Whyte fonts

ABC Whyte – Typographica

Typography

ABC Whyte – Typographica

There is so much to say about ABC Whyte and ABC Whyte Inktrap that a review of these non-identical twins from Dinamo’s type trio Johannes Breyer, Fabian Harb, and Erkin Karamemet could easily consist of two separate articles. The typefaces offer a clear reference to a milestone in type history and demonstrate an appreciation of past technological considerations through reinterpretation — a reflective practice using contemporary tools.

Whyte

Table of Contents

The inspiration for Whyte touches on an exciting chapter in the genesis of sans serif lowercase letters. It all began with an archival discovery Harb made in a 1930s issue of the Dutch architecture journal Bouwkundig Weekblad Architectura. Following the trend of the so-called New Typography movement, the weekly journal changed its layout in 1927, replacing its existing text typefaces with sans serifs.1

Among other faces, one particular sans serif has its roots in two weights manufactured by the New York-based White’s Type Foundry between 1860 and 1862. It has been suggested that this duet of Gothic and its bold counterpart Gothic No. 1 marks the first-ever sans serif text typeface consisting of both upper- and lowercase letters.2 Aside from a remarkable G without a crossbar and a g with a flattened bowl, the most striking aspect of White’s Gothic is the consistently bent (instead of curved) rounded terminal strokes in a, f, j, t, and y. These lowercase details are preserved in Dinamo’s Whyte, and even the typeface’s name gracefully alludes to this distant relative.

On the other hand, it appears Harb and Breyer had no intention of developing a “true” revival and passed the baton to their colleague Karamemet, urging him to move away from the original and explore the boundaries of its anatomy — a good reminder that design is a process, often a collaborative one. With a fresh perspective, Whyte retains its smooth transitions but also exhibits an overall contemporary sharpness, a feature that grows more intense with each weight (there are twenty, including italics) and culminates in the most exceptional way in what must be one of the handsomest sans serif “super” weights since Christian Schwartz’s FF Bau!

ABC Whyte Inktrap

This level of enthusiasm continues with ABC White Inktrap — possibly the reason why attention was drawn to Whyte in the first place. Although naturally related to its untrapped sister, Whyte Inktrap possesses its own very distinct style. The prominent ink traps recall the explorations into improving the legibility of type set at small sizes in telephone directories conducted by Matthew Carter and Ladislas Mandel in the 1970s, and by Frutiger before them as he implemented such optical compensations in the phototype version of Univers to counter the distorting effects of typesetting devices.3 Such precautions need not be taken nowadays, but their aesthetic remains.

For instance, whenever we see Carter’s Bell Centennial, Bold Listing scaled to poster size by emerging graphic designers, we are reminded that contemporary representatives of this category were missing for quite a while, a demand met with Minotaur Beef and Brevier not too long ago, and more recently with GT Flexa — yet Whyte Inktrap surely raises the stakes. In a recent conversation, Karamemet underlined the idea of removing original intentions from a particular feature so as to reimagine it in an exaggerated, “almost caricature-like way”. With the support of variable font technology (see Dinamo’s very own Font Gauntlet), this meant carefully defining the depth and width of those gaps until they seemed unusual, posing a challenge to form and counterform.

ABC Whyte pays tribute to the inception of sans serif lowercase letters, and its sibling is an ode to ink traps. Both carry out their respective missions by dint of contemporary technology. This release is no doubt more than qualified to be ranked among the very best of 2019.

Notes

  1. That same year, Bouwkundig Weekblad (founded in 1881) merged with the journal Architectura, printed by Mouton & Co. in The Hague. Have a look at the high-res issues provided by TU Delft.
  2. See Grotesque: The Birth of the Modern Sans Serif in the Types of the Nineteenth Century, a talk given by Sara Soskolne at the San Francisco Public Library in 2016.
  3. For more on this, I highly recommend Alice Savoie’s article “Everyday Type” in Footnotes issue B (June 5, 2018), pages 82–95.

Ferdinand Ulrich is a typographer and design researcher. He pursues postgraduate research at the University of Reading and regularly teaches design at UdK Berlin. You can follow him on Instagram @ferdinandulrich and @digitaltype.



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