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Making Teddy

In late August 2015, Korean type designer Minjoo Ham arrived in Berlin to figure out if the city could offer her an interesting new phase in her life. Minjoo was a fresh graduate from the TypeMedia program at The Hague’s KABK (Royal Art Academy). Berlin, possibly the world’s capital of independent type design, was an agreeable surprise to her. “I came to Berlin for a three months’ trial. I had never thought about moving to Berlin before. What I like most here is the type community and its gatherings, such as the “Typostammtisch” meet-ups. In Korea I barely had friends who were type designers or type geeks; here in Berlin that is very different. Most of my friends here are type-related people. Besides, the Berlin society is quite international. For a foreigner it is very easy to go out and meet new people.”  She decided to stay, and is now a hard-working member of the Berlin type scene. And the first 5 months she was a guest at Fust & Friends headquarters, aka Jan’s home office, and designed a display script we called Teddy.

Fust & Friends was conceived as a haven for lost fonts, and a clinic for letterforms in a coma. Besides original typefaces that somehow were never released, we select forgotten fonts from the past, as well as exciting pieces of lettering, focusing on lettershapes that inspire us to try and add new colours to the graphic designer’s typographic palette. Working with Berlin-based type buffs Dan Reynolds and Florian Hardwig, I had picked a number of intriguing pages from lettering manuals and specimens for further research. While still in The Hague, Minjoo agreed to make test digitizations of a handful of alphabets and lettering pieces on these pages. Educated in Seoul and with only a year of European type design under her belt, it was a first. She was unfamiliar with these quirky originals; the digitizing process was an experiment which she approached with her usual thoroughness. “I was totally fascinated by the German and Dutch lettering instruction books I was shown. Since I had never done a script font before, it was quite a challenge. But right after TypeMedia, I was very motivated to explore new things.” 

Sample books for students

For those who have never come across these manuals: From the 1910s to the 1960s, dozens of designers and commercial artists in Europe and North America published books for graphic school pupils and apprentices, teaching them how to do lettering. Each country had its own approach; the stylistic differences between books in, say, Germany and the neighbouring Netherlands are remarkable. One of the most comprehensive guides to lettering in post-1945 Germany was Ernst Bentele’s Schrift, geschrieben, gezeichnet und angewandt (Letterforms, written, drawn, and in use) from 1952. Bentele takes the reader on a guided tour through writing styles old and new: constructed and calligraphed blackletter; written and drawn oldstyle; ornamented letters; geometric grotesques; and very personal variants of Central European script alphabets. In this new century, the book has inspired several digital type designers – more about that later.

Already digitized

Teddy started out as a faithful “revival” of an alphabet from the Bentele book that we all found highly entertaining and energetic, but the font ended up as a drastic contemporary reworking of it, with ample cross-pollination from other alphabets in similar books. Mind you, those were not fonts, not metal or wooden printing types! Just hand-drawn examples for teenage students of how to design a striking headline or logo in a then fashionable style.

Minjoo came to Berlin with a pile of prints showing the first results of her scriptic explorations, including a well-produced digitization of Bentele’s capricious bold italic lettering. She continued working on it and after a couple of weeks was ready to show us an early version of what was to become a digital font. One of the Fust affiliates curious to see the work was Florian Hardwig, who praised its quality, but said: “Why would you tackle this Bentele script? Alejandro Paul at Sudtipos has already done it.” Ale Paul’s revival of Bentele’s playful italic alphabet that never was a font is called Bowling Script, and it copies the dancing angles and erratic terminals of the 1952 model rather faithfully, splitting the font into a version with ball terminals and an “unballed” one.

At my studio we were aware of Ale Paul’s Semilla, based on another Bentele script, but Bowling had somehow remained under our radar. After Florian’s revelation we immediately decided that it was no use reviving this model. It had been done! But Minjoo’s one-to-one digitization had been a useful exercise.

Moving away from the model

Having decided to do something more original, we worked together sketching some details that indicated how this typical mid-century, whimsical alphabet might evolve into something more consistent and dynamic. Minjoo: “Having digitized the original brush script, the next phase was to sketch a complete alphabet for the new font, working the old-fashioned way: with pencil and felt pen on paper. Expanding the character set I did considerable research to figure out the missing letters, numerals and special signs, and draw multilingual diacritics. Since Teddy was my first script-like typeface, I asked around among Fust & Friend associates, TypeMedia classmates and other native speakers about script-style accents for languages I was not familiar with. To make Teddy work as a versatile font I had to reorganize the family system. The capitals, for example, had been drawn to fit with the lowercase. So I proposed to draw slightly simplified capitals for all-caps settings, and added small caps to offer more options in typography.”

Once the basis of the font was done, we saw possibilities to make Teddy into a layerable font allowing for chromatic (multi-coloured) use. This would hopefully make it more versatile and usable. Minjoo designed a Cloud version (thus creating a fat outline around complete words, not single letters), a Highlight layer, and an Open version that Like the Regular font with the highlight cut out. I still find the idea of chromatic fonts highly fascinating. Having researched the possibilities of colour fonts for a bit while working with Monotype something tells me that to many users, chromatic fonts are a more attractive and usable commodity than, say, variable fonts. A layerable typeface, or family, like Teddy is a first step towards this. Following the layerable components, Minjoo came up with more niceties. A hard-working perfectionist, she added dozens of glyphs for letterpairs and alternates, as well as a series of catchwords in ten languages.

Minjoo: “Although Teddy has only four styles, with the combination of layering and alternates you have a huge toolkit of possibilities. For some letters, you can choose different versions via OpenType features. As it is a script-like font, it was obvious to give users options to play with, like ending or initial letters to substitute for the default glyphs. Finally, Teddy’s catchwords are a kind of gift. We assumed that Teddy would be useful for shops, restaurants, and cafes. Using the international catchwords included in Teddy Regular, you can simply use the form already made.”  

Six months later, the work was done. Then personal circumstances delayed production; but a year later, with the help of Benedikt Bramböck, a classmate of Minjoo at TypeMedia working at Berlin font production studio Alphabet Type, the family was ready. Meanwhile, we had invited versatile Italian-American illustrator Bea Davies to have a look at the Teddy shapes and propose a series of icons and dingbats in a similar style. The result was the wonderfully useful Teddings font, which was brought out as a companion to Teddy.

Finally, Minjoo’s hard working was rewarded with a Certificate of Typographic Excellence. In early 2018 the typeface became one of 18 winners in the TDC Type Competition – a big compliment for our first published typeface.

Fust & Friends offers I Love Typography readers 50% discount on the Teddy family. Order the Teddy family directly from the F&F website.

About the author: Jan Middendorp, the founder and librarian of Fust & Friends, is a “type writer” and book designer based in Berlin. He is the (co-)author of several acclaimed books on type and typography, including Dutch Type, Shaping Text, Hand to Type, Creative Characters and Made with FontFont. He is a contributor to Eye Magazine.

Until June 23, 2018, he is supervising the Kickstarter campaign to finance the reprint of his rare 2004 book Dutch Type, which Erik Spiekermann recently hailed as “The best book about any type anywhere, ever.” To know more about the campaign and get your hands on a copy of the book.