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Typographica’s Best of 2013: OdestaMarch 13, 2014

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Dyana Weissman writes: I hate this typeface.

I hate it because I wish I had drawn it myself. But I didn’t. And even if I had, who is to say whose would be better? It doesn’t matter, because this is excellent, and there is no need to even try.

When in conversation with people who know nothing about fonts, once they find out about my job, they in­vari­ably ask what my favorite typeface is. I’ve always found that question to be awkward. It’s difficult to answer when one makes, but rarely uses, the thing under discussion. I feel like an asshole saying, “I like the one that I made for this well-known, high-end client” — it’s self-absorbed and pretentious. I appre­ciate a high-quality typeface, of course, but I’m not a graphic designer, so I have no reason to license one. In answer to this question, I usually just give the name of a typeface I admire to keep the conversation flowing.

But this… this is a typeface I want. And that is an incredibly rare thing. This captures what I would want for myself so perfectly (without me even knowing that until I saw it), that I have been thinking about it. In fact, I don’t want anyone else to have it. I want perpet­ual exclusivity. I know that’s silly (and expensive), and that Ondrej can’t agree to that now that Odesta is out there. I take solace in knowing that now everyone else can license it and put it on everything BECAUSE THEY SHOULD PUT IT ON EVERYTHING.

More specifically, I love Odesta’s perfectly round ball terminals. (I often make them in my own sketches.) They lend themselves well to the pochoir/stencil effect, but this is also a script, which is lovely. It has some beautiful curves. The ‘M’. The ‘k’. The ‘r’Especially the ‘r’. I make an ‘r like that in my hand­writing just because I love the shape so much. And, oh yes, that high contrast. So elegant! All of these ele­ments together should be a total mess, but here, they come together quite nicely. There is a bit of stiffness to it, but I know where it comes from, and I forgive it. What Ondrej pulled off here is pretty amazing.

Odesta is a little bit bonkers, and that’s why I love it. I could never truly hate it.

See the review on Typographica.org.

Typographica’s Best of 2013: Founders Grotesk TextMarch 13, 2014

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Christian Palino writes: Aria di rivoluzione — those were the words that first made me swoon. Those shoulders! That ‘a’! Tight apertures! As I turned the pages of Il Magazine (filled with the skillful typography of Francesco Franchi), I fell in love.

Founders Grotesk is one of those faces that simul­taneously seems like it has always existed and has never been seen before. It has become hard to expect anything less from Kris Sowersby, who turns out to be The Blues Brothers of revivals — resurrecting entire movements to create something new and unique. Sowersby’s approach to Founders Grotesk, initially inspired by a 1912 Miller & Richard specimen, involved careful curation of various century-old grots. Originally designed for display usage with tight letter spacing, when the typeface was first put to work at text sizes in The Weekend Herald, and ultimately in Il Magazine, Sowersby found that it did not hold up well. Fortunately for us, this led him to design Founders Grotesk Text.

What is exceptional and evident in the Text faces is that they are not simply redrawn and re-spaced letters for improved readability at smaller sizes, but often quirkier letterforms that help to translate the chari­sma of the big, beautiful display weights into text — all without feeling overly precious or distracting. Bellissima!

See the review on Typographica.org.

Typographica’s Best of 2013: BrooklynMarch 13, 2014

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Robb Ogle writes: Brooklyn (the typeface) is a noteworthy story of compromise, bulldozers, and the custom type it was dressed in. Tension exists between its commissioned appropriateness and retail legacy.

Imagine the shifting creative briefs concerning aesthetic and civic “right” sent during this 42-billion-dollar project. Type designer Chester Jenkins worked with Pentagram to give graphic voice to three consecutive architect firms’ visions of a contested plan: to build Atlantic Yards’ stadium along with residential and office towers on 22 acres of land and transform a transit hub at the intersection of three neighborhoods. With so many interpretations defining one opinionated population’s sense of “live, work, and play”, odds for a striking type design to emerge were low. Jenkins and Constellation (and Village) are to be commended.

2007: Jenkins’s initial design was inspired by Frank Gehry Architects’ preliminary model, hyped in 2003 by former New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp as “the urban equivalent of the fanciest flower arrange­ment a city could give to itself.” Octagonal type pulled jagged beauty and function from gargantuan steel petals, using (as Village puts it) “horizontal, vertical, and 45-degree diagonal lines, with just a few other ‘support’ angles woven throughout.” The latter details make the design superior to another prominent civic/athletic faceted display type drawn around the same time. Alias’s design for Wolff Olins’s [2012 Olympics] identity(http://typographica.org/on-typography/a-fruitful-discomfort-the-face-of-the-2012-olympics/) looks crude, breakable, ephemeral by comparison. Brooklyn (the typeface) has thought­ful engineering. Typically curved terminals stay horizontal in a mechanistic touch that opens up interior shapes and avoids overwhelming octagonal repetition. Paired with slight obliques, it is built for loadbearing and fits the identity of an urban develop­ment commission and legibility demands for signage use.

2012: Gehry’s out. SHoP Architects are in. Brooklyn (the typeface) changes voice when set on different buildings. It’s disinterested in the rusty-amoeba-curved Barclay’s Center wayfinding. It’s brash when overriding fashion retail and neutral transit branding with Brooklyn attitude. The type becomes exclamation when attached to the quieter 32-story prefab resi­dent­ial B2 tower currently under construction.

2013: Retail release. The style fits the site and the time, but will it fit Brooklyn (the borough) moving forward? Let’s hope that Brooklyn (the typeface) does not turn into ITC Manhattan, which forever locked the island to its brief Deco heyday.

See the review on Typographica.org.

Typographica’s Best of 2013: Post GroteskMarch 13, 2014

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David Sudweeks writes: Confusion, pleasure, disbelief. That was my initial reaction to Post Grotesk, Josh Finklea’s design which, to my mind at least, seemed at once to have always existed, and yet still come with something new.

The guiding principle behind the Neo-Grotesk genre — so far as I’ve been able to follow it — is a careful study of the virtues of the Grotesk letter itself, not including further developments that span additional genres, but rather focusing in on those features peculiar to the Grotesk and incorporating them into one’s own con­tem­p­orary design.

I can only imagine that work on Post Grotesk began with a long, serious look at Berthold’s Akzidenz-Grotesk. The face seems to also benefit from much of the airiness and eccentricities of say, Monotype Grotesque, with all its inherent playfulness, while also outwardly displaying a serious bite. In the final design, almost all overt signs of danger have been polished away, the jagged teeth of the cap ‘C’ filed down, leav­ing only furtive looks here and there, and the occas­ional oddly-cut terminal angle such as on the bar of the ‘4’ or ampersand out stroke, declaring, as it were, “I am what I am.”

The face’s relaxed fit, generous x-height, and linear forms go a long way toward establishing an inviting texture. Added interplay between curves of varying tension keeps the page from going too cold. Note, for example, the squareness of the lowercase ‘o’ versus the roundness of the ‘b’. Other details, such as the relatively intricate set of commas, quote marks, and apostrophes, thoughtful use of ligature features to substitute efficient, non-ligating forms, a set of stylistic alternates offering a substantially different feel and function, and its range of weights add to the face’s versatility. So ultimately, yes, I’m very pleased with it; I’m glad to see this kind of careful work within a genre and happy to add it to my favorites.

See the review on Typographica.org.

Typographica’s Best of 2013: DomaineMarch 13, 2014

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John Boardley writes: Kris Sowersby’s Domaine family has its origins in a logotype for the Australian wine company, Hardys. I am an unabashed fan of Sowersby’s work. He is an exceptional type designer, one who has a particularly acute sense of what good type should look like.

In Domaine Text and Domaine Display, he has again extruded the very best elements from a number of cross-genre exemplars. Never aping, but mindfully deconstructing, then distilling only the best elements, the choicest ingredients into something purer, something new; and above all, and most crucially, something eminently usable. With Domaine, the gradation of weights from Light through Black is pitch perfect; the contrast, especially in the heavier weights, spot on. Yet, despite the evident technical prowess, there is still flourish and flare, though it never descends into affected flamboyance.

The so-called Latin types are an unusual genre. It’s quite a challenge to take this style as a starting point and proceed to make something unified and useful out of it — something that has a use beyond a quirky, multi-word headline. The Latin letterforms have their charm, but sometimes they verge on ugliness at worst, and ungainliness at best.

Sowersby was able to reign in or pacify the genre by taking cues from the Scotch Romans, but without surrendering some of the charm, including the sump­tuous curlicue fish-hook terminals. Perhaps it’s just me, but in the narrow and condensed Romans the flavor of the Latin exemplars shines through a little more.

Domaine is Sowersby’s largest family to date, compris­ing 46 fonts. But it is so much more than an impressive range of styles; it’s what good type should look like.

See the review on Typographica.org.

New Release: DignitasMarch 7, 2014

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Dignitas, a contemporary take on the Roman inscriptional capitals, was designed by Christian Schwartz and Dino Sanchez originally as part of their high-concept Luxury Collection. As such, it takes an almost parodic approach to the idea of elegance. The large x-height is balanced out by very long ascenders and descenders, and though it was promoted as a text face, its delicate details work best at 18pt and above.

The classical proportions of Roman inscriptional capitals have never truly gone out of style. They have been revived again and again in history, as architectural lettering during the Renaissance and several Neoclassical periods since; by Fred Goudy in 1930; as a signage alphabet for London, designed by David Kindersley in the 1950s; and in the early 1990s in Carol Twombly’s Adobe Trajan, ubiquitous in movie poster design to this day. These proportions can also be seen in such unexpected places as Paul Renner’s capitals for Futura. The inscription at the bottom of Trajan’s Column in Rome is the best known example of this lettering style, but many, many examples still exist throughtout the former Roman Empire.

Read on and test it out here…

New release: HaltrixFebruary 23, 2014

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As a general rule, most script fonts are built upon elements associated with femininity; smooth curves and delicate swashes. As a result, scripts are often associated with feminine products. (One of the ‘great’ non-connecting script fonts is Othmar Motter’s Femina, which is doused in so much perfume there’s not much mistaking it for anything you might find on a baseball uniform.)

Daniel Sabino’s concept for Haltrix was to head in the exact opposite direction of most script fonts, purposefully making a ‘masculine’ script face; the starting point being the designer’s own handwriting. Every decision was made during development to make the letters as aggressive and angular as possible by avoiding curves and emphasizing straight line segments.

Haltrix sits amongst other such scripts as Gabriel Martínez Meave’s Arcana and Roger Excoffon’s marvelous Mistral (as well as Elena Albertoni’s homage, Nouvelle Vague.) The typeface was also influenced by blackletter types, bringing a harder-edged approach than its predecessors.

The typeface is a connected script reliant upon OpenType Contextual Alternate lookups, and with several alternates, swashes, and wide language support.

New foundry: BlackletraFebruary 23, 2014

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We are so pleased to announced a new member foundry, Daniel Sabino’s Blackletra.

Blackletra is the workshop of Brazilian type designer Daniel Sabino, currently based in São Paulo. Daniel holds an MA in Advanced Typography by EINA/UAB, Barcelona, and has taught type design at IED/São Paulo. Established in 2012, Blackletra develops custom and retail typefaces, lettering and logotypes. Blackletra’s work has been recognized by the Type Directors Club (USA), Laus (Spain), Morisawa (Japan), Typographica (www), and Tipos Latinos (Latin America).

Communication Arts magazine on IncubatorFebruary 20, 2014

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In the past decade, “incubators,” businesses where the experienced help nurture the new, have been popping up in a wide range of fields, from tech startups to nonprofit creative arts organizations. The aptly named Incubator is one of the first such programs specifically dedicated to type design. It’s one part of Village, a small, independent type distributor, publisher and type design studio based in the Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) area of Brooklyn. The name Village derives from its original location in New York’s East Village and its structure as a collection of member-foundries with a cooperative connection. It includes top type designers from around the world and membership is by invitation only. Just as carefully selected, the “Incubatees” are up-and-coming designers who come to the attention of Village founders Chester Jenkins, former partner of Thirstype, his wife Tracy and other members of the group.

Launched on Village’s three-year anniversary in 2008, Incubator helps designers develop their typographic voices and get their fonts ready to sell with “gentle guidance” from Village members. “We were already kind of incubating before Incubator,” recalls Jenkins. He and longtime Village member Christian Schwartz of Commercial Type mentored Kris Sowersby, now a Village member in his own right, while he was preparing his debut release, a curvy serif called Feijoa, for his foundry Klim in the mid-2000s. “Christian and I each worked on a custom type project with Kris, and I worked with him on the technical aspects of bringing Feijoa to market. We had already committed to having a dedicated slot for Kris in Village and he has always been an incredibly talented and skilled designer, but preparing type for market is much more involved than most people realize, even those who have self-published type.” Another pre-Incubator incubatee was Hugo d’Alte. “We worked closely with him to prepare his typeface Kaas for publication in 2005 and released that through the Thirstype label,” Jenkins says. So the idea to incubate fell out naturally from the process of guiding typefaces to market. But Incubator as another foundry within Village was not officially formed until the release of Jeremy Mickel’s Router in 2008.

Mickel found inspiration for Router in some handmade signage under the streets of New York: words router-etched out of plastic in the subway station at 33rd and Park. Mickel was familiar with Village; he and Jenkins had previously met at what Jenkins calls “type geek nights in NoHo” back in 2006. Because Village specializes in a hand-picked and varied collection of type styles, Jenkins could see that Router would be a nice addition to the roster. “We knew that we wanted to release Router,” notes Jenkins, “but didn’t feel that it fit into any of our existing channels. Which is when we lit upon the idea of having an incubator, which would allow us to publish types—usually first designs, sometimes student work, always interesting—without the kind of ‘marriage’ that is involved in having a foundry slot at Village.”

Both Jenkins and Schwartz gave Mickel feedback, each focusing on different aspects of the design. “I had gotten to know Christian Schwartz and he became a mentor for Router,” says Mickel. “He’s listed as my Village Counsel as he answered many technical questions and gave drawing feedback during its development. But Chester was also very involved, offering his opinion and expertise the whole way through.” The one-on-one counseling came at a good time for Router. “I still had a lot to do. I think I had completed a full draft of Router Book and Book Italic and done sketches of the other weights. But it was about a year after I first agreed to publish Router with Village that it actually got released. Village understands that good type takes time and they have never pressured me to release anything before it was ready.” Mickel is now a full Village member with his foundry MCKL , and Router was included in the 2012 exhibit Graphic Design—Now in Production, co-organized by Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the Walker Art Center.

Incubator has grown in the past five years to eight releases, with many more coming up. Lucas Sharp, another Incubatee, gives a good description of the easygoing nature of Village. His project is Sharp Sans, a geometric, humanist sans serif. “I submitted it directly to the designers of Village, who got back to me that they were interested in publishing it after a few meetings. I actually met Chester in person when I ordered all the specimen books off the Village website and, since I was working out of a studio in Dumbo at the time, he hand-delivered them to me on his dog walk. I was originally mentored by Joshua Darden and worked as a draftsman at the Darden Studio before I went independent, and Chester picked up where Josh left off in terms of my typography education. There isn’t any kind of pairing system, but Chester and Tracy make themselves available to look at work, and if you want to get another Village designer’s take, you can just e-mail them and they are responsive. I’ve found that indie type designers in general tend to be friendly, helpful and accessible.”

Even with the generous design feedback, Incubator is not a type design school. As Sharp explains, “Incubator is more of a publisher than a mentor. Yes, they are very helpful and can really help take burgeoning talent to the next level, but they are not finding talented novices off the street and turning them into world-class type designers. If you get into Incubator, you obviously have something going on and are looking to get away from the corporate typeface-reseller publishing scene. Most people start on one of the other behemoth type resellers that simply throw your font on a pile of millions of fonts and take half your sales. That model tends to favor quantity over quality since resellers are constantly promoting the newest releases, in some cases, from a completely non-curated and constant stream of mostly garbage from all over the world. In that world, it actually makes fiscal sense to do two mediocre fonts instead of one quality font in the same amount of time. There is always a diamond in the rough, but the model definitely promotes disposability over timelessness. Village is a great example of a viable alternative to this issue that is actually inclusive of new talent.”

Read on at CommunicationArts.com