I Love Typography

Ode, a Fresh Start for a Broken Script

the DECK

When designing a typeface, I prefer to explore a construction principle rather than revive an existing typeface idea. These principles or writing models are based on the tools and techniques originally used. Understanding these workings are often a great source of inspiration for me.

The starting point for my latest typeface Ode was the Textualis, one of the various broken script writing models. It has a strong modular build suggesting that it’s easily constructed. Albrecht Dürer further reduced it in his Underweysung der Messung, mit dem Zirckel und Richtscheyt, in Linien, Ebenen unnd gantzen corporen.

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Albrecht Dürer’s visualisation of the contemporary broken-script construction (Nuremberg, 1525).

This brings us to the first disadvantage of this model regarding its legibility. Because of its simple construction and repetitive pattern, the letters lack individuality, thereby making it more difficult for the reader to tell them apart. Similarly problematic of the Textura model are certain archaic letter forms which are unfamiliar to us because today we predominantly read texts that use the humanist model or its derived forms.

Another readability issue of many classic interpretations of the Textura model is the high contrast between the foreground (letters) and the background (paper or screen). Imagine, for example, a whole page set in a bold typeface.

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Left: Typical example of a printed publication from the 1920s in Germany (German translation of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels). Right: The same text set in Ode.

All in all, it’s a writing model which seems unsuitable as a basis for a good text typeface design, which explains why it’s rarely used today for that purpose. So, this triggered an interesting question for me: can one design a good text typeface based on a writing model that doesn’t really lend itself as one?

Another issue that I am especially aware of (being German born), is the association of broken script typography with the Third Reich.* The rigid formal construction has become synonymous with severity — even brutality — its negative associations are now used (in attempts) to express nonconformity.

Tannenberg
Tannenberg, a commonly used broken-script during the Third Reich. Even today it’s indelibly tied to this period as the headline in this example shows. (found on http://www.sostars.com).

Taking liberties

Considering these above-mentioned ‘shortcomings,’ I needed more leeway for the conception of Ode — a less orthodox approach to the model.

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An early sketch; on the bottom are writing examples of the humanist model (left), textualis (right) with between them, a mixture of both.

I loosened up the stern construction of the straight segments and hard corners to give the design a smoother, organic and overall friendlier appearance. Specifically, I rounded off the corners of the outer shapes and curved them while keeping the fractures within the counters intact. To make the whole design more lively and give it more tension, I slightly slanted all letters to the right and shifted the weight within the characters subtly upward, away from the base-line.

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A few steps from the Textura model to Ode

1: Round off corners of the outer shapes;
2: Bend straight connections;
3: Gentle slant, concentration of the weight upward, away from baseline.

Weight issue

Initially I focused on the design of the heaviest weight. But since I had wanted a text typeface, I also needed to draw lighter weights without losing the visual connection to the boldest variant. This was an interesting task since the construction of the Textura model relies on a minimum stoke width without which the elements of some characters would disconnect. So the next liberty I took was to adjust the construction of the lighter weight, introducing a bow that would — as for example with the letter n — connect otherwise disconnected stems. Even though this type of construction is closer to the humanist model (derived from the gothic Textura), it still is compatible: both models are based on writing with the broad-nibbed pen.

ode_article_ilt_img_heavy_light.gif

1: The two shapes in the heaviest weight overlap;
2: Reduced weight, shapes disconnect;
3: Straight becomes a bridging curve.

Unfamiliar forms

Next on my list was dealing with characters like k, x, z and ß, or X and Z. Letters that — if drawn in their archaic form — are simply unfamiliar to most modern eyes. We are often only able to guess the character from its context. Again a more humanist construction was my ideal solution for this problem. The same adjustment to the construction was applied to letters D, M, N, P, U, V, W, and Y so that, while still recognizable, they would not stand out too much for my taste.

ode_article_ilt_img_archaic_vs_humanist.gif

Left: FF Brokenscript; right: Ode.

To dissociate the typeface further from the typical idea of a Blackletter, I intentionally did not give Ode a long s (ſ), ligatures like ch, or any letter form reminiscent of the classic model. In designing Ode I wanted to give the Textura a fresh start.

ode_article_ilt_img_humanist_ode_textura.gif

Ode has two defining influences: the gothic Textura (right, FF Brokenscript by Just van Rossum) and the Humanist model (left).

Broken Script figures

By working with a derived model for the letters, I had greater flexibility to extend the typeface’s possible form elements. These I could now re-apply as I designed the figures, allowing, in my eyes, a perfect harmony with the rest of the character set.

ode_article_ilt_img_figures.gif

In Linotype’s Fette Fraktur™ (first line) — one of today’s more popular blackletters — the figures are neoclassical and are drawn without fractures. Apart from the contrast, the style of the figures does not integrate so easily into the whole. Ode’s flexible design principles permits figures to harmoniously match the rest of the character set.

This is Ode

Had I gone for the Textura as is, the result would have surely been much closer to the classical model. Instead I allowed myself to be influenced by other models and thus discovered my own rules. Maybe I would even have managed to do what I had in mind initially: designing a Textura-related typeface without a severe or archaic look. In my mind this interpretation is a friendly one, a more open design, one that doesn’t require you to decipher text — but just to read it.

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Serving suggestion

Looking at Ode makes me think of food — something that I actually do quite a lot. No Nouvelle Cuisine here but rustic fare, dishes served in bowls and plates with a thick rim, lots of herbs and a wooden board with freshly sliced bread. All that accompanied by a simple vino tavola, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo maybe. Enjoy your meal!

* The Nazis actually rejected the broken script model faces and, in 1941, declared the antiqua types to be the “Normal” or standard type henceforth (Source: Das Bundesarchiv, Signatur NS 6/334, Einführung der Antiqua-Schrift als Normalschrift. - R -, 3. January 1941).

Ode is available at Martin Wenzel’s foundry and Hannes Famira’s foundry.

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  1. Great post, as always, and I think the font turned out great.

  2. Great article, wonderful typeface.
    Being born Latvian, to me broken script associates with interesting read. I grew up in sixties and seventies and as a kids we were scouting our grandparents bookshelves for adventure books printed in 20ties and 30ties - Fantomas, Karl May novels, and the like. Of course they were all printed in broken script.
    It was very interesting to read about your type creating process because I am in the middle of a doodle stage of a rather similar project.

  3. More than the product itself, which is amazingly done, the process cativated me.
    Next time I start design a type I will try to make researches like this.
    I agree when you say it looks more inspiring this way, even help to achive creative/original results.

    Thank you for I love typography website =)

  4. A good idea, nice proposal and excellent type.

  5. I am not a specialist in typography but a student of it who enjoys reading books of its history and use. I may be mistaken, but Ode would seem to be an eminent example of the principle behind Bastarda. Not the unfortunate thought we lay persons would first have in mind, ill begotten as in “bastard,” but a child genetically blessed with the finest qualities of both parents and going forth to serve needs neither could fulfill.

    The description of the creative process is as artistic as the creation process itself. My respects and complements to the artist.

    Marcel B. Matley
    San Francisco, CA

  6. We were wondering about these typefaces; thanks for some history.

    There’s a lot of signage using these typefaces that still exists here in Vienna, usually in the older districts on the buildings that weren’t destroyed during WWII.

  7. It was really cool to see how you came up with that type. From a novice perspective it was really enlightening. Also, thank you for talking about how this reminded you of food. Can you possibly do more of that with other fonts?!? Associations, like that, keeps the typeface in my head easier, and stored away possibly for future use. Awesome post!

  8. moby_mick

    … sì. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a great choise. Thank’s for this wonderfull post.

  9. This is indeed a good reading. I personally like typography website, Thanks a lot for sharing

  10. I’ve just gotten “Frakur Mon Amour” (http://www.fraktur-mon-amour.com/de/) by Judith Schalansky, your font could be in there.
    Ode, despite the humanist smoothness its name suggests, still points to the past, like your last comment suggests (“no nouvelle cuisine”). I am very interested to know how it can really be transformed into a Modern work, I’m at the very beginning of my studies.

    As a French man, I am completely amazed by the historical fact that French and Italian preferred round faces starting from the 15th century where Germans kept Black Letter faces till the 20th. The Germans preferring a strong, black, dense, tall, masculine, straight, fractured aesthetics versus romanic cultures preferring a rounded, feminine, curved designs.. whyyyyy ?

  11. Your font is fantastic! The clear relation to a caligraphy style without that stuffy hard edge is very refreshing. Brings life to what could still be taken as a serious font.

    Great job on showing the steps on creating the font as well. I teach typography at a college and always have a difficult time laying out the complexity of developing a font. You have made that complexity quite simply and I thank you for that.

    David French
    Tampa, FL

  12. An interesting pattern and font.Some time ago I designed the menu tab suggesting that the old German.But I think it came out in your performance is much better.

  13. Your Font’s fantastic. The Calligraphics are superb. I love it.

  14. Really nice font. You summed it up perfectly with the last line.

  15. Thanks for posting, very nice type.

  16. Thanks for such good insights! I recently thought a lot about this and the evolution of print from the religious innovators of the early 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

  17. Excellent post. It’s great to see some evidence that there truly are type lovers left in the world of design. And thanks for sharing the entire experience of this project, process documentation is hard to find these days.

  18. Hi,

    A big thanks to all of you for leaving such positive comments.

    @Dave Wirth
    I tend to associate my professional passion with my private one: food.
    A well done type specimen picks up those associations and will suggest usage accordingly.

    @Pierre
    The question you raise is interesting and though I’m not an art historian I’ll give you my opinion on the matter.
    The big difference between the north and the south of Europe at that time was that the Christians were divided. The Catholics in the south stood for a culture that was much more geared towards enjoyment and celebration. No matter how selfishly you enjoyed life: any sin could be made undone by a later confession.
    The opposite was true for the Calvinists and Lutherans in the North. Here, you’re earthly behavior could not be undone by a confession but everything you did in life would define the state of your afterlife. So if you will, the style of Gutenberg’s Textura and that of the Humanist writing Model of the Renaissance are expressions of differing states of mind. The one more restricted and rigid, the other more open, lighter, more free.

  19. This is beautiful; gently evocative without hewing too closely to the blackletter model. Reimagined, not just reinterpreted and redrawn. It’s fascinating to see the evolution of Ode from its original inspiration. I love the chunky, personable, and slightly angular quality of the letterforms.

  20. A really great post. Thanks for sharing it with us. I personally like the black and semilight weight more than the others. I like how black has much more presence and dominates the page. The semilight weight you can see the precise details of each of the letters really well.

    are their any good links you could suggest for creating your own typefaces

    Thanks

  21. Peter

    I like this font and how you break it down and then show how it can used!

  22. I’m completely in love with your blog!!! I just found it today, though, so I’m really far behind. You have so many posts for me to pour over!

    Thank you for taking the time to share all of this with us.

    Going to keep reading,
    Jessica

  23. Christopher Sparrow

    Very interesting - great post.

  24. The font looks great, too bad it reminds me of the fascist movements.

  25. This is a really neat typeface. Thank you for posting your process. Sounds awesome. I look forward to hearing more about this.

  26. henrique

    I’m nothing but a beginner interested in typography, but your Ode astounded me. It’s beautiful!

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