Type designers take care of the details so that we aren’t unnecessarily distracted by them. And good type designers relish those details. To listen to them explain their craft and describe their font-making processes is like watching the child of zero-sugar parents eat its first candy bar.
Anyway, this is the first in a new series of, I hope, monthly font reviews. Mostly they’ll be of recent releases, but from time to time, as the fancy takes me, I might just delve into the archives and pull out something neglected or underrated. They won’t be exhaustive deep dives, but simply aim to showcase good typefaces and outline my reasons for liking them.
That’s quite enough preamble and so, without further ado, let me introduce you to Decimal, the latest typeface from the Hoefler&Co crew in New York. Decimal was initially inspired by the lettering on watch faces. Now, you probably never gave much thought to the letterforms on wristwatch dials. I know I hadn’t. But designer and type-nerd extraordinaire, Jonathan Hoefler, noticed them ages ago, and has been thinking about them ever since.
If I were to pick two favorite characters, then I’d go for the lower- and uppercase g. The heavier weights of the capital G are especially lovely with that gorgeous underbite; in the lowercase g, I like the angle of the link (the stroke connecting the upper and lower lobes), and also love how the counter in the lower lobe takes a bite out of the link stroke. Outside of the alphabet and numerals, I’m especially fond of the eye symbol, the printer’s fist, and the section mark:
The Pro version of Decimal comes with 111 symbols. But aren’t there already dedicated symbol fonts? Sure, there are — and some good ones too. But here’s why it’s nice to have them included with the font: because when they’re done right, they look right, they share the same mien, belong to the same family, rather than the illegitimate offspring of a newsletter cobbled together in Microsoft Word 95 by Stan* and Dorothy in accounting. [No, it’s not the thought that counts, Stan.]
For example, one of Decimal’s design traits is the oblateness of its rounded letters. WTF is oblateness, you ask? Think of standing on a basketball (don’t actually try this — it’s dangerous); the resulting shape is a compressed sphere or circle, one that bulges a little around the ‘equator’. When we apply pressure to a basketball or a spring, we expect them to snap back to their original state, to the status quo ante. And it’s precisely this potential which imbues the forms with dynamism. This feature makes for a typeface which has a spring in its step, so to speak; in contrast to the architectural stiffness of a Geometric Sans, for example. The symbols, then, are cut from the same cloth, share the same DNA — you get the point. And they compliment the face beautifully.
Type on TV FTW
And for the three remaining people on earth who have yet to watch season two, episode six of Abstract: The Art of Design, you know what you have to do. It’s a spellbinding episode, and features some of the story behind the making of Decimal. What’s more, if you’re involved in type and typography, or you have friends, acquaintances and neighbors, Stella at the deli, Joyce at the dry-cleaner’s, Fred the FedEx guy – who just don’t fathom what you do; or an uncle Ralf who insists on telling everyone you’re mad about topography, then do them a solid and send them to Netflix.
▶ As an experiment, I’m also posting this article to Medium.
Finally, as yet unsubstantiated rumors have H&Co and Decimal teaming up with Ryan Gosling for a sequel. You heard it here first! For the next in this new series of Fonts in Focus, I’ll be heading to either Berlin or Paris. Would love to see you there. Stay tuned… ◉