Type: A Design Space

Summary of the design process of Spezia and Spezia Serif

A typeface is the overall design of characters, and it can contain different versions, such as Regular or Bold. Each of these versions is a font. Historically, most typefaces were built with 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 replace the numerous heavy drawers filled with metal-type letters from ages past.

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 to how many variations a typeface can include. Especially with interpolations, shapes are connected and can therefore be uniform and consistent within a typeface.

An interpolation is created by connecting forms, such as a thin letter and a heavy letter. Both of these extremes are called masters. By connecting these two forms, an axis is formed between the two masters. On this axis, we can move and generate instances, which are different versions of these two masters.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

How interpolation works: two masters result in one instance

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

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

The Design Space

Interpolations are built on an axis, forming a design space. Within this space, every possible point can be accessed, and each point represents a version of a typeface.

Thinking in terms of a design space rather than a single font can be purposeful. The focus shifts from one option to a landscape of a wide range of possible shape versions. However, it can also be tricky because every form is connected, meaning potential errors are as well.

The underlying idea of Spezia is to create a vast design space. Spezia is a two-dimensional space, while 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 main goal of Spezia is flexibility, which requires a generic design so that the typeface can be widely used. A Sans and a Serif typeface that can fit most situations was my objective. To achieve this, the superfamily needs to combine the distinctive features of a Sans and a Serif typeface.

Since type design is always within a cultural and historical context, having a reference point for a starting point is useful, especially when aiming for a familiar appearance. I searched for generic characteristics in the canonical typefaces and used them to create something new.

The font genres were clear from the beginning: a neo-grotesque combined with a transitional serif typeface. These two genres encompass some of the most timeless and robust typefaces used today, such as Caslon, Baskerville, Times New Roman, Univers, Helvetica, and San Francisco.

For me, the two most iconic and influential typefaces in the aforementioned genres are Plantin and Akzidenz Grotesk. Both of these typefaces laid the foundation for the most iconic fonts that are widely recognized today. Plantin serves as the basis for Times, while 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, designed in 1913 by Frank Hinman Pierpont; Fritz Stelzer, published by Monotype Corporation.

However, Spezia is not a redrawn version of Akzidenz Grotesk, and Spezia Serif is not a new Plantin. I incorporated some of their characteristics, such as the low contrast and simplicity of Akzidenz Grotesk or the robustness of Plantin. Every shape was thoroughly considered and reimagined. However, good design does not occur in a cultural vacuum, as illustrated by Plantin itself, which is based on a typeface by Robert Granjon from the 16th century.

For this project, I studied other typefaces from the early 19th century, some of which feel surprisingly contemporary and modern.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Grotesque Series 216, designed in 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, designed in 1938 by Nicholas Kis, published by Monotype Corporation. Elegance and rhythm are the defining qualities of Ehrhardt.

The goal of Spezia is simplicity. Each shape is distilled to its essence: a bow, a horizontal, a vertical, a drop. The number of elements used is kept limited, and forms are rationalised.

The result is not a compromise between the overall characteristics of the two underlying genres. Spezia and Spezia Serif feel familiar but not average. It is relevant today for type to be adaptive, given that forms of publishing are more diverse than ever. With their agility, Spezia and Spezia Serif can provide a solution to these demands.

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Some weights of Spezia

Spezia Font Luzi Type Foundry

Some weights of Spezia Serif

→ Spezia

→ Spezia Serif

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