New Additions: November 2023
29th November 2023
From the hundreds of fonts we add to the Identifont database every month we chose a selection of the most interesting recent additions, and interviewed the designers about their approach to each design:
Ana Laydner – Passo and Passeio (Fabio Haag Type)
Passo and Passeio were born together! The idea of two compatible families came from a client brief. They needed it to have a lot of flexibility, so that it could be used in all the fields in which the company operates, from high-design furniture to construction materials. Among more than ten solutions presented, the first drawings of Passo and Passeio were there. The client ended up choosing another path, and as we have a “recycling” policy at the studio, we didn't throw this idea away. That culminated in their release as retail fonts.
In addition to its medium contrast, Passeio has a few serifs, such as on the ‘C’, ‘G’, ‘S’, and ‘f’, which distinguishes it from other medium-contrast typefaces such as URW Imperial. What inspired this decision?
We wanted Passeio to have a certain charm, but not be overly sophisticated or too formal. The solution of adding serifs to just a few letters gave us the balance we were looking for. And regarding the medium contrast, the decision was made for that exact same reason.
I find it very interesting when a typeface has a “highlight” glyph. The glyph that you see and immediately identify the font, you know? ‘Z’ plays this role in Passo and Passeio. It's also the letter that quickly makes you notice the connection between the two families.
Yes, we discussed this possibility. But since letters such as ‘C’, ‘G’, ‘S’, and ‘f’, have serifs in Passeio, a single variable font would not work well. It is worth saying that it was not only technical factors that influenced the decision to create two variable fonts, but also the commercial factor. These are valuable designs that stand on their own, as separate families. But it’s true, together is when they work like a romantic couple from the movies, with different features that match each other and create a remarkable spark.
You’ve described Narwa as a "robust medieval-modernist display type”. What do you mean by that, and what led you to design it?
The first iteration of Narwa was a digitised copy of lettering from the cover of an old book titled “Wana Narwa”. The lettering was originally by a designer called Johann Naha and it was drawn purposefully naive, rough, and in a faux-medieval style. I then started to simplify and straighten Naha's rough strokes and reduce the contrast. In my mind I took this to be modernising the letters while trying to retain the rough character of the original. For example, the skeleton of the ‘W’ and ‘A’ in the final version of Narwa haven't changed all that much from original sketches.
In this process, Narwa started to look like Koch's Neuland and Berthold's Fanfare. These are fonts which took a lot influence from the German fraktur tradition and both fonts I like. So I continued drawing and redrawing over a couple of weeks trying to add my own ideas to those influences. Also, it was clear Narwa would be a display type so I decided on a high x-height and tightly tracked spacing. I thought the phototype era look and feel of these touches was also nice. So, the description “robust medieval-modernist display type” is a bit of word salad, but I hoped it would bring together the threads of the ideas that influenced Narwa.
Yes, the heavy weights came first. I wanted to see just how heavy I could make the letters! I often try to base my weights on CSS styles (400: Regular, 700: Bold etc), and so the heaviest weight (999: Ultra) is tempered by the Hairline (100) at the other end of the axis. Somewhere in the middle of the weight axis a normal-looking Regular at 400 needs to appear, and a Bold at 700 with a stem around 60-70% the thickness of the Regular. I have made myself a spreadsheet stem-weight calculator to figure all these things out.
Similarly, the design process was that I first drew the bold upper case, and the lower case came afterwards. On the University of Reading MA in Typeface Design course we were taught to begin with drawing the lower case. However, I've found graphic designers often just use all-caps in the designs. So, in order to give the upper case more focus and hopefully character I've started drawing that first, as it's often how the display font will be seen. For example, a custom version of Narwa was used in the branding for the recent Cricket World Cup in India. The branding and visuals for the event were great, but on-screen and in the stadiums I didn't see the lower case used at all.
I didn't look at Weiss Rundgotisch specifically, but certainly the font has a strong old-German influence, and the roundness in the bowls of the lower case certainly have an unconscious touch of rotunda. As I mentioned, types like Koch's Neuland and Berthold's Fanfare were also an influence. Both these types, in their own ways, made a point of simplifying the blackletter calligraphic tradition. Something I also tried to do with Narwa.
A type like Neuland was often set in a tightly packed column. A good type designer here in Estonia, Mart Anderson, once told me this was a tradition in blackletter that comes from a time when literacy rates were low. So text itself can also work as an illustration on a page or poster. Which is basically what a modern day logo or word-mark should do: to be recognised as a shape and not a just a word. So, I wanted Narwa to have that effect too, wherein short impactful words and phrases could stand alone in a design.
As a British designer living in Estonia have you found a strong typographic tradition in Estonia, and was that an influence on the design of Narwa?
Yes, there is a very strong typographic tradition here in Estonia. For its small size it punches well above its weight and has many strong historical typographic traditions. Estonia is a borderland country with its own traditions as well as cultural influences from Scandinavia, Russia, and Germany. As with anywhere, the history of a place writes its visual language and in Estonia, Latin and Cyrillic script are commonly seen in combination. If you look hard enough it's even possible to find Cyrillic blackletter.
So, as a British typographer who hasn't grown up with the visual language of Eastern Europe, even just a walk through a cemetery looking at carved lettering on gravestones can be an adventure! Inevitably, Germanic influences creep into my own work and not just with Narwa. My other recent fonts Tekst, Komplekt, Stndrd, and Jooks for example, all draw from Estonian and German influences. I also like the saying “history is geography in motion”. The intertwined influence of history and place on lettering is important to my work. The name of the foundry I launched this year, East of Rome, makes reference to this.
But for anyone interested in Estonian typography, Villu Toots’s calligraphy work is a great place to start. Also, Carl Rohrs, who edits “Alphabet, the Journal of the Friends of Calligraphy”, gave a great talk in English on Estonian lettering: Estonia: Land of Dancing Letters (2022).
What led you to design Sichem Display? Was it for a particular project?
I was led to design Sichem Display not for a specific project in particular, but mostly by my absolute love for high contrast display serifs. I was wondering how far I could push the high contrast, and I think that I pretty much reached my limit here! The first very rough outlines are from April 2022, so the typeface took over a year to reach its final stage for this style. Actually, now that I think about it, I also wanted to pay homage to my grandfather with this typeface; his last name was de Montgolfier, “montgolfières” are hot air balloons in French and the Montgolfier brothers are my ancestors, and Sichem was very much inspired by hot air balloons and aeriality. I ended up using Sichem for lettering for my favourite show ever, Starmania, which sparked some alternate ideas, but it was not the original concept.
Sichem Display is very unusual, and I’m finding it hard to find any other typefaces to compare it with on Identifont; the only one with some similarities is Virgin Roman by David Farey. Were you influenced by that or any other typefaces?
I was not inspired by Virgin Roman – I actually learned of this font by your mention of it, thank you! In actual fact, the letter that determined the final shapes of Sichem was the alternate ‘E’, which came to me partly after looking at Boogue by Rémi Volclair (@rembagram on Instagram), and partly from a dream I had, weirdly enough. But my original serifs, for example, came to me by naturally experimenting; I had no inspiration or reference.
The characters ‘C’ and ‘G’ in Sichem Display are particularly idiosyncratic; what inspired their design?
The ‘C’ and ‘G’ are pretty extreme examples of the way I tend to approach type design. Which is basically, “going as far as possible and seeing if there's a need to back down”. In this case, there wasn't. I arrived super quickly, from my original experiments, to this shape of the ‘C’; I refined the Bézier curves, but the shape has not changed at all since my very first sketches. I love width play in type, and I knew I wanted this kind of contrast angle; I had it in my first sketch for the ‘O’, but I also knew I wanted very geometric rounded shapes. I think the ‘C’, which I made before the ‘G’, was simply my original attempt at adapting the serif of the ‘T’ on a rounded letter. Personally, the ‘C’ is probably my favourite glyph I have ever designed.
Did you call it Sichem Display to emphasise that it should be used at large sizes, or because you plan to expand the family with other styles?
At first, the former, but I am incredibly lucky to be studying for the TypeMedia Master program at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK), and I am learning a whole lot about contrast and weight; originally, I wanted Sichem only as a standalone display, but I am eager to apply what I am learning and take on the challenge of creating Sichem's perhaps less extreme styles. It is actually something I would be most excited on doing post graduation!
What led you to design Oorrnnoott?
The starting point for the design of Oorrnnoott was Kropotkin, which I introduced in 2008. I'll explain the process in order. Kropotokin was based on a typeface from the British Rail company, as featured in a lettering instruction book published in Japan. Although it was based on this typeface, I remember digitizing it without much thought, as there was only one copy of the instructional book available. At the time, I was satisfied with the result, but something continued to bother me. I had this rough image of Kropotkin, and at some point, I decided I wanted to update it and create a typeface.
As I continued to create various typefaces, I started to think that the “something” I was looking for might be related to numerical values. In other words, I realized that being too fixated on numerical precision could lead to characters with extremely low readability and visibility. Of course, in typeface design, numerical values are just a starting point and not necessarily essential. In the typefaces I had created before, I would set numerical values, such as determining the thickness of the uppercase ‘I’, and then create other characters by following that template. However, there are also typefaces where I completely ignore numerical values.
For several years, I repeatedly made changes to Kropotkin while vaguely looking at it, incorporating modifications without a clear numerical basis. I aimed to design Oorrnnoott based on numerical values yet flexibly, without making explicit claims. I envisioned a typeface that would just stand there naturally, without asserting itself, and after a while, Oorrnnoott was completed.
A few of the characters in Oorrnnoott have an almost hand-drawn appearance, giving it a more informal flavour than a traditional geometric typeface. For example, I’m thinking of the ‘S’, ‘e’, ‘f’, ‘g’, ‘r’, ‘4’, and ‘9’. What inspired these features?
To arrive at this particular form, I created several design options. Throughout the process, my focus was on avoiding extreme assertiveness and preventing a too mechanical appearance—essentially, I wanted to imbue the typeface with a soft and informal atmosphere. I paid particular attention to characters with round shapes. As mentioned in the previous question, in designing this typeface, I made a deliberate effort to minimize geometric elements.
It's possible that I was influenced by characters introduced in books like Stan Knight's “Historical Scripts: From Classical Times to the Renaissance” or “Historical Types: From Gutenberg to Ashendene”. These books are ones I frequently peruse, so images from them may have lingered in my mind. The choice of the final form was, in a sense, a reflection of my taste or preferences.
Oorrnnoott comes in 18 styles: three weights, Light, Regular, and Bold; three widths, Tight, Normal, and Wide; and Plain and Italic. How do you work on a matrix of styles like this? Do you design the Regular first and then derive the other styles from that?
That's correct. I start by determining the style for the regular, and then systematically adjust the width of each character and tweak the thickness of elements to create the other styles. As for the italic style, I initially apply a slant using Fontlab's commands and then make fine adjustments.
I’m curious: what does the name Oorrnnoott mean? Is it an anagram?
Originally I planned to name it “Ornot”, literally meaning “or not”. I wanted to convey an impression of indecision or uncertainty, and the name was inspired by the repetitive nature of the design process, which felt like a series of “or not” decisions. Although the typeface eventually took shape with various decisions made, I still feel that, as a sans-serif typeface, there is more to explore and develop. It gives a sense of being extremely close to unfinished.
When researching if there were similar names, I found that “Ornot” was already in use to some extent. To preserve the meaning while avoiding conflicts, I decided to adopt a simple method of repeating letters, leading to the final name “Oorrnnoott”.