Visualizing design space in variable fonts

After attending Typolabs a few weeks ago, something kept on rolling around in my mind. Variable fonts—the main topic in type conferences since the announcement at AtypI Warsaw in 2016—was again at the heart of the debate in Berlin. If sliders generated some controversy one year ago, I would say ‘design space’ was one of the most repeated concepts this year. The opening talk by Gerry Leonidas pulled the trigger with a thoughtful presentation: ‘I am now in an environment where the design space is by default way bigger than my ability to imagine it, not just my ability to do something with it’.

Slide from Gerry’s presentation showing a figure that represents a font with three main axes

This figure, included in the presentation by Gerry Leonidas, is the visual representation of a font with three main axes.

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Remember December: Typewriter Wonderland

Things rarely happen the way you planned, that’s is why improvised trips are never disappointing. My visit to the Museu de la Tècnica de L’Empordà last summer was full of unexpected events. It all worked out at the end, but I need a second and less troublesome visit in the future.

Many of you have probably read this thread on Twitter from Marcin Wichary, who is among other things a researcher on the history of keyboards. That’s is how I got to know about one of the most important exhibitions of typewriters in the world.

I was planning to spend a few days in Girona and just before I travelled there, my friend Álvaro, who is also passionate about typewriters sent me a message. He had just moved from Rio de Janeiro to Barcelona and he wanted to visit the Museu de la Tècnica. He suggested going together. It was perfect timing! We would meet in Figueres, the town where the museum is located. Everything fit together until the day of our visit.
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Greetings from Santiago

When ‘Santiago’ is mentioned, many will first think of Chile; however, this Santiago is located in northwestern Spain. Santiago de Compostela has an official population of less than 100,000 inhabitants and is known internationally as one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the world. In 1985 the old town was declared a World Heritage Site and, in 1987, the “Camino” was named the First European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe. There are numerous books written in numerous languages regarding the ‘Camino de Santiago’, so I will refrain from images of the cathedral and other tourist traps.

Signage, an important element of urban landscapes, becomes a particularly interesting topic with regard to environments where the protection of historical buildings is a must. In Santiago, a 2012 sign regulation defines the size, placement, and other features. There is no typographic requirement although it is mentioned that the design must be well-integrated into the historical environment. A better control is needed as many commercial signs infringe the rules and some have just been abandoned. (If we really want to preserve our artistic-historical heritage, we should care a bit more about its maintenance.)

Some old structures for hanging signs in historical builidings stay there even when they don't a function anymore, metal arrows that seem to be leading to nowhere

Some structures, formerly for hanging signs, remain even when they lack a function creating metal arrows that seem to be point nowhere.

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My 2¢: The Spanish Peseta Coin

I often find myself looking at things that go unnoticed or that people just don’t care about. Coins are invisible design items for most people. We often use size and color to differentiate one from each other, but we rarely look at them closely. I have heard once that the design of a stamp was one of the most challenging and uplifting commissions a graphic designer could get. There are probably many more constraints in the design of a coin, but you would agree with me that it would be a really interesting project for a type designer.

I would like to share with you some thoughts on the design of a particular coin, the extinct Spanish peseta. It was the currency used in Spain from 1868 to 2002, when the euro was introduced. As a side note, it is one of the few examples of a coin with a female name. I was able to collect some historical models of the peseta coins which took me to dark times in our country. The coins became a symbol of political power and the images and text engraved on them were used to reinforce the establishment.

The two sides of 5 historical models of the 1 peseta coin. From right to left, peseta from 1869, 1900, 1947, 1975 and 1986

The two sides of 5 historical models of the 1 peseta coin. From right to left, peseta from 1869, 1900, 1947, 1975 and 1986

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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

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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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