New Additions: May 2022
31st May 2022
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:
You describe Proxima Sera as an ideal companion to your earlier fonts Proxima Sans, released in 1994, and the expanded version Proxima Nova, released in 2005. What prompted you to design a serif companion after all these years?
After the release of Proxima Nova, I sometimes received requests from customers asking what serif font would go best with it. I suggested faces like Century Schoolbook (or other moderns) or slab serif faces such as Rockwell, which even has similar characteristics, such as the lowercase ‘a’.
None of these suggestions felt very satisfying to me, so I started working on a serif version of Proxima Nova, essentially adding serifs to it, similar to Adrian Frutiger's Univers and Serifa or Erik Spiekermann’s Meta and Meta Serif. This turned out to be somewhat of a dead end. The design of Proxima Nova just didn’t lend itself to this approach.
I recalled how well Morris Fuller Benton’s serif and sans serif faces worked together, such as Franklin Gothic and the Century faces. They have similar proportions, but are not simply the same underlying design with and without serifs. I remembered a typeface design idea I had from 1979, around the same time I had the idea for what would later become Proxima Nova. Both ideas were conceived as “hybrid” designs—taking characteristics from existing popular typefaces and combining them to create something new, yet familiar.
Instead of somehow creating a serif version of Proxima Nova, I reworked this old serif hybrid idea to create a face that would harmonize with Proxima Nova in the way that Benton’s serif and sans faces harmonized.
I tried to combine elements of Century Schoolbook/Expanded, Times Roman, and Plantin, as well as a little bit of Helvetica, as with Proxima Nova. Thus, there are both modern and old style characteristics, although I think the modern aspects are more dominant. You can see the modern influence in the overall proportions, vertical stress angle, and ball terminals. The old style influence can be seen in the design of the figures and the terminals on capital letters, such as ‘C’, ‘G’, and ‘S’.
Proxima Sera seems a very practical font. Like its sans-serif brother, Proxima Nova, it has a large x‑height and short ascenders, making it ideal for readable text even at small sizes, and it avoids any features that might cause difficulties, like Adobe Caslon's long ‘Q’ tail, or Times New Roman’s small ‘e’ counter. Was this a conscious design objective?
Most of this came from reworking my 1979 typeface idea to harmonize with Proxima Nova. That earlier design had more old-style elements, such as angled head serifs on the lowercase and lower x‑height. With Proxima Nova, I tried to keep the design very simple and plain. I found myself paring down and simplifying the design of Proxima Sera as it evolved, giving it a similar plainness. The legibility aspect came almost by accident when I adjusted the proportions (x‑height and so on) of Proxima Sera to more closely follow those of Proxima Nova. It became almost like a newspaper typeface.
Do you have any plans to extend the Proxima Sera family?
Compared to Proxima Nova, Proxima Sera is more suited to text rather than display use. Because of this, I am planning to do a display version. It also doesn’t have any condensed styles yet. I expect to add those at some point.
What inspired you to design Fold Grotesque; was it for a particular project?
It wasn’t for any project in particular. I’d previously been drawing a lot of 19th/20th century grotesques, so it seemed like a natural progression to move onto the successors of those typefaces. I was keen to learn more about the neo-grotesques and find that the best way to learn is by drawing, so it was more of a personal development project. I still have a lot to learn — there’s really nowhere to hide when you’re drawing these forms.
You’ve written that Fold Grotesque was inspired by Folio, originally released by Bauer Type Foundry, and released as a digital font by Adobe in 1989. Would you call it a revival of Folio, or have you added your own influences to the design?
It’s loosely based on Folio but I wouldn’t call it a revival. I kept the most distinctive shapes and the low x-height, but didn’t stick too closely to the original when it came to other decisions. I didn’t want it to feel like a pastiche, so tried to interpret it with contemporary design requirements in mind. For example, Fold has slightly less contrast between vertical and horizontal stroke thickness, and the addition of subtle contrast in the diagonal strokes. These details aim to give text blocks a more even colour and make the forms feel more balanced.
Folio has some nice quirks that make it quite recognisable, such as the almost vertical leg of the ‘R’ and the hook-shaped tail of the ‘Q’, and in Fold Grotesque you have actually emphasised these features rather than subdue them; was that a conscious decision?
Absolutely, these are the characteristics that sparked my initial interest in Folio, so it was important for me not to lose them.
I’m working on some heavier weights as we speak. Fingers crossed they will be released before the end of 2022!
Your original 1995 design FF DIN was a faithful revival of the German lettering standard called DIN 1451, which aimed to provide simple letterforms that could be constructed using a compass and rulers. How does a slab-serif fit in with that idea of simplicity?
The sans serif and slab serif have something interesting in common: both came into being almost at the same time during the Industrial Revolution, and the styles shared a low stroke contrast, which was a novelty back then. It’s been observed that the most striking difference between them is that the one has serifs and the other doesn’t. In fact in his 1934 book “Type Designs: their history and development” A. F. Johnson wrote: “The sans serif is in fact an Egyptian with serifs knocked off”. Unfortunately, he does not mention or show specimens which support his statement.
It remained common practice well into the twentieth century for type companies to develop clearly related slab serifs and sans serifs, although they were usually given individual names and marketed as different families. Some examples are the (unfortunately) lesser-known typefaces Forma (1968) and Dattilo (1972), both designed by Aldo Novarese for the Nebiolo foundry, and ITC Avant Garde Gothic (1970) and ITC Lubalin Graph (1974), both by Herb Lubalin.
I deeply admire Frutiger and his typefaces. So yes, I think there is some influence of Serifa and Glypha in FF DIN Slab. However, Frutiger’s typefaces are far more subtle than FF DIN. As the original DIN typefaces are truly linear, FF DIN follows that principle quite closely, whereas Frutiger and Univers have a higher stroke contrast. In DIN and FF DIN, the curved strokes are not thicker than the straight ones, which something that Frutiger would never have done. Frutiger is a master when it comes to balancing counters against each other, whilst FF DIN tries to remain faithful to the coarse grid on which the DIN typefaces were once designed.
In FF DIN Slab the only thing we could play with to compensate for too much blackness, as caused by the heavy and sometimes cluttering serifs, were the serifs themselves. So that’s what we did: we subtly lengthened the left-hand serifs of the ‘n’ to provide more white space between the stem and the left side-bearing, and we shortened the serif at the right hand to visually reduce the white space between the stem and the right side-bearing. If we’d kept all the serifs the same length, the only way to equalize the inter-character spacing would be the side-bearings themselves. This would result in very uneven white spaces between the serifs, which would be especially visible in the heavier weights.
FF DIN Slab seems such a good idea – why did it take you so long since the release of the original FF DIN in 1995 to create it?
The idea of creating a slab serif version of FF DIN had been around quite a while, but FontShop was in favour of having FF DIN Round and adding more weights and script systems to FF DIN. At a certain point we agreed on a schedule for new releases which included FF DIN Slab and FF DIN Stencil, but on the very day in 2013 that we had started to work on FF DIN Slab, my intern told me that he just read that Monotype had acquired FontShop. This caused quite some upheaval and it took a long time until everything was settled again.
As FF DIN was (and is) one of their best sellers, FontShop had been generous in supporting me to get things done. In particular Inka Strotmann, who started her career at FontShop in 2000, did a tremendous job on FF DIN Round and on FF DIN Thin. By the time I was ready to take up the work on FF DIN Slab again the switch from FontLab to Glyphs was inevitable, and it became clear that Variable was the thing to do first, which in turn applied to FF DIN as well…
Luckily, I got to know Antonia Cornelius as a guest student at Muthesius in Kiel where I am teaching typeface design. She studied in Hamburg where Jovica Veljovic was one of her favourite teachers. Also, she was working on her book “Buchstaben im Kopf” (The letters in my head) which had become a standard reference on typeface legibility shortly after its release in 2017. She finished her master studies and by the end of that year started working at my studio. Soon it turned out that she was the perfect person to get FF DIN Slab to where it is now. Next to that she painstakingly re-engineered FF DIN’s outlines for Variable font production while staying faithful to the original design. Last but not least, she also made sure that Achaz Reuss’s FF DIN Stencil met all requirements to become Variable while staying design- and width-compatible with FF DIN.
At Monotype, the FF DIN families were the first to be produced with Glyphs 3, taking advantage of the new features it offers for designing and producing Variable Fonts. Monotype’s font engineer Norbert Krausz collaborated closely with Antonia Cornelius and Georg Seifert, chief programmer of Glyphs, to help solve any issues in producing the fonts. The FF DIN families have arrived at their next destination – something I am definitely very happy about!
What led you to design Gwen? Was it designed for a particular project?
Back then, I was very keen on reviving a 19th-century display serif but in a stylish contemporary way. Also, it started as a side project of mine during the first pandemic wave in 2020.
I felt very unmotivated, and I kind of forced myself to start this project. I actually fell in love with it quite fast.
A characteristic of Gwen is the way that many strokes end in a cusp shape, like a swallow tail. Examples are the ‘C’, ‘G’, ‘S’, ‘f’, ‘2’, and ‘3’. What inspired this design feature?
Yes, this is probably the most characteristic part of the typeface: the swallow tail-shaped terminals.
They come from exaggerating the traditional serif shapes, typical for stone carvings, resulting in very thin, pointy endings. I thought this was a beautiful design feature that could perfectly fit a display serif.
Another unusual feature of Gwen is the way that the leg of the ‘K’ narrows to a point where it meets the arm, and the ‘R’ is similar. I’m finding it difficult to find other typefaces with a similar feature; was this inspired by any other typefaces?
For these and some other details in the typeface, I got a lot of inspiration from looking at 19th-century type specimens. They are full of very quirky yet beautiful examples. Similar shapes of the ‘K’ and the ‘R’ can be seen in Ronaldson Old Style, by Alexander Kay, and Wide Old Style, by Barnhart Brothers & Spindler.
Gwen is a flamboyant typeface, and even the punctuation twinkles! It seems ideal for magazine publishing, fashion, and product advertising; are these the sorts of applications you had in mind when you designed it?
Yes, it is mainly intended for usage in contemporary, stylish, and edgy editorial typography.
It has many weight and optical size variations that make it very versatile and can help you create a very dynamic yet harmonious layout. It is, however also suitable for branding, web design, and social media environment.