What makes Legato so unique?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I'd love some explanation and opinions!

FF Legato

Jan's picture

Its design concept.

I can’t put it any better myself, so here’s what Hrant Papazian had to say on typographica (best of 2004):

Evert Bloemsma's Legato typeface is something truly new, which is extremely rare. Its essential attribute is that the black of the individual letterforms is made equal in importance to the white inside and between the letters. It does this by disposing of the linking between the two edges of the black, something inherent in the conventional forming of shapes derived from a marking tool, such as the broad-nib pen.

By making the black and white harmonize, Legato approaches an ideal of readability, since reading involves the perception of positive/negative space as one thing. Also, it does this while still appearing conventional to the reader -- a key feature in any text face. All this makes it the best typeface of a much longer period than just 2004!

geraintf's picture

i'm sure you're aware of the previous discussion here:

many claims have been made about legato, principally about how it achieves balance between black and white without resort to traditional stroke-based models. and it is sometimes said the white in legato is designed to be 'inter-glyph' rather than just a counter. have i got that right?

i agree further discussion would be good, especially if legato is as significant a design as some have claimed. what i'd like to see is some pics patiently and clearly illustrating these points. hrant, is that something you'd be interested in doing?



geraintf's picture

sorry jan, you got there before me!

nina's picture

Frode, look at its "o" really large and you'll see how the inner contour is independent from the outer one, following a different design logic. To my eyes, the amazing thing is that they still click together: the glyphs feel very harmonious (definitely not like they're collaged together from non-matching contours).

Rather than just an interesting experiment, I see this as a huge cultural contribution. In my view, this marks an important step in the emancipation of the "medium" of digital type from its predecessors. Today we don't design "strokes", we design separate contours, and I think Legato demonstrates very vividly – and very beautifully – what kind of impact that can have on a new* way of seeing, and making, type.
* "New" not in a destroying-all-that's-old-for-the-sake-of-it sense, and not in a "we do this because we can" way; but in an open-minded, constructive and practicable way. It's not a Po-Mo experiment; it actually works/reads very well!

(God I love it.)

Jan's picture

... I see this as a huge cultural contribution. In my view, this marks an important step in the emancipation of the “medium” of digital type from its predecessors. Today we don’t design “strokes”, we design separate contours ...

Very well put.
The tools of the time have always influenced the aesthetic of type, not always for the good of legibility (BoDidoni - Etching/Engraving).
Legato is consequently a product of the tool of our time (vector drawing software), but carefully acknowledges what the reader has learned in centuries to be legible.

enne_son's picture

My controversial take on legato can be found here:
and here:

nina's picture

"Legato is consequently a product of the tool of our time"
Absolutely, and it utilizes the possiblities of said tool in an extremely interesting way. I mean, what vector drawing software really allows us to do is to design individual contours, i.e. also really design the white. As was also mentioned in this thread, so many people talk about how the white is important, but for me personally, I never really "saw" it until I discovered Legato. In Legato, the white is not just the ground the black figure lies on – it interacts with the black. I don't quite understand yet what that may do for readability, but if nothing else, it's very exciting. The glyphs look a lot more… alive.

John Hudson's picture

It's always good to have an opportunity to think about Legato again.

Lately I've been thinking that the concept of stroke, while not applicable to Legato in the traditional way, can't be entirely dismissed either. Or, to put it another way, what we call stroke in other typefaces is actually a composite phenomenon made up of the relationship of edges not only to each other but also to a line. And while in Legato the relationship of the edges is liberated, the sense of the line remains and this is part of what makes it ‘click together’ or ‘appear conventional’. What is the line? In stroke-based writing and parachirographic type design, it is the path that the stroke follows, and hence the underlying structure of the letters. In Legato, the structure is undeniably there, despite the independent treatement of the inner and outer walls. In one sense, this shouldn't surprise us, since the shapes of our letters derive from a stroke-written alphabet -- unlike, say, cuneiform -- and hence they retain the line-structure even when subjected to novel design treatments (a more radical departure, in this regard, is something like Renner's original design for the Future lowercase r, which begins to break the line-structure). In another sense, though, Legato must make us pause, and ask just what establishes the line when the inner and outer lines lose their relationship to each other?

kentlew's picture

> “Legato is consequently a product of the tool of our time”

> what vector drawing software really allows us to do is to design individual contours

I don't agree that this characteristic is inherently unique to vector-based digital type design. The ability to work with interior and exterior contours independently has pretty much always been there.

When cutting a metal punch using counterpunches, one would pretty much cut the counterpunch completely separate from the punch, generally in advance of the punch itself. So interior counters are determined independent of the cutting of the outer contours. How one relates the cutting of those outer contours, then, is a choice, not necessarily determined by the tools.

Phototype masters could just as easily have been made from a solid outer shape with an independent contour cut from white material and superimposed. Or, if cutting rubylith, there is nothing inherently limiting about the tools that prevents considering interior independent of exterior.

I'm not arguing that Legato is not a product or phenomenon of our time, but I don't think you can put it down to the tools.

-- Kent.

nina's picture

"The ability to work with interior and exterior contours independently has pretty much always been there."

Oh, good point. I guess that leaves us with the question why something like Legato wasn't already conceived of in metal, or any other one of those "older" medial contexts. Or are there any pre-digital typefaces that attempt something like Legato?

To remain on the level of tools/media for a second, I'd at least suggest it's easier to do this in vectors, and more flexible – as in, less laborious to quickly try out many variants and new ideas, and to play with the shapes; so that, while the digital medium isn't the only one to allow for such treatments, it may well be more conducive to them.

On the level of the broader cultural context, my theory* is that for something like Legato to emerge, PoMo craziness had to happen,** and pass, to allow for the new medium to truly start searching for its own and inherently new "visual vocabulary" – which will be independent from the established one to a degree, but not so narcissistic as to be anti-usability. Which FWIW is a classic feature of medial paradigm shifts.

* Which is always in a state of (re-)construction, and doesn't claim to be "right".

** Which of course, in turn, goes back to the availability, and flexibility, of digital tools; so I guess that goes to show how intrinsically connected visual shapes are both to the tools/media they're shaped by, and to their overall cultural context.

Jan's picture

When cutting a metal punch using counterpunches, one would pretty much cut the counterpunch completely separate from the punch, generally in advance of the punch itself. So interior counters are determined independent of the cutting of the outer contours.

Yep. Good point. And this plays an important role in the process and progress from, let’s say, venetian to transitional style.

But, I think the digital tools offer possibilities to experiment with construction in a way formally not available, numeric precision for example. So it may be not about the emancipation of the countershape from the shape in general, but how it’s done.

Scan from FontShop’s Inspiration July 2004:

kentlew's picture

Don't get me wrong: I'm on board for the thesis that there's something about Legato that may be unique to this cultural moment.

But I still can't accept that digital tools are a driving factor.

> I’d at least suggest it’s easier to do this in vectors, and more flexible – as in, less laborious to quickly try out many variants and new ideas,

Altaira, only insofar as there is an overall acceleration of the heuristic try-it-and-see process.

But, for example, replicating what I'm interpreting in Jan's image -- the -0.5° / +4.5° experiment -- would be no big deal in a non-digital environment. I'm thinking phototype more than metal, in this case. Draw two ovals (using compass and french curves for instance), put 'em down on a table and rotate to your heart's desire until you get just the right relationship. Not *that* big a deal. Pretty flexible.

When they're just right, take a photograph, make a film master, arrange some test words and phrases, see what they look like. True, getting them into an actual font and on to plates and a press for real printed samples, maybe a bit more work. But really, digital tools aren't such a quantum shift as to make something like Legato inconceivable in a previous technological environment -- from the standpoint of working methods and technique.

I think it's more about a zeitgeist/gestalt thing, not technology, tools, or materials.

kentlew's picture

> numeric precision for example.

Numeric rigidity, perhaps, but I don't know about "precision" per se.

Let me point out that Linotype brass machining was capable of tolerances down to one-quarter of a thousandth of an inch. Much finer than a single unit in a 1000-unit Postscript em at anything under 288 pt sizes.

There are curves in Linotype working drawings from the 1940s that are tricky to replicate with beziers. And having done so, those curves are going to get obliterated at 12-point output in a way that they aren't in metal.

All I'm saying is that numerical precision is a tricky notion. Anyone who's worked with rotated ovals and then tried to get bezier extrema points to maintain those precise curves will understand what I'm talking about.

Nick Shinn's picture

I'm sure there have been yet other "emancipated countershape" types before Legato.
But the effect in Legato is relatively understated. Evert was a beautiful and subtle draftsman, and made it central to his designs--few could have successfully executed a concept such as Cocon.

nina's picture

"only insofar as there is an overall acceleration of the heuristic try-it-and-see process"
I believe the "liberation" from costly, material, long-winded and involved processes in the type design and testing workflow that the digital environment has brought about has definitely cultivated an atmosphere of "freedom" in experimentation.
It's not only what a given tool can or can't do that matters, but rather what it suggests doing, or makes easy to do. I'm sure somebody could technically have drawn something like Legato using a pen on parchment, but then they didn't.
Tools influence thinking. And yes they influence heuristics, not just production. Ideas are born in friction and dialogue with tools, and materials. A pen is more conducive to drawing single strokes, while two contours with nodes and handles on them are posing the question more overtly if they should be treated as two sides of the same "line", or more independently.

"replicating what I’m interpreting in Jan’s image — the -0.5° / +4.5° experiment — would be no big deal in a non-digital environment"
Except of course Bloemsma didn't just rotate the contours and voilà. I still can't figure out what exactly he did, but to me it looks like some serious node tweakage going on. I'm still not saying this wouldn't have been technically possible in a non-digital workflow, but I personally don't see how anyone would arrive at such a solution with non-digital tools (notwithstanding the fact I'm a beginner in this, and might just not be seeing things).

I tend to agree it's probably more about an overall cultural context than just the tools taken by themselves. But I'm suspecting that's more of a rhetorical/logical difference, since I believe that this same cultural context is itself heavily influenced by the tools/possibilities at the disposal of those people who make publicly visible things, and by the solutions found by them via the tools/possibilities – in a rather involved circular relationship.

"I’m sure there have been yet other “emancipated countershape” types before Legato."
Lots. Display faces, and Po-Mo experiments.
What I was trying to get at was that Legato doesn't just emancipate the counterspace for the fun of it, but actually ends up being beautifully readable, which makes it such an amazing fusion of novelty and usability. Are there any text faces that did this previously? (Serious question, I'm ready to be educated. :-) )

William Berkson's picture

>Are there any text faces that did this previously?

I don't think there are any other faces that have done what Jan's very helpful graphic shows: squared off rounds, with a forward slant outside and a back slant inside.

This is innovative, but to my eyes rather ungainly and awkward, and though readable, also no breakthrough on readability. To me Legato is very interesting, without really being a successful design.

Something which has a resemblance in some ways is Fedra. It also has somewhat squared off rounds, and subtle differences between the inner and outer outlines. To me it is a fresh and very successful design, both in aesthetics and readability.

I don't see Legato as a significant breakthrough for the future of type design. Note for a start that Bloemsma's theory of Legato is not Hrant's theory. Bloemsma was concerned to get 'flow' from one letter forward to the next, and correct the tendency of Roman letters to turn into a picket fence--which is indeed a real and important problem.

The name 'Legato' clearly indicates this goal. Bloemsma wasn't concerned so much with 'notan', the balance of black and white, as with forward movement and coherence of word image, which he thought was harmed by the dominance of verticals.

Further, having the inner and outer outlines follow different patterns, and not follow the pen is as old as Jenson. The modifications are generally more subtle than in the case of Legato, though as Kent noted already Dwiggins was willing to go further than his predecessors, in consciously changing inner outlines to make a tension between inner and outer shapes. The innovation here in Legato is to me not any innovation in notan or in departing from the written stroke, or in having inner and outer shapes different. Instead, it is the innovative stress pattern that Bloemsma himself points to in the diagram that Jan reproduces.

Bloemsma's experiment is intriguing because it was innovative, and he carried it though with great subtlety and control. But personally I think in the end it doesn't work. The "s" is particularly awkward and heavy to my eyes.

I don't think I've ever seen it here in the US in print. Have any graphic designers taken it up in Europe? It might just be ahead of its time, as Hrant argues, with some great breakthrough on notan. But it may also just be a fascinating but unsuccessful experiment, which is my suspicion.

Jan's picture

What I love about Legato is not so much the look of the typeface itself (although I think there is beauty in it) but the idea behind it. The top-heavy Antique Olive-like thing may have been Bloemsma’s personal taste or an ideal idea of his, but apart from that I wonder what he would have come up with next.
If Legato is a successful design or not isn’t the question. The question is if Bloemsma’s way was a new one with potential for a general new approach to designing type or not.

John Hudson's picture

Nick, thanks for posting the Artefact image: this is a good example of a design in which the way in which relationship between the inner and outer walls is 'emancipated' in a way that breaks the sense of line: the letters, while still recognisable, devolve into light and heavy shapes, disrupting the commonly acknowledged structures. If this is contrasted to the approach in Legato, one can see that Evert always maintained the familiar structures, even as he manipulated their edges and, hence, the space in and around them.

William Berkson's picture

>If Legato is a successful design or not isn’t the question. The question is if Bloemsma’s way was a new one with potential for a general new approach to designing type or not.

Well, I don't see why we can't look at both questions. If it wasn't successful--and I don't here mean commercial success--then I think there's a higher bar to make the case that it's a breakthrough, to be followed. I don't see what the general new approach is, if not the changed stress, which I don't think works.

Hrant sees some kind of breakthrough in balancing black and white is a more readable way. I don't see that, and if that's not the breakthrough, what is?

If it is the breakthrough, then show me another example, or create one, and I'll be convinced. Kris Sowersby did a Legato-influenced sans that I think was more successful aesthetically than Legato, but I don't think it used the forward stress of the black, which is the distinctive design idea of Legato. --A back-slant of the white is, of course, a characteristic of old style type.

I agree it is very sad that Bloemsma is not around to further his innovative ideas, and it seems he was much loved by those who knew him.

kentlew's picture

Altaira -- I'm playing Devil's advocate. In other circumstances, I've actually argued your point.

> A pen is more conducive to drawing single strokes, while two contours with nodes and handles on them are posing the question more overtly if they should be treated as two sides of the same “line”, or more independently.

Yes, but what then is a metal punch and graver more conducive to? And what is an x-acto knife and sheet of rubylith more conducive to? These have been other type design tools and materials at other points in time. (If you ever have the chance, you should try to witness Dave Farey cutting letters in rubylith. He used to demonstrate this regularly at conferences & gatherings, but I don't know if he does it any more. Maybe someone's got footage somewhere.)

nina's picture

"Yes, but what then is a metal punch and graver more conducive to?"
Heh, Kent, I had a sentence in there that read something like, "I don't know enough about the processes of punchcutting et al. to bring them into this equation", but I deleted it because I thought I was writing too much anyway. :-Y
Certainly a direct/logical assumption would be that punches and gravers are not especially conducive to adhering to a rigid "stroke" based model – but then I don't really understand why the latter has been followed for so long even with those tools. Maybe because culturally, there's still been a traditionalist adhesion to the pen, a dominating conservatism. And that seems to change a bit recently, I assume due to the [tool-/visuals-inspired] visual/cultural shift we've been going through.

Regarding how Dwiggins designed counterspace: It'd be very interesting if somebody could maybe put up some pictures/samples or post some links? I've seen the hmnu counters in Caledonia, which you cite/show in the Whitman specimen, but not much more that would clearly show this approach of his.

By the way, one thing I've found quite striking about showing Legato to people not obsessed with type has been that, not only do they tend not to realize what's going on with the contours (which probably means it's so low-key that it's definitely not too innovative to work in text), but some actually see a hand-written/"calligraphic ductus" in it – the very same thing it breaks! I wonder if that has something to do with John's "line" idea. Maybe Legato strikes that fine line (ignore bad pun) where its black and white aren't yet perceived as totally independent black and white "areas of space", but the "stroke" isn't really there anymore either? Hmm.

"…though readable, also no breakthrough on readability"
William, considering it has no serifs, to my eyes it's quite amazingly readable for longish text, which I think may very well come down to the way it handles the white. I have an idea about that brewing… but have to get some work out of the way first. But then maybe Hrant will join in.

Speaking of Fedra (which I agree is a great design), I must say the interplay between the contours doesn't strike me as nearly as distinctive a feature in Fedra as it is in Legato. If anything, it's extremely subtle, to the point where I wonder if it was as much a driving force behind the making of Fedra as it was in Legato.

"Kris Sowersby did a Legato-influenced sans that I think was more successful aesthetically than Legato"
Oh really? What's it called?

metalfoot's picture

Every now and again threads appear on Typophile that make me wish there were a book form of this website...

I learn so much here!

William Berkson's picture

It was called Karbon. I found the thread, but the link to the sample is dead, and Kris has taken it down from his web site. Hrant was over the moon about it.

I think I see some influence of it in his Seranno, but that is a different design, with less of a Legato feel in it.

enne_son's picture

Nina, about some people seeing a calligraphic ductus in Legato, see the post I referenced above: http://typophile.com/node/16140 (my 25 November 2005 3:04 pm post).

I wrote there as well: "it is possible that fundamental—rather than incidental—norm-violations, such as those introduced in Bloemsma’s Legato, where the violations are neither additive or subtractive (or based on sampling, like for instance Fudoni), might lead to something that is advantageous from a ’heightened readability’ point of view." So I think what is unique about Legato is that it's norm violations are fundamental rather than incidental.

The 25 November 2005 3:04 pm post tries to suggest why I think this is advantageous from a readability or perceptual processing in reading point of view as well.

I think the vector-based paradigm catalyses and facilitates such interventions and initiatives, however I agree with Kent that. In digital fonts it is still the font and not the outline that is designed. A font is designed by defining shapes and counter-shapes through vector manipulation. The vector is not the intentional object of design. When it's mathematics or geometry become the object of design, I think type design fails.

kentlew's picture

> Are there any text faces that did this previously? (Serious question, I’m ready to be educated. :-) )

Okay, this is separate from the pre-/post-digital tools debate.

I think Cyrus Highsmith's Quiosco demonstrates the same kind of independence of interior/exterior contours.

I can't swear that it is strictly "previous" to Legato. Certainly not by much. The first appearance of Quiosco was 2002 in La Prensa Gráfica. I believe that the published date of Legato is 2004. Who knows how long he was working on it or when he started.

I'm pretty sure Cyrus knew Evert, and most likely respected him. But I don't know if there were any specific influences either direction. As I've said, I believe this is more of a zeitgeist thing.

Cyrus's stated influence in this direction was Dwiggins.

-- K.

kentlew's picture

Altaira -- Just noticed your request for more Dwiggins. Ha, there must be plenty scattered around Typophile from through the years. People are probably tired of hearing me wax on about WAD. Try searching for "M-formula." There was a "Chunky" thread, I think. Also, that "Cut and Curved" thread of Eben's from last year. Florian can probably help you out. ;-)

I've got plenty more, if that doesn't sate your appetite or give you the kind of specificity you're looking for. But we'll end up wandering far afield of Frode's interest in Legato. ;-)

-- K.

William Berkson's picture

On the readability of Legato, which Peter again notes, I do agree with many here that Legato is unusually readable for a sans. And I think a lot has to do with Boemsma's success in breaking up the picket fence. But other stressed sans do it, including Lydian, Optima and Cyrus Highsmith's Amira--which also violates pen rules systematically.

Nina, I think that what you report about people reacting saying it looks more pen drawn is actually correct, in that the modulations are there as in a pen-drawn stroke, even though Bloemsma's modulations violate pen rules. For example, Carl Crossgrove's Beorcana is quite readable and has a strong pen-drawn quality.

So while I appreciate the readability of Legato, I don't think the forward stress of the black that is distinctive to Legato is the only way or best way aesthetically to achieve what it does by way of readability.

nina's picture

Peter, I have tried reading the post you referenced again, but I have to admit it's still a bit over my head. :-/

Like, would you mind getting back to this?
"And he has done this not by starting from translation, but from an introduction of inner form / outer form counter-rotations in an expansion based context."
I'm guessing I don't understand the concept of expansion here. Trying to reverse engineer to a degree what Bloemsma did, when I rotate the contours back in that "o", there's definitely still some contrast there. I wonder where this comes from. Is it possible/likely to make this with a pen?

(Image: "o" from Legato Regular, outer contour rotated counterclockwise by 4.5°, inner contour rotated clockwise by 0.5°)

I'm now reading up on the connection between notan and readability. Great input.

By the way, do you (or anyone else for that matter) happen to have the first link archived that you cite in that post, "About Legato" from Evert Bloemsma's web site? Archive.org has it, but without the images. Looks like there was a PDF version too (which hasn't been archived).

"In digital fonts it is still the font and not the outline that is designed."
I was not trying to suggest that "we design vectors". My point was probably that the movable, flexible, immaterial, and –most importantly in this context– independent digital outline, which has become the "interface" through which the designer shapes a font (and thus, a metaphor of sorts), has a notable effect on how fonts are seen/thought_of; though not necessarily in the way of total identification of the product with its toolwise representation.

Kent, thanks for posting Quiosco. That does look strange close up! I was surprised to see how well it prints/reads. Although it feels much less radical than Legato; the "independentness" of the inner/outer contours seems to mainly come into play in details (like the way he "thinned" the joins), while some important stems (like say the left one of the "n") are still vertical both inside and out, while those in Legato look pretty… twisted :-). Am I not seeing something?
Oh, and cheers for the WAD keywords. Will do some reading up!

"But we’ll end up wandering far afield of Frode’s interest in Legato. ;-)"
Well he hasn't intervened… yet. I hope he will protest if this veers off too much for his interests… meanwhile, at least I am shamelessly capitalizing on his question for my own learning. ;-)

"the modulations are there as in a pen-drawn stroke, even though Bloemsma’s modulations violate pen rules"
So are you suggesting that it's the concept of modulation in and of itself that makes for its heightened readability, and not necessarily how it's executed – pen-conformingly or not?

kentlew's picture

I guess it depends on how you want to go about defining your "independentness." I mean, ultimately, if a design is successful the various contours are going to be bound together in some fashion.

Yes, in Quiosco there are still straight parallel stems. I was looking more at the interaction/independence of the inner and outer curve of the n arch -- these have a radically different thrust from one another, creating an interesting tension, which was the focus of Cyrus's formal exploration. (Note also the non-parallel right stem that results from this tension.)

> while those in Legato look pretty… twisted :-).

Non-parallel, swelling or flaring stems are nothing terribly innovative in and of themselves, of course.

I believe in this case they arise out of Bloemsma explicitly stated aversion to straight lines. Which makes his aesthetic rather ironically non-digital -- since you could argue that straight, square, plumb, and parallel are in large measure inherent in digital tools.

For another interesting comparison, take a look at what Frutiger was doing in Icone (ca. 1980). Legato on the left, Icone on the right:

enne_son's picture

[Nina] Like, would you mind getting back to this?

The analysis is far too compact. I'll try to get back to it on Sunday.

Here is a stitched screen grab of the original Bloemsma page (be sure to scroll horizontally to see the additional content on the right):

Nick Shinn's picture

It's a nicely drawn irregular sans.
What makes it unique is the amount of BS that's been attached to it.

As Nina has demonstrated by reversing Bloemsma's rotation cue, there is the tell-tale residue of skew, confirming the face's chirographic construction. So basically it is a humanist sans, with the counters made slightly more symmetrical. I think Bloemsma designed primarily with hand and eye, and that the detailed rationalization is post facto, and not very convincing. Type founders have been thinning out the thickest part of the chirographic stroke from Jenson to Quiosco (compare "p"s).

I suspect that he had the general idea that an irregular sans could be drawn with some tension, by chafing against the usual precepts of simple geometry and chirography, and that there might be some readability benefit in that. But the face still has a predominantly chirographic stress, as can be seen by flipping the "o"--Legato above, Maiandra in the middle, and most subtle of all, Productus, below.

Legato has something of the feel of an old-fashioned humanist sans, say Goudy Sans; its slightly uncrisp execution, and the fact that the letter shapes themselves are not particularly novel, might contribute to its lack of popularity, although it does have the even width and semi-condensed proportions of the contemporary sans genre descended from Meta.

I'm not knocking the face, just questioning the theory.

kentlew's picture

Oh, I have a copy of that PDF about Legato from Peter's screen grab of Bloemsma's page. I don't think I can post a PDF here. If you send me an e-mail off-line, Altaira, I'll pass it to you.

nina's picture

"As Nina has demonstrated by reversing Bloemsma’s rotation cue, there is the tell-tale residue of skew, confirming the face’s chirographic construction."

1) Is every font that has this "skew" to its "stroke" by definition chirographically constructed / constructable?

2) Is that a Yes to my question if those "de-rotated" contours I showed could be produced with a pen / single stroke? (I suck at calligraphy, so I won't be able to confirm or disprove this myself.)

Nick, even if your answer is yes to question 2, I don't think that could confirm the face is "chirographically constructed". I think the subsequent de-linking and individual rotation of the two contours matters a lot in this design. & that means the font that resulted in the end cannot really have been "chirographically constructed" – at most, it may have been "deconstructed" from an assumed chirographically-informed base structure. (While of course we're really only looking at one glyph here.)

Peter, Kent: Thank you! Kent, I've dropped you an email.
I wonder, William, what you make of Bloemsma's illustration of how Legato's construction principle and contrast helps readability – that very page seems to make a lot of sense to me, and I'm beginning to suspect it's really about a combination of (a) breaking up the "picket fence" (in terms of doing away with straight verticals, and generally introducing more "movement"), which tends to raise perceived coherence of letter sequences, and (b) its funky contrast/stress, which makes it even less "static" (which I'm actually no big fan of personally, aesthetically speaking, but it's very interesting to see what it can / may be able to do).
That bottom-most illustration in Peter's screen grab is especially telling I think; some of the text seems to be cut off: "The illustration below compares the sanserifs Univers (emphasizing vertical parts), FF Balance (emphasizing horizontal parts) and FF Legato (emphasizing diagonals from the upper left to the lower right). Each one of them builds a different rhythm, creates a different interaction between the characters; a different continuity."

The Icone comparison is interesting. I'd like to get back to this but need to look at it in depth. (Fortunately, I just got myself a copy of this wonderful new Frutiger monograph today!)

Frode Bo Helland's picture

But we’ll end up wandering far afield of Frode’s interest in Legato
I'm still here!

I get the importance in Hrant's observation: Moving from the simulation of old tools towards actually taking advantage of the digital tools and methods to create something new, though I'm not sure how it's a revolution in terms of readability.

nina's picture

As a side note (but maybe not really), the Icone comparison is quite interesting, also with respect to the relations between design and media. In the monograph (Adrian Frutiger: Typefaces. The complete works), Frutiger explains how the design of Icone (1978, published 1980) was a direct response to the new digital medium, although in terms of striving to offset its negative effects (digital distortion): "Instead of 'lines' that could easily be defined geometrically, [Icone] is characterized by a rather 'wild' stroke design. Curves and asymmetrically flaring terminals are among its key characteristics. There are no traditional serifs, which would hinder slanting." (My translation, I have the German edition.)

Icone on the left, Legato on the right:

Now while there seems to be a bit of similarity between these glyphs, to me they also show the notable difference in the thinking behind their designs: Icone's "t" is "flowing" throughout, and harmoniously. Both sides of the stem are curved, and stretching the imagination a bit, the glyph could still be seen as "painted" - and it was not Frutiger's intention to depart from the chirographic model, he just "gummied" the contours (in fact calling Icone "gummy type") to make it less vulnerable to distortion. In Legato, the "t" has a lot more tension between the contours, a much more strongly differentiated "pull" of the curves - which underpins the notion of the tension between the (more) independent contours being a driving force behind its design.

daniele capo's picture

Kent, can I have that pdf too? I give you my e.mail.

From a geometrical point of view I think the operation on the contour of the 'o' is not rotation but skewing (I think it is what Nick Shinn wrote). In that way the upper right and lower left regions of the letter are thickened.
The trick with black/white is, I think, that you have two opposite movements: the black is leaning forward while the inner white is slightly leaning backward. Maybe this “counter-movements” makes the letter appear upright while it is slanted, I don‘t know. But the effect is a diagonal stress forward (maybe the interconnection wanted by Bloemsma) without being an ‘italic’. I suppose that stress (that is the opposite of the red dashed line in the image above) is responsible for the “calligraphic ductus” seen by non type obsessed persons (a more natural 'flow')

Looking at the t that Nina posted, I see the same stress (look at the bottom-left part) obtained in the same way: the outer contour is pulled along a diagonal, while the inner contour remains straight.

What I find interesting is that the conceptualization Bloemsma did is actually based on the interaction of surfaces (black area against white area), that is a conceptualization not done in terms of lines (the so-called anti-chirographic point of view). Obviously you can re-tell the whole story in terms of marking tools and strokes.

For the discussion on the tools. I think that vector drawing softwares, so based on the metaphor of drawing board, with splines etc., are actually a conceptual obstacle for thinking in terms of surfaces: you are forced to manipulate dematerialized ‘curves’ (that is good mathematically, instead.)

William Berkson's picture

>what you make of Bloemsma’s illustration of how Legato’s construction principle and contrast helps readability

I think that the modulation and also relatively wide spacing helps readability, but I don't buy his argument that the "forward motion" of the stress helps particularly. After all, italics have this forward motion, and are generally less readable. His innovation keeps the letters looking upright with some of this italic effect, but I suspect it's not much of a benefit. In other words, if you redrew Legato with just a normal old style stress, I suspect you wouldn't lose anything as far as readablity.

Another interesting example, also obviously influenced by Dwiggins, is John Downer's SamSans, which was until recently the 'Featured Face' here on Typophile. That has a lot of angular inner outlines and smooth outer, and modulation. It is a little narrow for my liking--though a narrow informal sans was indeed his brief--but I think extremely readable for being a narrow sans. Interestingly, his "e" has some of the forward/backward motion of Legato--it is from 1993!--but not generally.

nina's picture

"I don’t buy his argument that the “forward motion” of the stress helps particularly. After all, italics have this forward motion, and are generally less readable."
But you're comparing two much different implementations of the idea of "forward motion". Italics have a lot of other features that (I'd expect) influence their readability (the slant angle, and the classically narrower widths, to name but two). Also, Bloemsma isn't just talking about "'forward motion' of the stress" – he's defining that more closely as the tension between the black and the intra-/inter-letter space, that breaks up the isolation of individual letters; and I have no reason so far not to believe (a) what he says, (b) my eyes.

"In other words, if you redrew Legato with just a normal old style stress, I suspect you wouldn’t lose anything as far as readablity."
Now *that* would be the ultimate thing to try. I'd contest it. Hell, I'd bet a bottle of decent wine that you would (lose something in terms of readability, that is). Except even that surely wouldn't yield a clear and uncontested result (who's going to do it, and how exactly, and how are you going to test the results "independently"?).

SamSans: I don't know, this looks a *lot* more chirographically-informed to me than Legato. Yes there are some dissonances between the contours (like in the "s"), but they're much more gentle, and follow a "logically"-appearing, much more easily discernible pattern.

William Berkson's picture

Yeah doing the experiment of an old-style Legato would be an effort--but interesting. I'm not about to do it soon, though :)

As far as SamSans, yes it has the feel of the hand in it, in a good way I think, but also its lines have constant contradiction of what a pen would draw.

I also don't buy the chirographic=bad boogyman of Hrant. I think the pen does some things that helped readability, and some that hurt. And since Jenson, type designers have been modifying those things that hurt. Departing from the pen isn't inherently good or bad. Our letter shapes are based on the broad pen, so going too far away is always tricky to pull off successfully.

Ultimately the test of whether Legato's unique stress pattern is a positive breakthrough is to do designs that follow it, but are more successful aesthetically than Legato. And if there is something else there having to do with notan, then develop that. Each person can have a go. I am just skeptical that this is a promising direction.

enne_son's picture

Nina, I was unable to get to my promised elaboration over the weekend, and I'm in a bit of a time crunch now, but can you let me know if the outlines and control points you show in the images above (12 March 2009 / 3:21 and 12 March 2009 / 9:36) are your approximations or Bloemsma's actual?

nina's picture

Peter, the 12.Mar.2009 3.21pm image shows the actual "o" of Legato Regular
as it appears in the font. The 13.Mar.2009 9.36am image is my approximation
of rotating the contours back.

William Berkson's picture

Note that the contours are slightly twisted or wrenched against one another ("verdreht" in Jan's FontShop image) rather than simply rotated. For example, the outer side points have a counter-clockwise rotation, whereas the outer top and bottom points are rotated clockwise. This kind of distortion of an ellipse might be achieved by some combination of skewing (slanting) and rotating. But I suspect Bloemsma just adjusted it my hand and eye until he got the effect he wanted.

Also, when I played with my semi-bold version (a free-bee from FontShop!) the line connecting outer top and bottom points are between 1.5 and 2 degrees off vertical, not 5.5 degrees. Maybe the bold is different. The whole thing is very subtly done.

nina's picture

Ha. That would of course render my quick rotating experiment moot.
I've been wondering about what looks like different direction of rotation between the outer side points and the upper/lower extrema. Still I read that "verdreht" as simply "rotated" (when two contours are "verdreht", it can mean they're individually rotated in opposing directions, not necessarily skewed in themselves, even though "verdreht" also means "twisted").

William Berkson's picture

I guess there's no simple description of what he did. Basically, his innovative concept is the black have forward diagonal stress and the white a backward diagonal stress, so that the diagonals dominate, but the character still looks upright.

The result, very masterfully pulled off, is readable, but also awkward looking. That wasn't a problem for him, evidently, as he said he wanted not to be constrained by a "pleasant" look.

kentlew's picture

> The 13.Mar.2009 9.36am image is my approximation of rotating the contours back.

But you didn't reestablish extrema points, right?

nina's picture

"But you didn’t reestablish extrema points"

Indeed I didn't – I was wary of messing with the curves. Should I have?

enne_son's picture

I also read verdreht as rotated, or turned, though I see some shearing from a straightword expansion with contrast-reduction base prior to the + & - turning of the outlines. I think the shearing is effected by moving left and right-side extremata up or down / top and bottom extremata left and right.

Bill, I think the result is awkward-looking only at display sizes and when gauged aesthetically. Optical-grammatically in the context of the word at continuous text sizes I think the concept makes great and unobtrusive functional sense. As well, my sense of how Bloemsma works is that he works more systematically than you seem to think. But that's what I'll try to show.

kentlew's picture

> Indeed I didn’t – I was wary of messing with the curves. Should I have?

Not necessarily. You're right, that probably would've compromised the curves in some way.

It just would've been interesting to see how the extrema align in the rotated version. Since many of us are used to seeing the points at the extrema, you have to look carefully to realize those points aren't and adjust your evaluation of the shapes accordingly.

Plus, it might help draw out any pre-rotation adaptations to the ovals. (I mean that figuratively, not literally -- who knows how Bloemsma actually arrived at his final shapes.)

William Berkson's picture

Peter, I think Bloemsma was extremely systematic, perhaps even unwisely so. But I suspect the system was in what he wanted visually, and not in doing the same mechanical steps on things. I don't think you can get things to look the same by doing the same thing to different shapes. The eye is too complicated and changes what we see vs what's on the page or screen in ways we don't fully understand. So I would bet he just fiddled with the glyphs until he got that crossed diagonal effect he wanted.

dezcom's picture

"though I’m not sure how it’s a revolution in terms of readability"

I think the jury is still out and may be for some time.

What Bloesma did was execute a face that fit his personal philosophy and used his own skilled eye to produce it. We can spend days discussing success or failure to meet either readability improvement or even shake the chirographic mould. I don't know if we can come to a definitive agreement. Those who place Bloesma on the highest pedestal will convince themselves in the positive and those who are most skeptical will say nay. I personally see it as a successful typeface that is very well drawn and spaced but don't see it as anything earthshaking. I am not saying "the emperor has new clothes" but that he is not finer dressed than several other well drawn sans afoot.
I don't see how chirography is even an issue. There are both good and bad faces done using typical stroke tool mentality. I think the more successful faces do a better job of fitting glyphs together as words regardless of stroke pattern, stress, or dependency on figure vs ground. I am a firm believer that figure and ground must form a more perfect union and give and take prominence to affect that union. Weight plays a larger issue in dominence as well. Bolder weights make ground more prominent than lighter weights. To this,Legato is a bit heaver than the average face generally.
The rotations and shifts made their presence pronounced during the PoMo deconstruction period. This is a natural extension but with a purpose to reconstruct a new form. I think Evert has done quite well with it but not reached the moon. Too bad he did not live long enough to push it where he intended. He may have found something extraordinary but we will never know.


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