Type; a Design Space

Summary of the design process from 2017 until 2020 of Spezia and Spezia Serif

A typeface is the overall design of characters; its design can contain versions, such as Regular or Bold. Each of these versions are fonts. Historically, most typefaces were built on four font weights. The physical world limited the expansion to a reasonably small set of fonts.

The heavy lead letters had to be shipped from the type foundry to the print workshop. Today the sleek drop-down menus in design applications were numerous heavy drawers filled with letters in metal-type ages.

Layout Cabinet Luzi Type Foundry

Layout cabinet filled with lead letters, scan from Printing Type Specimens by Henry Lewis Johnson 1924.

Layout Cabinet Luzi Type Foundry

Inside the drawers are the type cases, scan from Printing Type Specimens by Henry Lewis Johnson 1924.

With computers as a design tool, there is technically no limit on how many variations a typeface can include. Especially with interpolations, shapes are connected and therefore be uniform and consistent within a typeface.

An interpolation is made by connecting forms, let's say a thin letter and a heavy letter. Both of these two extremes are called masters. By connecting these two forms, this leads to an axis between this two masters. On this axis we can move and generahte instances, which are versions of these two masters.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

How interpolation works; two masters results in one instance

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

The result of an interpolation between two masters (Book to Black)

The Design Space

Interpolations are build on axis and these axis form a space — a design space. Within this space every possible point can be accessed, and every point is a version of a typeface.

Thinking in terms of a design space rather than in one font can be purposeful. The focus shifts from one option, to a landscape of a large ragne of possible versions of a shape. However, it can be also tricky since every form is connected and therefore every potential error is as well.

The underlying idea of the Spezia’s is to build a vast design space. Spezia is a two dimensional space, Spezia Serif is a three dimensional space.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

The two dimensional design space of Spezia

Spezia Serif Font Luzi Type Foundry

The three dimensional design space of Spezia Serif

The Lettering

The next step is how to use this design space; in other words how to design the letters. The impetus of the Spezia’s is flexibility, due to this the design has to be generic, so the typeface can be used broadly. A Sans and a Serif typeface who will fit for the most situation was my maxim. To achieve this, the superfamily needs to assembly the emblematic in one Sans and one Serif typeface.

Since type design is always in a cultural and historical context, it is useful to have a reference for a starting point. Much more so when a familiar appearance is wanted. I looked for the generic in the canon and use this to create something new.

The font genres where clear from the beginning; a neo‑grotesque in combination with transitional serif typeface. This two genres unite probably the most timeless and robust typefaces we use today. Representative typefaces from this two genres are: Caslon, Baskerville, Times New Roman, Univers, Helvetica and San Francisco.

For me the two most iconic and influencing typefaces in the above mentioned genres are Plantin and Akzidenz Grotesk. Both of this two typefaces laid the path to the most iconic fonts today. Plantin is the basis for Times, Akzidenz Grotesk influenced Helvetica.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Scan of Akzidenz Grotesk, designer unknown ca. 1898, published by Berthold Type Foundry.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Scan of Plantin, design 1913 by Frank Hinman Pierpont; Fritz Stelzer, published by Monotype Corporation.

However, Spezia is not a redrawing of Akzidenz Grotesk and Spezia Serif is not a new Plantin. I used some of the characteristics, like the low contrast and simplicity in Akzidenz Grotesk or the robustness of Plantin. Every shape was thought through and thought new. But in the end, good design is not made in a cultural vacuum. This is illustrated by Plantin itself which is based on a typeface by Robert Granjon from the 16th century.

For this project I studied further typefaces from the beginning of the 19th century. Some of them feel surprisingly contemporary and modern spirited.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Grotesque Series 216, design 1926 by Frank Hinman Pierpont, published by Monotype Corporation. An interesting example of a low contrast sans serif typeface.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Ehrhardt, design 1938 by Nicholas Kis, published by Monotype Corporation. Elegance and and rhythm are the properties of Ehrhardt.

The aim of the Spezia’s is simplicity. Each shape is distilled to its essence; a bow, a horizontal, a vertical, a drop. The elements used are kept limited and forms are rationalised.

The result is not a compromise of the overall in the two underlying genres. Spezia and Spezia Serif feel familiar but not average. It seems relevant today that type is adaptive, since forms of publishing are more diverse than ever. Spezia and Spezia Serif with their agility can be a solution for this demands.


Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Some weights of Spezia

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Some weights of Spezia Serif

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