Let's Avance

hrant's picture

To me, FF Avance by Evert Bloemsma is one of the very few fonts really worth analyzing closely. And finally there's a wonderful opportunity to do so, conveniently, and at no cost: the most recent PDF Daidala archives are set in it!


Fire at will.


svenni's picture

So... where's the analysis?

hrant's picture

You want mine?!
Hey, even I get tired of my own voice...


Aaron Sittig's picture

My analysis isn't expert, but you asked for it.

For me, the unique character of the serifs in Avance doesn't lie in their asymmetry, half serif designs have been around (I can't name any, I'm sure the veterans can help me out here), but rather the unique character lies in the flaring sides of the stem opposite the serif. This brings some of the feel of an italicized face to the type without giving it a measurable slant.

Even though the stems of glyphs have no slant, some glyphs seem to express a slight slant of a few degrees. The outer outline of the o seems to have this slant, while the counter is nearly vertically upright. The c and e share a large part of their outer edge with the o glyph, with the same slant. The upper arm of the c even extends further right than the bottom arm, emphasizing the slant. The left side of the lower chamber of the g extends further to the left than the top chamber, drawing this slant. Unlike most fonts, the s doesn't retract its arms narrower than its loops in an effort to find balance, but instead adopts a slight lean. This effort to show slope extends to the upper case, in particular in the G and B, whose upper arm and loop respectively extend further right than conventionally.

I have a problem with the t glyph. Its curved stem looks great when the glyph stands alone, but composed in text it feels like it's trying to squirm away. It doesn't share the same serif structure that the other stems do, but this doesn't mean it shouldn't march to the same rhythm. The g glyph is also too dark. It weighs down the words in which it participates.

The size that the Daidala archives were set in works well on the screen (though I suspect this is because the text is gray), but feels too large when printed. The contrast is so even that it feels heavy around 11pt. I found it much more pleasant to read at something like 8pt. Then again, I have young eyes.

I like this font, especially for the shape of the upper case. The conventional design of the upper case serif alphabet has been so regularized that it looks identical in so many different fonts. Avance brings the upper case a fresh feel that takes advantage of our expanded tolerance for experimentation in this post-emigre era.

hrant's picture

Interesting analysis.

> half serif designs have been around

Actually, it's surprising how few there are. Meier has a couple, but they're way too calligraphic, and don't have any "counterweighting" like Avance does, so they lean backwards - very distracting. The French seem to do it sometimes: Mandel has one, and it's pretty cool; JFP has Angie, and Thierry Puyfoulhoux has Cicero, but those two don't have enough serifs, they're more like a sans with instrokes. Then there's Rotis Semi-Serif, but it also has too few serifs.

Avance, and Burke's recent Parable are the only two that I would personally use for text. Wait, I'd also use my Harrier (basically the Latin "subordinate" of my Nour), but I don't think anybody else would... :-/

> flaring sides

I was fortunate to get to know Evert during the ATypI-Boston conference (thanks Phan, wherever you are), and he showed me Avance (called something else back then, I think), around a year before FontFont started selling it. As his explanation for Avance on the FF site might indicate, he needed to see the reason for serifs before incorporating them into his work, and at first he just put them plainly on the top-left and bottom-right ends of strokes/elements. But then he realized they were leaning backwards... and he started wrestling with the possible solutions. He decided to add those flares to balance things. As for myself, in Harrier, I wanted to avoid the soft femininity of flares, so instead I slanted the whole thing forward as gently as possible: 1/16 = ~3.58 degrees. Interestingly, some famous slanted fonts (like Unger's Flora and Gill's Joanna Italic) use an angle close to that.

This makes your observations of slight slanting in some glyphs very relevant. How much of it was intentional, I wonder.

> The g glyph is also too dark

Huh, I hadn't noticed that. But it's very slight.
What might have helped is an open bottom.

> feels heavy around 11pt.

Yes, Avance is a chunky friendly face - in fact a bit too cloying for my tastes*. The huge x-height makes it work better at small sizes. This is most apparent in the book "John Kelly", where Avance is used (with no credit anywhere...) for the titles, text and captions, and it's in this last usage where it shines the most.

* Which doesn't dampen my ideological admiration for it: I think it's a landmark work, the most significant entry in the FF library.

> Avance brings the upper case a fresh feel

The Latin UC set is so paradoxical: it's so much better balanced than the lc set, but it's also less readable, and used for only about 5% of text. It's a very tricky decision what to do with it: make it conform to the lc*, make it it's own thing, or something in the middle. Pragmatism dictates that the last option would be the best, but I personally haven't been able to pull that off yet (and I actually don't think Avance does either - although maybe it doesn't even try), so I've reverted to the second option. (I'm talking structurally - matching the finish is easy).

* BTW, I've always thought Uncial caps are better.

On to Sonoma...

kentlew's picture

Hrant --

You might be interested in looking also at Frutiger's little known designs Breughel and Icone. Neither is truly half-serif (Icone comes closer) -- more like extremely asymmetrical serifs. Both have a calligraphic influence which you will undoubtedly disdain, but the serif effects are interesting to observe in action.

I don't believe either is available digitally, but you can see examples in Fine Print on Type (which I think you have, right?)

-- K.

hrant's picture

OK, I'll take a sea-sickness pill and check them out. ;-)

Actually, Breughel seems to be available through URW, and I thought I saw Icone somewhere too (maybe a Frutiger book, or Fine Print*), but it's not in MyFonts, so...

* I don't own it, but I think I once got it through UCLA. It might have been the whole journal collection too.

Thanks for the refs.


capthaddock's picture

Speaking of half-serif faces, there's always the wonderful Canadian "Seagull" by Les Usherwood.



kentlew's picture

Hrant -- the Icone is more interesting in this context than the Breughel, really. In case Icone is difficult to find, I made a scan for you.

Icone sample

The text accompanying this reads (in part):

"The stems of Icone flare emphatically toward their terminals, and the flares are asymmetric, stronger at the upper left entrances and lower right exits of strokes, echoing the ductus of a carolingian or humanist hand. The only straight lines in the lower case are brief horizontal terminations of strokes at the baseline, ascender line, cap line, and x line, occasional crossbars, and brief vertical terminations of curves in letters like c and s. In the capitals, straights appear only in the horizontal arms and crossbars of letters like E and H, and in the middle of sections of vertical stems. Icone remains a challenge to digital technology, but today (1988) there are high resolution digital typesetters that can render it crisply and faithfully." [from Fine Print on Type, Bedford Arts, San Francisco 1989]

Hope you didn't choke on that "ductus" there. ;-) Forget the cuddly proportions; the structure is interesting, isn't it?

kentlew's picture

Also, with regard to half-serifs, there's Menhart's eponymous Menhart Roman (English Monotype Series 397, circa 1930s). Here's another scan from Fine Print for you, because this one's tricky to find also.

Menhart Roman sample

hrant's picture

Thanks a lot for the Icone scan. I do remember seeing it, but in this context I'm struck by the resemblance to Avance - even the cuddliness. A French type designer once told me that Bloemsma really admires Excoffon's work (and by extension French type design in general?), but he didn't mean it in a nice way, and I reject that (even though I admire the flying French playboy myself). But there's certainly some parallel evolution there - compare FF Balance to Olive.

> Hope you didn't choke on that "ductus" there.

Yeah, it's a good thing I'd already finished by chocolate donut...

That's what's paradoxical about the semi-serif: even designers who are dedicated to chirographic type don't seem to implement them. And you know that Bloesma is strongly anti-chirographic - the type gods bless his soul.


The Menhart, I didn't know about (or at least didn't realize as relevant). It's really very interesting - thanks! I'd say that it has enough serifs to be a text font, and the vertical prorportions are very good for book work. I'd love to see something set in it. And that UC "U" is masterful.

So you're saying it's not available in digital? Come on, guys, stop tripping over Garamond, revive this, please!


Aaron Sittig's picture

So you're saying it's not available in digital? Come on, guys, stop tripping over Garamond, revive this, please!

What sort of obstacles (other than time and determination) stand in the way of an Icone revival? How faithfully could you ape the shapes while still being ethical about it?

John Hudson's picture

I know for a fact that Linotype have outlines for Icone, so there is no need to revive it: you just have to create a demand for it. There are probably lots of typefaces out there in digital limbo: halfway between photo or early computer typesetting and today's formats. Ikarus data probably exists for most of the typefaces developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sometimes the Ikarus digitisation was done hurriedly, or a bad IK->PS conversion done, so the outlines would require a lot of clean-up and comparison to printed samples from earlier technology, which explains why some designs have not been released yet.

Since Adrian Frutiger is still alive and Icone is owned by Linotype, 'reviving' it would not be ethical. Of course, designing original new designs in the same genre is not a problem, so long as they are sufficiently distinct.

kentlew's picture

>I know for a fact that Linotype have outlines for Icone, so there is no need to revive it:

Icone is available from Linotype, just not individually that I can discover. It's included in the collection called "Frutiger's Life."

I haven't seen any indication that Menhart is available digitally yet. Seems like it might be up Storm's alley.

-- K.

piccic's picture

Yes, I guess John is right, as he often is. I have a copy of an issue of the italian magazine "Linea Grafica" from 1994 with a big article on Frutiger and there are textsettings of M

piccic's picture

Note: the fact that I'm not crazy about Avance does not mean I don't realize its value. And of course it works great in text. Possibly I'm influenced by the fact that I don't like low-modulation serifs (see for a totally different take Emigre's Fairplex) and for the same reason Avance works great in tiny sizes.
Bloemsma is great. If I would be forced to choose two text-aimed faces from the FontShop library I would probably choose the basic Quadraat by Fred Smejers and Balance by Bloemsma. Anyway there are many great text faces. We're so used to Meta that we are no longer able to see how nice it works.
Looking at old I.D. Magazine issues I remember how simple and good the design was, using mostly Meta and Joanna. They just did too many weights of Meta. Endless Italic Small Caps sets are the most absurd thing in the FontShop library.
But probably I'm just against the abuse of beautiful text faces in advertising...

piccic's picture

Sure. But it will not happen. Balance defies expectations and people tend to buy mostly what looks "safer" for corporate identity abuse.
But I hope Balance continues to sell. One day or the other I will buy it. For now I have Quadraat (a nice gift from FontShop in exchange for a small article I wrote in Tribe for Max Kisman).

Stephen Coles's picture

We're so used to Meta that we are no longer able to see how nice it works.

Really nice points, Claudio.

Hooray for Balance! But shhh, we don't want it to get like Meta.

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