New FontFonts: FF Kava With Extra Flavour

FF Kava – the latest professional OpenType family by freeware font sensation Yanone – is the third new design we are going to take a look at in the new FontFont Release 49. Yanone was born Jan Gerner in 1982 in Dresden, German Democratic Republic, as the second son of a mechanical engineer and an industrial architect. He is a young graphic and type designer, multimedia artist, disc jockey, and sound system operator, currently residing in a commune just outside of Weimar in the heart of Germany. After spending nine years of his childhood and early youth in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia – due to a professorship of his father at the capital’s university – he returned to the reunified Germany to finish his secondary education. At age 14 his father sat him down at the computer to teach him the programming language Pascal, which sparked his desire in becoming an information scientist. Yet designing his secondary school graduate yearbook in 2000 and early attempts at web design got him hooked on graphic design in general, which eventually led him to try his hand at type design.


Yanone by Michael Ott
Yanone started studying Information Technology at the Bauhaus-University in Weimar in 2002, and switched to Visual Communications two years later. Type design isn’t officially a curriculum at Weimar, so it took a close friend to give him the initial set of tools, and to incite him to try his hand at designing letters. Seven years at university also brought him to Amman, Jordan for an internship at Amman based design and branding office Syntax – whose web page is set in Vista –, and to Berlin for an internship at FontShop International. There he learned the necessary technical skills to produce high quality typefaces which led him on his way to become a type designer and technician. Yanone completed his studies in Weimar in 2009 with a rather extensive type design project. Ahmad Humeid, former speaker at TYPO Berlin and CEO of Syntax, invited him to Jordan again to take part in their latest branding project for the Greater Amman Municipality, capital of Jordan. The result is a family of 22 fonts, in Arabic script and Latin alphabet, upright and cursive, sans and serif, for the branding of Amman. The typeface includes the first ever digital real italic as a companion to the upright script. It will be published in 2010 by FontShop International in the FontFont library as FF Amman.


Kaffeesatz on numerous posters in the streets.

Kaffeesatz on the record sleeve for Dubble D‘s Bug Eyed EP.

Kaffeesatz on groceries’ labels and packaging.

Kaffeesatz unexpectedly became the figurehead for the protest against censorship on Flickr.
FF Kava was born in 2004 as Yanone Kaffeesatz. It was Yanone’s first ever finished typeface, who, at the time, still was a type design novice. Its bold weight was reminiscent of 1920s coffee house typography, while the rather thin fonts made the connection with present times. Lacking self-confidence, and having little experience with the type scene, Yanone decided to publish the family as freeware. This decision actually turned out to be one of the best he ever made, since it gained him international recognition in the earliest stages of his development as a type designer. Kaffeesatz was downloaded from Yanone’s website alone over 100,000 times to date, and you can see it used on German fresh-water gyms, Dubai mall promos, and New Zealand McDonald’s ads. And of course on coffee, food packaging, and café design all over the globe.


Ampersand drawings for FF Kava

Various ampersand designs for FF Kava

Inked ampersands for FF Kava

Trying out different commercial at designs for FF Kava

Two inked eszett variations for FF Kava
The new FF Kava is a redesign from the ground up of the free font classic. The most obvious difference is the addition of a black weight, which Yanone felt was missing ever since he finished the original Kaffeesatz. Less noticeable at first sight but at least as important is FF Kava being a truly professional OpenType family, with extensive language support, small caps, various figure sets, and all the bells and whistles you expect to find in a quality FontFont. And five years after Kaffeesatz Yanone fixed many of the design defects he wasn’t aware of at the time. Now FF Kava can confidently join the ranks of FontShop International’s own foundry FontFont and brush shoulders with contemporary classics like FF Dax, a typeface that once suspected Kaffeesatz of plagiarism. FF Kava has become the professional tool that Kaffeesatz never was, despite the fact that the original has been used worldwide.

Although FF Kava and Kaffeesatz may seem similar at first sight, their design is quite different when you know where to look and what to look for. The comparisons below highlight the changes that were made.


Although they were partially rounded, the stroke endings on Kaffeesatz (left) were actually flat. On the new FF Kava (right) they are gently curved, making for a smoother and more casual appearance.
A major difference is almost imperceptible to laymen’s eyes, but still is very important for the general look and feel of the character shapes. Yanone admits that – as he is an autodidact – back in 2004 he didn’t know how to properly draw Bézier curves. This is why the shapes of the finials in Kaffeesatz are unbalanced. FF Kava has corrected stroke endings with proper overshoots for a more balanced and pleasing appearance.


Compared to the lowercase the capitals of Kaffeesatz (top) were quite ordinary. The lower waistline gives the new FF Kava (bottom) a distinct personality, and the gently curved strokes and bulging stroke endings reinforce the relaxed atmosphere of the type family.
Another problem was that way too little attention was paid to the capitals of Kaffeesatz. Comparing individual characters would take us too far, but Yanone points out that the uppercase alphabet as a whole was not harmonious, and certain shapes were neglected. He pretty much scrapped the whole alphabet and started over from scratch, now concentrating on proportions, counters, ink-traps, and so on. In the meantime Yanone learned to love letters with low “waist-lines”, a style he applied to the alphabet for aesthetic reasons.


Numerous details were changed in the original Kaffeesatz lowercase (left), either to aid legibility and make the typeface more usable in smaller point sizes, or to enhance the signature style and casual appearance of FF Kava (right).
As for the lowercase alphabet Yanone changed many individual shapes. Some to increase legibility like the “l”, some for aesthetic reasons like the “k” or “y”. Many counters where opened up, since they tended to clog up in small sizes.


Poster by Yanone designed for an exhibition coinciding with the upcoming 24th Forum Typografie in Weimar.
So, is there any relation between the old name and the new name? At first the original typeface was called “Kaffeesack” (coffee bag). It was a friend of Yanone’s who at the lunch table once suggested “Kaffeesatz”, which is a play on words. Translated literally it means coffee grounds, yet “Satz” also means “set”, as in typesetting. The coffee part of the name comes from the cafés that influenced its design. For the new typeface Yanone was looking for a short and striking name with an indirect connection to coffee or at least food. “Kava” is a coinage that has many connotations. The Arabic Qahwah sounds similar and etymologically is the origin of the word “coffee”. Cava is the Catalan equivalent of the French Champagne – of course superior according to the Catalans – which is another sound-alike that Yanone really doesn’t mind for his typeface. The connection with the pepper plant of the same name, however not intentional, is not disliked.



Header image: ƒStop 049.017, from Pacifico. Photographer: Etienne Girardet

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6 Comments:

  1. I’ve loved Kaffeesatz ever since it came out, and regretted that because of it’s incompletion I could only use it for limited applications. This looks like a MUCH more mature and well-rounded release and I look forward to being able to use it in a much broader range of applications.

    One thing that always struck me funny about the typeface is how it just felt youthful and energetic – I really felt like I had met a piece of the designer himself through seeing Kaffeesatz – and that’s a rare feeling I don’t get from a lot of other Typefaces.

    Great work! Keep it up Yanone!

    Posted by Tom Hodgins on Sep. 3, 2009
  2. Great work Jan.. keep it always up :)

    BTW, SYNTAX website is in Vista not in FF Sanuk.

    Posted by hussein on Sep. 10, 2009
  3. Whoops, you are right! How could I miss!?

    Posted by Yves Peters on Sep. 10, 2009
  4. Another comparison of FF Kava and Yanone Kaffeesatz can be found on FFlickr.

    Posted by Ivo on Feb. 23, 2010
  5. Hello, I began to use google web font mechanism and I found beauty of your Kaffeesatz font. Unfortunately the haven’t characters like ą (a_ogonek) ę (e_ogonek) and so on. That’s why it can’t be used in Poland. Unfortunately. Maybe you can fix it?

    Posted by janusz on May. 22, 2010
  6. Janusz – improvements like language support are what this update to Kaffeesatz is all about. You’ll find the characters you seek in FF Kava Pro.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on May. 24, 2010

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