Fenland

hrant's picture

Fenland.

This is the most fascinating typeface I've seen since 2004.

I'd love to hear how people see it.

hhp

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Ink trap! ink trap!

I like it. Doesn't blow me away.

charles ellertson's picture

Tankard does very nice work with sans. I also like his Shaker -- a friend is using that for the text in his photography book -- tremendous number of photos taken in Thailand

Nick Shinn's picture

Awesome!
Nice to see a real type design once in a while, amidst the daily parade of styling, retreads and hacks.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Would either of you be willing to explain why you like this?

Nick Shinn's picture

I already did.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Because it's orignal?

R.'s picture

It’s a decent typeface, but I don’t see any reason for enthusiasm. That’s probably me, not the face, so: Please explain what you like about it.

5star's picture

I think it's awesome because the inside of the letters is not like the outside (graphic designer speak), that to me brings a lot of interesting design skill.

John Hudson's picture

I'm not sure about this one, although in general I'm a huge fan of Jeremy's work and think he is consistently interesting and creative in how he thinks about letters. I understand what he is doing in Fenland, but it seems to be unevenly successful: some letters look great as a result of the system he has applied, but others seem to me awkward; some look like novel constructions of real strength while others look like distressed letters (in part, I suspect, because they end up reminiscent of postmodernist experiments of the 1990s; this is especially the case with B D E). The construction of the N obliges this to become a very wide letter: the first thing that jumped out at me about the design.

Overall, I think the lowercase is more successful than the caps, with which they don't seem to combine very naturally. I can't help feeling that the lowercase would work better alongside more 'normal' caps that don't draw so much stylistic attention to themselves. Or maybe the family would benefit from a distinction between display caps and text caps.

Lowercase v w x y seem to me awkward and, like the caps, not entirely in keeping with the rest of the lowercase. They give the appearance of needing to be strangely constructed in order to fit with the programme, instead of having a shape that balances well with the other letters. The thought I'm left with is that systematic programmes of 'norm violation'—to use Peter Enneson's phrase in a situation in which I think it is particularly useful—need to be flexible when applied to letters whose inherited construction is itself outside of the norms of the rest of the alphabet.

R.'s picture

But why is it awesome that he (quite skilfully) created letters that cannot be drawn with the pen? I see that this is not the most common approach to type design, but the result doesn’t convince me for a text face. The overall impression seems way too busy and lively. Or is this more readable than plain vanilla Garamond and I just fail to notice? More enlightenment still welcome.

John Hudson's picture

I think it is 'awesome' that people are thinking about how to create viable letterforms whose edge-to-edge relationships are other than those derived from writing tools, and are trying to do so in systematic ways that apply across entire typefaces. I don't think all the results are awesome, but I appreciate the thoughtful approach to this question in type design, and I think the results tell us important things even when, as in the case of Fenland, I don't personally think the results are wholly successful. Fenland seems to me to demonstrate the limits of systematic programmes—or at least of this systematic programme—, particularly with regard to certain letters. Among other thoughts, this is going to send me back to look at Legato to examine more closely how Evert adapted his own systematic approach to the letters comprised of diagonal strokes.

I also think it is awesome, in the full sense of the word, that Hrant and Nick agree about something.

R.'s picture

Thanks for explaining! I agree with you and with the others (who rarely seem to agree) that the approach is laudable, regardless of the results.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

f is brilliant.

Nick Cooke's picture

I have the printed booklet and I think that Fenland is more successful as a text face than display. It somehow has a very even colour when used small, whereas it may look a bit too willfully peculiar using large sizes. Having said that, once one gets over the shock of the new it may start to look normal. Whatever, all credit to Jeremy for pushing the boundaries and designing something thoughtfully different.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Even the shapes of a perfectly balanced text face looks awkward mirrored.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

There's a system but it does not adhere (enough) to the expexted. Enough is the key here. I would think you could get away with more unexpected turns if the axis is upright.

LexLuengas's picture

But why is it awesome that he (quite skilfully) created letters that cannot be drawn with the pen?

One should mention that this typeface, though it's apparent divorce from conventional structure, still has a strong chirographic affinity. The ductual logic is just reversed.

There are places where the designer deviates from this system, as can be seen in the circled area, at joints. Certainly, this is consciously designed to avoid black spots, and for that: "chapeau!".

What bothers me is that, on the other hand, there are letters that seem not to follow any system at all (e.g. /t/, /N/), which was John's point. This is why I personally don't regard this as a very successful design, and also why I doubt Jeremy was concerned with notan (at all) as Evert was when designing Legato. What I like is what also John has already expressed best: I look at Fenland as an eye-opening way of thinking; inciting designers to assent to other kind of shapes different from those derived from the humanist hand.

Nick Shinn's picture

As JT says on his site: “The modern shapes are constructed and balanced to remove the adherence to the pen-written or calligraphic model. Yet still provide an alphabet that maintains a lively pattern when set in continuous text.”
(And, “The visual uniqueness of Fenland becomes apparent when it is seen at large sizes”.)

That’s all that can be said, other than post facto rationizations.
I would imagine that he began with a vague idea of how an effect might be applied, in design and style, to the alphabet, according to the concept of divergent outlines, and then worked out what that would look like by a proceess of glyph-drawing. Trial and error, adapting each individual glyph to theme and sub-theme en masse, and redefining the themes too, in feedback loops. The hands-on practicality of a looping process that involves so much drawing would see to it that any “system” that emerged would have its inconsistencies.

But why put so much store on systemic consistency? Beyond the initial concept, type design is an agglomeration of “cheats” to counteract various optical effects.

John Hudson's picture

'Systematically structured' is one of the adjectival phrases in the Fenland specimen, and perhaps the one I picked up on instinctively. Jeremy's list of 'further reading references is also instructive, citing both modernist texts and examples of prior efforts at systematic programmes in type design, notably Excoffon's Antique Olive.

It is not that I am putting so much store on systemic consistency, but that it seems to me that Jeremy has, and I think sometimes too much, to the detriment of some letters and the relationship between the upper- and lowercase alphabets.

Nick Shinn's picture

Good point.
But I always take a designer’s theory and rationale with a pinch of salt (my own with several pinches).

**
It seems to me that JT’s decision to give the lower case an asymmetric ductus, while the upper case get symmetry, is systematic, in the sense that this treatment is applied consistently. It has also been used many times before, most notably in Times (C and c, but not S and s).

William Berkson's picture

I'm also a fan of Tankard's work, but I don't think this one is a success. Even with such quirky shapes he is able to pull off pretty even color in the lower case. As a feat of craft that is pretty impressive. But the characters are ungainly and awkward, and as John pointed out, the caps aren't particularly coherent as a design. I just don't see how this is going to be used successfully.

rs_donsata's picture

This face will find it's way to many magazines, it is very energetic. In some ways it reminds me of FF Max, Quadraat Sans and Fedra.

I think Hrant finds this typefaces fascinating by the dissonance between the outer and inner shapes of the letters.

dezcom's picture

I really like the concept! Glad to see someone stick their neck out a bit and design something with guts.
I have tried some of those things and know how both exciting and maddening it can be. I will have to give it a while to simmer before I can comment because you need to realign your habitual vision a bit to be fair.
I am really rooting for Jeremy on this one!
At the moment, the counterforms seem to need to be pushed more in opposition to the norm to solidify the vision that this is a purposive departure. I am sure Jeremy will get [and has gotten] plenty of notes of caution and requests to keep closer to traditional models. I hope he ignores all of it and follows his own vision.
He mentions abandoning pen based forms as a starting point. This is a good way to try to see the pure form without diluting it with tradition. That does not mean that I think "THe Pen" is wrong or even to be avoided. It means to me that I prefer not to either reject totally or embrace totally any means. To me, it means letting go of preconditioned axioms and having a visual dialogue with the forms in front of you and letting them each speak their own form of diction. Calligraphy has its own form of diction which has hundreds of years of evolution. That does not mean it is either good or bad. It is like the difference between French and German diction. Neither one is wrong and neither one is right. Each is a working system that differing peoples have arrived upon. There is no need to stop looking for new diction as befits our current time. The generations before us did not stop, nor should we.
You go Jeremy! Take your own Pinta, Niña,and Santa Maria to the New World!

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

"Lowercase v w x y seem to me awkward and..."

I actually quite like the y and the v. There are some brilliant moments here, for sure.
I think what put me off is that at book-size point sizes, it really looks just like a plain old regular sans. You would have to look closely to notice anything was new or different about it. Of course that probably wouldnt be said of the people who post here, as they are so intune with fonts and letters. But I would think almost anyone else wouldn't even notice there was something new or unusual about this font at 10 point, and there is nothing that waves a flag and says, "come on, look closer."

"But why is it awesome that he (quite skilfully) created letters that cannot be drawn with the pen?"

Well now this is the future of fonts of course. We have had hundreds of years of calligraphic inspired letters. Is there really that much left to explore in the genre? Seems to me that in order to make true progress we must leave the pen behind.

"The hands-on practicality of a looping process that involves so much drawing would see to it that any “system” that emerged would have its inconsistencies."

Yes. This makes me really want to start exploring Python with Fontlab. It would be very interesting to design a system purely in code and have it tackle the letter shapes. A font created 100% from the command line. Very interesting, indeed.

riccard0's picture

what put me off is that at book-size point sizes, it really looks just like a plain old regular sans

And that’s no small achievement! The purpose of a typeface is to make us read, not to “look closely to notice anything new or different”. What’s interesting here is the mean used to achieve this.
For extended discussions on the subject, you can look for “crystal goblet”.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Fenland is somewhat reminiscent of the studies students would make in my days in art school — go for a principle and stick to it until it hurts.

It is fresh in one way, but dated in another. A novelty font, in other words.

(A Dutch fashion writer made a similar remark about the last collection of the fashion house Martin Margiella: the last ones shown in the show were like art school exercises.)

Sorry, Jeremy, I am harsher on hungover Tuesday nights…

Bert Vanderveen's picture

A font created 100% from the command line

Knuth did that, right? Not a great success…

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

"And that’s no small achievement! The purpose of a typeface is to make us read, not to 'look closely to notice anything new or different'"

That is a an incredibly valid point of view, one which I admire greatly. I am still in the process of trying to reconcile it with my own muse. I know in my mind that you are right, but I know in my heart that I love beautiful forms that draw just a bit of attention to themselves. I guess that is the curse of being a type designer, not that I really am one, yet.

Nick Shinn's picture

… go for a principle and stick to it until it hurts.

The same could be said of several types that were novel in their day and have since become classics. Futura for one, Palatino for another.

It is fresh in one way, but dated in another. A novelty font, in other words.

That’s a sad reflection on the present state of design, when innovation is seen as old-fashioned.
What then is contemporary—styling, retreads and hacks? Mid-century modern?

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

""""""
… go for a principle and stick to it until it hurts.

The same could be said of many types that were novel in their day and have since become classics.
"That’s a sad reflection on the present state of design, ..."
"""""

I don't think that's what he's saying. I think he's saying that it's completely new and original in spots and yet completely old and dated in others. Which I agree with.

John Hudson's picture

Ryan: We have had hundreds of years of calligraphic inspired letters. Is there really that much left to explore in the genre? Seems to me that in order to make true progress we must leave the pen behind.

Or, alternatively, pick up the pen again (or some other tool). Noordzij makes this point in Types Best Remembers / Types Best Forgotten: the freezing of letters in their typographic norms that took place in the second half of the 15th Century is an anomaly in the history of writing, in which the invention and proliferation of new styles is the norm.

I'm interested in both approaches: how to design convincing types freed from tool derived models and the invention of new tool derived models. Oh yes, and after all these years I am also still interested in the old tool derived models.

William Berkson's picture

Tankard also did Disturbance, another deliberately rule-busting font. I don't think it's been used much. Stanley Morison said that type design is an inherently conservative art, because of the need to keep the letters and words recognizable. I don't know if it is a necessity, but it does seem to be incredibly hard to be both extremely different from past designs and extremely good.

John Hudson's picture

Bill, I recall Disturbance being used a lot in the 90s, particularly in the UK.

Another of Jeremy's display types that I have always admired very much for its creative approach to letter forms and relationships, Blue Island, I've only ever seen in use once, but I don't think Adobe did a good job promoting it.

William Berkson's picture

John, Ok, I stand corrected; I don't recall seeing it here in the US. In my visits to London I loved seeing Bliss used in particular for the pitch for the Olympics.

dezcom's picture

Stanley Morison also passed a while back. Why is there only "one true way" that we must adhere to. The "add another spoonful of progress" approach is fine and all and should be appreciated but we need not genuflect in the shadow of history.

William Berkson's picture

Who said there is only one true way?

dezcom's picture

"Stanley Morison said that type design is an inherently conservative art"

William Berkson's picture

Not the same thing. And I said that I don't know if Morison's right, but that it does seem very hard to make extreme innovations well in type. And that makes me wonder. I'm all for innovation in type when it works, like the sans Frutiger. I'm not against innovation or experimentation. I'm just saying that the more wild experiments don't seem to work very often, and Fenland is one that for me doesn't work.

The Victorian era seems to have been one where a lot of innovation in type happened, such as the creation of sans and slabs, and some of it has survived pretty well. I wonder why.

Nick Shinn's picture

I'm just saying that the more wild experiments don't seem to work very often, and Fenland is one that for me doesn't work.

I wouldn’t say Fenland is a wild experiment, it seems well considered and carefully developed.
Slabs and sans were invented before the Victorian era.

dezcom's picture

Fenland does not seem that wild to me.
What you might call extreme innovations do not have to work perfectly in and of themselves. It is like test firing an artillery round. You first have to fire one long to see the target.
The danger to me is that if we signal so strongly that the only way to proceed is by bringing one grain of sand at a time that we will stifle those who would be willing to fire one long. Don't worry, the sand grain pilers will still be able to proceed as always. They may even be able to see that signal flare fired ahead of them in time to speed up their own work ;-)

William Berkson's picture

What I meant by wild is that it is a lot more of a departure than most other new faces, and that I think is true of Fenland, and what Hrant was responding to.

Chris, you're right that we can learn a lot from experiments that don't fully succeed. And it's great that Jeremy Tankard has the energy to do both more conventional typefaces and more experimental ones. I just don't think that this one works very well. And it seems to me that difficulty of making more radical experiments work is greater in type than in say painting or even architecture.

sim's picture

[Track]

dezcom's picture

A torch may not work very well at illuminating a dark cave, but it can work well enough to see where to put the finished light fixtures, when they are ready.

Nick Shinn's picture

Bill, it’s a little early to say whether Fenland “works” or not, based on the opinion of someone with a preference for old book faces!

Shouldn’t one give typographers the opportunity to take it for a spin for condemning it as an also-ran?

William Berkson's picture

So, it is improper for me to express any opinions about a typeface because of my magical powers to limit other designers' options? Ridiculous.

And who are you to say what my preferences are? I like a lot of typefaces, including not only old book faces, but also new book faces, script faces, sans serifs, novelty faces, etc., etc.

Nick Shinn's picture

You went beyond saying it doesn’t work for you, to saying it won’t work for others:

I just don't see how this is going to be used successfully.

I don’t think that’s improper, just that hits and misses are hard to predict on the basis of personal likes and dislikes.

I have certainly gotten the impression from your posts on Typophile that you think old book faces are best and most readable, and of course the typeface that you have published was designed by Caslon. Doesn’t that demonstrate a preference?

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Actually now that I have looked at it for more than just a while, this font is really growing on me. Maybe that's what Hrant, who has been strangely absent from this thread especially considering that he started it, meant by "fascinating." Without a doubt my favourite pieces of art are those that I don't like at all at first, but which eventually make me love them.

William Berkson's picture

I think that Caslon did hit a sweet spot for readability of extended text, but that doesn't mean you have to redo Caslon, as I did, to hit that sweet spot. So you can do new stuff as well with different aesthetics that also hit the sweet spot. Further, at larger sizes and shorter texts the demands of readability are more forgiving, and in many uses aesthetics is more important than optimum readability. Thus there is great scope for variations in fonts for headlines, signage, advertising, sidebars etc. etc.

I just expressed an opinion that Fenland wasn't going to thrive. I wasn't legislating, but expressing my hunch. Of course I may be wrong. But I also may be right.

Syndicate content Syndicate content