I released three new limited edition prints today, ‘Dreams’, ‘Stars’, and ‘So Much To Do’. I’ll show all three prints in this article, but for practical purposes I’ll focus primarily on ‘Dreams’, one of my most ambitious prints to date. What follows is an outline of what I wanted to achieve, the lettering styles I developed, and why I produced it.
I guess it’s because of my design background that I always write a brief for myself before I start a print — a distillation of everything I want the print to say and do. I always try to aim as high as possible. Shoot for the stars and you might hit the ceiling, as they say.
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Part 2: Readability, Affability, Authority
[read part one]
When their words are put into print, writers want the text to be inviting and welcoming, so that readers will read what they have written. And they also want the text to have an aura of credibility, so it will be taken seriously and maybe even accepted.
When I read Einstein’s Autobiography many years ago, as both a writer and a lover of type I noticed and remembered that the font it was printed in seemed extraordinarily approachable and easy to read—even while projecting strength and authority. James Mosley reports that printers used to say, “You can’t tell a lie in Caslon.” And then he adds wryly: or is it that you won’t get caught? When I started my revival of Caslon, I set out to revive these qualities I had seen in its letter press Linotype Caslon Old Face: readability, affability, and authority.
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After five years of intensive work, my type family Acorde is finally on the market. It is a reliable workhorse for large, demanding design projects. The typeface’s name is derived from a corporate design typeface. However, Acorde is not only suitable for corporate design programmes but for information design and editorial design too.
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.
We see it every day on signs, billboards, packaging, in books and magazines; in fact, you are looking at it now — the Latin or Roman alphabet, the world’s most prolific, most widespread abc. Typography is a relatively recent invention, but to unearth the origins of alphabets, we will need to travel much farther back in time, to an era contemporaneous with the emergence of (agricultural) civilisation itself.
Robert Bringhurst wrote that writing is the solid form of language, the precipitate. But writing is also much more than that, and its origins, its evolution, and the way it is now woven into the fabric of civilisations makes it a truly wonderful story. That story spans some 5,000 years. We’ll travel vast distances, meet an emperor, a clever Yorkshireman, a Phoenician princess by the name of Jezebel, and the ‘purple people’; we’ll march across deserts and fertile plains, and sail across oceans. We will begin where civilisation began, meander through the Middle Ages, race through the Renaissance, and in doing so discover where our alphabet originated, how and why it evolved, and why, for example, an A looks, well, like an A.
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Part 1: the snare of authenticity
How much should a revival of a typeface look like the original? Well, just as with performing an old song—an analogy Matthew Carter has made—there is something you have to like in the original in order want to revive it. And you can’t depart from the original too much, or you lose the charm of the old song that appealed to you in the first place. But if it is too much like the old versions, it might be stale and dated, irrelevant. So what do you keep and what do you change? And change in what way? That’s the challenge every revivalist faces.
A biome in nature is essentially an ecosystem. It’s also the name for my new typeface family. The 14-weight Biome™ Wide family is now available on fonts.com. Now that the design is complete, I’m able to look back on the process.
The drawings that led to Biome (previously known as Nebulon) were completed in 2006, but I discovered, when I uncovered the drawings recently, that I had been thinking for a long time about various unconnected concepts that eventually worked their way into the same typeface. I was surprised to realize how many different ingredients went into this design. Obviously, other type designs were considerations throughout the process, but things besides typefaces tended to make their way into the stew of ideas that eventually got synthesized into the new typeface. Continue reading this article
I have published this article as a page. You can read it here.
The impetus for Founders Grotesk originally came from Duncan Forbes of The International Office. We had often discussed the nature and usefulness of the classic grotesks, and the possibility of creating a new one. After trawling through my 1912 Miller & Richard specimen, he became enamoured with their series of Grotesques, particularly the No.7 all-caps showing.
Why would anyone in his or her right mind start a type foundry now? Well, to begin with, it’s often said that it’s a good idea to start a business in a recession. However, the type marketplace has gotten very crowded—there are more foundries and distributors of type in all sizes right now than at any previous time. Even the pre-machine setting peak of typefounding in the 19th century had a smaller number of foundries by many orders of magnitude. Notwithstanding all of the small foundries, a handful of large distributors dominate the general market, leaving the rest of us scrambling to find ever-shrinking niches. Why not just climb onboard with one of the big players and leave the business side to people who know what they’re doing? Would that be too easy?