New FontFonts: FF Suhmo, My New Favourite Typeface
Whoever has seen my contribution in PDF-format to the Fontblog post The 12 worst typesetting sins – my reaction to the PDF Thirty Four Typographic Sins – will have noticed I currently design using a new favourite typeface. That typeface is FF Suhmo, designed by Alex Rütten. Because FF Suhmo possesses all the characteristics of a correspondence face, I suggested it to Oliver Reichenstein for inclusion in his iA Writer app. Yet with hindsight I have to admit that Nitti Light by Bold Monday is the perfect choice for the bare-bones text editor; FF Suhmo would have been too playful. I wanted to learn more about this remarkable type design, so over the period of a few weeks in September I gathered some information from its creator.
Alex Rütten grew up in a small town between Düsseldorf and the Dutch border. When studying graphic design in Trier, he quickly found himself drawn to type design and typography. Since graduating he has worked in web and interaction design, designing type in between. Alex first type design Ginkgo, released through Linotype, is a calligraphic serif face in the same vein as Dolly, Dederon Serif, and so on. It was awarded the TDC Certificate of Excellence in 2009, after which he was nominated for the German Design Award 2010 (Deutscher Designpreis). Alex is currently working on his third typeface – a static serif face, optimised for reading on screen as well as for printed matter, like newspapers. Its design deals specifically with the requirements for screen fonts. Alex Rütten currently lives and works in Berlin.
The first sketches for the typeface originated already in 2004 – in the lounge of a youth hostelin Frankfurt am Main. Originally the letter forms still veered strongly towards graffiti: the characters were drawn with forceful strokes. At the same time the shapes were very much constructed. Today Alex Rütten remembers:
The proportions seemed to sometimes remind of Eurostile, yet that was unintentional. Unfortunately the first drawings didn’t take me very far for a long time. And that is why I initially put the project aside.
Two years later Alex used ITC American Typewriter for a poster design. He was pleasantly surprised by its qualities as a display typeface. When soon afterwards Sony-Ericsson discovered that very same typeface for its advertisements for mobile phones, Alex started considering taking Suhmo in that direction and further develop it. And this made Alex dig up the sketches from the youth hostel, in order to gradually mix the character shapes with the typewriter design. With hindsight his judgement was:
I found the results useful. The characters became more organic, the x-height increased, and the slab serifs brought clarity and calm in the flow of the text.
Around that period I started to become very interested in vintage neon advertisements in Berlin.
Specifically on Italian restaurants from the 60s and 70s he discovered remarkable signs, which frequently stood out for the peculiar loops on the characters. This was the final element to be incorporated by Rütten in the concept of Suhmo. Similar details now appear in the italics in particular.
Eventually some questions still remained, which Alex Rütten was so kind to answer in a mini-interview.
How would you describe the character of FF Suhmo to the layman?
A L E X R Ü T T E N | From my personal point of view its character is playful, yet at the same time functional. All the design details are dosed in such a way that they don’t stick out too much in the text image at small point sizes, nor do they disturb the flow of reading. Furthermore Suhmo is friendly, rather moody, and it has something botanic in the italics.
How did the appearance of the typeface change during the design process?
A L E X R Ü T T E N | Above all the untiring feedback of Christoph Koeberlin at FSI proved instrumental in the design process. Many form details that turned out to be either impractical or simply too eccentric were omitted. For example the capital Q had an extravagant, unusual loop, and the capital J still had a serif at the bottom that came dangerously close to the baseline. Another modification was the reworking of the joins in the capital B and R, since the horizontals originally were too strong, which optically made them appear too heavy. Also the tapering in the transitions needed to be more pronounced. Over time all these subtle (and sometimes less subtle) changes improved the legibility and the character proportions, also of letters in relation to others: some capitals were still too narrow, and others too wide.
Did you already from the onset have a correspondence face in mind?
A L E X R Ü T T E N | Hearing this from you this is the first time someone compares FF Suhmo to a correspondence face, and I have to answer not really. If I am correct a correspondence face is mostly understood to be a typeface for composing letters and business communication, thus an addition to the corporate typography? Isn’t Arial mostly used for this?
OK, I learned something new – this is how the new generation of type designers type. Which letter is your favourite?
A L E X R Ü T T E N | Above all I like the lowercase “e” with its underbite. And I am also very pleased with the shape of the “a”. Possibly my favourite is the “g” with its upward ear, which looks like a baseball cap. For me these letters have their own distinct character. When I look at the completed typeface now, to me the ligatures look particularly nice.
Thank you for answering these few questions, and for the great typeface as well.
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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