Bald Condensed


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Bald Condensed
By Yves Peters, pubished on Tuesday, April 15, 2008
That's it. David reported that MacUser UK listed us in their cover story "Secret Mac sites -- The 50 hottest web links that will help you stay ahead of the crowd". Shockingly, not only was I called out in that article to update Bald Condensed more often, but last weekend the freakily talented and equally friendly Kris Sowersby told me I officially was a Slack Bastard™. There's but so much abuse a type writer can take...

Type is designed by real people with real feelings

Two pretty recent events made me re-evaluate my role as a reviewer of type. Well, 'pretty recent' meaning between now and last time I updated Bald Condensed in February... last year. I bow my head in shame. First I met Phil Garnham at the opening night reception of ATypI Brighton. He struck me as a very amiable guy, and when the conversation touched on the somewhat less favourable review I wrote about his FS Lola I suddenly felt a bit... abashed? Guilty? That was nothing though compared to the embarrassment I felt when Luke Prowse contacted me regarding a post on Unzipped. In his e-mail he came across as a genuinely congenial bloke and even jokingly referred to my bashing of The Times redesign. When I reread what I'd written I wished the ground would open up and swallow me.

But then I started thinking this through. What had my motivation been for writing in such forceful words? Was it an eagerness to please my readers who might be up for some controversy? Was I trying to shed a more favourable light on my own work by belittling somebody else's efforts? Was it mere ego-tripping, some self-indulgent glory-hounding? I hope not.

I like to think my prime motivation is my passion for type, and my love for things well done. That's why I sometimes become ridiculously enthusiastic, even lyrical when reviewing some brilliant new type. The flipside is that I can use pretty harsh wording when I feel a lot of creativity (or lack thereof) and effort was wasted on what I think is a mediocre design. Also, colourful language typically makes for a more entertaining read. So yes, I occasionally might step on somebody's toes, but as I told Luke in my first reply to him: "I guess it comes with the territory". I believe that as long as the very good outweighs the less good I'll just have to live with that. And hope that people won't shun me at the next type conference.

Type with several different voices

When I received Stephen Coles' call for selections for Our Favorite Typefaces of 2007, I noticed that Hubert Jocham's Voice superfamily was included in his list of the most worthy releases of 2007. This perplexed me a little, because Hubert sent me finished test versions of Voice Serif as early as January 2006. Yet somehow it makes sense. Hubert is the kind of designer who is very reluctant to tell you solid release dates for his typefaces. As he considers everything he designs as perpetually 'work in progress' he can only tell the dates he started his typefaces. His designs are finished only for as long as he doesn't find anything to add or improve upon anymore. So considering that the three sans variants and additional glyph sets like small caps and oldstyle figures were added later on, you might consider that the official release date is indeed somewhere last year.

For most people Hubert Jocham is something of an acquired taste. His typefaces have a very strong flavour and aren't exactly the most conventional designs. I like to compare his stance with the indie record shop I sometimes visited (unfortunately it had to close down a couple of months ago). Whereas in conventional shops albums by The Notwist are to be found in the Alternative section, this indie shop has it in the Pop section, albums by Justin Timberlake are conspiciously absent and the music in their Alternative section is completely out there. It all boils down to adapting one's expectations and taking into account the context in which the work is produced and used.

That being said, Voice is surprisingly conventional (in the positive sense of the word) and versatile. The superfamily consists of the serif variant VoiceSerif - figures - and three sans serifs. The 'plain' version is simply called Voice, while VoiceShoulder has a whiff of FF Dax/FF Sari about it and VoiceEdge is more technical looking. As Hubert explains:

"As I often work in corporate branding and magazine typography I wanted Voice to be a sans serif that works for both applications and more. In bigger sizes it comes across as clear and self confident, and it works well in smaller sizes for a certain amount of copy. It was quite difficult to get a grip on the design because it is somewhat in between styles and classifications. For example the stress, the stroke endings, the lowercase 'a' and 'g' are quite old style. The proportions are very classic (modern) to facilitate spacing. The letterforms are more open than those found in Helvetica.

"There's another typeface that also influenced the design. I borrowed the concept for the lowercase 'c' from Franklin Gothic, to give the character more body and again to improve spacing. The stroke endings of 'c', 'a', and 'e' play a crucial role in the design. It took me a long time to get them right, because these endings open or close the space to the character next to it."

The design is balanced and open, with generous proportions and a quite large x-height. I used VoiceSerif to set a 64 page book of short stories by my mother. The text looks very harmonious and reading is really comfortable thanks to those wide character shapes. Initially Hubert had difficulties to believe me when I told him I discerned Eric Gill references in the design. He eventually had to concede as Martin Farran Lee - the former art director of Arena in London - told him that he too saw a hint Gill in some weights of the typeface.

Although I really like the face, I'm not so happy with the way it is marketed. I can understand the seven weights in roman, italic and small caps, as the type family is targeted at magazine and corporate users. Yet in this age of fully-featured OpenType fonts I think it is a mistake to offer the oldstyle numerals and both VoiceShoulder and VoiceEdge variants as separate font packages which have to be paid for separately. That's what stylistic sets are for, and I don't think they justify the purchase of an additional license at full price.