October’s Font of the Month: Output Sans v2

Font of the Month, 2021/10 Try Buy $24
Output ui

September 14 marked the fifth anniversary of the introduction of variable fonts. I didn’t see too much in the way of fanfare, but it feels like this is a good opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come, and to appreciate what folks have done to make variable fonts easier to make and use. (If you played a role in that, THANK YOU!)

It’s also a moment to consider what comes next for variable fonts. In my perception, they’re in a bit of an awkward phase right now. Support in browsers is great, and designers are using techniques such as animation to push the limits of the technology — after five years we can hardly think of them as a shiny new toy. But at the same time I don’t think they’ve fully left the “experimental” realm and entered the day-to-day workflow of the average designer.

As I pondered what zany, over-the-top, variable display face I could send you to commemorate this half-decade, it occurred to me: if I really want to help variable fonts get over this hump, maybe it’s worth taking a step back and thinking more about how I want to see them used in practical, everyday typesetting. And that’s why I’m sending you a beta variable version of my practical, everyday sans serif, Output Sans.

Output gradient wght

Output Sans is the closest thing I have to a “personal default”...how letters look when I shut my eyes and picture them in my head. It’s a matter-of-fact design that’s a little narrow, with curves that are a little tense. And it has a slight techy flavor, which makes it especially well-suited for user interfaces and in a supporting role alongside more decorative designs. 

It has been kicking around on my desktop since 2014 when Mac OS changed their UI font to Helvetica and people were hungry to customize their UI appearance. I think I’m happy with the overall design, but with all the sans serifs out there, I lost the confidence to say that it was different enough, or special enough, to ever declare the family “finished” and give it a formal release.

This month, I decided to remake Output Sans with a variable-first approach, a maximalist spin on a minimalist design. Part of this is admittedly a psychological shift...I tried to stop thinking of it as a family of individual members and instead as a single tweakable design. And I tried to shut off my type designer brain that worries too much about smooth curves and internal consistency, and instead focus on mapping out all the different ways I’d want to adjust the design. In addition to the weights and italics from the original version, I’ve now roughed in width, size, grade, and terminal openness.

Output gradient wdth

So here’s the catch: this is very much a proof-of-concept, and parts of the designspace are ROUGH. Typically I send out these club fonts once I have reached a good stopping point, but with Output Sans I am still in the thick of it. If you hang out around the default Regular style, I hope you’ll find this to be quite usable, but just take a little more care the further you venture away from there.

One of the stated goals of this club is to give you a view into my process, and my process is this: a constant cycle of roughing-in and refining, as opposed to just drawing one perfect glyph after another. So even though I’m a bit nervous to share something in an unpolished state, my hope is that the excitement (and embarrassment) of my lumpy curves will propel me to keep improving the design in the coming year. I won’t bug you every time I do, but I plan to make updates early and often...the latest version will always be at the download link at the top of this email. So feel free to give this a fresh download/install if you use it for something, but note that you may get some reflow of your text between versions!

Meanwhile, I hope Output Sans provides an opportunity to think about the role of variable fonts in your everyday workflow. Do they slow you down? Speed you up? Is this what the future of font families should be, or am I better off whittling a big, flexible system like this down to something more specific? I’d be happy to hear which of these axes seems like overkill, which of these seem worth cleaning up and finalizing, and what other tweaks you’d want to make to this design (square dots, maybe!?).

I realize that not all of you do your work in environments that support variable fonts, and that is not your fault. I’ll mention two things: Dinamo’s excellent Font Gauntlet has a “Generate Static Font File” feature that lets you export static font files from this variable font, which you are totally allowed to do under the modifications clause of my license. And maybe it’s worth taking a moment to send an email or (re)post a feature request to the makers of the app you’re using...after all, it has been five years. 😉

Words

September’s Font of the Month: Roslindale Extended

Font of the Month, 2021/09 Try Buy $24 PDF
Roslindale extended words 2x

One of the hardest things about making a type family is, like all creative endeavors, knowing when to stop. There is always another variant to explore, another alternate to try, another character to add. 

Roslindale has been the most popular typeface I’ve produced for the club. Of course I’m very excited about the possibilities for this family, but I’ve also consciously tried to avoid letting this become a Roslindale of the Month Club. I really try to strike a balance between stuff that *I think* designers will like and use, and stuff that *I hope* designers will like and use.

It has now been an entire year since I’ve issued any new styles of Roslindale. In that time, I’ve been working with Jaimey Shapey to fill out the existing grid of weights and widths, adding the remaining italics, symbols, and small caps in order to complete the designspace (whatever that means). And just as the family felt like it was finally approaching a stopping point, I couldn’t help but throw a wrench in the works: Roslindale Extended.

De vinne extended

De Vinne Extended, from the ATF Specimen Book of American Line Type Faces, 1903

As you might recall, Roslindale follows in the footsteps of Central Type Foundry’s De Vinne, a clunky faux-oldstyle produced in several widths and variants starting in the 1890s. Each one of them had an uneven, blotchy texture, but De Vinne’s Extended cut was perhaps the ugliest duckling of them all. The qualities that makes these shapes particularly grotesque also makes them kinda compelling, and I became curious to see what that might look like in Roslindale...and you never know until you try!

For the record, I don’t think of Roslindale Extended as a finished design, and I’m definitely not committing myself to drawing this in all weights/italics just yet. It’s more of an exploratory sketch like Gimlet Banner, possibly a non-canon entry in the Roslindale Extended Universe. 

You really don’t see too many extended oldstyle serifs like this out there, and maybe there’s a good reason why. When thicks and thins are oriented on a vertical axis, it’s easy enough to widen them by spacing out the thick verticals and broadening the thin horizontals between them. But when the axis is diagonal, the distinction between verticals and horizontals are blurred and bits of thick start to creep into the horizontal strokes. When those get stretched out, it puts the round shapes even more at odds with the straight shapes and things get really weird really quickly!

Widths dragged

You were probably taught that you shouldn’t mechanically stretch type, and that’s generally good advice since it throws the whole vertical/horizontal relationship out of whack. But I’ll also admit that stretching Roslindale Display’s Bold by 150% was the very first thing I did. 😇 

From there, I attempted to preserve the newly broadened proportions while undoing all of the stretching’s unfortunate side-effects: verticals that are too thick, horizontals that are too flat, serifs that are too long, and a diminished diagonal axis. The trickiest part by far was figuring out how letters like c/e and p/d/b/q should throw their weight around the curve, but I think I found a way to get some thickness back into the tops and bottoms of those letterforms.

Roslindale extended text 2x

These tweaks capture a little of De Vinne Extended’s bounce, but without too much of the lumpiness and unevenness. Shapes so wide are going to be inherently stretchy, but if I keep going with this style, I’ll see if I can refine them even further.

I don’t think this is the most utilitarian cut of Roslindale, but I hope you understand why I just had to try it out! You’ll also find an interpolated Wide style and a variable font in there for good measure. And if you’re able to use it for something, do let me know...I’ve now made it my official policy to offer a free back issue to anyone who submit uses of my fonts to Fonts in Use!

Roslindale extended words uc 2x

New: Forma DJR Cyrillic by Jovana Jocić

Forma cyrillic socials

I am excited to announce Forma DJR Cyrillic, designed by Serbia-based designer Jovana Jocić.

Forma DJR is a revival of Aldo Novarese’s slick neo-grotesque. Working together with Roger Black and Indra Kupferschmid, I studied the original metal type and interpreted the design as a large family with optical sizes, rounded corners, and tapering stems.

Jovana picked up where we left off and took care in translating this design to the Cyrillic script. The design is thoroughly modern, but never severely so. It maintains the simplicity and warmth of Nebiolo’s original design with its single-story a, and echoes them in the softly-draping curves of Д and Л and the simplified form of K and Ж (it’s not the same as the Latin K!) .

Forma cyrillic socials6

Jovana’s expansion adds several languages to Forma’s repertoire, going beyond the Russian alphabet and including localized forms for Bulgarian, Serbian, not to mention a ligature to handle Ukranian’s tricky ЇЇ pair.

And, perhaps most impressively of all, Jovana found a way to harmonize the design with Forma’s super-tight spacing. I found this to be tricky enough in the Latin, but Cyrillic has more straight-sided characters than Latin (which let in very little negative space) and more overhanging characters that (which let in a ton of whitespace). I think Jovana did a great job balancing these out!

Forma socials

Forma DJR now supports Cyrillic in its core weights between Extra Light and Bold (300–700) in all of its optical sizes. A variable font covering that range is included in the family pack as well!

Since the Italics and extreme weights are not done yet, I am keeping the Forma DJR Cyrillic family separate (for now) in order to avoid confusion. But if you’ve already purchased a license for Forma DJR’s Latin and would like to use the Cyrillic, you can contact me to upgrade to the Cyrillic at no additional charge.

To see more, feel free to check out Forma Cyrillic’s web page, grab the PDF specimen Jovana designed, and take the fonts for a spin. We are excited to see what you do with the fonts!

Forma cyrillic socials5

August’s Font of the Month: Megazoid

Font of the Month, 2021/08 Try Buy $24 PDF
Words UC2x2

On a conceptual level, geometric shapes endow letters with a timeless beauty, transforming them from handmade marks into emblems of mathematical ideals. But on a practical level, building up letters out of circles and squares is just really, really awkward.

In most geometric sans serifs, the job of the type designer is to smooth out that awkwardness, introducing optical compensations and refinements in order to achieve a unified result. And in the past decade, “geometric sans” has become a catch-all term for clean, general-purpose sans serifs with disparate influences (including humanist and grotesque) and varying degrees of connection to pure geometry.

I’ve never felt like I had much to add to this genre, and over the past fifty (!) months of the club I’ve mostly steered clear of it. But this month I’m psyched to send you Megazoid, a chunky geometric sans serif that feels equally at home on a guitar amp as it does on an interstellar satellite. And while I’ll concede that recent trends have made the geometric sans feel a bit safe and boring, Megazoid is here to remind you that geometry can be raw and weird and anything but.

Caps UC2x2

Megazoid pits square and circle against each other, contrasting blocky exteriors with counterforms that are mostly circular and cylindrical. This juxtaposition recalls the classic Radio Shack logo and its distinctive retro-futuristic vibe, but Megazoid leans towards corners over curves maybe 25% more often. This gives Megazoid a distinctive squarishness that sets it apart from the more figurative, stroke-based designs in this genre (I’m thinking Blippo and Pump, or recent entries like Bonkus, Marvin Visions, and Nichrome.)

At the same time, Megazoid avoids going into complete abstraction by not getting as heavy or extreme as designs such as Baby Teeth, Ginger Snap, Morro, Shotgun, and Strand. Instead, it bridges the gap between figurative strokes and abstract shapes, essentially functioning in the space between the super-literal Futura Extra Bold and the hyper-stylized Futura Black.

I really enjoyed playing with the tension between slick and clunky. It was a challenge to puzzle out how to make the more figurative shapes like s and o play nice with weirdos like a and e, even when their texture and color are totally dissimilar.

And you won’t find much in the way of triangles in Megazoid. Rather than introduce more symmetry, I took a page from Avant Garde and drew A, V, Y (and alternate M and W) as asymmetrical trapezoids that add a touch of off-kilter dynamism to the otherwise static design.

Text UC2x2

I didn’t plan this, but I’m really happy that Megabase, Megavolt, and Megazoid have formed a family of sorts, each one exploring a different mode of sans serif with heavy science fiction connotations. They all have plenty of non-sci-fi potential as well, not to mention a link to the phototype and dry-transfer typefaces of the 1970s.

A glance at any Letraset or Photo-lettering catalog is enough to tell you that this style lends itself to outlines, shadows, and textures. So I totally encourage you to go all out! Outline it, inline it, and offset it to create groovy drop shades à la Papirtis Pink Mouse. I held off on making a tricked-out color font (for now) but I did include Fill and Shade styles to give you a little head start.

Fancy UC2x2

You’ll also find that I was particularly indecisive this month and left in a slew of stylistic alternates for you to explore. And last but not least, I also explored a Cyrillic version of this design which I found to be particularly fun. Many thanks to Jovana Jocić for critiquing the Cyrillic, as well as to Eben Sorkin, Mathieu Triay, and Donny Truong for their comments on this design.

Cyrillic UC2x2

July’s Font of the Month: Pomfret Lowercase

Font of the Month, 2021/07 Try Buy $24 PDF
Pomfret lines 2000

Exactly one year ago, I sent you Pomfret, a set of titling capitals I made in response to Bertram Goodhue’s striking cover for an 1892 edition of The Knight Errant. Ever since I took Roger Black’s suggestion to draw something based on Goodhue’s work, I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back to it. So what better way to celebrate Pomfret’s first birthday than with an accompanying lowercase!

Typically I like to mix things up for the club, and I try to avoid sending you back-to-back family updates—especially two “classical” serif updates. But I do think Pomfret is an illuminating counterpoint to last month’s Fern Text. Fern is firmly rooted in the pen-informed, diagonal-axis tradition of Venetian text faces dating back to Nicolaus Jenson. Pomfret has hints of the Venetian style (the internal serifs atop M and N, the gently draping tails of K and R), but structurally-speaking it’s an entirely different beast. It is delicate and high-contrast, with an entirely vertical stroke axis and shapes that feel more constructed than written (I guess that makes sense for something based on the work of an architect).

Pomfret alpha mc 2000

As far as Pomfret’s lowercase goes, I’ll admit I kinda winged it. There was no lowercase precedent to be found on the Knight Errant cover, and even though Goodhue drew a similar design for the Merrymount Press, its lowercase just didn’t fit the sharp, delicate, restrained direction in which I’ve taken Pomfret (I did borrow a couple features from Merrymount though, including the serifed crossbar of t.) 

In my first pass of the lowercase, I looked for opportunities to echo the signature moves of the capitals letters. Certain features—the underbite of C, the “shy” tail of K, and the complexity of W—translated easily to their lowercase counterparts (I never get away with this, but Pomfret’s w is literally two v’s, just like the caps!).

Pomfret lines small 2000

The lowercase has so many more round shapes than the uppercase, and I quickly realized that I would have to heighten some of Pomfret’s other design elements to give it enough of the rigid refinement of the caps. The caps have a pretty high waist already (see E and P), but I pushed that even further in the top/bottom differentiation of a and e (the swooping curve of a also has a lot in common with a backwards s.) The difference in width between straight and round letters is also more extreme in the lowercase. 

Pomfret’s lowercase also needed to span the stylistic divide between the Venetian-esque detailing and its unwaveringly upright axis and constructed appearance. The double-sided “head” serifs atop n and u are an unusual contrivance (typically head serifs only stick out to the left), but they echo the distinctive double-sided serifs on the capital M and N. They also serve to connect the design (at least superficially) to the angle of a broadnib pen, and are similar to shapes you might find in the Speedball textbook or University Roman.

Stunt roman 2000

Stunt Roman, from the Speedball Textbook. See also Ross F. George at Letterform Archive.

I’m usually a stickler for keeping the overall openness/closedness of arches and terminals consistent in my typefaces. For example, the arches of Fern’s n and p are flat and the “mouth” of the e stays open in order to echo that flatness. In contrast, Gimlet’s arches bend until they smoothly join the stem, and its terminals follow suit and close in. But in Pomfret, I forced myself to let go of this habit and the arches close in while the terminals remain wide open, another effort to bridge that stylistic gap.

Pomfret compare 2000

All in all, the lowercase I ended up with for Pomfret was certainly not the lowercase I expected. It probably has more in common with ’60s quasi-inscriptional designs like Americana and Friz Quadrata than it does anything created by Goodhue. But I *think* it coexists happily with the uppercase, and I hope you do too!

What’s next for Pomfret? Now that I’ve done this lowercase, I’m curious to see how it translates to an italic. And I know that Pomfret’s utility is extremely limited by its super-high contrast, so I’ve been sketching a low contrast version for small sizes as well...