New Additions: September 2015
5th October 2015
We add hundreds of fonts to the Identifont database every month. Most of these are recent releases, and some are simply new acquisitions from foundries who were not yet represented on our site. Stephen Coles gives his take on the most interesting recent additions.
Luzi Gantenbein is a designer trained at Bern University whose earlier work sits somewhere near a certain contemporary Swiss fashion: quirky, uneven text faces inspired by lesser-known Continental type of the early 20th century. I find most of the examples of this fad to be sloppy and not very useful, but there are many who disagree, particularly in art and design academia, where these oddities are used with gusto for journals, exhibitions, and event posters. The goal of this mini movement seems to be about embracing the clumsiness of weird old type, while piling a bit of post-modern stiffness on top. It feels self-satisfying and insincere.
Messina, on the other hand, is serious, user-centric type. It’s two faces, actually: Sans and Serif in a period-crossing companionship that is not unlike the old defaults, Helvetica and Times. Messina Sans cuts away bits of Helvetica that some might find extraneous: the ‘a’ tail, the curvaceous ‘R’ leg, leaving only the Swiss Grotesk essentials. Messina Serif crosses the border to France and reaches back to the Renaissance for its inspiration and results in a practical yet interesting book face. These disparate designs don’t feel like siblings, but the side-by-side samples on Luzi Type prove that they play off each other quite well. I have quibbles — especially in Sans (some of the spacing, the odd oldstyle ‘1’) — but the family overall is far more polished and flexible than Gantenbein’s previous work.
I can’t praise Messina, however, without mentioning Ian Party’s Suisse series, which is a similar Neo-Grot/Serif set. Still, the solutions differ enough — especially on the serif side — to make Messina a legitimate option in this space.
The thick-thin sans serif is now a well-established trend of the 2010s. (See Granville and Charpentier Sans coverage on the Identifont Blog and the other typefaces mentioned with them). Still, Ludwig Übele’s brand new release demonstrates there is room in the genre for more. Contemporary Sans is a strange name for a design clearly inspired by the earliest grotesques. Perhaps it’s tongue-in-cheek. Whatever it’s called, this is an excellent piece of work. Unlike the purposefully wonky and impractical stuff from the fad I mention above, Übele nods at eccentric antiques, and doesn’t abandon what they teach, but reworks them into something truly usable to a variety of users today. Perhaps it’s the right name after all!
Speaking of names, let me quickly get this out of the way: San Francisco is a poor name for Apple’s new system font family. It’s unnecessarily long (forcing an “SF” abbreviation in the font files); Apple is based not in San Francisco but Cupertino (which is itself a fine name for a typeface); and the name was already taken by a classic bit of Apple heritage: Susan Kare’s ransom note bitmap from the original Mac OS!
Other than that, Apple did this right. For years, typographers have been begging the company to drop the less-than-ideal Helvetica from iOS, and later Mac OS X. Evidence that they were actually working on something in-house arrived in 2014 with the Apple Watch (SF Compact). Later, the OS X version (SF UI) arrived and the entire family was formally introduced at WWDC. Apple’s team did not stray far from the Helvetica aesthetic, but if the brief was to make that typeface more compact and legible, they succeeded. The apertures are more open, the spacing is looser, the x-height is taller (when appropriate), and there is less readability-hindering uniformity overall. SF includes typographic features that Helvetica lacks, such as proportional numerals and, perhaps most importantly, optical sizes, which is now a core aspect of Apple’s operating systems.
It makes a lot of sense for Apple to have their own custom typeface optimized for their devices. It’s a logical extension for a company that prides itself on controlling the entire customer experience, from hardware to software.
Nicole Dotin’s Pique was released in 2014, but I’m happy to see it finally arrived on Identifont so visitors here can be introduced to a truly original script — something that is increasingly rare amid the rash of new script fonts. What makes it special is that its vibrant energy is embedded in a uniquely typographic design, not through an attempt to emulate every wandering stroke that might be painted by hand. Victoria Rushton put it well in her Typographica review:
“Pique catches my eye among brush scripts for how effortlessly it is translated to a modular system. As we know, it’s one (time-consuming) thing to make a brush script with as many alternates and ligatures as there are sinners in hell. It’s another to draw a face that eschews all the un-type-like things that make brush lettering great, like bubbly baselines, subtle variations, and gratuitous swashes, yet still retains its hand-written essence.”
Sometimes I know I want to include a typeface in this monthly review when I’m adding candidates to its “Similar fonts” sidebar and struggle to find anything truly similar. Proza Display meets that standard. Jasper de Waard’s professional debut was Proza, a well crafted typeface, but, for me, too similar to existing work like Cronos. Proza Display is a major departure from its counterpart, with a strong — almost stencilesque — contrast, fearlessly flaring terminals, and distinct construction in several italic glyphs. Its originality demonstrates that de Waard needn’t ride any coattails. I hope to see more of this fresh stuff from the young man.