|The making of FF Tundra
A line of text is like a silhouette on the horizon. Closer inspection reveals the detail, the trees, bushes, rocks; details that, though only vaguely perceivable from afar, create both rhythm and variation. The beauty of this landscape is born of both regularity and variety.
I chose Tundra as the name for my new serif typeface not during the design process, but from the outset. I had in mind this idea of a wide and flat landscape. This was the initial idea: Tundra should lead the eye effortlessly along the line, thus emphasizing the horizontal. This would have been rather easy, since a typeface with comparatively wide proportions would achieve this quite naturally. But I also wanted to create a useable, legible typeface: somewhat compact or condensed so that it might also serve well for narrow columns and space-starved headlines.
A typeface has two principle directions: The horizontal, the line, which the eye moves along; and the vertical of the individual characters, defined predominantly by the stems. The stems are responsible for the rhythm of a typeface, while the curves (bowls, instrokes, outstrokes, etc) determine its character. In general, the narrower a typeface becomes, the less distinctive it is. A narrow typeface creates a picket fence or staccato effect, a line dominated by closely spaced stems. This is tiring and dull, and does not make for easy reading. The same occurs when the distances between the stems is too generous. So my main question was: How could I create a rather narrow typeface that best emphasizes the round parts and the horizontal line? How could I optimally adjust these two directions?
Warm and open
The most important parts of a typeface are the zone at the base line and even more at the x-height. Here reside the more complex forms (in contrast to the middle parts, which are usually only the vertical stems).
As a counter movement to the stems, which are more dominant the more narrow the typeface becomes, I tried to emphasize these two lines: the base line and the x-height. I made the general contrast rather moderate. The serifs are strong and flat. I also drew the shoulders (n, b) flat and strong.
The diagonal stress moves the thick parts more to the horizontal. The terminals (a, c, e) are heavy and the apertures open. The letters c and e — owing to their contrast — could almost be part of a sans serif typeface. Open forms also permit more interaction between the letters. All these elements help to create even lines that make reading easy and comfortable.
Of course reading is much more complex than these very simple considerations. Why a typeface is legible, why it appears fresh or lively is much more complicated and difficult to specify. Rhythm can’t be reduced to a fence pattern. And to create harmonious letterforms it’s much better to follow your own feeling for forms rather than follow rules. Very often I’m unable to point out why I like a typeface and why it creates an enjoyable image of text; or, conversely, why it fails. Therefore, I try to track my own eye, and how it describes a path through the text, across the line, and through the words. Is it a pleasing and fluid movement, or does it stutter and stall? But still I can’t precisely describe why a typeface works. Usually I try make forms clear and distinct. I was never much interested in playful details (which you can’t see at small sizes anyway). I think a good typeface must be more than a selection of interesting (and more or less pushy) details. It needs a design vocabulary of its own. A good text typeface should be concerned with producing interesting and lively texts, rather than interesting and lively characters.
When I designed my typeface Marat, I also drew a super black version, and – unusual for a classic serif typeface – it works very well. For Tundra the opposite is true. It appears that this particular construction prefers lighter weights.
The reason might lie in the moderate contrast of the letterforms. So I drew Light and Extra Light weights and reduced the contrast yet further. In my opinion, many thin contemporary Old Face types contain too much contrast. Maybe its caused by extrapolation, I don’t know.
Tundra comes in six weights from Extra Light to Bold, accompanied by italics and small caps. The Pro character set contains letters for all major languages using the latin alphabet.
Different numerals and various other OpenType features provide advanced typographic performance. There is one thing I want to point out, a composition problem often occurs for certain character combinations, mainly f and y.
For this reason Tundra contains ligatures and alternate letters. A common problem is f followed by an accented character. In this specific case a narrower f applies automatically via OpenType’s contextual alternates feature. For g y there also exists a ligature. For more details check out FF Tundra on the FontFont web site.
Tundra has been selected by the Type Directors Club of New York to receive the 2011 Certificate of Excellence in Type Design.
|ATypI 2011 Reykjavík
Founded in 1957, the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) is a worldwide organization dedicated to type design and typographic-related themes. Reykjavík/Iceland hosted this year’s annual ATypI conference. From 14–18 September, about 250 local and international guests gathered to hear presentations on writing systems, design history, and font production. I attended with the Linotype/Monotype Imaging company contingent, and was fortunate enough to give a presentation on the final day of conference. While this write-up doesn’t cover every lecture or activity, I hope that it lends readers a good feeling of the event’s flavor.
Reykjavík is a beautiful city, and the conference location was outstanding. All regular activities took place inside the recently completed Harpa Reykjavík Conference Hall and Conference Center. Harpa has a contemporary, nebulous appearance. Although the building is without a specific profile, it still features a prominent façade, created by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. While Reykjavík may be a small town, as far as European capitals are concerned, Iceland seems immensely large upon arrival. Many conference attendees took advantage of the easy opportunity to drive out into the landscape and experience more of the island’s natural wonders.
Font editors & a book steal the show
The five-day conference began rather informally on Wednesday, 14 September. Attendees could sign-up for optional workshops; the most interesting of these may have been Indra Kupferschmid and Nick Sherman’s Define: type matters round-table discussion on typeface classification, or Mike Duggan’s ClearType hinting for webfonts workshop. Indra and Nick are hoping to publish proceedings from their workshop on the ATypI website soon; this will give the wider community the benefit of their work at the conference. As for hinting, Mike works for Microsoft, and I think that it would be great to see more workshops with him at future design conferences.
Over the past few years, I have experienced several design events where the new, star products were all typeface releases. As far as I recall, no new typefaces were released at this year’s ATypI. Instead, talk of four new font editors filled the air. Days before the conference began, FontLab issued the long-awaited public beta version of FontLab Studio 5.1, a re-write of FontLab Studio that enables the application to run under MacOS X Lion.
Before the conference, much of the online buzz around this year’s ATypI revolved around RoboFont. So, many attendees must have felt relieved when Frederik Berlaen took to the stage on Thursday to demonstrate RoboFont publicly for the first time. RoboFont – already used by some of the world’s best typeface designers – is a Mac-only, UFO-based glyph drawing application, originally commissioned from Frederik by the Font Bureau. RoboFont was officially released during the conference. Later on during the conference, I saw several designers in the audience with their laptops open, already designing in RoboFont. For professional type designers, the €400 price is really a steal, especially if they have already purchased other UFO-workflow applications, like Metrics Machine and Superpolator. A 15-day trial version of RoboFont is also available.
There were other font editors shown during the conference: Georg Seifert presented his Glyphs font editor, which he had demonstrated in beta at last year’s ATypI conference. Google’s Raph Levien previewed a new, spiral outline font editor he is developing; this cloud-based application is apparently not yet ready for release, however. Will it help make 2012 be ‘year of the font editors’?
Another release was Hyphen Press’s announcement of the second edition of Fred Smeijers’s Counterpunch, and a few advance copies of the book sold out quickly in Harpa’s bookstore. Fred had a lecture of his own on Friday morning, in which he showed incredible close-up photos of sixteenth-century matrices from the Museum Plantin–Moretus collections; some of these matrices were struck with punches cut by Claude Garamond, Robert Granjon, or Hendrik van den Keere. Counterpunch itself was originally published in 1996, and Fred’s lecture focused on his research into punchcutting since that time. According to Fred, Counterpunch’s second edition is primarily a reprint, not a sequel, although he then teased the audience, remarking that his additional findings may some day be published in a follow-up volume, which he jokingly referred to as Counterpunch Two. I know that this is a text that I would eagerly read.
Iceland’s special letters
This year’s conference theme was ‘eth’ – or ‘œŧħ’, as the conference designers wittingly spelled it. The ‘eth’ name represents the Ð/ð letter of the Icelandic alphabet. The lowercase ð form seems to have come to Iceland via Anglo Saxon texts, while a ‘barred D’ type of uppercase form is used in the diacritics of other contemporary languages as well. Today’s Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters, including the Þ and the Ð, an Æ, six letters with an acute accent, and an Ö. The letters C, Q, W, and Z are not used. The Þ and the Ð share a similar th sound, at least to non-Icelanders; but the Þ only appears at the beginning of a word, while Ð is an inter-word letter only. In keeping with the special-letter theme, several papers on diacritics from various European languages were presented during this year’s conference, particularly on Friday.
One of my fondest memories of the conference will surely be the panel discussion on the design of the lowercase ð, which was the penultimate Friday afternoon presentation; it is a pity that this was not filmed for later release to the general public. Panel participants included Anton Kaldal Ágústsson, Gunnlaugur SE Briem, Veronika Burian, Steinar Farestveit, Gerry Leonidas, Gerard Unger, Gunnar Vilhjálmsson, and Ian Watson. Albert-Jan Pool lent a hand, too. Early on in the discussion, Gerard Unger remarked that, ‘it can be tricky to design an ð for a typeface. If you don’t want to design an ð that matches your typeface, you can design a nice ð and then design a typeface around it!’ This comment set a light-hearted tone; yet, despite all of the laughs during the 30-minute time-slot, I think that there was a lot to be learned during this part of the programme.
After the presentation had ended, Adobe’s Frank Grießhammer told me that the problem type designers had about not knowing how to properly design the ð is now over. By convening in Iceland, the ATypI ensured that more than enough photos of Icelandic signs will make their way onto Flickr.
This year’s ATypI conference included a new element: a ceremonial opening on Thursday evening by Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Iceland’s president. Although there have now been 55 ATypI gatherings, this is the first time a head of state has addressed the organization.
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson’s talk was a treat. With great humor and insight, he explained the role that he saw for languages with smaller numbers of speakers, both in Iceland and abroad. For instance, Microsoft once had a policy of only supporting languages with over one million speakers. Although Icelandic is the national language of Iceland, only some 318,000 people are estimated to live on the island. However, Windows does now support Icelandic, thanks to a personal letter the president sent to Bill Gates. This was only one of several anecdotes he used to captivate his audience.
The presidential address was followed by a keynote lecture from Gunnlaugur SE Briem, author of the English-language instruction guide for type designers eager to learn how to properly design the Icelandic characters thorn (Þ/þ) and eth (Ð/ð), and likely the most well-known Icelandic type designer.
If Saturday’s daytime activities had their own theme, it would have had something to do with non-Latin design. This year’s conference programme included talks on – at the very least – Arabic, Devanagari, Khmer, Korean, Latin, Meeti Mayek, Mongolian, and Tamil scripts. Aside from the annual TDC and TDC² exhibitions that have long been part of the ATypI conferences, this year saw the first World Scripts Exhibition from the collections of the Typography and Graphic Communication department of the University of Reading. Fiona Ross and Alice Savoie curated this fascinating glimpse into the resources available to students and researchers at Reading; many of the items included traveled outside of the archives for the first time in order to be part of this exhibition.
Saturday’s final presentation was from Hanif Kureshi, entitled Painter Kureshi, last street painters of India. I first saw Hanif’s HandpaintedType project during the Typography Day 2011 conference in Ahmedabad, India. His project has come a long way since then. Some time back, a free font named Painter Umesh was released via the website. Now, the first commercial font family is available for sale: Painter Kafeel.
Although the Painter Kafeel fonts cost $ 50, they are a tour de force worthy of consideration in a broad scope of headline and other display typography applications. A full half of each purchase will go directly to Kafeel, the sign painter in Delhi who made the artwork on which the fonts are based. The remaining $ 25 will be invested in the HandpaintedType project itself. Mumbai-based design studio WhiteCrow digitized the Painter Kafeel fonts. This studio’s bespoke typefaces can already be seen all over India, so seeing their support for HandpaintedType is a good sign. Hanif Kureshi mentioned in the Q&A after his talk that, thus far, very few copies of the Hanif font have sold. However, I have a feeling that this might be about to change.
Not all work and no fun
Celebrating and socializing are important parts of any conference. Reykjavík’s intimate size made it easy for groups of conference attendees to meet-up in the evenings for pub-crawls or clubbing. There were also organized after-hours activities, including an exhibition opening at Reykjavík’s Spark Design Space, and a large Gala Dinner on Saturday night for all of the conference attendees, followed by an after party with drinks and dancing at the Iceland Design Centre.
Everything ATypI related wound down quickly on Sunday, 18 September, as attendees began to leave for home. For those who remained through the end, the first order of business for the final day was the organization’s Annual General Meeting, which only about twenty percent of conference registrants attended. Several additional talks took place after the meeting concluded, including my own. Fortunately, these were much better attended that the General Meeting itself.
The highlight of this year’s Annual General Meeting was a series of presentations on possible locations for future ATypI conferences. The Board of Directors determines exact locations, but it seems very likely that next year’s conference will meet either in Yerevan, Armenia or in Hong Kong. ATypI conferences might be organized in any one of a long list of cities that presently includes Amsterdam, Antwerp, Reading/UK, Toronto, and Weimar/Germany. A proposal for a future ATypI conference in India is also being prepared.
Before we start planning for ATypI 2012, I would like to heartily thank Hörður Lárusson, Gunnar Vilhjálmsson, and all of the other volunteers in Iceland who made this year’s great conference possible. Thanks must also go to ATypI’s Barbara Jarzyna, whose organization throughout the year ensures that conferences like this one run smoothly. Birna Geirfinnsdóttir designed the conference logo, color scheme, and other collateral. The white/blue/orange combination was excellent, and the design in general was exemplary.