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kottke.org posts about typography

The uncelebrated typographers of the road

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2016

A lovely short video profile of Thomas Lilley, who is a roadliner in Glasgow. A roadliner is a person who paints the words and marks on roads with molten thermoplastic. Lilley does it quickly, freehand, and beautifully. The design firm who did the video above commissioned Lilley’s crew to make a custom typeface for them and their new logo.

See also The art of street typography. (via @mathowie)

We Work Remotely

Poem from 1943 complaining about poor street sign typography in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2016

Nyc Type Poem

In 1943, artist and poet Gelett Burgess wrote a poem to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia complaining of the poor typography on some of the city’s street signs. La Guardia wrote back, also in verse. (via @john_overholt)

Weird 80s font convergence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2016

Just learned/realized that the old logos for Reebok, Apple, and Trapper Keeper all use the same typeface, Motter Tektura.

Motter Tektura

Motter Tektura

Motter Tektura

(via @pieratt)

Quentin Blake’s handwriting typeface

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2016


If you’ve read a book like Danny the Champion of the World or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you have seen the work of illustrator Quentin Blake.

Type foundry Monotype have created a typeface from Blake’s distinctive handwriting. Each letter has four variants so the text looks more random, like actual handwriting:

Quentin Blake font

Hillary Clinton logo typeface

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2015

Inspired by the logo for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential run, designer Rick Wolff created an entire uppercase alphabet for a typeface he’s calling Hillvetica.


From his Twitter stream, it appears that Wolff is attempting to make an actual Hillvetica font so stay tuned. FYI, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut designed the logo. The simplicity is appealing, but overall I am not a big fan of the arrowed H.

Update: The Washington Post made a little text editor so you can write whatever you want in Hillvetica. The Clinton campaign has already put it to use:

Haas Unica rides again

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2015

Haas Unica

Conceived in the late 1970s as a hybrid of three of the most popular (and some would say, overused) sans-serif typefaces in the world, Haas Unica didn’t make the digital jump to personal computers in the 1980s. It was nearly forgotten, but has been revived by Monotype, which released Neue Haas Unica as a webfont today.

Unica® was an attempt to create the ultimate sans-serif - a hybrid of Helvetica, Univers and Akzidenz Grotesk. Designed by Team ‘77 and released to great acclaim in 1980, Unica went missing under a heap of legal disputes and has never been available as a full, digital typeface. Until now.

Unica’s story starts in the 1970s. Electronic, on-screen phototypesetting was gaining popularity, but most sans-serif typefaces on the market had been designed earlier, in the era of metal type. The revered Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland, saw the chance to develop a new sans-serif face that was optimized for the new technology and filled the gap in the market. To develop their new product, they turned to Swiss type design trio, Team ‘77 (André Gürtler, Christian Mengelt and Erich Gschwind).

Team ‘77 set out to design a font based on Helvetica but drawing on other sans-serif typefaces, principally Univers. The name they gave it would also be a hybrid of the two.

The original name for Helvetica was Neue Haas Grotesk. Haas + Univers + Helvetica = Haas Unica.

Update: Several digital versions of Haas Unica have been available prior to this one.

For many years a digital version of Unica was available from Scangraphic (and Elsner+Flake) but it was pulled from the market due to a complaint by Linotype who claims the Haas rights. In 2008, Cornel Windlin did a Semibold for the the Schauspielhaus Zürich identity, used in 2009-10. Later, Louise Paradis created a revival named Unica Intermediate while doing research for the TM retrospective.

(via @typographica)

Top new typefaces of 2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2015

Cooper Hewitt typeface

Although I am slowly coming around1 to Massimo Vignelli’s assertion that designers should only use a handful of typefaces, I enjoyed seeing Typographica’s list of their favorite typefaces of 2014.

Typeface design and distribution is in a state of rapid change. Last year we noted its diffusion around the globe, and that trend persists. The majority of font production is no longer concentrated in a few regional epicenters.

That goes for corporate epicenters as well. The independence of type designers themselves is increasingly evident. Small foundries have existed since the dawn of digital fonts, but now they are the norm. Only a handful of the selections in this year’s list were published by companies with more than ten employees.

I discovered that one of the selections, a beautiful custom typeface made for the reopening/rebranding of the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum (sample shown above), has been made available by the museum for free download (including a web fonts version).

  1. I mean, not really. But when 95% of everything sucks, paring down to only the good stuff is a seductive idea, isn’t it? Also, Vignelli’s NYC subway map was not good and would have benefitted from a less Swiss approach.

The typography of Alien

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2014

The excellent Typeset in the Future covers the typography in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Alien Typography

Previously 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon. (via df)

Apple Watch font on OS X Yosemite

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2014

I just upgraded to OS X Yosemite yesterday1 and the Helvetica as the system font is as jarring as everyone says it is. But that new Apple Watch font, San Francisco, seems really nice. So of course someone has worked out a way to use the Watch font as the system font on Yosemite. Here’s what you do…just type the following in Terminal.app:

ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/wellsriley/YosemiteSanFranciscoFont/master/install)”

Then restart your computer. Full instructions are on GitHub. Here’s what it looks like:

Apple Watch font on Yosemite

Pretty nice. But it’s not perfect. For instance, look at the text in the Chrome tabs…it’s not aligned correctly. And if you have the fast user switching menu enabled in the menu bar, that’s weirdly misaligned too. If you’d like, you can also switch back to using the previous font, Lucida Grande.

  1. From 10.8, no less. I’d been wary of upgrading for the past couple years due to the 15 hours I’d have to spend getting my development environment back into working order again. New version of Apache? Perl moved? Oh, I need to install memcached again? Where did all my configuration files go? [hair tearing out noise] But recently I moved my web development to Vagrant and holy crap is that a game changer. After updating OS X last night, I just issued a quick ‘vagrant up’ command and there was my dev environment, just like I left it. Awesome.

Moonrise Kingdom typeface

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2014

Tilda Font

Jessica Hische and Font Bureau have teamed up to offer the typeface Hische designed for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Meet Tilda (great name). Art of the Title interviewed Hische about the typeface last year.

How typefaces get their names

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2014

Font Naming

From Tobias Frere-Jones, a short history of how typefaces get their names.

Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting “the cap S” or “the italic lowercase” or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name. Finding the name is the hardest part.

Video tour of Brooklyn and Queens typography

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2014

Join designer James Victore for an opinionated tour of the typography of Brooklyn and Queens.

We’re going to do a typographical tour of Brooklyn and Queens, We’re going to look at type on the street and signage on the street and try to figure out what the hell it’s for.

Favorite quote: [Pointing at a logo for a waxing salon] “There’s been a designer here. Which is not always a good thing.” (via gothamist)

Hoefler, Frere-Jones, and the celebrity typographer “type designer”

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 04, 2014

A Type House Divided” is Jason Fagone’s feature for New York magazine on former partners Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, who split up earlier this year after disagreeing about the nature of their partnership. (TFJ thought he was a fifty-fifty partner; Hoefler says he was an employee.)

While the story covers both sides of the dispute with detail and pathos, the most affecting bits treat how H & FJ worked together and the tiny details of the letters they made and loved:

At his computer, he drew an uppercase H, O, and D, because they contained flat and round elements that would determine how other letters looked. When he moved on to the G, the R, and the S, he started to deviate from the mathematical grid, hoping to give the font a subliminal playfulness. As he filled out the alphabet, the letters revealed a promising flexibility; if Frere-Jones set text in caps and spread the spacing out, the words felt authoritarian, imposing, and if he set them in lowercase and pulled the spacing in, they felt fresh and young. He tried to think of a name for the font that would showcase some of the more distinctive letters: the stark, powerful G; the circular o; the strange-tasting a. For a name, he thought about Goats, and Gomorrah. He finally settled on Gotham.

If the deep dive into the beauty and business of lettermaking doesn’t grab you, the essay’s packed with other-cultural analogies. My favorite is probably this: “According to a designer who used to work with Frere-Jones, his eye is so sharp that he can look at a printout of a letterform and tell if it’s one pixel off, the same way Ted Williams was said to be able to hold a baseball bat and tell if it was a half-ounce too heavy.”

Disclosure: Jason Fagone is my friend. Kottke.org uses Whitney Screensmart, a version of one of the fonts discussed in the article. Also one time Jonathan Hoefler got really mad at me because of a story I wrote about iPad magazines. The font people don’t play.

Update: If you want to know just how much the font people don’t play, I immediately was contacted by a friend to change “typographer” to “type designer.” I’ve spent years writing about this, and if I ever manage to get all of the terms right, the universe will collapse on itself.

The type foundry district of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2014

For the first post on his new blog, Tobias Frere-Jones discovers that most of the type foundries in New York in the 1800s and 1900s were all located within a few blocks of each other in lower Manhattan. Why there? Newspapers and City Hall.

I was able to plot out the locations for every foundry that had been active in New York between 1828 (the earliest records I could find with addresses) to 1909 (see below). All of the buildings have been demolished, and in some cases the entire street has since been erased. But a startling picture still emerged: New York once had a neighborhood for typography.

Gruber beat me to the punch in noting that Frere-Jones’ site doesn’t use any of the fonts from the company he was recently ousted from but instead a pair of faces (Benton Modern and Interstate) he designed before he formed his partnership with Jonathan Hoefler. Before I discovered Whitney (another Frere-Jones creation), Interstate was my go-to font for graphics for the site. Big TFJ fan, is what I’m saying.

The art of street typography

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2014

I don’t know exactly what my expectations were of how lettering is painted on city streets, but this was not it. The level of precision and artistry is surprising.

Reminds me of this video of a hand-lettering master at work.

Best typefaces of 2013

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2014

Best Of 2013 Type

From Typographica, a list of their favorite typefaces from 2013. As you’ll see, good type design is happening all over the globe.

As evidence of that diversity, the 53 typefaces selected from 2013 were created by designers from at least 20 countries. […] This new phase of globalization and democratization of the font market began in earnest about a decade ago, propelled by newly accessible digital tools, online commerce, and post-graduate education in type design. It is a sea change. For centuries, places like Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, Lebanon, and New Zealand were vastly underrepresented in a type design community that was dominated by western Europe and North America. (And this only goes for Latin-based type. The burgeoning production of fonts in other scripts tells another fascinating story.) We will have much more detail about these changes in an upcoming report by Ruxandra Duru on the current state of typefounding around the world.

One that caught my eye is Clear Sans.

2001: A Font Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2014

From a new blog, Typeset in the Future, an examination of the typography in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don’t recognize from anywhere.

Wear your font favorites

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2014

Finally! A Japanese company called Type is selling eyeglasses that evoke the Helvetica and Garamond typefaces. It’s like webfonts for your face.

Font Glasses

I joke, but those Helvetica Black Regulars look pretty nice. I wonder what some of the older Raygun-inspired GarageFonts typefaces would look like as glasses? (via the verge)

Frere-Jones sues Hoefler

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2014

Oh, wow. Tobias Frere-Jones is suing his business partner Jonathan Hoefler over ownership of world-reknowned type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones claims he has been cheated out of his half of the company by his business partner, Jonathan Hoefler. In a blistering lawsuit filed today in New York City, Frere-Jones says he was duped into transferring ownership of several fonts, including the world-famous Whitney, to Hoefler & Frere-Jones (HFJ) on the understanding that he would own 50% of the company.

“In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all of the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded,” the suit claims.

The full complaint is here. A descendant of Whitney (Whitney ScreenSmart) is what you’re reading right now and I was an early beta tester of H&FJ’s webfont service. This is gobsmacking news…I have no idea what to think about it. What a sad and strange situation. (via @khoi)

Update: H&FJ has released a statement from their general counsel:

Last week, designer Tobias Frere-Jones, a longtime employee of The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. (d/b/a “Hoefler & Frere-Jones”), decided to leave the company. With Tobias’s departure, the company founded by Jonathan Hoefler in 1989 will become known as Hoefler & Co.

Update: According to a document filed with the New York County Clerk, the matter between Hoefler and Frere-Jones “has been settled”. No other details are available at this time.

Helvetica The Perfume

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2013

Your font: Helvetica. Your smell: Helvetica The Perfume.

Helvetica Perfume

Helvetica has gone on to become arguably the most ubiquitous and widely used typeface in history.

It is in this spirit that we have created the ultimate Modernist perfume — a scent distilled down to only the purest and most essential elements to allow you, the content, to convey your message with the utmost clarity.

Air. Water. You.

2 oz. of distilled water. Precious bodily fluids, Mandrake.

Watch a hand-lettering master at work

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2013

Glen Weisgerber is a wizard at the art of hand-lettering. Make sure you watch all the way through for the big flourish-y finish.

(via colossal)

Wood type alphabets

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2013

More than 80 photos of marvelous wood type alphabets in this Flickr set.

Wood Type Alphabet

The scans are from Rob Roy Kelly’s 100 Wood Type Alphabets. (via @H_FJ)

God fave the Queen!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2013

While researching the etymology of the word “fave”, a noun that’s in the process of being verbed,1 I noticed that, according to Google’s ngram viewer, the word was much more popular in the 1600-1700s than it is now.

fave etymology

A bit of investigation reveals that Google’s book-scanning software is at fault; it can’t recognize the long s commonly used in books prior to the 1800s. So each time it encounters “save” with a long s, it sees “fave”:

Fave Us

Fave Us 02

Fave Us 03

Fave Us 04

  1. “Fave” (n., adj.) is slang for “favorite”, a usage that started in the US in the 1920s, as in “Teddy Roosevelt was totally my fave President”. Recently, “fave” (v.) has come to mean liking or marking an item as a favorite on social media services like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Stellar, etc. (IMPORTANT: It’s “fave”, not “fav”. Let’s get this one right, people.)

Moonrise Kingdom typography

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2013

The Art of the Title chats with the excellent Jessica Hische about the lettering and type design she did for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

To me, that was really fun because if you think about New England in the ’60s… it’s not like most places would be staying on top of the most current trends in type, using typefaces that were released that very year. So, using something from the ’40s made sense to me. If you think about a small, conservative New England town, lord knows all the printers and designers in town are probably still using type from years ago. I think when people think about historical type references, they often don’t think about that. You should be reaching from that time period to 15 - 20 years earlier and then you’ll be getting stuff that’s quote-unquote “current.”

And she’s releasing the typeface commercially so everyone can use it! Yay!

A ton of vintage type

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2013

Type Hunting

Type Hunting. Prepare to lose yourself in this for awhile. Wow. (via df)

Whitney, Gotham, etc. now available as web fonts

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2013

It was just me and Barack, but now Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ web fonts are available to all.

On Hoefler and Frere-Jones

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2013

From the AIGA, a lovely short film on type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. I love the bit about starting a typeface design with the O, H, and D. Elsewhere, Hoefler recommended other potential starting points:

Work out the B, the ampersand, and the bullet before you get too far: you’ll have to confront decisions about thinning strokes, intersections, and shapes without any counters, which might inform what you do on the other letters.

(via daring fireball)

The design of cattle brands

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2013

Before personal brands were something to be seared into the minds of a rabid fanbase, brands were symbols that were literally burned into the flesh of livestock to keep track of ownership. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a guide to designing your own cattle brand.

Cattle Brand Design

Smithsonian Magazine’s Jimmy Stamp has more info on what cattle brands are all about. For more info on what personal brands are all about, spend more than 30 seconds on Twitter.

Typographica’s favorite typefaces of 2012

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2013

Stephen Coles of Typographica says that 2012 was “a strong year” for new typefaces. He asked dozens of designers and font makers to nominate their favorite 2012 typefaces and here’s what they had to say.

The independent foundry has also cemented its place as the new foundation of the industry. Most of this year’s selections are from very small shops, several of which are entirely new to the market. It’s also significant that, in addition to offering their fonts through retailers like FontShop, MyFonts, and the newly revived Fonts.com, most of these indie foundries now sell directly to customers through their own sites. In some cases they have eschewed outside distribution altogether. The “majors” have not simply laid down, however. Monotype, Linotype, Font Bureau, FontFont, and H&FJ are all represented in this year’s list, each with releases that are remarkably characteristic of their respective brands.

(via df)

Dyslexia-optimized typeface for Instapaper

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2012

Marco Arment has added a typeface optimized for dyslexics to Instapaper.

I’m happy to report that in this update, I added the Open-Dyslexic font by Abelardo Gonzalez. Its bottom-weighted characters are designed to reduce letter-swapping and increase differentiation between similar-looking letters, which improves readability for people with dyslexia. It’s now the bottom-most option in the font list in Instapaper’s text-controls (“aA”) panel.

Nicely done.