Digested on February 16, 2005
Posted by David Earls

Jean-François Porchez has announced that Tom Grace has joined Porchez Typofonderie to work on custom font designs and to help in the conversion of JFP’s library to OT format. His first job is the completion of the House of Deréon typeface family for Beyoncé’s (and mother’s) fashion line of the same name. A graduate of Reading’s MA in Typeface Design, Tom developed fonts for Jeremy Tankard and Font Bureau before joining Jean-François, not bad for someone still in their twenties! Congratulations, Tom, you’re a very lucky man indeed to be working alongside such an inspirational designer as Mr Porchez.

While we’re on the subject, Typographica has posted its Favourite Fonts of 2004 review, a collection of 17 families reviewed by a whole gamut of type enthusiasts (or should that read geeks?), including my own review of JFP’s Costa, and Yves’ review of GalaxiePolaris and Klavika. Definitely worth a read. Other reviews feature Tiffany Wardle, Erik van Blokland, Christian Schwartz, everyone’s heart-throb Hrant Papazian and Grant Hutchinson.

FontLab has released TransType Pro, a new version of its font conversion utility that now allows you to convert to OpenType (PostScript flavour). Other new features include being able to manually edit the family and style names, Python scripting support, enhanced converting of legacy-encoded fonts to Unicode, and the ability to convert directly from Stuffit archives. Heck, they’ve even thrown in a Preview panel and the ability to create OT layout features from Type 1 or TT GX/AAT fonts. The release of the Pro version means there are now two members of the TransType family, Pro v3 and Standard v2.1. The former costs $179, the latter $97.

Boris Mahovac from Alphabet Design in Canada emailed us news of Branimir Zlamalik’s new family, Ulixa. Drawing its inspiration from European lettering artists, this uppercase-only family comes in three weights to make up a 6 font family, with alternates in the lowercase. Interestingly, there will be a free upgrade to a later OT version that eliminates double-character pairings. Of course, there are a lot of comic book fonts out there, but its good to see that people are starting to use OT features to enhance the genre, and equally refreshing to see someone taking the effort to produce a proper family of weights too.

Over at MS Typo they’ve spotted a great article on a 7foot high 300lb (that’s about 150% of me) letter B falling 500 foot to the ground in downtown Pittsburgh, USA. Thankfully, no-one got hurt, apart from maybe the designer.

Coming back to OpenType for a moment, it does appear that the format is here to stay and isn’t going to go the way of GX fonts and other innovations, and I for one am happy to be seeing more and more typeface releases taking advantage of the technology. I’ve been fooling around in FontLab with character string substitutions over the last few months to create new playful forms of fonts and its just great to see the possibilities come to life. Of course, as with the introduction of any new technology, its not all peaches and cream — as Typophile forum regulars (cynical and embracing alike) will testify — but overall, if we as a community can concentrate on experimenting and implementing the new technology in meaningful ways then the entire design community can only benefit from that. Its great to see that those of us who aren’t the Hoeflers, JFPs and Carters are able to dip our toes in the OT waters with TransType too - that’s the encouraging sign I took away from this week’s news.

I’m going to hand over to Yves now, but I do want to say that I agree with Yves’ concerns expressed last week over the use of OT as a marketing angle. It is an enabling technology, not an end in itself, and I hope that foundries are going to save the song and dance for real innovation, rather than just mere me-too posturing.

Now over to Yves, who’s posturing is always very much his very own...

Bald Condensed
by Yves Peters

Nobody’s getting paid for this; David made that abundantly clear in his call for contributors. You might ask yourself why then we’re prepared to suffer the nerve-wrecking stress of finding a suitable subject and facing the deadline on a weekly basis. Personally — besides fame and groupies, hey I am a rock drummer — I do it for the feedback. Getting reactions from people who’ve actually read what you wrote is a great ego-booster. At least then you know you're not shouting in the desert, so it makes it worth your while.

All this to say that last week’s review of Varius and my subsequent remark about using the OpenType technology as a sales pitch elicited an interesting reaction:

You are right that technology alone does not equal merit. [...] Currently, Linotype has two typefaces that are tricked-out with OpenType features for sale: Zapfino Extra Pro, and Varius. [...] The OpenType-ness of [Varius] is one of the cooler things about it (it does have some other nice features, and it fit well with the timing of the release and promotion, zeitgeist and all…) For the moment, OpenType is such a topic of designer chatter that I am comfortable telling people: "Look at this font; it can do this and this with OpenType." [...] By the end of 2005, I suspect that there will be well over 100 OpenType feature-using big families on the market. Then, it will be less of a selling point. But today, it’s still a selling point for me.

Point taken. I was over-reacting. Also, the more I look at it, the more I suspect the OpenType-ness actually is the only redeeming quality of Varius, which means Linotype sadly had no other option for the promotion of the type family...
And to say David thought last week I was mean...

As last week was kind of a slow week, I went hunting for new or recently released typefaces. Over at MyFonts I stumbled onto a peculiar little face in two weights called Subalde by Canadian Valérie Desrochers. The design pairs a clinical look reminiscent of rounded DIN and Isonorm faces with a more human, almost calligraphic quality in the details. There’s an underlying atmosphere of "updated neo-grunge" to it and in some respect reminds me of both Barry Deck’s 90s-defining Template Gothic and Lux Typographics’ idiosyncratic LuxSans. My suspicions about the calligraphic influences were confirmed by Valérie who explained in the e-mail accompanying the hi-res PDF that the design originally was inspired by forms based on hand-writing.

I’ll be the first to admit that Subalde has some minor problems, most notably the uneven weight in the bold lowercase g, but the calligraphic details like the curved stroke endings and joins and the "double" corners lend the face a pleasant — and unexpected — fluidity. I was particularly attracted to the uppercase A, H, J and Y, and the aforementioned lowercase g does a much better job at describing the tricky curve of an open bowl than Microsoft's dreadful MS Trebuchet. Considering this is only Valerie’s second typeface, it’s a very good effort. I like it.

Further investigation led me to two new scripts released by Sudtipos last month: Cuisine and La Portenia. Alejandro Paul has a solid reputation as a designer of script faces — Veer’s recent Top 20 featured four of his scripts — so my expectations were quite high. He didn’t disappoint. (I had the privilege to receive review copies of the actual fonts, which means I was able to properly test drive them.)

La Portenia is based on a sketch by Diego Giaccone; the finished drawings are by Angel Koziupa, an old guy who’s been doing lettering for 40 years as Alejandro Paul describes him. Alejandro is responsible for technical development, glyph additions, ligatures design and so on. La Portenia is a swirly connected script, "which indeed involves curly bits all over" (couldn’t resist that one). This time around though, it’s the right kind of curly bits, and they make the script dance elegantly on the page. The dynamic design simply oozes Latin sensuality. It comes in two variants: to get optimal results, set the text with the base font delaRecoleta and then substitute selected characters with its companion delaBoca for added swooshiness. All the necessary ligatures are included to avoid clashing of swashes in specific letter combinations.

Cuisine, a design by Alejandro himself, is a chubby, friendly display script one expects to find on food packaging and the likes. Again the font is skilfully built and features numerous ligatures, alternate caps and extras. I don’t care much for the uppercase Z and especially the K, as I find them lacking definition, but that’s more a matter of personal taste. The loopy alternate lowercase z on the other hand is loads of fun, as are the bouncy numerals.

On the surface Cuisine is honest and straightforward, qualities I appreciate in type design. But there’s more, and it took me a while to realise why this script amused me so. At some point it dawned on me that it actually looks like Alejandro took the Kaufmann model and made a run for it. It’s as if he took a good long look at the structure of that rigid ol’ thing, smiled and fixed everything that was wrong with it. A job well done if you ask me.

You see, this is what I enjoy the most when reviewing typefaces. This is what I tried to convey in both my original review of FTF Flama and last week’s less favourable critique of the IHOF releases. When new designs reference certain typeface models or archetypes, I want those references to be subtle and knowledgeable. I simply hate it when type designers underestimate my intelligence — or anyone else’s for that matter. Instead of having the whole story slapped in your face, it is infinitely more rewarding to find out the references for yourself. Nothing beats that aha-erlebnis when you discover what the intentions of the type designer were.

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Digested on February 7, 2005
Posted by David Earls

Quark will be demonstrating some of the, shock horror, OpenType and Unicode tools featured in their new upcoming product, InDesign Lite. Or Quark XPress 7. One of the two. According to Digit magazine, the features will be shown at the TypoTechnica conference (more on that here) during an hour-long seminar on the 17th of this month. If you want to know if Quark is ready to regain the DTP lead when 7 debuts later in the year, the demo starts at 11.50 in the Bridewell Room at St Bride.

Those St Bride folk are popping up more and more frequently in the news over the last year or two. Channel 4 here in the UK are going to be featuring St Bride Library's Nigel Roche, demonstrating typesetting techniques from the English Civil War. The programme, entitled "Blood On Our Hands: The English Civil War" will be broadcast at 9pm (Thursday 10th) on Channel 4 (more details here). I can't believe I am going to have to miss Newsnight and Question Time to see it.

TDC have posted their early results for TDC51 and TDC2 2005. Its just a list of numbers as usual for the preliminaries, but at least you get a feel for the international coverage and how it's all split amongst our geographies. You can view the results here, and needless to say [cough] we will be bringing you those results when they're public. Perhaps Yves will cast his eyes over the winning entries?

Version 7 of RoboFab has been released this week for all you font clever clogs out there. I have enough trouble understanding FontLab as it is without introducing Python scripting to the mix, but if you're game the details are here for your enjoyment.

And finally, Dirk Uhlenbrock has announced over at Typophile that next month he is launching a limited run of 1000 CDs covering the first phase of his Fontomas site. The disk will feature over 75 fonts and only costs 40 euro, with all the profits going to WorldVision Germany. You can pre-order here. If you want even more type and warm feelings, you also have until Valentine's Day to buy FontAid III fonts over at MyFonts. 100% of the price goes to Tsunami relief — read more here for what fonts are included.

And on that charitable note, over to mean old Yves...

Bald Condensed
by Yves Peters

Last week saw a couple of releases from foundries big and small. Unfortunately I'm not so happy with them, and although I decided going in that I would try to avoid negative reviews as much as possible, I feel I have to speak up.

The hand-written script Casino Hand is proudly announced by Matthew Desmond as MADType's first OpenType font. Remember the thing I wrote in my review for FTF Flama, that one needed a very good reason to release yet another neutral sans? Well, Matthew needs an even better reason, because there are a gazillion hand-written scripts out there. Trust me, as moderator of Typophile's Type Identification Board, I know. When we get a request for a hand-written script, we usually just give up after a while. Matthew has designed some fine typefaces — heck, his Variable was even voted best new sans serif at MyFonts! I think it's a shame he invested his energy in building his first OpenType font for such a pedestrian script. Fair enough, there are alternate glyphs for almost every conceivable character, which are automatically replaced by the software. Big deal. Superior technology is no excuse and certainly not a valid substitute for an interesting design.

International House of Fonts releases two typefaces, one high-concept and one... not. The latter is Bramble, a new addition to the expansive family of "fun scripts". Which indeed involves curly bits all over. The typeface comes in two variants, Normal and (drum roll) Wild. It's all a bit too obvious and heavily endebted to the Letraset/ITC school of anecdotal display scripts. Personally I prefer my "fun" subtler.

Mantra is more problematic. The blurb says it blends the Roman alphabet with Tibetan calligraphy and Hungarian folk influences to create a true hybrid of world cultures in this striking display font. Now that's a mouthful. I haven't got anything against high-concept design, but at least the result should look good. And it doesn't: the shapes look awkward and unbalanced, you get the impression there is no optical correction on certain curves and joins, and the character set lacks unity overall. I did some quick'n'dirty research on Tibetan calligraphy, and there's a lot more potential than what we're getting here. Frankly, if the grand idea doesn't help you to achieve a satisfying result, lose the concept. Being a bit more self-critical is not such a bad thing.

Next up is one of the big ones: Linotype announces the release of the Varius font family. Actually it's a mini type system, comprising of Varius 1, a baroque serif, Varius 2, a slab serif egyptienne and Varius 3, a semi serif variant. All faces have accompanying italics, and two pi faces round out the family. It has its own beautifully restrained dedicated Flash website which is very well done.

I have to admit this family doesn't grab me. The concept sounds interesting enough — the starting point for the design was the italic f-shaped holes in Stradivarius violins — but somehow it falls flat in the execution. The introduction of fragments of the f-shapes in certain characters feels forced and makes for some jarring glyphs. The general impression I'm getting is one of indecision: it's as if the designer couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted his typeface to be casual or not.

Plus there is this bit in the announcement which bothers me: [...] that deserves special attention for its excellent use of OpenType alternate glyphs and ligatures. Again, superior technology is not the raison d'être of a type family. Good imaginative design should always be the focal point. I mean, seriously, if everyone's going to use this as a sales pitch, the "deserves special attention" argument will wear thin pretty fast. It's like praising an album because it was recorded with state of the art recording equipment in Abbey Road Studios. That doesn't amount to anything if the music sucks.

I'm probably overreacting, but still...

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Digested on February 3, 2005
Posted by David Earls

One word. Flu. So, over to Yves, who has somehow managed to include erect penises into his column this week. Pretty impressive...

Bald Condensed
by Yves Peters

I'd like to introduce a pet peeve of mine to this column: typographic onomatopoeia. I don't even know if you can say that in proper English, but what the heck, it's my column, so sue me. I use that concept to define two things. First there's stereotypes in typography. I mean, it's already bad enough that some people feel an irresistible urge to open ranch-style tea rooms, I really don't need them to ram it down my throat with big spiky serifs. Same goes for Chinese restaurants implying I can't grasp the notion of an establishment that serves Asian food without ridiculous fake Asian calligraphy to go with it. Second are the type designs that are way too literal, for example ornamented caps that have actual flowers stuck to them. Like our tutor told us in our first year at the Academy: "Just because you typeset porn doesn't mean you need to use characters that are made up with little erect penises."

So, now that that's out of the way, let's get to it.

Two weeks ago Veer released 30 new type families from Device a.k.a. one-man foundry Rian Hughes, celebrating ten years in type design (see also the interview with Rian on Typographica). 30 families indeed, a grand total of 112 fonts if I counted them correctly, all released in one big gulp. In typical Device fashion it's a very eclectic mix, ranging from stylish text faces to fonts so quirky their possible usage seems predefined by their design.

On a general note, it's undeniable Rian knows how to design type. His background in illustration and graphic design plays a defining role in his style and makes him an interesting subject of scrutiny. The concepts he comes up with are well-fleshed out and impeccably executed, resulting in balanced, coherent typefaces. He manages to inject a unique personality into each of his designs and — what's even more important — succeeds in keeping it up throughout the complete character set. Plus he earns big points for the audacity and sheer madness of some of his typefaces.

Back to the current release. As far as the text faces go, I couldn't help but be a tad disappointed. I didn't discern the worthy heir to Rian's fabulous Paralucent family I was hoping to find. The Rogue family that was designed as an accompaniment to Paralucent for Loaded — London's notorious lads-mag — lacks the immediate appeal of the latter and looks wilfully over-designed. Here, his background as an illustrator works against him, as "style" tends to get in the way of the type. I prefer Dynasty, which is more rounded and very open in its squareness. And I'm partial to its wedge-shaped details and chiselled stroke endings. Ritafurey is just so mad I still have to make up my mind if I like it or not. But usually I consider that a good sign.

I've got more of a problem with a number of his display faces, which dangerously veer towards — you guessed it — typographical onomatopoeia. There are a couple of ornate faces, something rarely seen in Rian's oeuvre. Yolanda has pendants dangling from its capitals, Moonstone simply — errr — sparkles, and there are friggin' leaves sprouting on Dauphine's characters. This release even includes outright revivals. I was convinced we had left behind inflatable type in the seventies; I'm not so sure anyone was waiting for an alternative to Stop; and Electrasonic looks like it belongs to a campy 80s disco record sleeve. Make no mistake, they're all very well executed and will certainly find their way to their target audience. It's just that I'm not convinced said target audience will appreciate the quality of the type offered to them nor be willing to shell out the dough to license it. My position is simple: if they are going to produce crap typesetting, let them use crap type.

Fortunately, there are a couple that I really like as well. It's no coincidence that those are the ones that succeed in removing themselves just enough from the source material. Absinthe is the perfect sci-fi/Jugendstil hybrid, Straker is pure compu-retro goodness, Radiogram takes the Bifur model in new directions, and Xenotype just makes you wanna shake yo' booty. My favourites are Miserichordia, a crazy, joyous decorative serif font; an experiment in readability called Monitor which just happens to look very cool; and the deliciously chunky stencil face Payload which includes a great spray-can version.

"Spray-can version"? Did anyone say anything about typographic onomatopoeia?

The advent of the CD and its increased storage capacity has created a luxury problem for the album as a concept. Due to the 45 minute limit of an LP, artists were forced to be very critical about their material and had to weed out the lesser songs. Nowadays the length of an album on CD can be up to half an hour longer. So some artists feel the need to include more songs, resulting in potentially great albums that are marred by the inclusion of weaker tracks.

I get the feeling the same thing might have happened here. Though fundamentally there's nothing wrong with the 30 new releases, it's a shame some weaker fonts detract from the quality of the good ones. I'd rather have had a kick-ass, tight collection of 20 great families, especially since Device is a signature foundry which has always offered top-notch quality. Long live the 45 minute album.

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