New FontFonts: FF Dagny From Tabloid To Desktop
Whenever new typefaces are released I hope they come with information about their design. That’s what I’ve always liked about FontFonts – they usually are quite well documented, with the accompanying FontFont Info Guide PDF providing an introduction to OpenType, font and designer information, an overview of the supported lay-out features and languages, and type specimens. The current FontFont Release 49 introduces a second type of PDF: the Spec Sheet single page overview that gives the user more design-oriented information.
Learning more about the origins of a type design often helps me understand the motivation of the designer, the reasoning behind the the typeface, and helps me appreciate its raison d’être. On a more general note, it helps me learn about type design, which frankly is the best part of my writing gig for The FontFeed, besides meeting and corresponding with type designers. Whenever I can I try to investigate even further and delve deeper into the fascinating world of type design. After taking a look at the genesis of FF Unit Slab, the next of Erik Spiekermann‘s successful FontFonts to join the ranks of the serif/sans super families, I thought I’d continue with FF Dagny, an intriguing new Swedish grotesque. Or is it? More about this later.
The origins of FF Dagny lay in 2002, when Dagens Nyheter (DN) made the change from broadsheet to tabloid. Dagens Nyheter is Stockholm’s major newspaper with approximately one million readers daily. Although it is politically independent DN is rather liberal in character. The newspaper is almost 150 years old – it was first published on December 23rd, 1864. Today it is part of the Bonnier Group, a multi-channel media company fully owned by the Bonnier family that originally started over 200 years ago as a small book store and publishing firm. Dagens Nyheter is Sweden’s only nationally distributed morning newspaper.
The change from broadsheet to tabloid in 2002 – a design executed by John Bark, of Bark design – made a major impact on DN’s journalism, editing and design. Two years earlier, in 2000, then editor Joachim Berner invited Mario García to redesign Dagens Nyheter. Dr. Mario R. García – the leader of García Media – has devoted more than 30 years to redesigning publications, and has personally collaborated with over 450 news organisations. As García explains on The Mario Blog, this is when he met Pangea design’s Creative Director, Örjan Nordling. DN had a long standing relationship with type designer Nordling – Nordling had already worked with DN as a design consultant in 1996 – and he had been asked to come in to assist García Media with type needs for the redesign. After reviewing the priorities for an elegant and durable typeface, Nordling created DN Bodoni exclusively for Dagens Nyheter. When in 2002 the DN managers decided to convert the newspaper to the tabloid format, once more Nordling was invited to collaborate on the project. This time, the new format change called for a more compact and space-saving typography, and Pangea design was given the contract to produce a suitable sans serif. This became DN Grotesk.
The use of sans serif typefaces at Dagens Nyheter had increased during the last twenty years – mostly Akzidenz Grotesk, originally in combination with Bauer Bodoni (until 1996), then Berthold Bodoni (1997–2000), and eventually the custom designed DN Bodoni. The new DN Grotesk – whose x-height matched DN Bodoni’s for consistency – would be used primarily for headlines, subheads and introductions. The design team tackling the development of DN Grotesk consisted of Örjan Nordling and Göran Söderström. Örjan Nordling (b. 1958) was trained at Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, and at the Basel School of Design. He co-founded Pangea design in Stockholm in 1997, where he is Creative Director. Nordling designed his eponymous Nordling BQ for AG Berthold, the Berling Nova family for Linotype – for which he received the Berling prize, inaugurated by the late Karl-Erik Forsberg, in 2004 –, and various custom typefaces. Nordling is a member of ATypI and the Stockholm Typographic Guild. Göran Söderström (b. 1974) – a self-taught Swedish type designer and font developer – is employed at Pangea design since 2007 and spends most of his spare time designing his own typefaces.
I mentioned earlier on that the origins of FF Dagny lay in 2002, but in fact its genealogy goes way back, as it is inspired by early 20th century specimens from – amongst others – Caslon and Son, the German Woellmer foundry, and DN’s own archives. The design team wanted a typeface with greater contrast, more dynamic lines and especially a larger x-height. Doric Grotesk was a face possessing all those attributes. Originally released by the Stephenson Blake foundry in England, Doric is modeled after one of the early sans serifs of William Caslon IV, who was the first to interpret sans serif letter forms into a typeface in 1816. With its large, heavy capitals, uniform letter widths, and a large x-height, the face is ideally suited for use in adverse conditions and very small point sizes, making it a perfect choice for classified advertising in newspapers. Another source of inspiration was found in DN’s archives. Consul Grotesk betrays the influence of German type which was noticeable in Swedish type design since before the First World War. The face features notable details that helped making the new face more unique, for example a lowercase “f” with a backward-leaning top, the characteristic “g” and “b”, as well as the typical oblique cuts on the “a”, “c”, “e”, and “s”.
Starting on those historical models DN Grotesk was developed. The design details from the sources of inspiration were integrated harmoniously into the new typeface. One specific trait of DN Grotesk is the x-height which is approximately 10% larger than Akzidenz-Grotesk. This allows the use of the typeface in small point sizes whilst keeping the legibility intact. The resulting design is a somewhat condensed face with open character shapes. Both ascenders and descenders have been shortened to further increase space-saving. Other design details include slightly narrowing connections to stems, stems which slant towards connecting curves, and the oblique cuts on the finials of certain characters. The italics are used very rarely – they are in fact obliques and their basic forms do not differ very much from the roman weights.
To include the type family in the FontFont library several adjustments were made. There are minor inconsistencies in the character shapes of DN Grotesk throughout the range of weights making up the family. This is due to the fact that originally in 2002 the only weight produced was the heavy one used in the sports section of the newspaper. From there on Nordling and Söderström worked backwards to design the regular and lighter versions, which proved to be very difficult. For FF Dagny the contrast in stroke thickness was reduced for even better legibility in small sizes, and characters were redesigned together with the FontFont type department. By changing the oblique lowercase “a” to a single storey design, FF Dagny now has true italics. The family now includes a range of consistent weights from Thin to Black, making it perfect for use in body text and all kind of other applications. Furthermore the typeface has been carefully hinted for better screen resolution, making it well suited for use in both analogue and digital applications.
What strikes me personally when examining the face – and this is where I come back to my initial remark in the introduction – is that FF Dagny somehow manages to bridge the gap between the grotesque and the American gothic models. Although the design started out as a grotesque and still possesses many characteristics of this genre, select characters like the lowercase “a”, “c”, “e”, “s”, and the ampersand amongst others remind me of News Gothic/Benton Sans, while the numerals seem influenced by Franklin Gothic. Furthermore by keeping subtle “vintage” details like the typical lowercase “f” and the Doric-like “Q” and “R” the family makes a connection with its historical roots while being a decidedly contemporary design. This cross-over sans family is sure to open up quite a few new typographic possibilities.
As for the new name – Dagny is an abbreviation of Dagens Nyheter, but also an old nordic female name meaning “new day”. As Örjan remarks:
Women’s names are always beautiful.
Are you itching to try out a fully-featured OpenType weight of FF Dagny with complete character set? For free? Download FF Dagny™ Thin on the FontShop Free Fonts page.
The FontFeed is a daily dispatch of recommended fonts, typography techniques, and inspirational examples of digital type at work in the real world. Eat up.
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