Hidden Gems From OurType
One topic I touched upon in my presentation about Trajan in Movie Posters last Friday is how typefaces become popular. This phenomenon works according to very peculiar dynamics. To cut a long story short – one of the aspects is that sometimes beautiful and worthwhile designs don’t receive the attention they deserve because they are overshadowed by the “stars” in a specific foundry. Think for example of the OurType collection and big names like Arnhem, Sansa, Fresco, Parry – or more recently Fakt – first come to mind. But there are many more quality families waiting to be discovered. As their collection is steadily growing, OurType have decided to draw our attention to three outstanding yet lesser-known families – Meran, Eva and Fayon. Each of these typographic gems feature full OpenType functionality, but above all they are unique designs. To allow you to get to know them better, you can now fully test the OpenType Standard versions of Meran, Eva and Fayon. Select styles* are offered at no charge – you heard it right: for free – and until the end of the month a 50% discount is offered on further Meran, Eva and Fayon purchases – yes, that is indeed half price. Time to get (re)acquainted with these three hidden gems.
(*) Styles offered at no charge:
- Meran Light & Semi Bold
- Meran Semi Condensed Semi Bold & Semi Bold Italic
- Meran Condensed Thin & Black
- Eva Semi Bold & Semi Bold Italic
- Fayon SemiBold & SemiBold Italic
Offer expires on May 31, 2011.
M A U R I C E G Ö L D N E R | “At that time, the core curriculum had a strong focus on traditional craftsmanship. Calligraphy lessons were obligatory for all undergraduates. We were taught to write different styles with broad nib pen and pointed nib pen and we had to acquire these styles in their original historical order.”
Is this where you became interested in type design?
M A U R I C E G Ö L D N E R | “Indeed, my interest in type began with calligraphy. But creating letter shapes with a pen didn’t satisfy me. In 2004 I enrolled at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. I took part in courses in typography and type design. Fred Smeijers’ type design class had just been installed. His students were incredibly motivated and their thirst for knowledge was amazing. This made me start digging deeper myself. From then on when I used the pen it was more for ‘mapping’ letter forms and for experimenting. I subsequently decided to concentrate on type design. Meran originated during that period and was eventually released in 2008. Since I graduated in 2009 I am working as an independent graphic designer and type designer in Leipzig, Germany.”
Meran’s design originated from an exercise to construct capital letters from strips of black paper. What were your experiences with that technique?
M A U R I C E G Ö L D N E R | “The original idea behind the paper strips was to experiment with adjusting the weight of the horizontal and the vertical strokes. If you’re giving them the same weight, the horizontal strokes seem thicker than the vertical ones. This is one of the optical effects that can’t be ignored when designing type. Then I used this approach to come up with a concept for a type design by means of a manual method. When cutting letters with a pair of scissors, I had to deal with chunky forms. As I couldn’t get lost too much in detail, I could evaluate shapes and white space more easily. In my experiment, I tried to test the limits of legibility by abstracting shapes.”
“At the beginning, all the shapes were very square-edged, because I wanted all the letters to be composed out of straight lines. However I soon realised this wasn’t going to work for a typeface also intended for running text. That’s why, little by little, I rounded the letter forms. The letters were later translated into digital form and given matching roman and italic lowercase designs as well as figures.”
By its very nature the creation process yielded a design reminiscent of blackletter type. Do you think there is use for contemporary interpretations of this style in today’s graphic design?
M A U R I C E G Ö L D N E R | “Meran indeed borrows from blackletter, from Rotunda or ‘Rundgotisch’ to be more precise. I didn’t exactly plan that, it’s rather something that happened along the way during the design process. Blackletter faces have a characteristic visual hardness due to their clear-cut shapes and how the strokes are joined. Their character forms also reveal how they originated from the pen. Some of the strokes in Meran look like they might have been written with a broad nibbed pen, but they really received that look from the cutting process.”
“I am confident there’s room again for typefaces like this in contemporary typography. To me, the examples of Meran in use show that very clearly. There are other releases as well that indicate that designers are interested in using blackletter type again. What makes Meran special, is its ‘rundgotisch’ concept. The shapes have a great vehemence – they are distinctive, but the accentuation of the curves makes them very legible. It’s this mixture that makes the whole typeface idiosyncratic. You can use Meran in the same way you use a ‘traditional’ sans serif, but it will have its distinctive, angular character.”
The Meran family consists of roman and italic designs in six weights: Thin, Light, Normal, SemiBold, Bold and Black. To offer additional choice and flexibility, it is built around three widths: normal, semi condensed and condensed. The semi condensed has been specifically developed for type sizes above 14 point.
Prior to its commercial release, the typeface has been used for a number of publications including Stichwort, designed and illustrated by Thomas Müller, and for a semester planner created for the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig. Both demonstrated just how well Meran can serve the demands of both, display and text. In 2007, Meran was awarded the “500 mal x” prize.
What made you pick up type design?
M E R E L M A T Z I N G E R | “I originally studied graphic design in Switzerland and the US at the Art Center College of Design. Upon graduating in 1996 I worked in both New York and Amsterdam. In 1998, while on vacation in Paris, I discovered the publication Haagse Letters in La Hune, the famous bookstore in Saint-Germain des Prés. This made me decide to do the Type]Media postgraduate course in Type Design and Typography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. The year started with theory lessons plus practice with calligraphy, stone cutting, and then digitising. For my final project I chose to design a “friendly sans serif” inspired by the work of Eva Zeisel (born in 1906 in Hungary). This resulted in the original version of Eva in 1999.”
What made you decide to base the design of Eva on Eva Zeisel’s œuvre?
M E R E L M A T Z I N G E R | “I came across a book about Eva Zeisel and her work in the library while a graphic design student at Art Center in Pasadena. I had never seen her work before, yet seeing the pictures convinced me these were some of the most beautiful ceramics ever. I was impressed by the beauty of each piece on its own but also by the compositions of the pieces combined. Zeisel creates families of individual elements, each piece standing on its own, but with recurring design elements apparent throughout the pieces, unifying them.”
“This is very similar to designing an alphabet. One strives to create a family of individual characters which are clearly distinguishable from one another, yet have a common aesthetic. In Eva the atmosphere I wanted to create was, above all, friendliness, without the shapes being distracting or impairing legibility. I felt there still was room for a friendly sans serif. In my view, the ones that already existed either had too much character or not enough. Exploring this balance between legibility and a quiet friendliness is what defined the design of Eva.”
“Eva Zeisel was never involved in the development of the typeface. When I presented the resulting typeface to her she was very curious about how I perceived her work, and how I ultimately translated her vision into another, very different design product.”
F R E D S M E I J E R S | “The types of strokes used in Eva are a bit difficult to classify. In general the strokes are ending in something which I usually call flares or flared serifs. Although Eva’s strokes are similar to the ones in Optima this feature is far less pronounced in Eva. Furthermore the general contrast between thick and thin strokes is definitely noticeable. It follows the traditional pattern of the broad nibbed pen, but again far more subtle than in other typical Garalde designs (this is how these kind of typefaces are called in the Vox-system) like Optima, Pascal, or Albertus. Lesser contrast makes it veer more towards a sans, so in a way Eva strikes a balance between a humanist sans (e.g. Gill Sans, Fresco Sans, FF Scala Sans) and the aforementioned Garalde-like designs. You can situate some type designs there, but there are not that many.”
“Together with the strong triangular stroke endings, flared serifs are the oldest serif shapes. Both can be found in early Greek lettering. From a traditional point of view, in letters using flares a stroke always ends with flares on both sides, no matter whether the stroke is vertical, horizontal or diagonal. This is however not the case with Eva; for example the top arm of the capital E ends only with a flare one side. Already in her initial designs we notice that Merel Matzinger omitted the flares in quite a few places. This makes sense from a design point of view, because too many of them would simply make the face look too classical/mediaeval. Later on in the development of the face, Merel and I decided to take away even more flares. In some places we even rounded off some corners, like for example near the baseline on the inside of the left leg of the capital ‘A’, or in letters like the capitals ‘V’, ‘W’, ‘X’, and ‘Y’. These details make the overall appearance of the typeface even more friendlier than it already was.”
“Even more interesting – Eva combines flares and strokes with rounded ends in combination with a flare, as is the case in the horizontal stroke on the baseline of the capital E or L. This introduces a playful effect in the general character of the typeface. It is even more obvious in lowercase ‘v’ and ‘w’, where a strong diagonal is combined with a curved stroke – a stroke ending (or starting) in a sort of bend or curved flare, a pointed element which however is not perceived as aggressive, but rather friendly/playful.”
“These elements are not new; they have been present in lettering throughout the ages, often in accidental combinations. We applied them very consciously in Eva, resulting in a lively but harmonious mix. This element was present right from the very start, from Merel’s earliest drawings, and it was the main reason why I/we immediately liked the design, and therefore remembered it. Five years after Merel designed the first single-weight version of Eva we brought it up as a design suitable for the OurType label.”
How do you feel Merel translated the curves of Eva Zeisel’s ceramics into a type design?
F R E D S M E I J E R S | “I was familiar with Merel’s work since her postgraduate studies in Type Design at the KABK in The Hague (later renamed Type]Media) back in 1999. But it was (OurType co-founder) Corina Cotorobai who in 2004 pointed out Eva’s unique concept, wondering why such a good piece of work had not yet been released on the market. To be honest I was not aware of the work of Frau Zeisel until Merel showed it to me back in 1999. Whereas Eva Zeisel is a design icon in the USA, her work is virtually unknown in Europe. When I first saw Merel’s type design, the conceptual connection between Eva Zeisel’s ceramics and Merel’s typeface were very, very convincing. There is no shadow of a doubt that the general character and qualities of Eva Zeisel’s work were the inspiration for Merel. She aimed to transfer some of these qualities into a typeface, and she did a splendid job! This is why we included her type design in the OurType collection.”
OurType Fayon is the practical result of Peter Mohr‘s in-depth study of Didot-style printing types, and his attempts to discover how exactly they emerged into the world of typography. His conclusions can be read in his thesis Zum Ursprung Klassizistischer Antiqua-Schriften, Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig, July 2009.
How did you become interested in typography?
P E T E R M O H R | “Since my early childhood I have been fascinated by visually impressive art like drawing or painting, with a strong focus on black and white contrasts – lines, dots, and textures made by pencil. Later I developed a specific interest in the design aspects of these artistic expressions. I saw (and I still see) the value of my work in its applicability. Besides the functional aspect of graphic design I find the reproductive aspect far more rewarding than the subjective originality of artwork.”
“At the beginning of my design education I wondered how it would feel if people used my designs. During my two-year apprenticeship as a media designer I discovered the typographic work of contemporary graphic designers like The Designers Republic. One of my teachers got me interested in Wolfgang Weingart’s book My Way To Typography. As Weingart’s work seemed so audacious and fresh it became my major motivation for delving deeper into typographic design. Although Weingart is not exactly a champion for diversity in type design, I like the essential pureness of his creations. When I started at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig I was not especially interested in the design of letter forms, yet upon meeting Fred Smeijers type design became an exciting field for me. With his type designs Fred proves you can imbue innovative, contemporary letter forms with a rich historical background. The quality and consistency of his work pushed me to further explore modern type design.”
Fayon is a contemporary interpretation of Didot-style types. Is your interest in them purely academic, or is there a more personal connection?
P E T E R M O H R | “The Didot category of typefaces is only one subject in a wider field of type design that interests me. Personally I find it hard to separate academic interests from personal interests, especially in an artistic context. The in-depth study of high contrast letter forms like the Didots and Bodonis revealed fascinating letter forms and arresting historical facts. I guess investigating new subjects is always more or less a personal thing.”
In your thesis you attempted to discover exactly how these Didot-style types emerged into the world of typography. What were your findings?
P E T E R M O H R | “Actually Zum Ursprung Klassizistischer Antiqua-Schriften starts with Gutenberg’s letterpress complex. It was crucial for him to transfer handwritten letter forms and their conventional organisation on the page as faithfully as possible to be successful. This means the first typeset pages didn’t have their own typographical style. I went back as far as Gutenberg because transferring formal aspects from outside the field of movable type is a recurring phenomenon in the history of printing types. High contrast written letter forms (also engraved in copperplate) with more or less abrupt serifs can be found in type specimens of the early 17th century. At the end of the 17th century – 100 years before the appearance of the early Didots! – one also can find traces of similar letter forms in public lettering. There are manuals from that period made for artists/designers outside the field of typography, showing sparkling Didots, also called “Klassizistische Antiquas” in Germany. How those type styles made their way into book typography is a central aspect in the history of the Didots. This was initiated by the design of the “Romain du Roi”, commissioned by Louis XIV for the Imprimerie Royale in 1692. Subsequently John Baskerville’s technical innovations in the constructing of more accurate letterpresses and his improvements in making glossy paper also proved to be crucial factors for a successful transfer.”
From the OurType blurb: Didot-style typefaces, characterised by their high contrast, dominated text composition in the first half of the nineteenth century. As greater control was achieved in typecasting and printing processes and papers became increasingly smoother, these otherwise delicate types could be used more easily and widely. Yet those very improvements in print production in turn caused type designers to bring excessive refinement to their type designs. By the middle of the nineteenth century their extreme contrast and fine hairlines generated ‘flimmering’, an optical effect particularly disturbing for readers when reading longer texts. It is hardly surprising that by the end of the 1800s printers and publishers were returning to old face types of earlier periods, a trend that dominated text typography over the course of the twentieth century.
“My research revealed that a number of elements influenced the development of high contrast letter forms: convention, fashion, technical proficiency, and economic aspects. I examined their development in that precise context. To me Giambattista Bodoni or Firmin Didot were successful entrepreneurs in their day, who were very much in tune with the society they lived in, and who of course pursued the highest possible aesthetic quality.”
How did you incorporate the findings of your research into the creation of Fayon?
P E T E R M O H R | “As the technical possibilities in printing increased tremendously by the end of the 18th century, there was more room for new ideas in type design, however there was also more room to fail. It produced typefaces that seem artificial and wilful, and which incorporate less traces of the hand-made compared to 16th century type design. This was an interesting aspect I focused on when designing Fayon. I wanted to combine cool, upright strictness with dynamic elements, and used “artificial” elements to distance the design from the handwriting process. By mixing opposite qualities in a precise and harmonious way I attempted to draw a fresh and useful typeface.”
OurType Fayon consists of roman and italic designs in six weights: Normal, Medium, SemiBold, Bold, ExtraBold, Black and ExtraBlack. Fayon display styles are in development.
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