New Additions: January 2024
31st January 2024
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:
Alphonse Mucha is a decorative font with an Art Nouveau look about it. What inspired you to design it?
The font is based on lettering by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha for a 1913 concert poster for the cellist Zdeňka Černý. Zdeňka Černý was an American virtuoso cellist, the daughter of a friend of Mucha. The poster was designed to publicise a European tour to begin in 1914 which had to be cancelled due to the war to end all wars.
I’ve loved Mucha’s work since the late 1960s. For my generation, the resurgence of interest in Art Nouveau, of Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley particularly, was part of the countercultural vibe at the time. Several K-Type fonts spring from similar early enthusiasms; what fascinates you in your youth tends to stay with you.
You’ve written that Alphonse Mucha is based on just nine capital letters that featured in the poster. That leaves 43 upper and lower-case letters to design, not to mention the digits and punctuation! How do you set about doing this?
The main inspiration was the distinctive top-heavy letterforms in the poster. Top-heavy could easily spawn awkward and unwieldy, so the mission was to design letters and numbers that maintained the grace and uniformity of those nine capitals, to create an elegant evenness of type colour throughout.
I looked closely through Mucha’s poster work for letterforms that were somewhat compatible, though for most characters I just accessed my inner Mucha and designed from scratch. I really enjoy the task of making a whole character set from the starting point of a few letters, just as the Keep Calm font developed from the 12 capital letters of the original wartime poster. It’s a thrilling way to work.
Did you look at any other typefaces for inspiration? The closest I could find on Identifont is Artistik by Monotype Design Studio.
Not really. My source material, such as it existed, was Mucha’s poster lettering. Mucha did include an alphabet design on a page of his 1902 portfolio, Documents Decoratif, and there are several fonts based on this character set, but they are quite different from the K-Type font and its inspiration.
With a typeface like Alphonse Mucha that looks like it’s drawn with brushstrokes, do you experiment with letter shapes with ink on paper, or do you work entirely on the computer?
Mucha drew highly stylised brushstrokes, so I didn’t feel the need to use ink or paint, though I tried to preserve the simulated brush style.
If I’m making a more geometric font I’ll tend to design directly on computer, but if it’s a more ornate face I’ll sketch letters in pencil and scan the roughs, which is what I did with Alphonse Mucha.
In your essay about EK Modena you say that the letterforms are based on the superellipse, popularised by the Danish mathematician and poet Piet Hein. What first inspired you to develop a superfamily based on this concept?
At the beginning, I was absolutely fascinated by the distinctive expression of boxy shapes in typefaces. Long before I even knew that such a mathematically constructed shape – akin to Gabriel Lame’s superellipse – had become an integral part of the design and architecture legacy pioneered by Piet Hein. It was important to me to make it clear through the historical part of the Modena Essay, which was written with the support of Ferdinand Ulrich, that there are many exciting connections between architecture, art, and design.
When I first attempted Modena, there was no intention to develop such a large type family. The project originally started as a formal study, resulting in a very wide cut in an extreme black weight. This can now be found in the family as EK Modena Ultra Expanded. Only some time later did the concept for a superfamily follow. I like to start things and leave them aside for a while. This often helps me think more clearly about the original intention and idea. With self-initiated projects, there is great freedom to take the time you need without having to follow any deadlines. I think that’s very important because the design of a typeface often outlives the creator's lifespan many times over.
The most obvious typeface to compare with EK Modena is Eurostile, based on Alessandro Butti's Microgramma with a lower case added by Aldo Novarese (compare EK Modena with Eurostile). How would you characterise the differences between EK Modena and Eurostile?
It's correct to say that the missing lowercase letters were added by Novarese. But looking closely, there are more differences and developments between Butti’s and Novarese’s work than just adding lower case letters. In type design, small details often make a big difference. In my Modena Essay I illustrate that the ‘O’-form between these fonts is surprisingly different.
Modena definitely resides in the same cosmos but with its own details and characteristics. It was designed according to the latest technological requirements – a font of today, with a variety of features such as stylistic alternatives, circled figures, an extensive Latin language expansion, etc. Regarding the design of the core letterforms in Modena, it was crucial for me to reconsider the understanding of neutrality from our current point of view – this led to a variety of changes.
In the compressed styles of EK Modena you have departed from the true superellipse shape, and given the characters parallel verticals. Was this a design decision, or was it impossible to make the superellipse work well for compressed letterforms?
One of the most important aspects of the design process for letterforms is the need to establish rules that assist you in treating similar things similarly. These established rules are subsequently broken with a multitude of even more complicated exceptions, and in the end, nothing is as it seems. The only thing that really matters in the end is that it must look good and work for what it is intended for. I always think of a funny quote from Adrian Frutiger, who compares type to a spoon and describes it:
“Type is like a spoon – if I remember in the evening the shape of the spoon with which I ate my soup at lunch, then it was a bad spoon” :-)
With this in mind, constructing the anatomy to work well in the width axis was clearly a conscious decision. It wasn’t about reproducing the superellipse in every form as faithfully as possible but conveying the feeling of it through the sum of the shapes carried and conveyed together. It was important for me to interpret the narrow extremes, especially for the Super Compressed, as compressed as possible. Technically it's, of course, possible to draw a narrow superellipse without a plateau, but for my taste, it didn't look good anymore. A particularly strong deformation of this form loses its aesthetics. It seemed more sensible to use plateaus to visually convey the compact feeling better. The superellipse is still present; it's just cut and elongated. That visually looks more appealing.
EK Modena is truly a superfamily, with eight weights from Hairline to Ultra, and six widths from Super Compressed to Expanded, as well as an Italic (or oblique) for the normal width. To manage such a large matrix of styles did you develop the family using variable fonts, and if so do you plan to release those as a separate option?
Yes, absolutely. The variable technology is enabled by reading the multiple masters, which is also used equally for reading the instances between the drawn masters. In the case of a variable font, there is an almost stepless selectability in, for example, a weight, width, or/and italic axis. Theoretically, three variable files for Modena would be necessary to include all the possibilities that can currently be controlled via variable technology. To merge all these into one single file, there would need to be a complete coverage of the italic and mono cuts for all widths and weights, which currently only exists and is probably not really necessary. However, an expansion for italics is planned but not yet fully available. Currently, there is a variable file of Modena available on my website. By acquiring the complete family, a variable font file of all upright weights is included and can be used.
Since this format is still quite specific but fortunately finding more use, I can imagine that the use of variable fonts will gain greater significance and utility in the future.
Dialogue is an elegant, readable serif typeface that looks equally suitable for text or display. What inspired you to design it?
As digital type designers, we are always in search of the small details that can increase a typeface’s readability at text size, while creating interesting visual effects at display size. It’s a way to emulate the charm of traditional lead fonts, where cuts of the same design would look completely different between, say, a Brevier (~8 points) and a Double Pica (~24 points) or Canon (~48 points). Often in digital type design subtle curves or details are added to the design, well knowing that they will physically disappear at small sizes due to screen rendering or digital printing, with the idea that they will make the glyph more interesting at big display sizes. In Dialogue we decided to go the opposite direction, looking for the almost brutalist effect that a pixel-based aesthetic would have on the design when letters are seen full size.
You’ve written that Dialogue is an interpretation of traditional Venetian and Garalde letterforms. Which classic typefaces influenced you?
We started our research referencing Jenson designs references, but in the end we were much more influenced by Aldine types, like the ones cut by Francesco Griffo that were later digitized in Bembo. So, while Dialogue has some design choices that directly reference the flat nib aesthetic informing humanist typefaces (the serifs in ‘h’, ‘l’, and ‘z’ for example, as well as the general low contrast treatment), the curve treatment goes to the more round, refined forms of early garalde fonts. On the conceptual side, we owe much to the work by Matthew Carter who first transformed digital constraints into aesthetic principles while working on masterpieces like Charter.
The Dialogue family consists of six weights in both Regular and Italic, and two variants: Dialogue A and Dialogue B. Can you explain the differences between these two versions, and why did you decide to provide them?
The defining characteristic of Dialogue was to mirror in the typefaces the peculiarity of its creative process, split in a back-and-forth between two designers, Cosimo Lorenzo Pancini and Andrea Tartarelli. Different points of view were raised, as in any conversation. But rather than looking for a single final result, we decided to let different points of view lead to similar but still distinct interpretations of the same creative starting point and creative brief. Dialogue A, finalized by Pancini, has slightly larger proportions and a more evident brutalist approach in serifs and details; just look at the square punctuation! Dialogue B, designed by Tartarelli, features a subtly more calligraphic design, with tighter proportions and counterforms that are more closed.
The italics have a quirky feature that I haven’t seen before: the vertical serifs on letters such as ‘C’, ‘E’, ‘T’ and ‘Z’ don’t slope as you might expect (for example, Bernhard Modern vs. Bernhard Modern Italic), but remain vertical. Was this an intentional departure from convention?
The decision to follow the pixel grid as a defining aesthetic had a much stronger effect in the italics, where we decided to keep some elements vertical that usually get slanted. Since italics are used to emphasize text, it came naturally to us to follow the project idea to the extreme and transform the idea in a signature design choice. Also, to honor the spirit of conversation, we decided to include some non-standard punctuation (including our beloved interrobang ‘‽’, as well as the less well-known marks like the irony mark, the authority mark, and the doubt point) and conversation-specific icons, all accessible via OpenType Features.
Playpen Sans is a hand lettered felt-pen typeface in the same tradition as Comic Sans, but Playpen Sans has more the look of a skilled letterer, such as a primary/elementary school teacher. Was that a conscious decision?
We certainly wanted to create a quality type family that would emulate the subtle inconsistencies and variations of handwriting as best as possible. The initial starting point was our design of a simplified print style for primary schools. The skilled letterer Laura Meseguer then used this to overwrite on a tablet with a digital hand-held pen. She experimented with various tools, pen thicknesses, and techniques, working on single letters, words, and pangrams at different sizes and writing speeds.
Playpen Sans includes seven versions of each character, and a built-in shuffler that gives different versions of each character when they occur close together. In my experiments it seems to work surprisingly well; it gives variations not only where one letter is repeated, as in “shhhhh!”, but also where repeats occur at different positions in the same word, as in “banana”. Was there a lot of original OpenType font engineering involved in achieving this?
Yes, our wonderful font engineer Joancarles Casasín came up with a system of OpenType contextual alternate and glyph substitutions. The shuffler looks several letters to the front and back for repetitions of the same letter and changes them randomly, choosing from the seven different options.
You’ve released Playpen Sans as a free font, available from your website, despite the fact that designers would probably be happy to pay for such a useful font. Is this a permanent decision, and why did you decide to do this?
Playpen Sans is part of a bigger research and design project, Primarium and Playwrite, that was funded by Google Fonts. We presented the background in the Herb Lubalin lecture last June and there are a couple of articles on our website. The requirement was to offer the font under the Creative Commons license, which will help to disseminate better quality to more people. For more information see our article Making Playpen Sans.