Notes on Zenith DJR, July’s Font of the Month

Zenith DJR

In April, I had the opportunity to visit Charlotte, North Carolina (my first time!) to attend the excellent Society for News Design conference (also my first time!).

On the final day of the conference, I found myself walking up South Blvd with Caren Litherland and Claire Linsdey after a delicious lunch (yes, grits were involved). We passed this old firehouse with a fantastic Art Deco inscription, and felt compelled to cross the street to take a closer look.

Charlotte Fire Department

It didn’t take long before I was sketching, and I started the font that would become Zenith DJR on the plane ride home.

Style

I’ve always been a sucker for Art Deco, and this inscription struck me as being a particularly elegant example of the style of contrasted sans serif typified by Morris Fuller Benton’s Broadway. But unlike Broadway, Zenith avoids any hint of glitz and glam, instead finding its voice in the stoic optimism of Art Deco geometry.

The most distinctive element of this design is the heavy stems, which usually appear once per letter, and sometimes not in places where you might have expected them. The sporadic appearance of these thick strokes makes for a funny, uneven texture. Even though Zenith DJR is a display face, my favorite uses of it are in short passages of text that where there enough room for that texture to come alive.

I decided to push that texture further and create an inline style where the thick strokes are split into two. By layering these two styles, designers can use color to punctuate that texture, really making those thick strokes pop. Cyan is my favorite!

Layers

Alternates

I started to notice similar signs in other places, and began to have a bit of fun with the alphabet, especially letters that were not present on the original sign in Charlotte.

A pointed S in Greenfield, MA
A pointed S in Greenfield, Massachusetts

I ended up with three versions of the S: the default, the Escalator S (borrowing a term I heard from Thomas Rinaldi, who I think heard it from Paul Shaw), and the Pointed S.

S

I was also captivated by the sharpness and peculiarity of the fire station’s M and N and the overly wide and low-waisted A. It’s pretty rare that diagonal letters are my among favorites, and I tried my hardest to capture those qualities in this design.

As I examined the diagonals I began to wonder: why is M and N thick on the left side while A is thick on the right? I drew alternate forms for these characters where the thick strokes are shifted to a different part of the character, and realized that shifting the position of the thicks could help designers finesse that uneven texture that I mentioned before.

Diagonals

For example, if two thick strokes appear right in a row, the designer can employ an alternate to add some space between them. I considered writing OpenType substitutions to automatically reduce instances where two thick strokes appear side by side, but in the end I decided that these were better implemented solely at the designer’s discretion. Fortunately the effect is subtle enough that both versions can even happen in the same word.

Going further

These diagonals made me curious about how this design might play out in other scripts, especially the triangular forms of the Greek Δ (Delta) and Λ (Lambda). George Triantafyllakos, who drew Walter in this style, was kind enough to offer feedback on the design.

Zenith DJR, Greek

In turn, these Greek letters made me curious about what would happen to their counterparts in Cyrillic: Д (De) and Л (El). While triangular forms of these letters are typical in Bulgaria, they are much less common in Russia and other places that use the Cyrillic script.

Gostiny Dvor
A rare triangular Д that I found in the Gostiny Dvor subway station, St. Petersburg, Russia

Speaking with Ilya Ruderman at the Typographics festival in June, I learned that these triangular forms can easily look dated in contemporary Russian text. But, since Zenith DJR specifically calls to Art Deco influences from the 1920s and 1930s, we decided that the triangular forms would be a good fit after all. I am very happy with them!

Zenith DJR, Russian

One week left!

Zenith DJR has come a long way since that fire station in North Carolina, and I hope you find it to be a worthy take on the Art Deco sans. The typeface is available until July 31 at fontofthemonth.club – that’s just one week away, so I encourage you to sign up today!

Zenith DJR

Typographica’s Typefaces of 2016

If you use fonts, make fonts, or just like fonts, I think it is worth browsing Typographica’s incredible collection of reviews featuring typefaces from last year.

I got to write about Bely, an excellent typeface by Roxane Gataud. Her work on this typeface is worth checking out.

I am also especially grateful to three reviewers who took the time to review my work. Thanks to Eben Sorkin for his comprehensive listing of Bungee’s features large and small, from verticality and color to Chris Lewis’s Javascript implementation. Thanks to Nina Stössinger for her thoughtful review of how Roger Black and I approached our revival of Forma. And thanks to Rob Keller for his delightful take on Gimlet, exploring its relationship with Schadow and also the recently-released Algebra.

Because this is not a curated list, there are always some personal favorites that don’t get reviewed. But overall I am impressed with this year’s selection, and would love to see more frequent writing on new and interesting type. I am grateful to Stephen Coles and Caren Litherland for all the hard work they put into compiling and editing this valuable resource.

Fontribute dives deep into Input’s design

In this edition of Fontribute, Thomas Jockin and Erin McLaughlin do a deep dive into the designs of Input Mono and Input Serif, comparing and contrasting them to elucidate the thinking.

I was a bit nervous when I saw that they had chosen to analyze an intentionally unsophisticated design (it was based on a pixel font after all), but I thought they did a great job uncovering the thinking behind many of my decisions.

Roslindale: releasing a work in progress

Roslindale, June’s Font of the Month

June’s Font of the Month, Roslindale is a condensed headline serif that takes its inspiration from De Vinne.

De Vinne is a fresh Victorian take on the traditional oldstyle, with distinctive diagonal stress, open forms, and heavy bracketing in the serifs. Named for the famed nineteenth century printer Theodore Low De Vinne, De Vinne was designed in the 1890s by Gustav Schroeder and Nicholas Werner of the Central Type Foundry. It stands apart from the vast majority of nineteenth century types, which were drawn in the upright “modern” style or one of its myriad variations.

Roslindale, June’s Font of the Month
De Vinne in wood, from Bowne Printers, New York

I first became interested in the De Vinne style in 2015, when Indra Kupferschmid invited me to tag along on a visit to the workshop of Patrick Goossens. Patrick is a collector in Antwerp with an amazing array of presses and type, and among the slabs and grots in his wood type collection I found this bizarre ugly duckling. Even though I only emerged with the blurry photo below, I was charmed by its clunkiness and the unforgettable tension between the historicized look of the oldstyle letterforms and the rational mind of the Victorian designer.

A proof of De Vinne
My blurry photo from Patrick Goossens’s workshop

This offbeat “Elzevir” type made me wonder: can a typeface be simple and ornate at the same time? The idea sat around for a while, until Nick Sherman suggested that I take another look at De Vinne. Shortly thereafter I found myself in the lovely studio of Okay Type’s Jackson Cavanaugh surrounded by his vast array of specimen books. Examining De Vinne with fresh eyes, I loved what was happening in its narrower styles. And then, sitting in Jackson’s studio, I started to draw.

ATF De Vinne
Jackson Cavanaugh’s ATF Specimen Book

I’ve already explored the Victorian “faux-oldstyle” with my typeface Turnip, and this time I wanted to do something different. While Turnip embraced its chunkiness, Roslindale is slick and high-contrast, which I think serves to exaggerate its oldstyle attributes: the swooping wedge-like vertical serifs on the E, the round tops of the D and R, the diagonal stress of the e, the blobby terminal of the a, the sharp arches in m.

Medford, Cambridge
Roslindale Condensed

It’s worth mentioning that Roslindale’s slender forms and high contrast start to relate to 1970s reinterpretations of this style like ITC Bernase. This wasn’t intentional, but I’m kind of into it!

In creating the Font of the Month Club, one of my goals was to push myself to experiment quickly with ideas that could eventually turn into full families. I think Roslindale is a great candidate for that, and I’m already playing with a text version.

First drafts of Roslindale Text
A first draft of Roslindale Text

Earlier this month, I sent Roslindale Condensed to Font of the Month Club members, and they are already starting to put it to use. It is still available to new members until the end of June — just one more week — so sign up now!

One year ago today, I launched Bungee from a bus on my way to New York for Typographics. I am so excited to be back!

Bungee launch 2016
Bungee’s official launch, June 15, 2016

Nickel Open Face

Nickel character set

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending An Event Apart Boston, where I got to hear some great talks, chat with some interesting designers about type on the web, and meet web standards pioneer and Forma-user Jeffrey Zeldman.

On the final day of the conference, Jen Simmons led an incredible workshop on CSS Grid, where she not only explained the new syntax but the concepts behind it. Even though I spend more time designing type than I do designing websites, I was blown away at the potential for designing on a new level with this technology, and I could not wait to try it out myself.

So, as a first test of how I could use CSS grid, I created this colorful and responsive character showing of Nickel, May’s Font of the Month.

That shaded style that you see is Nickel Open Face, now available as a bonus offering for those who join my Font of the Month Club in May!

The Qualities of Design

The Qualities of Design

I am excited to see Fit in use in this small republication of The Qualities of Design, designed by Pavel Kedich.

The text is a chapter from a 1920 book by Harry Lawrence Gage which discusses harmony, balance, and shape. The text is set in Adobe Caslon Pro, and is broken up by large uses of Fit for display. Graphik is used for all of the captions.

This is one of a series of websites by Kedich that uses copyright-free text to play with layout and typography (see also Printing in Relation to Graphic Art).

The Qualities of Design

The Qualities of Design

Font of the Month Club

Font of the Month Club

Now for something a little different: I’m inviting you, my fellow type lover, to join the new Font of the Month Club! Sign up to get a fresh new font lovingly made by me, every single month.

In addition to my retail families, I love working on little side projects that explore a certain historical style or concept, such as standalone display faces and experimental designs. Most of these don’t ever get a proper release, so the Font of the Month Club is my way of sharing them with you.

Learn more and sign up for as little as $6/month at fontofthemonth.club!