Mentorship Program update

It is almost eight weeks to the day since we launched the Mentorship Program. Here is a quick update on how it went so far and where we are heading next.

Number of applications received in the past 8 weeks
Number of applications received in the past 8 weeks

We are genuinely amazed and grateful for the extremely positive feedback we received. The demand for mentorship is far higher than we anticipated and confirms that there is a need for this kind of service. In the first week, 17 people signed up to be mentees, followed by another 16 over the following seven weeks. We have received requests from all over the world, most of them from women.

Geographical location and gender of mentees
Geographical location and gender of mentees

Liron Lavi Turkenich, Luisa Baeta, Isabel Urbina and I review and discuss each request individually in order to find the most suitable mentor for each application. This is admittedly quite a time-intensive workflow and is somewhat aggravated by the fact that we are four women living on three different continents and in three different time zones. We are still working our way through the applications but we are happy to report that we have successfully introduced 20 pairs of mentees and mentors so far.

Most applicants ask for portfolio guidance and career or educational advice. Some people simply look for a sounding board or an opportunity to discuss type related topics and to understand how they can get more involved in the lettering and type communities. We check in periodically to ensure everyone is still happy with the arrangement and we encourage both the mentor and the mentee to contact us if the relationship is not working for some reason.

Our mentors come from very different backgrounds; they are experienced typographers, type designers, lettering artists, font engineers, calligraphers, educators, researchers, creative directors, people who know their way around licences, contracts and running a business, book designers, UX designers and packaging designers. What unites them is their love for letterforms and their willingness to pass on this enthusiasm. We know it is tempting to ask these brilliant minds for feedback on works-in-progress; we like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that the mentors provide career guidance, not professional consultancy.

Geographical location and gender of mentees
Geographical location and gender of mentors

While we accepted male mentees all along, in our initial post we asked only women to volunteer as mentors. We emphasised that, depending on demand, we would give priority to mentees belonging to underrepresented groups in the industry, and we stand by that. However, we would like to avoid having to reject mentorship requests because we lack suitable mentors. Having a better understanding of the demand, we would now like to ask professionals of all genders to volunteer as mentors. If you want to get involved, please fill in this form and we will get in touch as soon as possible. For those who are enthusiastic about offering mentorship to women or people of colour only — we appreciate that! — you can also specify that when you sign up.

If you are looking for career, industry or educational guidance in type, typography, or the lettering arts, have a read through the FAQ and fill in the form. We will get back to you with suggestions shortly.

Thank you all for your continuing support and commitment.

Please, no more Open Sans for a while

If you are also tired of seeing the ever same fonts and style on the web, and the rich typefaces getting richer, here is a running shortlist of potential body copy typefaces for I once compiled. I did not test how they look in extended text yet, nor rendering across platforms/browsers. That would be the next step (and we’re also still quite happy with Elido although see that we could use more extensive language support). But maybe you are looking for a fresh, lesser seen typeface and want to check some out anyway. Trying on new clothes is luckily quite easy if you have a website up already, e. g. with tools/bookmarklets that swap out the fonts you currently use, like Webtype’s Font Swapper or FontShop’s Webfonter. Also, most of the typefaces below are available on Fontstand or as trial versions from the foundries, so you can test them locally or in mockups. Let us know if you end up using any at some point.

Abelard, Barbara Bigosińska, Indian Type Foundry
Adelle Sans, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Algebra, Susana Carvalho and Kai Bernau, Commercial Type
Bitter, Sol Matas, Huerta Tipográfica
Bligh, Luisa Baeta, Dalton Maag
Crete, Veronika Burian, Type Together
Deja Rip, Elena Albertoni, Anatoletype
Ebony, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Elena, Nicole Dotin, Process Type
Equitan Sans, Diana Ovezea, Indian Type Foundry
Karbid, Verena Gerlach, Font Font
Karmina, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Karmina Sans, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Multi, Laura Meseguer
PT Sans & Serif, Alexandra Korolkova, Paratype
Ronnia, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Stroudley, Veronika Burian, Dalton Maag
William Text, Maria Doreuli, Typotheque

(I’ll try to add images to all of them at a later date.)

The Value of Curiosity: TYPO Berlin 2016 in Review

Design conferences are everywhere. Our profession as type designers, typographers and graphic designers is moving fast and we are lucky to have these events where we can get together, learn from each other, gawk at some amazing portfolios and get inspired by the greats.
Perhaps a poignant talk with Jonathan Barnbrook in eggshell-treading-interview format, where intersections between politics and design come to light, together with gloriously great, and now absent, hair?
Or a warmly technical talk about the mechanics of reading and optical sizes with Tobias Frere-Jones, announcing Mallory MicroPlus, which addresses the challenges of small text and screen text simultaneously?
What about Nadine Chahine explaining how the way we read affects our daily life?

Tobias Frère Jones, Nadine Chahine, Jonathan Barnbrook

At the end of it all we might get ideas for our own projects, even from break-dancing lettering artists who make the point borrowing a page from Hip Hop: it’s not stealing, it’s ‘sampling’, as Erik Marinovich would be likely to MC say.

Erik Marinovich, Anatomy of Hiphop

This year’s edition of TYPO Berlin is all that but goes, well, beyond.
Beyond Design was in fact the title and the intention of TYPO Berlin 2016. The rich line-up had us spoilt for choice. Violin, piano and flowers; philosophers dealing with the inner cosmos and making jewelry out of it; educators sharing their fascination with indecipherable codes or experimental design methods; buzzword addicts business people giving us good maxims (“there are no deadlines, everything is Beta”); all joined designers in keeping us at times agape, at times nodding frantically, and generally entertained.

Jochen Rädeker, Katrín Ólína, Ian Warner

A common thread of the talks I attended – what with five events running parallel across the venue and all that – was the value of curiosity. Learning Japanese can open your mind, as much as having piles of money to design a better car –if you are into that sort of thing– or forgoing the money and driving a tricycle van to design quick logos for small businesses in rural China.

Niko Kitsakis, Lava Design, Karim Habib

Keep in mind not all good designers are good speakers, so tread wisely. But when we’re good, we are very good. Case in point: Brosmind, dynamic duo of illustrator/designer brothers from Barcelona who manage to retain the ingenuity and awe of their own 10 year-old selves. Disenchantment is overrated.


photos by Jens Tenhaeff, Gerhard Kassner and Sol Kawage

Congrats, but…

Two little tweets in an ocean of tweets. What harm can they do, especially when their message feels overwhelmingly positive?

Last week, Indian Type Foundry (ITF) sent out the following tweet in reaction to this showcase of type designers who also happen to be women:

Continue reading “Congrats, but…”

Lifelines & bright lights — Talking with Nina Stössinger

In our last interview, Sol chose Nina Stössinger to be the next interviewee. The research and work that is done in the background for this series is truly joyful. But, it’s impossible to compress ​everything I have learned about each interviewee into five questions. I am trying to show a glimpse of the many things each inspiring lady is doing and thinking, and in Nina’s case it was a huge challenge.

The timing of publishing this works perfectly with the week’s events, and Nina herself fits well into conference discussions and talks. When I first met Nina, it was a one-way meeting. I was watching her give a talk at Ampersand conference, and despite the disappointing gender ratio of speakers, I was thrilled to hear another great female speaker. I had much to ask, and her precise answers will surely leave you wanting to read more. So get yourself a sweet or savory treat, preferably of a kind that you can refill your bowl with, and read on:

Continue reading “Lifelines & bright lights — Talking with Nina Stössinger”

Language as design criteria? Part III

During the research for my dissertation, Language-specific type design, I came across some inventive ways to deal with a language’s idiosyncrasies. Excessive use of diacritics and the resulting jaggedness of written language is one of the challenges typeface designers face frequently. This is a small selection of ways designers tried to master it for some of the Slavic languages in the past.

Preissig Antikva, Vojtěch Preissig, 1924
Preissig Antikva, Vojtěch Preissig, 1924

Continue reading “Language as design criteria? Part III”

Knile, a contemporary slab

It seems slab serif typefaces are taking over the market. In 1990, PMN Caecilia proved that it was possible create a slab with a more humanistic approach, a style that could work, not only as a display typeface, but for running text as well. In the last decade the diversity in slab designs has grown. The constructed shapes of the serifs adapt to the pixel grid, and they usually work well on screen. We have many different options for slab text typefaces. Some, like Ernestine, include several scripts, while others, like the recently released Equitan, are a part of large families. The rather squarish appearance of classic Egyptians, coexist today with more rounded lettershapes in new slab designs.

Knile is a newborn within the genre. It is a collaborative project with the Spanish design studio Atipo. The original idea was to create a slab counterpart for the existing typeface family Geomanist. Slab serifs are not just sans with added terminals; they have intrinsic design peculiarities. As far as we wanted the typeface to be functional as a text typeface, many changes were necessary and the design evolved into a typeface family with its own personality.

Printing tests made during the design process
Printing tests made during the design process

Continue reading “Knile, a contemporary slab”

Design of a handwritten Devanagari typeface

Mr. Sharad Deshpande has been a prolific copywriter for 50 years and an intrinsic part of Setu Advertising, Pune. Mr. Deshpande maintained many diaries documenting his writings and what made them extra special was his beautiful, neat handwriting. It was when he suffered a mild paralysis attack, that he lost the ability to write, a couple years back. It was disheartening for a copywriter who was so proud of his writing, to not be able to continue doing what he loved so much. But his sons decided to gift their father something very unique on his 76th birthday – his handwriting. His son, Rugwed saw great potential in converting his fathers handwriting into a font and approached me with this project proposal. This gesture was extremely overwhelming and it’s been a humbling experience to be a part of this project.

Scan of the handwriting from Mr. Deshpande’s diary.

Continue reading “Design of a handwritten Devanagari typeface”

Some Open Thoughts About OpenType

Typeface designers frequently seem to assume the more OT features their fonts have the better. Typeface users, on the other side, don’t always share this delight. They are often stressed by the complexity, don’t get any sense out of them or just ignore the features. Since I am both a designer and a user of typefaces I tend to sway from one position to the other.

In my work, where I am involved with script typeface design, OpenType features and coding play a very big role. I would say that a natural looking contemporary script typeface is not imaginable without an extended OT feature code.

Here are some reasons:
In order to avoid glyph repetitions and to let glyphs connect in a plausible way, alternate forms have to be made. At the beginnings and ends of words glyphs tend to look different from those in the middle, so for them too, “init” and “fina” alternates should be designed. To keep texts from looking monotonous and to add personality characteristic ligatures can be inserted. But they should “pop up” only once in a while — otherwise texts would get an artificial feel.

For these things we need the feature code. — To let a ligature pop up only once in a while; to let “init” alternates appear at the beginning of words, and only there; to ensure that a “righthigh” glyph (like o, v, w) is followed by a “lefthigh” and not a “leftmedium” or “leftlow” alternate.

FF Mister K glyph connections

Continue reading “Some Open Thoughts About OpenType”

Language as design criteria? Part II

The lack of aesthetic compatibility between Latin uppercase and lowercase letters has long been a topic for discussion among type designers. The mismatch is particularly apparent in written German in which the first letter of all nouns is capitalised (see Part I for more background). In the 1920s and 1930s, experimental proposals to harmonise German were put forward. Attempts ranged from reformations of spelling and grammar, to designs for universal alphabets which tried to connect the various languages of the Latin writing system. This is a very brief introduction to some of those ideas.

Bayer’s proposal for a universal alphabet
Herbert Bayer’s proposal for a universal alphabet, published in Offset, no. 7 (1926)

Continue reading “Language as design criteria? Part II”

Before they were ’bettes

Cover spread in of “The New Wardens” in The Recorder #3. Illustration by Ellie Cryer. Additional illustrations by Ping Zhu, Ellie Foreman-Peck, Maya Stepien and Kelsey Dake.
Cover spread of “The New Wardens” in The Recorder #3. Illustration by Ellie Cryer. Additional illustrations by Ping Zhu, Ellie Foreman-Peck, Maya Stepien and Kelsey Dake.

Last spring, I was approached by Emma Tucker, the editor of Monotype’s recently revived magazine The Recorder, to write an article about women’s contributions in type for the upcoming issue. I pitched a series of interviews with women who were championing type and typography à la Beatrice Warde, given her deep connections to the original publication. Besides Shelley Gruendler, I had no prior personal contact with Indra Kupferschmid, Mariko Tagaki or Elizabeth Carey-Smith. Selecting only a handful of modern-day Beatrices was challenging; my list of potential interviewees was quite long. Ultimately, I tried to gather a variety of perspectives that included educators, practicing designers, and those active in contemporary discourse. I could have never imagined, only a few months later, they would all become an integral part of this thing called Alphabettes. Before it sells out, check out The Recorder Issue 3, featuring a host of engaging articles and contributors, as well as my interviews with “The New Wardens”. They’re in great company.

Language as design criteria? Part I

A recent conversation on TypeDrawers about cultural preferences in typography threw me right back to 2011 and the months before I submitted my dissertation for the MA in Typeface Design at the University of Reading. Back then I attempted to find out if there are typefaces that suit some languages better than others and whether or not we can draw conclusions from their designs.

I was inspired by Ladislas Mandel who said that the designer ‘needs to analyse the characteristics of his supposed reader socially and culturally and choose shapes accordingly’ in order to achieve high legibility [1]. Richard Southall also touched on the topic in his article ‘A survey of type design techniques before 1978’ [2]. In his opinion, one makes different decisions on the fitting (spacing and kerning) of a typeface depending on the language the test document is set in.

I was left wondering if, for example, condensed typefaces are especially suited to typeset languages with a high frequency of long words. Or, if languages which make heavy use of diacritics require a lowered x-height. Should language be design criteria?

Antykwa Półtawskiego
Antykwa Półtawskiego by Adam Jerzy Półtawski was designed for use in Polish

Continue reading “Language as design criteria? Part I”

Character Spotlight

Latin lowercase s

Every letter in the alphabet has its own history. They change with time, and it is part of the type designer’s job to give shape to those changes. We set out to celebrate a letter that most designers would agree to be one of the most challenging forms to design in the Latin alphabet, the lowercase s.

The origins of this letter led us to the Phoenicians (1500–300 B.C.), who used three different forms: shin, shade and samekh. The shapes of the letters were simplified drawings of their names, for instance shin means teeth. This letterform is the predecessor of the Greek sigma, which evolved into the Etruscan S, and later on into the Latin form.

Inscriptions of Phoenician shin, Greek sigma, Archaic Etruscan s, and Latin uppercase s

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Why do we need more typefaces?

As a type designer, every so often, one is confronted with the question “Do we need more typefaces?”. As somebody who makes a living out of creating typefaces, the obvious answer is yes; however, here are other less subjective reasons in favour of new type designs.

A spread from the book Typo 9010, Czech Digitised Typefaces 1990–2010

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Elido by Sibylle Hagmann

… and a bit about type on the web in general.

It’s long overdue that we introduce you to Elido more. I won’t even need that many specimen images because it’s the typeface you are reading right now. When we were discussing the fonts for the Alphabettes blog, we were after something that looks appropriate for very diverse content that we didn’t have yet — potentially long or maybe short, serious, delightful, angry or funny — and that is comfortable to read and rendering well on the web. All demands that many editorial sites share.

Elido specimen images by Sibylle Hagmann

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Alphabettes Mentorship Program

As the first of hopefully several outreach activities, Alphabettes is happy to announce that we are starting a mentorship program. Volunteers from our ranks or from outside the group will offer informal help to anyone who is looking for career, industry or educational guidance by professionals in the fields of type, typography, or the lettering arts. The aim is to help people, especially students and professional newcomers, to immerse themselves in the industry.

If you are interested, please fill in this form and we will get in touch. FAQ are listed below. If you have any additional questions, drop us an email:

What will you do with my information?
We will keep the information you provide confidential but may share parts of it with potential mentors to find the right match for you. Please be patient, it may take a few days until you receive a reply.

Can I choose my mentor?
We will try to match potential mentees with a mentor who is best suited to their career goals. If applicants already have a specific mentor in mind, they will have the option to state her name in the form but we can’t guarantee she will be available. If the preferred mentor has to decline the request we will try to find equally suitable alternatives.

How often will we meet?
You and your mentor will work out together how frequently, and when, you will connect. It can be anything from a one-off session to quarterly, monthly, or even more frequent meetings.

Where do we meet?
That’s up to you and your mentor as well. Meetings can happen online or in person. Our volunteers are spread across the globe. Some of us are in type-congested areas such as London, Berlin, New York City or the Bay Area where face-to-face meetings can be arranged more easily.

Who is eligible to apply as a mentee?
Although the program is open to everyone in our field, depending on demand, we may give preference to underrepresented groups.

What does it cost?
The organisation of the mentorship is at no cost, but also at no liability.

What’s the difference between a mentor and a consultant?
The idea is to provide guidance by experienced type and lettering professionals. It is not to be confused with free of charge consultancy. If you require more extensive business consulting or expert knowledge, you are welcome to get in touch with individual professionals: or

How can I become a mentor?
If you are a woman working in the industry and want to volunteer as a mentor, please drop us a line to and we will get in touch as soon as possible.

Our favourite typefaces of 1915

It’s been an exciting year in type; one that saw many technical innovations, company mergers and restructuring, as well as some delightful new font releases which we will surely encounter in printed matter around the world soon.

But let’s start with the biggest loss for our industry in 1915: Georges Peignot, type founder in Paris and one of our greatest type designers — of Grasset, Auriol, or Cochin to name a few — died in battle, only 43 years old. Curious to see how long the foundry will be able to remain independent without its head :/ Another substantial loss was the death of Wilhelm Woellmer’s CEO Siegmund Borchardt. His son Fritz (34) suceeded him at the Berlin foundry.

Continue reading “Our favourite typefaces of 1915”

Emperor Maximilian’s New Clothes


Rudolf Koch began experimenting with pre-Fraktur letterforms he named ‘Maximilian,’ after Emperor Maximilian, an early benefactor of Gutenberg, during the years preceding World War I. Ultimately these experiments in forms — mainly swashes that occupied awkward white space in an otherwise-orderly block of blackletter in the typesetting of prayer books — led to the creation of Koch’s Maximilian Antiqua. Notably, I could find no evidence that Koch explored opportunities using simple .calt features, but more on that later.


Continue reading “Emperor Maximilian’s New Clothes”

Schmalfette Sensation


If you judge its look by the sound of its name, Schmalfette Sensation would be the Humpback anglerfish of typefaces. This name makes images of freakishly deformed bizarre caricatures of letters pop up in your head, even if you are used to the crudeness of spoken German.

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