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pring is in the air, in the northern hemisphere that is, and this month’s newsletter indulges in sunny curves and swirly swashes. The font that’s been at the top of our Starlets list for weeks has nothing but curves: Accolades A offers ornaments galore and enjoys being watched, not read. Daisy Lau is a vibrant handwritten script, and Chennai is a sans-serif that says ‘yes’ to life. A rusty mixed-cased alphabet tells us How To Consume Oxygen. And in the Know Your Type Designer section we ask Toronto designer Rebecca Alaccari of Canada Type about the ideas and people behind this successful young foundry.
Nothing spells ‘elegance’ and ‘luxury’ more eloquently than a classicist text face or roundhand script combined with calligraphic ornaments. Lacking the time or skills to draw those ornaments by hand? Astype’s Ornaments Accolades A comes to the rescue! A beautifully made package of calligraphic swashes, swirls and floral ornaments to lend style to packaging labels, invitations or greeting cards. The shapes are in systematic order and harmonize in contrast and detail, so that combining them to great effect is a breeze. Designer Andreas Seidel of Cottbus, Gemany, has some useful ideas about how to use his Accolades, so don’t forget to read his notes! Ornaments Accolades A is shown here in combination with Andreas’ Adana typeface.
Chennai is a sans-serif that conveys a sense of humanity and warmth despite its simplified, geometric construction. What’s Jeremy Dooley’s trick? A combination of extreme measures: a slightly extended silhouette, rounded terminals and cut-off stems to soften the joints. Chennai’s OpenType version comes with a full alphabet of alternate characters, which greatly enhances the face’s versatility. The simpler primary version works well in headlines, while the more traditional alternate can be used for short body copy. Two fonts in one!
How is oxygen consumed? Iron does it by rusting. And that’s the story behind this font’s weird name. Vic Fieger’s How To Consume Oxygen emulates words written on a rusty warehouse door. What makes it an interesting headline font is that it’s unicase: it combines upper- and lowercase in one alphabet. Typing the uppercase gives you the same letters, but in a different state of corrosion. Another advantage: it’s incredibly cheap.
It has been one of the most successful script fonts of the past months and it’s clear to see why: Daisy Lau strikes an interesting balance between a traditional script with all its curls and flourishes, and slightly roughened, informal details. The character set is impressive and the font breathes a striking sensitivity to Western calligraphy—especially when you realize it comes from Japan!
Canada Type was founded three years ago by Toronto designers Rebecca Alaccari and Patrick Griffin. In that brief time span, the foundry launched a stunning number of typefaces of superb quality. Many of their spirited revivals and original script faces hit the top spots of MyFonts’ bestseller lists—like Swan Song, which was last year’s #1 new typeface. So we thought it was high time to present the people behind Canada Type. Let’s give the floor to Rebecca Alaccari…
You worked in two Toronto design firms, then began concentrating fully on type design in 2004. How did that change come about?
I always had a thing for type. During my design internships I was ever more interested in typographically focused projects. That tendency of mine was very noticeable to others at work, so when a client requested a custom font, it was assigned to me. That was in September of 2003, and that was really my beginning on this path.
Did you ever get formal education in type design or calligraphy?
Some calligraphy, yes. I signed up for a few workshops and practiced a lot. Some of my interest in scripts stems from there. But initially I got interested in scripts and calligraphy in general because of the work I’d seen around me. Scripts have always been used to personalize products in distinct ways. To this day when I visit a supermarket, I still find it fascinating to see something as commonplace as cheese or candy being sold in such attractive packaging with friendly scripts all over it. But I’m the kind of person who is geeky enough to schedule a visit to a bookstore just to browse book covers for the scripts used on them. Seeing some of Canada Type’s among them now is an occupational perk!
Why did you decide to create your own foundry?
I’d been spending a lot of time fiddling with letters and making fonts for my personal use. After a while, I had a few complete fonts of my own that existed nowhere else. Patrick was also making fonts occasionally for his work in set design, so he had a few of his own sitting there as well. We decided to publish them, just in case other people found them useful. We never really expected our work to become popular, since most of our work was project-specific and custom stuff. The popularity of our fonts was a very flattering surprise when Dominique and Odette hit the bestseller list.
How would you describe Canada Type’s policy?
Right from the start we set out to be adaptive to what our customers need. It may sound like a cliché now, but both Patrick and I were designers in a very real work place with very real expectations from the fonts we were using. For example, we both had to modify certain fonts we licensed because accented characters were not given enough attention by the type designer. And we both had to use some display fonts at 500+ point sizes, only to see that the outlines were noticeably bad. So even before Canada Type existed, we knew from first hand experience how a designer’s workflow can sometimes be hampered by different unexpected font issues. There’s nothing worse than the car breaking down on you five minutes from your destination. So producing high quality, thoroughly tested fonts was a main priority for us. A second priority was to have an EULA (End User License Agreement) that was understandable and reasonable enough to allow our customers to accomplish what they want from the fonts without worrying about ridiculous licensing restrictions.
When Canada Type became popular, this adaptive policy matured even further. Our customers are really great. They interact with us and are constantly giving us encouraging feedback and suggestions about our work. They share their work and ideas with us, which moves us to further refine our existing designs or inspires us with new ideas. Now I think our EULA is one of the easiest to read and most flexible in the business, and we’ve already begun to revisit and expand our older fonts to include more features and larger linguistic support. Working within the customer’s workflow and expectations has really been a rewarding ethic. It keeps everyone happy and makes for an honest, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial relationship.
How did you manage to create such a huge number of fonts in less than three years?
Hard work, good planning and efficient task delegation. Both Patrick and I put in an average of 10 to 12 work hours a day, 6 days of most weeks. We always have a morning meeting to schedule the day’s work and review our progress from the day before. We always try to remain within the tasks we assign ourselves until they’re completed. We document everything to keep track of our various projects. And we always have a year-ahead plan we consult and change according to fluctuations in our time allocation—scheduling custom work, version upgrades, etc. It helps that we love what we do and have a lot of fun doing it. Type is in every nook and cranny of our lifestyle, kind of like music or coffee are to some people.
Canada Type has issued some unique revivals of 20th-century display typefaces, and there’s more to come. Do you feel you have a mission to ‘save’ forgotten typefaces?
Treasury is one of several historic fonts that Rebecca and the Canada Type crew have revived digitaly.
That’s a nice, romantic way of looking at it. Sometimes it is that way though. Many a time we’ve gone on developing a font even though we knew it wasn’t going to sell that well. Loving the work for the work itself has its own rewards sometimes.
That being said, there is more to it than that. For two decades now we, as a computer technology using society, have had the means to document and completely revive at least the last two centuries of type history. But the digital type revolution of the 1980s and 1990s was quite selective, for a variety of reasons, of which parts of the world’s type story to tell. Now we’re two decades from the initial revolution, and the gaps in the story are still plenty. We try to fill of some of those gaps by gathering the missing pieces and carving their permanent record with electrons. When the work is lost to the dust of history, so is the work’s creator. Faces that were at one point considered great works of type design should be available digitally, if only as testaments to the history and people of a great craft. Great type design and calligraphy names like Hermann Ihlenburg and Alexander Nesbitt were but two indirect victims of the selective digitizing process of the past two decades. There are many more. We simply try our best to bring their spirits back into the contemporary picture.
What makes a digital revival a good revival?
For me it’s really a matter of approaching the work with respect, and everything else follows. When the original is treated with respect, the quality of the font happens naturally. Also, once we commit to reviving a type design, the design itself shows us its potential in today’s technology. We have sophisticated type technologies now that didn’t exist back then, so the least we can do when we revive a design is update it in a way that would make the original designer proud. In order to accomplish that goal, deadlines have to be thrown out the window. Deadlines are good for project-specific work, not for designs meant to be available publicly. A good revival is one where the designer takes her time to ensure quality and usability.
You work with ever more outside designers, from across the globe. How do you find them?
Some we contacted ourselves, and some contacted us. We’ve been really blessed with the partners we have. It’s great to work with dedicated designers like Philip Bouwsma and Hans van Maanen. Our industry is quite small, so when we get to meet and work with people who have the same vision as ours, it is nothing short of gratifying.
You are credited as a co-designer for typefaces by several different designers. How does this collaboration process work?
Once the idea for a project is understood and shared by two or more people, it is easy to delegate the different parts of the work. Even if one of the collaborators has to tend to another project, his or her part can easily be reassigned. It’s like a team sport, and just as much fun!
Is working in Toronto somehow ‘different’ or special? Does your environment somehow show in your work?
Toronto is a great city, both personally and professionally. On a professional level as it relates to type, the fact that it’s highly multicultural affords us plenty of chance to learn how world languages work and apply our learning in our custom work. Being here is one of the reasons we take care to include so much support for world languages in our fonts. Toronto is also the principle Canadian gateway for North American publishing companies, design agencies, ad firms, design education, fashion and media outlets, etc. This has given many opportunities to work with a variety of professionals to whom type is considered an essential element of their work.
Do you have plans for text type families?
Absolutely! This is a timely question. This year will see a few nice Canada Type text families, starting later this month. Patrick has been working on a contemporized and greatly expanded Egyptian family for a few months now, and Hans has already finished designing a family based on one of the most famous Dutch text faces ever. Both will be released quite soon, and we promise they will be great. One of my current projects is a revival and expansion of the very first meaningful American text family, Ronaldson Oldstyle from the late 19th century. It should be finished soon, so we will probably release it in May or June of this year.
What has been the role of MyFonts in your development as a company?
A very major role indeed! I am not being gratuitous when I say that without MyFonts we’d be nowhere near as successful as we are right now. MyFonts has really been the best partner any designer or foundry could ask for. I’m sure many other designers would attest to that. We’ve received priceless help, guidance and advice from MyFonts over the years, and the many features of the MyFonts site are very convenient for us. I really cannot imagine being able to be as productive or enthusiastic about my work without MyFonts.
Any message for the type world?
The type world is the world where I live every day, the world I’ve come to love so much. What else can I say but: Thank you! I’m very happy to be here!
Thank you Rebecca! Keep up the good work; we look forward to seeing more of it from you and the Canada Type crew in the future!
If you had a look at our best seller lists this past month, you must have noticed that Leitura is all over the place. We featured Dino dos Santos’ admirable type system in February’s Rising Stars and it’s been doing extremely well. The family consists of a classic serif, an elegant sans, a news font for legibililty in rough circumstances and a set of sturdy headline fonts—not to mention a smart collection of symbols. A hard act to follow…
If you like this type system from DSType, check out some of their other sophisticated fonts:
Andrade Pro. A text family inspired by a Portuguese variation on the ‘Modern Face’ or Didone style.
Plexes. A highly original sans-serif for display as well as body text.
—Anne from Portland, Oregon, February 24th 2007
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