GT Ultra, a Real Fence Sitter of a Typeface – Eye on Design
Back Story: Leu set out to challenge the assumption that plain sans serif typefaces best communicate a modern look, by making a startling assertion—namely, that there’s no clear distinction between sans and serif.
He began work on GT Ultra in 2017 with calligraphic drawings, removing serifs and ornamental aspects such as ball terminals, to shape the design and get closer to his vision. He limited the horizontal proportions by infusing geometry into the letterforms and compressed the vertical proportions to make the design more compact and sturdy.
“Once I finished the standard family, I realized that there was even more potential for this design by extending the single family into a typographic system,” Leu says. “The design went from a serif to a sans serif that feels like a serif, and then to a serif that feels more like a sans.” Increased contrast emphasizes the typeface’s calligraphic heritage, and implementing flared terminals provided balance to the type’s weight. The final step was adding the Ultra style, which also gave the typeface its name and was the designer’s final push for maximum impact and expression.
Why is it called GT Ultra? Leu named his previous typeface GT Super, so there was only one direction to go with this new one.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? GT Ultra sits on the imaginary fence between serif and sans. Shapes with curves or circles always have a pointy terminal stroke on the top left and the bottom right side, or a vertical cut where a serif would usually be found. Decorative elements typically seen in serif typefaces are avoided in favor of simple and clear details. Terminals become more and more flared as the stroke contrast increases to help balance the weight of the characters and the color of the typeface. Italics do not use alternate shapes (such as the single story “a” common amongst serif Italics) but instead are slanted versions of the Roman with the weight, contrast, terminals, and width adjusted to match the italics of a serif typeface.
What should I use it for? “I don’t usually design typefaces for a specific use case, and this one is especially versatile,” says Leu. “I’d personally love to see it used in branding where designers might otherwise opt for a slick sans serif typeface. GT Ultra, with its distinct calligraphic heritage, offers a more cultured feel for brand communication.”
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Here, the designer protests. “This is unfair, I’m Swiss and never pair two typefaces in a design!” Let’s respect this position. GT Ultra is like a trained opera singer with a wide vocal range: The voice of the standard version feels like a pleasant sans, whereas the fine covers a more exalted, serif-y territory. Likewise, the weights range from a delicate Thin to an almost brutal Ultra. This allows for a myriad of different expressions by pairing styles within the family.