherwise it’s just a self-promotional puff-piece.

    If you’re concerned about the information-value of the article, you could leave more informative comments (which would improve the quality of the page), or you could write your own review of the typeface on another site, and link to that here.

  27. Thanks for the criticisms. I really did not expect people to want a longer article. My original draft consisted of over seventy images, most with accompanying short paragraphs. When I began working that into an essay I noticed that it was considerably longer and more boring that similar essays, so I decided to keep it very short. Because people think that more information is warranted, I will follow up this essay with another about the lowercase, the italic, and the family planning and interpolation process.

  28. Eli

    Hello James, I really liked your Armitage since I saw it for the first time. The lower case letters are very kind with that contrast in thick and thin, also the uppercase look good, with some feeling of nostalgia. It would be great if you add something about the italics and the interpolation process, for those who are interested in typeface design, like me, this information is very valuable.
    Kind regards!

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