12 MAY 2015 | CUSTOM TYPEFACES
The McClatchy Company publishes 29 daily newspapers across the US, from Washington, to California, to Kansas, Florida, and the Carolinas, in both large and small markets. Working with Garcia Media, they have spent the last year developing a unified design language that will bring together the print papers, mobile apps, and web editions with a more consistent overall look. However, it was important that the newspapers retain a measure of individuality, rather than all looking exactly the same. Directed by Garcia Media's Reed Reibstein and Mario García, we designed a set of typefaces that will help to bridge the gap between design consistency and individual character. For more information on the redesigns and the underlying strategy and philosophy, please see this excellent post on the Garcia Media blog.
The first set of newspapers to follow this new design paradigm are The Sacramento Bee, The Modesto Bee, and The Merced Sun-Star, with The Fresno Bee to follow in the next week. The remaining 25 dailies will roll out their redesigns in the coming year or so.
The quiet, hardworking core of this new set of typefaces is the text face, which will be common to all 29 dailies: a modified version of Kai Bernau's Lyon Text, with shortened ascenders and descenders to fit better with the tight leading of newspaper text typography. The italics are slightly less angled and a bit wider, keeping the counterforms and arches from clogging up on newsprint. Three grades have been produced for this family, slightly different weights to compensate for different inking on different presses across the country. Though the schedule was highly accelerated, we were able to receive press tests from all 29 newspapers, which helped to determine how heavy the different grades should be, as well as the right range of weights for the headline faces.
The more visible part of this project is a set of three headline families, all drawn on the same character widths and sharing kerning so that they can be subsitituted seamlessly for one another without changing copyfit. We have aimed for a friendly, sophisticated, and distinctly American look for the three families. McClatchy Sans was drawn by Christian Schwartz, McClatchy Serif was drawn by Miguel Reyes, and McClatchy Slab was drawn by Greg Gazdowicz. These headline families build on the ideas explored in Berton Hasebe's Duplex family, which matched a serif and a sans on the same widths, but the addition of a third family added exponentially to the complexity. The designers at Garcia Media and a handful of the McClatchy papers tested Duplex but felt it looked too European. With this in mind, we looked for sources that would feel unambiguously American, landing on a set of typefaces from the Ludlow Typefoundry. Ludlow's typesetting machines were very popular for setting headline type at newspapers throughout the US in the first half of the 20th century, before the rise of phototype.
Because these families are designed for differentiation, they needed to look different, while complementing one another when they are used together. McClatchy Sans takes a number of design cues from Tempo, R. Hunter Middleton's Americanized take on the geometric sans, which seems to borrow as much from sign painter's Gothics as it does from Futura. Since many of the papers had been using Font Bureau's Benton Sans, derived from Franklin Gothic and News Gothic, we felt we had to rule out the American Gothic genre. Angled terminals make the face look warm and approachable, while also adding flexibility in tweaking the character widths to match the other families. McClatchy Sans is the largest of the headline families, with 7 weights, duplexed italics (drawn by Greg Gazdowicz), and a full range of Condensed styles that are used for labels and larger headlines. McClatchy Sans also serves as a workhorse beyond headlines, with a looser Text version in use for captions, weather maps, and other secondary applications.
McClatchy Serif is based on Ludlow Garamond, Middleton's quirky take on French Renaissance types. We felt that an oldstyle would be a more distinctive and interesting choice than a Modern, which seemed like a more overtly historical choice. Miguel Reyes also looked at Sabon, which has more contemporary proportions and a crisper italic. McClatchy Serif has 4 weights, with true cursive italics for all. It is the most visually sophisticated of the three families, with higher contrast and a smaller x-height than the other two, making it feel less compact.
McClatchy Slab started out as a loose interpretation of Ludlow Bookman, the primary headline face in The New York Times throughout most of the 20th century, until the 2005 refresh that replaced it with Matthew Carter's extensive Cheltenham family. However, the character widths of the other two families forced the serifs to become shorter and shorter until McClatchy Slab ended up looking more like a slab serif interpretation of Cheltenham. This family is a bit friendlier than the other two, but the crisp detailing on the serifs keep it newsy and energetic.
A small number of alternates, such as a single-story g (which looked far too silly to include in the Serif), allow for further flexibility and differentiation.
The design process for these three families was far from straightforward. Schwartz drafted the Sans first, so Reyes and Gazdowicz would have widths to work with, but it was important not to think of any one of the three families as the "primary" typeface. As work on the three families progressed, the designers would periodically sit down together to discuss which characters they were having the hardest time fitting onto the widths and where the compromises were most visible, then negotiate changes.
Reibstein and Garcia describe their approach to using these three families as follows:
In practice, each newspaper will select a type palette emphasizing certain of the headline faces across platforms. In print, there are four options for the primary and secondary headlines: #1, Serif and Sans; #2, Slab and Sans; #3, Sans and Serif; and #4, Sans and Slab. At launch on the web, papers using the Serif will have the Serif as their primary headline face, while those using the Slab will have that as their primary face... Palette #1, emphasizing the Serif, is be the most elegant and conservative. #2 is more approachable but still serious. #3 and #4 are the boldest and most newsy.
01 NOVEMBER 2014 | CUSTOM TYPEFACES
Paul Barnes and Christian Schwartz have drawn a custom version of Paul's Caslon Doric Black for the identity of the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial, designed by Project Projects.
From the press release: “Organised by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), curated by Zoë Ryan and associate curator Meredith Carruthers, the theme of this year’s edition is The Future Is Not What It Used To Be.
Under this overarching title, Zoë Ryan revisits the manifesto as a platform and catalyst for critical thinking in design. The biennial asks, how can we reclaim the manifesto for the 21st century and beyond, not only in the production of texts, but through actions, services, provocations, or objects and seize the potential to incite inventive outcomes?”
Inspired by old political tracts, the typeface has four italic styles in total: more and less urgent angles, each slanted both forward and back. This allows the designers to use shifting emphasis to draw different meanings out of the text. The typeface is used to ask provocative questions in both English and Turkish on the interior and exterior of the Galata Greek Primary School, the main venue for the biennial.
The Turkish accents have been aggressively simplified. The breve over Ğ, typically a curved form, is instead a flat stroke, and the accents below Ç and Ş are reduced to simple dots, matching the dot over İ. These simplifications have been taken from lettering and sign painting styles common in Turkey, and allow for the tight line spacing the designers needed to create a very dense texture.
27 SEPTEMBER 2014 | CUSTOM TYPEFACES
Pentagram designed new opening titles and bumpers for the 40th season of Saturday Night Live, which debuted on September 27. Berton Hasebe drew a custom version of Druk Condensed, slightly lighter and wider than the existing version.
13 MAY 2014 | CUSTOM TYPEFACES
New York design studio Project Projects have redesigned poets.org, the online home of the Academy of American Poets. A major component of the redesign is a new digital revival of William Addison Dwiggins's Electra, first issued by Linotype in 1935, made with the kind permission of Monotype. Working from samples of the 8pt hot metal type, Christian Schwartz drew the screen version, and Miguel Reyes drew a more robust version for print use. The accompanying sans serif is Kris Sowersby's Founders Text. A major part of the new design is the ability to embed poems anywhere across the internet, a feature that relies on Poets Electra to relate the embedded poems back to the Academy of American Poets.
At the request of Project Projects and the Academy of American Poets, Christian Schwartz wrote a short piece on his experience working on the project, which is republished below.
Type designer's notes: Finding Electra
I was raised on a steady diet of W.A. Dwiggins' text faces. Growing up, most of the books at my local public library dated back to the 1940s to 60s, when Caledonia and Electra were two of the most predominant typefaces used by American publishers. To simply call these typefaces "quirky" would not do justice to the gleeful, unique character and wonderfully active textures of Dwiggins' best works, long beloved by graphic designers since their initial release in the 1930s and 40s.
When Project Projects contacted me to collaborate on a contemporary revival of Electra for the Academy of American Poets, I jumped at the chance to dissect and research this typeface that I've long loved, and was grateful that Monotype, now the owner and steward of Linotype's legacy, graciously granted permission for us to proceed. That this revival was intended to be used primarily on the Web posed a unique challenge, as drawing type for the screen inevitably requires a measure of compromise. It was of utmost importance for us to maintain Electra's distinctive formal qualities.
A typeface for Poets on the web
Though carrying a comparatively brief history, web typography has been limited by a unique set of severe restrictions. Until just a few of years ago, web designers were limited to roughly a dozen standardized typefaces, due to technical constraints that only allowed webpages to display text using fonts installed on the user's own computer — a stark contrast to the thousands of typefaces available to print designers. The number of web fonts increased significantly in 1996, when Microsoft introduced their so-called “core typefaces,” freely available across devices to improve the reading experience with visual consistency. This was a pivotal moment signaling the web's transition to mainstream use by the general public, similar in the way the mouse, for example, had made computers more user-friendly for the previous generation.
At the centerpiece of this collection was a pair of typefaces by celebrated British type designer Matthew Carter: Georgia, a serif, and Verdana, a sans serif, designed specifically for reading on screen, rather than being direct adaptations of existing print typefaces. Due to technological constraints of the time, each had to be designed twice: once as coarse bitmaps, drawn pixel-by-pixel for each size; then a second time, using smooth outlines that allow for scaling at any size. Though both typefaces were designed for the screen, each borrowed from previous eras. Georgia is influenced by the earliest typefaces made specifically for newspaper text, designed in Edinburgh in the early 1800s.
Type designers often look to the past for solutions to today’s problems, because the difficulties of making type readable on a computer screen or an old newspaper – blurriness, low fidelity in details – aren’t so different. Georgia was originally drawn to accommodate the limitations of the screen, but its massive popularity has meant that screen rendering evolved in turn to accommodate the typeface. To approximate a contemporary version of Electra, we compared Georgia to the 19th century newspaper typefaces that influenced it, then used what we learned to adapt Poets Electra from samples of the 8pt "hot metal" Linotype typeface.
The unforgiving environment of the screen meant that many of Electra's subtlest eccentricities had to be sacrificed for the sake of legibility. Compared to Linotype's existing digital version, which was digitized from the 24pt original, Poets Electra has a quieter and more sober tone. Weight variations were evened out; counterforms are even squarer; long stems don't have the same tapering; and many terminals aren't as intrinsically strange. Ironically, nearly all of these differences had already existed between different size versions of the original. When compared to the original 8pt hot metal type — in a twist of irony — Poets Electra gives a far more faithful rendition for the overall feel of the text than previous digitizations. To maintain a consistent voice across screen-based and print media, we then had to translate Poets Electra back for use in print. It felt a little too light on paper, so Commercial Type designer Miguel Reyes drew a slightly heavier weight of both Roman and Italic for use in print.
A history of Electra
In 1940, producing a typeface was by necessity a team effort: W.A. Dwiggins' first letterform drawings were just the beginning of a long process that entailed redrawing the letters for production, engraving masters, and fitting the spacing within the fixed system of widths available on the Linotype machine. The limitations of the Linotype machine shaped Electra in fundamental ways: Letters such as 'f' and 'j' couldn't extend past the sidebearings and overhang other letters. Common kerning pairs of letters such as 'AV' and 'To' had to be cast as ligatures — which meant, in practice, they were rarely used, making un-kerned text the norm. Finally, the most important limitation of all required that roman and italic letters all had to fit on exactly the same widths.
This "duplexing" of letters onto the same widths allowed roman and italic type to easily be mixed on the same line, which was and is important for everyday typography. Many typefaces available on the Linotype machine had been adapted from "cold metal," or typesetting by hand, which didn't share the same limitations, particularly on character widths. Many italics, which had typically been much narrower than their roman counterparts, became sadly distorted simulacra of their original designs when adapted for machine setting. Dwiggins' typefaces were different, though: he knew about these limitations in advance, and configured a set of tricks to make his italics look perfectly natural on the duplexed widths, although the formal integrity of some letters, notably 'f' and 'j', were still compromised to an extent by the impossibility of overhanging.
Restoring the past
To restore Electra for the modern-day, we considered each of what I see as the three main approaches a type designer can take when creating a contemporary revival. A type designer may, for one, attempt an historical reenactment, by digging up sketches, trial proofs, design notes, and any available means to get into the mindset of the person who designed the original typeface. One might say this is a form of method acting, albeit one based on a fair amount of guesswork: the designer dissects the decisions that shaped the typeface, and makes informed predictions of how the typeface may have looked if it had been made with today's range of tools, freed from the technological limitations of the time.
Conversely, a type designer may choose to simply regard an older typeface as an artifact of its time. Rather than attempting to reconstruct a decision-making process, the typeface is taken at face value — compromises and all. This frees the contemporary designer from investing time spent second-guessing granular details of how, for example, the limitations of a typesetting machine might have influenced some of the nuances, and allows him or her to instead depict the typeface as it appears on the page.
Finally, a type designer might use a historical typeface as a jumping-off point for creating a new interpretive work, focusing on one or more existing traits to make a contemporary typeface that fully reflects the time it was designed in, though sometimes with only the most tenuous connection to history.
I have tried all three of these methods on various projects, and felt that treating Electra as an artifact — without trying to second-guess how Dwiggins would have tackled issues of designing type for the screen — to be the most appropriate approach for Poets Electra.