photo of yves peters

Author: Yves Peters

The current edition

bald condensed swap to dual mode

All right, back to business. I've noticed that freeing up time to write my Bald Condensed reviews is getting increasingly hard, so I'll just have to take it one edition at the time. Also I still have some catching-up to do. The best way to deal with this will be to squeeze in a past release with every new typeface I review. Hopefully I'll manage to touch upon everything I planned to. Sorry to have kept you waiting.

The Times redesign
Before we start a quick note about the -- fairly -- recent redesign of The Times by Neville Brody/Research Studios and the new headline face that was designed for the newspaper. Honestly, the redesign doesn't do anything for me. I stumbled upon it while researching two pieces for Unzipped, and it struck me how unimaginative and bland the redesign looked when compared to The Guardian and De Morgen, both recipients of the Best Designed European Newspaper Award in 2005 and 2006 respectively. It's possible that Brody dealt with a very conservative board, or maybe newspaper design simply isn't his thing.

Then the typography. First of all, why does every other newspaper redesign have to involve Gotham? I mean, seriously! In Flanders alone, the aforementioned De Morgen and financial paper De Tijd are using it, and in other countries it's the same story. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great family, but I don't want to see it in - every - single - newspaper. Why do they all have to look like American newspapers? So yes, this applies to The Times as well. To reply to designer Luke Prowse's quote in Alan Formby-Jackson's interview: if Gotham really is the new Helvetica, then stay away from it fer chrissakes! Use your imagination and try to come up with something original and appropriate. After all that's what they're paying you for. Jeez...

I can live with yet another newspaper using Gotham, but the heck is that new headline face supposed to be about? It looks like Mercury trying to be an Unger face with awkward serif shapes and poor kerning. To use a music analogue -- here I go again -- the The Guardian faces are like Prince in the eighties, soaking up influences from Little Richard over James Brown and Sly Stone to Jimi Hendrix, and ultimately turning all that into something new and refreshing. The The Times headline face is like Terence Trent D'Arby in the eighties, desperately trying to be Prince. It is a superficial design, all style over content. OK, I may sound too harsh here, but then they shouldn't have written that inane press release. "The Times is the only newspaper to create and use bespoke fonts, all other UK newspapers purchase ready-to-use fonts." Hello!? The Guardian anyone? What a pack of blatant lies. They might just as well try to claim they invented the serif!

All right, now I'm all worked up. Sorry'boutthis. Let's try to calm down and get to the good bits.

'Exciting'. How often have we seen this word as a descriptive for a new typeface? It has been used and misused for so many times that it has lost its meaning, its impact -- an empty shell to accommodate whatever they want to sell to you. Plus can type really be 'exciting'? How geeky can we get?

Tim Ahrens and I were on the same bus going back to the airport after ATypI Lisbon. At some point in the conversation he got some prints out of his case and showed me an nearly done version of Zalamander. Well, I can tell you one thing -- I got really excited by what I saw. Then, at the end of November last year I received an e-mail with a PDF and a review copy of the family attached, and it looked even better than I remembered.

So, what is the excitement all about? Zalamander is a brilliant synthesis of a multitude of references, and the end result is a stunningly original design. It is impossible to describe in one word -- my best attempt is "Fraktur meets hip hop meets Art Deco meets comic book". The influences the design draws on run the gamut from high art to pop culture, from mid nineteenth century to today. What's particularly impressive is that despite all those different elements it's a very controlled and well-balanced typeface. Instead of Zalamander looking like everything at once, it is one of the most exciting type designs I've seen in recent months/years.

Most of all the faces have a wonderful rhythm. The vertical accents in the glyphs and the alternating curved straights and tense curves create a beautiful pattern in the text. I usually don't like all caps setting that much, but all caps Zalamander blew me away when I first saw it. Although the character shapes are quite lively, the way they meet baseline and cap line ensure that the overall impression is orderly and nothing gets out of hand. The lowercase mirror the controlled liveliness of the caps very nicely, the tilted dots and period being nice little details.

Now that we're talking character shapes and glyphs -- Zalamander provides an insane number of alternate glyphs. Some of them come from even wilder sources. There's runes in there, there's minimalism, there's Constructivism, yet they all blend in perfectly. It's a treasure trove for the discerning typographer and a real treat when you like to customise headlines and logos. On the technical side, those alternates are implemented with the "salt" feature, which means there are no stylistic sets. However, the user finds the alternates in the fly-out of the normal glyph in the glyph palette. Tim thought this behaviour would be OK for a display font -- you wouldn't need to change hundreds of instances of a letter like it may be the case with a text typeface.

Zalamander comes in six weights, ranging from Extralight to Extrabold, and features small caps, various sets of numerals, extended diacritics and Cyrillic. Best of all, Tim offers All Caps versions of all the weights for free on his website. So get over there and download them together with the PDF. Test drive this beauty, and if you're just as smitten as I am with this delectable type family, buy the whole set. Believe me, you won't regret it.

Published: 18th February 2007