New FontFonts: FF Yoga, A Type System For The New Decade
One of the things FontFont is famous for are its type systems. Also called super families, they are collections of coordinated type families that cross type classifications, and are designed to work together in perfect harmony. They can be sans and serif companions, text and display cuts, or any other combination. The different families in a type system or super family share common character architecture, proportions, x-height, weights, and pedigree, to name a few. The first FontFont super family was FF Thesis, with its 144 fonts in three categories – TheSans, TheSerif, and TheMix – the largest one to have been released until then. Several others followed; many went on to become contemporary classics, like FF Scala, FF Meta, FF Quadraat, FF Absara, FF Nexus, … And now, at the tail end of 2009, FontFont released a brand new type system to usher in the new decade – FF Yoga by Xavier Dupré. Thanks to its strong personality and good legibility this design is ideally suited for newspapers and magazines.
Xavier Dupré belongs to a generation of French type designers in their mid-thirties to forties, who emerged at the end of the nineties. What characterises this group is that they learned the ropes during the heydays of grunge, but went on to become “serious” type designers.
After completing his baccalaureate in Applied Arts in Valence, Xavier studied Graphic Arts for two years at the École Supérieure des Arts Modernes (ESAM) in Paris. At the beginning of his studies he purchased his first Apple Macintosh in 1996, and soon started dissecting existing fonts. This formed the basis for his first “grunge” designs, until he finally switched to pencil and paper.
Because Xavier wasn’t pleased with the rather awkward results, he decided to enrol a real type design and calligraphy program. As he would have needed to learn Dutch to attend KABK in The Hague, instead he entered the Scriptorium in Toulouse. There he was taught the basics of letter drawing and 2000 years of history of writing by Bernard Arin and Rodolphe Giuglardo. Prior to Scriptorium Xavier hadn’t realised how important calligraphy was, so this was one of the very first things he learned. He also became aware of the rhythm and structure of letters, of the tension in curves, of the energy one can inject into a character.
Xavier Dupré started his professional career in ’99 at Black & Gold – a Paris-based agency specialised in packaging for mass retail. He was responsible for the lettering on packaging for several food brands: “creamy” letters, scripts, rounded sans serifs, and traditional serif faces were the order of the day. Only two designs from that period were eventually published as digital fonts: FF Tartine Script and FF Jambono.
At Black & Gold he collaborated with Ladislas Mandel. This monument of French typography was the assistant of Adrian Frutiger for nine years, and succeeded him as artistic director at Deberny & Peignot. The collaboration between Mandel and Xavier Dupré was a rather informal one, and consisted of Xavier adapting and digitising Mandel’s typographic experiments. Mandel wanted to convey his humanistic vision, that type design could be used to approach the reader and his psychology.
To get away from “life in a Parisian agency” Xavier Dupré settled in Cambodia in 2001. One of his big challenges there was the creation of two Khmer typefaces commissioned by two French NGO editors. Xavier forced himself to forget all about Latin letter shapes so he could submerge himself into the essence of the Khmer script, and had to co-operate with native readers to check the legibility of his designs.
After his stay in Cambodia Xavier travelled most of South-East Asia, before returning to Europe and settling in Brussels in the Fall of 2006. Yet he left Brussels for South-East Asia again last summer. When I contacted him at the end of December he was in Singapore, waiting for his visa for India. Xavier currently resides in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, where he fills his days with… gardening at Matrimandir.
In his last e-mail Xavier explains:
I don’t have enough electricity where I now reside (only solar energy), and I can’t even connect my laptop. These are hard times! As it is the high season all the quality accommodations have been taken. When you are used to spend up to 12 hours a day at a computer screen, there’s nothing like gardening with two bare feet in the soil to reconnect with reality! And I enjoy it very much!
As for future projects I have some general ideas, but nothing concrete at the present time. And regarding type design I have two alphabets in the making – what’s new? – which are on hold because of my limited access to electricity.
Is this current move to India part of an ongoing love story with South and South East Asia?
I actually like travelling in Asia, and Southern India is one of those places I enjoy a lot. It’s the second time I come here. Pondichery and Auroville are two peculiar places in India, very different one from another, although they are quite near, barely 10 km apart. Pondy is some sort of principality at the sea front that has been frozen in time since the 1960s, with very little commerce (the exact opposite of Thailand). As I am quite nostalgic I like the vintage atmosphere, a blend of French and Tamil culture.
Auroville is something else entirely – it’s not even a town, merely a forest planted by well-willing pioneers, which holds infrastructures promoting culture, learning, and spirituality. Auroville also is a way of life, and a place where one truly is in communion with nature. I spend a lot of time observing squirrels, birds, mongooses, chameleons, …
Although Xavier had a very classic training he is primarily inspired by contemporary type designers like Robert Slimbach, Zuzana Licko, Underware, Fred Smeijers, Gerard Unger, Erik Spiekermann, Christian Schwartz, and Jean-François Porchez. He is one of the rare designers who – in all honesty and with a sense of humour – cites his influences in his type designs. For example FF Megano – a friendly, voluptuous sans channelling the spirit of Lucian Bernhard – refers to the modern classic Triplex, and Zingha – which I once reviewed in my Bald Condensed column – features not to be misunderstood nods to Matrix, with some Unger flavour added.
Xavier Dupré has published his typefaces through various foundries. Zingha was offered to The Font Bureau, Inc. at roughly the same time as his original series of FontFonts, simply to try out different publishing options. Xavier felt it suited better the style and feel of the Font Bureau library. Vista however was originally meant for FontShop International. Because he felt the first drawings were rather plain, he started adding alternate characters that gradually pushed the design in a different direction. Acting on an impulse he decided to submit the typeface to Emigre, and to his surprise the iconic foundry immediately showed interest.
Nowadays, whenever Xavier Dupré starts on a new type design, he knows from the onset what library he’ll submit it to. However he doesn’t let this influence the design process, and doesn’t necessarily stick to his first choice at whatever cost.
FF Yoga, with its sturdy serifs is a good choice for body text, but it also serves as an original headline face with its subtly chiselled counters. The face mixes the dynamic tension of straight cuts with the balanced rhythm and elegant curves of Garalde typefaces. FF Yoga Sans is a contemporary alternative to Gill Sans, and a sober companion to the serif FF Yoga. Unlike many similar type systems, the sans wasn’t designed by “chopping off” the serifs of FF Yoga and reducing the contrast, but both branches of the family tree were designed concurrently.
Why and when did you start designing Yoga?
X A V I E R D U P RÉ | “I began designing Yoga two years ago. My intention was to create a text family; a sober and versatile typeface that combines originality with a balanced appearance. I wanted it to be more useful for text setting than my previous family Malaga, yet with a similar impact thanks to sturdy serifs and a refined contrast.”
What inspired you?
X A V I E R | “All my work is inspired by humanistic writings, by American or Dutch type design. I always have calligraphy in mind as well. FF Yoga probably owes most to the œuvre of Gerard Unger and Fred Smeijers.”
What are the challenges when simultaneously designing a sans and a serif family?
X A V I E R | “I find it more interesting to design both at the same time, because it allows me to go back and forth between the serif and the sans. If the structure of the face doesn’t work in both sans and serif variations, it is easier to redesign as I keep global overview on the family.”
What do you think is the strength of this family?
X A V I E R | “That would be the fact that it’s very legible, in combination with the quirky details that give it a distinct personality. The sans has a simpler design, partly inspired by Gill Sans, and the combination of Yoga (Serif) and Yoga Sans offer sobriety as well as originality. The sturdy serifs aid the reading process in small point sizes, and lend a hot metal aspect to the text.”
Are you planning any extensions?
X A V I E R | “Definitely; the initial idea was to develop a type system that covers all type needs. I already started on additional designs, such as optical sizes for the serif version, and display cuts for the sans. But I need more time, and I also have other type families currently in development.”
Why did you call it Yoga?
X A V I E R | “I discovered yoga last year in India, and I still continue to practice it every single day when I wake up. Yoga helps your body become more flexible, and improves balance and tension – notions I consider of chief importance in typography. In a sense the body of a letter is comparable to our own human body.”
Something struck me when I first examined FF Yoga. I had the impression there were noticeable similarities with Xavier’s previous release FF Masala, which looks like FF Yoga Sans’ casual cousin. And FF Masala’s delicious Script variant shows a certain kinship with FF Tartine. This makes sense – when Xavier showed me the first trials for FF Masala over lunch in March 2009 he revealed that the design had started out as an exercise to make a more formal version of FF Tartine. So I sent him an e-mail to simply ask him.
Is there a creative/conceptual thread, running from FF Tartine Script over FF Masala to FF Yoga?
X A V I E R | “Well, trying to find a rapport between FF Tartine Script and FF Yoga is a bit of a stretch, even if we interpose FF Masala between the two. My style has evolved since 2000 when my drawings were a lot more malleable and soft. FF Tartine still had this rounded style that can also be found in Parango. Since then I have moved on to more structured shapes. FF Masala and FF Yoga illustrate these two aspects in the structure of shapes, the former in the area of food, the latter more typographic.
In fact, it is Malaga which could function as an intermediary step between FF Masala and FF Yoga. If you compare FF Masala and Malaga on the one hand, you can see their proportions are the same. And on the other hand Malaga and FF Yoga come from the same idea, with the chiselled cuts in the lowercase “m” and “n”, and so on, and a drawing that marks the page thanks to the thick serifs.
FF Tartine is an old typeface in my production; it is difficult to see a connection with my recent designs. The original idea of FF Masala was to make a “Tartine Sans”. When I realised what this entailed – notably that I would need to draw in a style that wasn’t really my own anymore – I preferred to develop a new family. The proportions are peculiar as well – the swashes on FF Tartine are rather big, the lowercase quite small.”
I interviewed Xavier Dupré for Addmagazine almost three years ago, and his answer to my last question gives us a good insight in what drives him, and how he works.
Usually, when you begin working on a new type design, do you start from a purely artistic impulse, or is it rather a formal exploration, a solution to a specific problem?
X A V I E R | “An “artistic impulse” – yes, that’s exactly it; it is very intuitive. Pure creation is what interests me, and that my type designs may be useful to others; a well-considered creation if you will. I just love to doodle in notebooks, or write a couple of lines with a chisel tip marker. If anything interesting emerges I develop it on the monitor. That is why I rarely accept commissioned work. I know that a typeface is first and foremost a product of craft, but I like to think it still is a genuine artistic expression.”
Xavier Dupré’s type designs were awarded consecutive Certificates of Typographic Excellence in 2004, 2005, and 2006 by the Type Directors Club of New York, and were amongst Typographica’s Favorite Typefaces in 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008. He was selected as one of New Visual Artists 2006 by Print magazine. These are his typefaces, per foundry, then in chronological order.
- FF Parango
- FF Reminga
- FF Tartine Script
- FF Jambono
- FF Angkoon
- FF Absara
- FF Absara Sans
- FF Megano
- FF Sanuk
- FF Masala & Script
- FF Yoga & FF Yoga Sans
The Font Bureau, Inc.
- SIPAR Apsara
- CKS Chrieng
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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