Steven Heller’s Font of the Month: Nicholas

I began my design career backwards. I learned to set phototype on a Phototypositor modeling my typography on Herb Lubalin’s extra tight, touching and overlapping settings found in Avant Garde and Fact magazines before learning about metal type. I went from the versatility of photo composition to the rigidity of lead — with Ludlow and Linotype. When I worked with metal, I’d ask the printer to cut individual letters as tightly as possible, but predictably, in that era it was impossible to fit metal type slugs so tight that they kissed. I longed for the flexibility of film. Of course, it arrived soon enough and tight fittings were a breeze (and easy on the knuckles too).

Fact magazine, 1965

Just as moderate letterspacing ultimately gave way to a fashion for entwined coupling, extra spaced settings eventually became a popular trope. Ultimately, with the advent of digital fonts in the late 1980s and early 90s all kinds of letter and word spacing gyrations were possible. So, here we are now with hundreds of different type styles and countless ways to arrange them on page or screen.

Coming upon Shinntype’s Nicholas fonts triggered in me a wave of nostalgia for the classic Lubalin (and Tom Carnese) look. Settings of Nicholas’s four weights brought me back to when certain serif faces were drawn and kerned “for the classic tight but not touching” method of headline, titling, blurb — display — setting. Nicholas is a harmonious assortment of letters that fit precisely together as words and, owing to unobtrusive ascenders and descenders, allow for narrow line spacing. Beautiful.

I feel nostalgic for those 1960s Sudler & Hennessey ad designs and Ralph Ginzburg magazine typography that convinced me of the rightness of tight-but-not-touching work. However, Nicholas is not intentionally a revival, but rather pleasing on its own merits without conjuring up the past. “It’s about the fit.”

Font of the Month: NICHOLAS
Designer:  Nick Shinn Foundry:  Shinntype
Five styles:  Regular, Italic, Semi Bold, Bold, Extra Bold

Steven Heller is nothing short of a legend in the design community. Award-winning graphic designer, author and editor of hundreds of books (yes, 100s!) and one of the world’s foremost authorities on graphic design history; and arguably its best design commentator. Follow Steven on the must-read The Daily Heller and read his latest book, Type Speaks.

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