Tomáš Brousil, Karel Haloun & Radek Sidun
Evolution: Interpretation, adaption, digitisation

“Work with a specimen typeface, either by redesigning – adding to and enhancing – the master model, or creating a new typeface so in which one may still recognise the reference face in the result of your work. We expect the typeface will be developed into an adequate typeface family, with lower-case letters, figures and diacritics added if needed. The expected result is a fully-functional font with all the up to date standard features.”

It would be right to add that the students did not choose the specimen typefaces themselves. Our teaching staff made the selection and assigned typefaces to individual students as they saw fit – considering each student’s nature, the assignment was “tailored” to some students, while others received something of a “counter-assignment”. So next to reference typefaces like Bodoni, Gill and Times there are also a few rather obscure “stunners” like Revue and Comic Sans (if one could dare call them that).

What was originally a semester assignment grew into an ambitious year-long task culminating in an anthology containing eighteen typefaces by seventeen designers, including the designers’ short digressions into the history of the typeface and explanations of their own redesigns. The reason behind the title, Evolution, should be clear as you leaf through the book. We are not demolishing or sentencing anything to aesthetic death before the people’s tribunal – which would have been difficult to avoid had we taken a revolutionary approach. We are building on good foundations, respect for tradition and admiration for past artists while recognising that time does not stand still.

Stephan Coles
I visited UMPRUM in April 2016. Despite its influence on the Czech scene, the school struck me as a refreshingly modest institution. The building itself has an impressive exterior, inspired by palaces of the Renaissance, yet its inside is almost raw, devoid of self-promotion or regimented branding. All the force and energy of the place seems to come directly from the enthusiasm of the students and faculty, combined with an honest sense of history.

This was apparent when we entered the Type Design and Typography studio. Scattered on a large, makeshift table in a relatively sparse classroom were piles of printer proofs, reference books, and laptops. Around it sat a dozen students, plugging away at their font editor or taking turns getting red-pen feedback from the studio’s three instructors. The class was nearing the end of their semester project: a type revival.

Remaking a typeface can be a fruitful way to learn the craft. Studying and redrawing an existing design quickly teaches essential lessons about lettershape, consistency, balance, optical adjustments, family structure, and historical context. It is this last aspect that UMPRUM students explored on a deeper level than most type courses, as their assignment was to reimagine their subjects as if the typefaces were born today, which doesn’t yield faithful revivals, but reinterpretations for contemporary use. This task transports old “classics” to the young students’ modern world, informed by perspectives and life experiences that are eons away from those of the 18th century (Bodoni), the 1920s (Gill), or even the 1990s (Comic Sans).

As I walked around the room talking to each student, I was surprised by how much they achieved – six months is a rapid timeline for even the most experienced type makers – but I was equally impressed by how they described their projects. The design world usually celebrates good work, but we often overlook the ability to talk about good work. These students not only demonstrate great skill and conceptual thinking, but they are unusually articulate as well. 

Now we can all benefit from this class’s ability to transform ideas into words. This booklet explains how shape can be “a matter of feeling” (Block/Reblog), how stylistic details in a one weight of a typeface don’t always make sense in another (Balloon/Balvan), and how a change in stress and contrast can spark something entirely new out of something familiar (Eurostile/Ponzastura).

A Contribution to Evolution – Lukáš Pilka
Just like all other branches of human activity, letters undergo persistent, unending development from the moment they are made. Even though the roots of letterforms go far deeper, the foundation for their current appearance can be found in approximately the 2nd century BCE, when the shapes of the Latin alphabet stabilised. Ancient painters used flat brushes to sketch out individual letterforms that were later carved in stone, and these immortalised inscriptions have been preserved on a number of monuments throughout the Mediterranean. The most well-known are on the entablature of the Pantheon, the top of the Arch of Titus and notably on the base of Trajan’s Column. This is the origin of Roman capitals, the model for all future type designers and a frequent topic of their reflection essays. Oldřich Hlavsa connected them with timeless beauty and German typographer Georg Trump once said about them, “No matter how computers and phototypesetting will lead us to entirely new letterforms, they will not rid us of one constantly pressing challenge – that challenge will remain the perfection of the letters on Trajan’s Column.”  In all its antique forms, the shape of Roman capitals is adapted to stone carving. It is remarkable that the lettering started to undergo its greatest transformations only with the rise of papyrus and parchment. Tiny letters written in ink required a different form better suited to the anatomy of the scribe’s hand. This is the origin of uncials, half-uncials and later Caroline minuscule.

Further transformations in letters were associated with new instruments and inventions, but neither the proliferation of paper nor development of woodcuts brought as much innovation as the birth of the printing press. Up until the mid-15th century, every recorded character was an original. Since Gutenberg’s invention, however, a large number of practically identical prints could be created from a single cast letter. This made it possible to focus unprecedented attention on the form of individual letters and thus gradually perfect their shapes. One could even argue that in its last phase of development, modern Latin script is in fact the result of just 500 years from the first set type. Although Gutenberg’s moveable letters were still based on manuscript handwriting with broken forms, future typographers were able to depart from this path. In as early as the 1470s, just 20 years after the first dated print, Nicholas Jenson directed his attention at the original Roman capital, extending it to include miniscule letters and using it for his own typeface.

During the High Renaissance, printed books became increasingly available, allowing individual printers to get a more intimate look at their competitors’ designs. In addition to changes caused by technical innovations, an element of mutual inspiration also appears. One of the most well-known typefaces in history, the early 16th century Garamond is clearly influenced by previous printed work, specifically the work of Venetian Aldus Manutius. Garamond became famous rather paradoxically, however. About 100 years after it was created, French type designer Jean Jannon cut an imitation and even gave it the same name, Garamond. Jannon’s version was marked by its unique proportions, with the x-height lying exactly at the mean line and brusque expression in several of the strokes. Later type designers and book printers used this version, which they erroneously considered to be the original Garamond.,

Thanks to Jannon, the French type designer’s work became the model for a number of other re-workings by many various type foundries. In the early 20th century one version, specifically the set by Monotype, went on to reach the hands of Vojtěch Preissig, who added his typical asymmetrical carons and offered the typeface to Czech printers. This launched the evolutionary line of domestic typefaces, continuing on to Menhart’s Figural and Týfa’s Antikva. Even today Garamond remains a cited source, as can be seen in František Štorm’s Cobra and Anselm typefaces. Both sets have their beginnings in Jannon’s replica of Garamond, but each later go in a different direction. Whereas Cobra shapes the model into fluidly experimental forms, Anselm modifies the original shapes more carefully and creates a grotesque revival of the original typeface.

But let’s return to France in the early modern period. At the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV ordered the royal print to create a new typeface set that should be used on royal deeds and decrees. The task was taken on by mathematician Nicolas Jaugeon and engraver Philippe Grandjean. The result was an antiqua that, unlike the regularly used Garamond, was “far more regular, more balanced and thus technically more perfect.” Although the king prohibited its use outside of official state documents, likenesses of the typeface appeared. The Didot type family followed up on the geometric nature of Grandjean’s set in the late 18th century, bringing it to absolute technical purity. Its characters had shed everything connecting the typeface with its calligraphic past and offered purely technical forms for the impending Industrial Age. Didot later inspired designers outside of France. Both Giambattista Bodoni in the Italian city of Parma and John Baskerville in the English city of Birmingham were influenced by Didot, the generator of a geometric revolution in type.

The ambition of this short excursion through history was not to provide an exhaustive description of connections in the development of classical typefaces or describe in detail the evolutionary line leading through Garamond’s antiqua. These examples are meant to primarily demonstrate just what an important role older models play in the creation of a new typeface. Thanks to this continuity, the appearance of the characters stabilised and we can still easily read centuries-old prints. The price for this is the relatively narrow borders within which designers must operate to ensure that their new typefaces will be useable. Inspiration from linear perspective, romantic landscapes, water lilies on a pond or other subjects that have influenced fine art, architecture and other areas of graphic design could appear only very tangentially in regular typography.

František Štorm has provided three basic processes that are currently used in the design of a new typeface: a faithful reference to the historical model, a caricature thereof, and finally a deformation of the character code. The first method requires designers set aside their artistic approach, reject their own self-actualisation and humbly study the original typeface. This method, often used in digitisation, then leads to a result that differs from the model only in the nuances, thus reviving it for contemporary graphic design. The second path, creating a caricature of the model, is connected with more considerable intervention by the designer. Several shapes are changed or proportions are adjusted to create an innovated typeface that satisfies today’s aesthetic needs better. However, this is usually only possible when the designer departs from the routine appearance of the letterform – though to the detriment of readability and real applicability of a typeface created in this manner. Nevertheless, a completely artistic style of work can be applied and themes found in woodchips, children’s building blocks or potato peels. The question does remain whether the work could still be called a typeface or if it is graphic art that normally cannot be used to set standard text.

All of the new typefaces presented in this publication have originated from the forms of their predecessors. These include Roman stalwarts like Bodoni and Times New Roman, wonders of the computer age like Microsoft’s Comic Sans and Apple’s Chicago, and numerous other typefaces like Renner’s Futura, Cassandre’s Peignot and Novarese’s Eurostile. The first step in the design was always intense study of the model and contemplation on its possible transformations. What followed was an exploration of the various creative paths (several of which were blind alleys), and only after this could a new, fully-fledged typeface come into being. The differences between the originals and their contemporary successors were only a matter of details and slight improvements (such as Štěpán Marko’s Dreamwriter), or the differences were far more marked (like Matyáš Bartoň’s Ponzastura) – but the inspiration from and connection to the historical model was always present, even in cases where this is difficult to discern in the visible shapes. Practically all of the forms also give one hope that the new typefaces will follow in the footsteps of their descendants and someday someone will make typefaces modelled on them.

  • Evolution / Original Typefaces Redesigned
  • Type and Typography studio
  • @ Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague / 2016