Infoletter July 2008

Hear it from the designer

As Dalton Maag launches its new font family, Magpie, we wondered what the designer of this font, our own Vincent Connare, had to say about it.

Dalton Maag: At first glance, the design of Magpie feels quite traditional but once you start looking at some detail it reveals its quirkiness. How did it come to be like that?

Vincent Connare: I began the design process by looking at the 18th century designs of Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune. I was in search of a typeface that would be transitional in classification and contemporary in design. My first attempts were lifeless and had stereotypical type features; generic bracketed serifs, straight stems, digitally geometric curves, and lacked the spirit of an original design. Initially I was adamant to design with the computer. My rationale was the digital device is the modern tool. Then I thought it would not be correct or modern to design in another medium when the final medium is digital. During the design process I was inspired by Michael Harvey’s workshops and his practical hands-on letter cutting. I carried on from his workshops an experiment of cutting letter shapes into hard wood; this woodcutting mimics the method of cutting steel punches.

My first breakthrough was when I began on the italic font. I wanted it to be cursive and very different from the roman font. Fournier le jeune’s Bâtarde Italienne and his other Bâtarde cursive styles were very lively and they served as my inspiration for the italic. I was pleased with the results and after showing Gerard Unger my attempt he suggested a method he once discussed with Matthew Carter – that if you are more pleased with the italic an experiment which could help put life into the Roman font is to tilt the italic upright. I skewed the italic sixteen degrees counter-clockwise and then used that as a base for a new Roman font. This brought a calligraphic quality into the typeface, derived from the cursive nature of the italic. The specifically italic features, such as the single storey, letters were removed, and the result is Magpie.

I've been working as a typographic engineer for now about twenty years where the main job is to clean up font data – either the outline data or its display on the screen through hinting. Looking at everything I've done it the past I can now see that I am rebelling against this 'cleanliness', refusing to create geometric or mathematically perfect outlines. Probably because I know I can eventually clean up the inconsistencies on screen with hints.

DaMa: Magpie is a quite condensed design. Can you tell us a little more about that?

VC: I started designing this typeface way back in 1999 at the University of Reading. I'd just retired from Microsoft, where Cleartype and the e-Book reader were the new technologies, so the condensed design was to fit more on a small screen. This was always a constant request with fonts for applications at Microsoft. The User Interface designers and engineers wanted to get as much text into a small space as possible. So that was an early goal for this typeface.

DaMa: Do you think Magpie will make you as infamous as the other font – the name of which we don't dare speak!

VC: I just hope the people who hate Comic Sans love Magpie. But I'm not sure the rest will like Magpie as much as Comic Sans.

Make a Splash

Urban Splash is different from your everyday property developer. For one, these people actually care about design and architecture. The North of England already sports many of their developments, both living and work spaces. So it comes as no surprise to find that this company also cares about the way it presents itself in all its communications, from sales brochures to large development billboards.

During a brand review North Design realized that Urban Splash would benefit tremendously from a typographically-led design concept. Different fonts were used to illustrate the effect of type on how the brand is perceived. Helvetica was part of this exercise and we were able to demonstrate that bland is not good, and that font designs based on strong grids are not always appropriate either. Further rounds of font development allowed us to experiment with design features that finally developed into the design concept as it stands now.

From the start we were clear that this could develop into an organic font family, with new weights and styles added to respond to a particular need in communications. Ideas ranged from the obvious different font weights, with currently a Bold and Light, to designs made up from patterns or morphed shapes that always preserved the underlying structure of the font design. To do this, however, would be a large undertaking that can only be introduced organically.

In order to create playfulness we started developing alternative design variations for many of the characters in the font. The lowercase 'g', for example, has three alternative designs. The designer working on a brochure or a poster can choose different designs to allow for more playful application of the typography. Different and distinct character designs make the brand instantly recognizable without compromising the brand as a whole. The Urban Splash font family is a work in progress. We actively encourage users of the fonts to send us suggestions of new ways to treat the fonts. All ideas are considered and the best ones will become part of regular updates. Of course, whilst working on the Light weight, we have already considered new character designs which will become available soon.

Cubist Lighting

Although a geometric shape, Flos Cubo from the Italian lighting design company Flos, has slightly convex surfaces which give it an organic feel. It is an attractive object that can just sit on the coffeetable. London design agency GBH was tasked with the branding of the new product and invited Dalton Maag to collaborate on the development of a display font for Flos Cubo. The font design reflects the shaping of the surfaces. The characters are square in appearance but this rigidity is broken by convex curving of the outside shapes. Instantly, the font feels more organic and friendly to the eye, as Flos Cubo does to the touch.

This font design looks deceptively simple yet proved quite difficult to successfully implement. In particular the convex curving needed special attention. Too shallow and the curve would simply not register when set at smaller size, too deep and the character as a whole would look too round. A further challenge was presented by the diagonal characters which don't offer a natural opportunity for curving; this is specifically true for 'k' and 'x'. There is no doubt that this font can only be used for headlines over a few words; the strong geometry presents considerable challenges to legibility since pretty much all of the characters are very similar to each other.

A font was the perfect solution to brand the product. No other graphic device would have conveyed the understated style of the product so simply and effectively. The font design is now integral to all communications about Flos Cubo.

Dalton Maag Switzerland on the move

Dalton Maag Switzerland moves to new offices in Hittnau near Zurich. The elegant and modern building is constructed following the Minergie-Standard. It is heated using waste materials resulting from timber production by the owner. From August our new address will be: Pfäffikerstrasse 37, 8335 Hittnau, Telephone 044 950 13 01.

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