Looking back on the last 12 months it’s been a pretty exciting time for typeface design, especially if you looked towards the fringes and emerging foundries such as some of those mentioned below. Exciting? How? Two words: Rapid Refinement. There’s a been a bit of grumbling from typo stalwarts about the trend for ‘ugly geometric sans’, much like a recent stream of emerging graphic design work, that has been labelled ‘anti-design’. What these bastions of ‘good type’ are missing is how many of these new type designers are pushing their offering from what’s previously been seen as crudely rendered letterforms, to refined versions of said letterforms, leading to the blossoming of expanded and even more refined type families. This whole intensive process often happeneing within the space of a year or two.
Every few years there comes a typeface that seems inescapable. Previously this title has been held by ‘faces such as Meta, Interstate, Gotham and Akkurat. This year is was Aperçu designed by Anthony Sheret & Edd Harrington from Brighton-based studio The Entente [the-entente.org]. Their Colophon Foundry has been particularly busy lately and it’s nice to see such hard working designers getting so much attention. Where to see it: inside Mark magazine [frameweb.com], on the It’s Nice That website and inside their annual [itsnicethat.com], just about any arts related flyer or tumblr inspired poster work. It’s a good example of a typeface that, in it’s relatively short lifestyle, has been through a process of being constantly refined and reissued. Be interesting to see which will be the first mainstream brand to pick up on it.
The last decade of so has seen a new-radical-wave of French graphic design sweep in, initially bought about by the likes of M/M Paris and Laurent Fetis. This has made welcome a whole raft of quietly prolific typographers, at ease creating radical forms that explore and progress the many aspects of modern type design. Credit must also go to graphic designers such as Fanette Meillier and Helmo (see #12), super comfortable with employing radical letterforms created for specific one-off projects. Zig Zag is one such radical offering designed by graphiste, Benoît Bodhuin [benbenworld.com] (which also adheres to a recent trend for vast arrays of alternative characters within a single version).
Lineto’s release schedule may have slowed to near stand still in recent times but that hasn’t stopped them from propelling the odd timely and highly influential typeface family into the stratosphere. After releases that caught on like wildfire such as Laurenz Brunner’s Akkurat and Norm’s Replica, they released Aurèle Sack’s ‘Brown’ to their burgeoning fan base [a--s.ch]. Brown is another blast into the zeitgiest from lineto, being their very timely foray into 2012’s trend for mechanical, geometric sans.
Whilst stumbling around trying to engage with this trend for imperfect, mechanical sans-serif letterforms I hit upon Maax, developed by Damien Gautier and Quentin Margat at Editions 205, and have been using to loads ever since. It ticks a number of boxes that many recent typeface releases have been striving to achieve abet in a uniquely affable yet strident manner. It’s geometric in a futura-esque vein, it looks a little like it’s still in development, a little imperfect in places plus, similar to Euclid (see #8) contains a number of era-busting alts and variations (4 cuts—count em—of lower case ‘a’s for a start). I’m just hoping it doesn’t suddenly become wildly popular as I’m not done playing about with it just yet. Nice Mono version just released too.
Laurenz Brunner’s typographic work is both brilliant and frustrating [laurenzbrunner.com]. Brilliant because of the apparent ease at which he churns out rigorously constructed and radical letterforms. Frustrating because they tend to be glimpsed once or twice, featured in a particular project such as Circular (as featured in The Most Beautiful Swiss Books [swissdesignawards.ch]) before disappearing, seemingly without any planned release. Klingspor is Laurenz’s neat take on Erbar revivalist, Kabel, produced for exclusive use within Kaleidoscope magazine. In fact, shopping around for typefaces this year, it was rare that I didn’t spot one I thought was near perfect only to look it up and find out it was one of Laurenz’s custom jobs. Here’s hoping Lineto can persuade him to release some more typefaces from his burgeoning collection soon.
Every now and then there is a typeface that is pushed out into the public realm to negotiate its way around public opinion and, to be fair, New Transport appears to have come out unscathed. This could be due to its pedigree being the second collaboration between Margaret Calvert who, in her time, has helped design typefaces for National Rail and the original road signs that New Transport is derived from, and Henrik Kubel from linefeed faves, A2 Type. After an extensive and radical open feedback process, it now adorns the new British Government’s ‘super portal’ at gov.uk[gov.uk] where visitors can marvel at its transition from roadside way finding, into the digital age.
By now, there possibly isn’t a sole on the planet that hasn’t at least glimpsed Gareth Hague’s typeface for the London 2012 Olympics. After the controversy surrounding the official logotype (not designed by Hague) saw the mark discretely shoved into the background by organisers (check out any Olympics broadcast’s livery to see what I mean), London 2012 became the anchor for much of the branding. Held up to derision for its association with the aforementioned logo, the general feeling was that people accepted it, eventually, as the one permeable graphic legacy of the event. For the record, it really liked it, but then I’m a fan and of the personal opinion that Mr Hague rarely puts a foot wrong.
It hasn’t really been the year for serifs. Weird, because previous years have seen a fairly diverse range of letter forms jostling about for attention. 2012, really was the year for the bold, geometric sans (abet slightly oddball versions). Euclid, designed by Emmanuel Rey, is one of the grandmasters of this new genre and worthy of mention for the sheer volume of alternative characters made available to users. It’s a particularly single-minded typeface too, in that it has but one singular weight and no italics. So it’s a display typeface then? Well yes and no. I’m actually not sure. Maybe check it out for yourself and see what you think.
Milieu Grotesque is another young foundry that has released a spate of quirky new type families in the last year or so and are already to refining and rereleasing their early oeuvre. Maison Neue, for example, starting out as simply Maison, a 8 strong set of fonts, half of which were monospaced. On the other hand Maison Neue, also designed by Timo Gaessner [123buero.com], includes 3 additional weights, a better resolved lower case ‘a’ and a mono version reduced to one weight and an italic. The different between the two sets is easy to see, as is it’s progression from reasonably rough but earnest upstart to a much crisper and grown up, yet still quirky, edition.
Finnish design company, Marimekko’s new custom built typefaces have been in existence since 2009 but it’s worth bringing them up here as their prominence seemed to reach a peak this year, with the pattern-tastic company’s rapid expansion across the globe. The typeface has been designed and built by Tomi Haaparanta, an Helsinki (appropriately enough)-based typographer, who also added a subtle modernity to an updated version of the Marimekko wordmark too. Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to tell that one of Finland’s star typographers resides within the Suomi Type Foundry simply by looking at their website (ie it’s a bit horrible) but when you have a badge of honour as far reaching as the typeface for Finland’s leading international brand maybe that’s not really a priority [type.fi].
This is a bit of a personal entry, for it was in 2012 that I belatedly stumbled upon the work of Michael Harvey, author of books such as Creative Lettering Today and Lettering Design: Form and Skill in the Design and Use of Letters (phew!). Admittedly, the handful of typefaces designed by Harvey do not do justice to the hand drawn lettering he employed in his books and his work, but they do serve as a reminder of a time when all you needed was some paper and some gouache… oh and a heap of imagination, talent and verve (elan?) too I guess. :)
I can’t remember seeing a lot of interesting typographic systems initiated by businesses and organisations this previous year (other than the aforementioned gov.uk and Olympics faces). Luckily the one that stood out most, for me, was pretty darn special. French graphic design agency, Helmo’s redesign of the identity for newly extended and reopened Palais de Tokyo in Paris was inventive and expansive [palaisdetokyo.com]. Taking the idea of ‘dots’ and how to create letterforms from them, they then unleashed innumerable versions, some with less dots, some with the dots blown out so they stuck together, some with wiggly lines joining up the dots where more robust structure should be. Nowhere was this better utilised than in their redesign of Palais magazine too. A satisfying holistic approach to end on methinks. Roll on 2013.