Steven Heller’s Font of the Month: JAF Herb

Anyone with a passion for German scripts from the era of Sachplakat and Berliner Plakat — that interim golden age when during the turn of the nineteenth century block lettering reigned supreme — will doubtless feel a familiar visceral reaction to the sight of JAF Herb. And what a reaction it is too. I could binge-play with the ‘type tester’ all day long, adjusting the size of Herb’s upper- and lowercase Bold and Regular letters. Admittedly, I think the U&lc compositions are far superior to just caps — but that’s not meant to disqualify them from consideration.

JAF Herb superfamily in action. Designed by Tim Ahrens of Just Another Foundry.

Designed by Berlin-based Tim Ahrens, then a student in typeface design at the University of Reading, and now a coding master and designer of Bernini Sans and Aroma, JAF Herb was released in 2010 (my heavens, thirteen years ago! How time flies!). Described as based ‘on sixteenth-century cursive broken scripts and printing types’, the face features connecting letterforms that are rather tightly spaced and very similar to one of my favorite Lucian Bernhard typefaces, Brushscript, which was used for a bevy of American advertisements. The face does, however, do what it promises: modernizes the traditional Teutonic black gothic by smoothing out the spiky parts and ensuring that every letter snuggly touches its neighbor in perfect military formation.

JAF Herb superfamily in action. Designed by Tim Ahrens of Just Another Foundry.

What implicitly stands out are the eccentricities of certain letters, including the incidental tail on the lower case o, the upward curve of cap E’s center stroke and the tuft of ‘hair’ (the tail in reverse) atop the numeral 8. When set as all caps, Herb is a simulacrum of brush letter or flat-nibbed pen making for a tight hand-drawn result. The consistency of the connective script flourishes gives Herb its rhythm. Bernhard’s Brushstroke achieved a similar mood, but this being digital enables perfect symmetry. Although 2023 is not yet over, this 2010 creation has already earned my vote for Font of the Year – I can’t believe that I had not seen Herb before.

Font of the Month: JAF Herb
Designer: Tim Ahrens Foundry: Just Another Foundry

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, Growing Up Underground: A Memoir of Counterculture New York.

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