Type Trends: Superelliptical Type

Happy Thanksgiving. Of all the holidays we celebrate in America, I’ve got to hand it to Thanksgiving for staying true to itself. Try as they might, the stores haven’t managed to over-commercialize it. It’s a feast day that spans nearly every ethnicity and religion, where we can take time from our regular schedules, sit up to our tables with our families, eat from our best plates and drink from our best cups, and be thankful.

Not to pull you away from spending time with your family, but I just had a few thoughts this morning I needed to write down. Last week’s look into faces exhibiting the Erbar a sent me on a quick tangent through the work of Aldo Novarese and Alessandro Butti. And while it’s true that Microgramma and Eurostile make use of a similar construction for the lowercase a, I had been saving these for their own spot in the type trends series, under what I call superelliptical type. Unlike slightly squared designs, for example Heldustry, or those exhibiting rectangles with rounded corners, types that make use of the superellipse exhibit outward-bowing curves on all sides of their bowls and otherwise round forms. Superellipses entered the world of type in the early 1950s with the release of Microgramma by the Nebiolo Type Foundry in 1952, and Eurostile, its revised sibling in 1962. Other notable employments of the shape can be seen in Hermann Zapf’s Melior, 1952 (see o), in early sketches of Adrian Frutiger’s Univers, 1957, and Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive, 1962. Use of the shape, with its geometric precision and yet softened tight curves, lent a sense of otherness to faces like Microgramma, tied to scientific and technological advancement. I seem to recall some promotional material where Eurostile is touted as the ‘typeface of the future’ and that its forms, though odd, were ubiquitous given the common shape of television screens. (Thanks Jeff Kellem for this reference: Eurostile, A Synthetic Expression of Our Times.) And that holds true, so long as we continue to look daily to our cathode-ray-tube-based tv sets—though we likely haven’t done that for a dozen years or more. It’s perhaps due to the withdrawl of this form from daily life that we’ve seen a trending return to in type design. One place Eurostile’s presence doesn’t seem to have dipped through the years is automobile dashboards.

Aldo Novarese & Alessandro Butti’s Microgramma, 1952.

Aldo Novarese’s Eurostile, 1962.

Hermann Zapf’s Melior, 1952.

Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive, 1962.

Silas Dilworth’s Breuer Text, 2007.

Cyrus Highsmith’s Ibis, 2008, a synthesis of the work of Walbaum and the above Melior.

Jean-François Porchez’s Allumi, 2009.

Also a few we don’t carry from H&FJ: Vitesse (pictured above), Forza, and Idlewild.

Kevin Thrasher’s EXT Unicase, 2012. Talking with Kevin recently he told me that this didn’t come from studying any of the above types, but just from looking around visual culture generally. Maybe there’s something to this. Where else have you seen superelliptical typefaces?

(Update: These are apparently more common than I thought, though I still think I’m seeing an uptick in their popularity. Thanks Richard Taylor for mentioning the following: David Farey’s Cachet, 1997; Ole Schäfer’s FF Fago, 2000; Chester Jenkins’s Apex, 2003; Cyrus Highsmith’s Antenna, 2003; David Quay’s Foundry Monoline, 2003; Joshua Darden’s Freight Micro, 2005; Seb Lester’s Neo Sans, 2005, and Soho Gothic, 2008. Also thanks Nick Sherman for saying the word I was afraid to say: Squircle.)

5 Comments

  1. Posted November 22, 2012 at 10:14 PM | Permalink

    Here’s one possible reference on Eurostile and television shapes from an article by Aldo Novarese in Pagina issue No. 4, January 1964:

    http://www.thisisdisplay.org/features/eurostile_a_synthetic_expression_of_our_times_aldo_novarese

    -Jeff Kellem

  2. Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:02 PM | Permalink

    Another great topic.

    I’m tempted to argue Breuer Text is a straight-sided (rather than super-elliptical) affair, in a similar vein to DIN and Klavika. Perhaps there is a bit of generic overlap there?

    Other prominent examples: Antenna, Soho Gothic, Foundry Monoline, Freight Micro

  3. rtaylor
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 11:08 PM | Permalink

    … Cachet, Apex, Neo Sans, FF Fago …

  4. Posted November 24, 2012 at 2:49 PM | Permalink

    If you wanted to be more accurate, you might relate these kinds of typefaces to the term “squircle” instead of the more general “superellipse”. Squircles are superellipses, but not all superellipses are squircles. Plus, “squircle” is probably easier to understand without explanation, and is certainly more fun to say :)

  5. Posted November 29, 2012 at 1:53 PM | Permalink

    You may be technically correct, Nick, but it’s hard for me to use the term squircle — at least not until it becomes more commonly known. It immediately evokes playful, cartoonish, well … squirrelly things which are certainly not what typefaces built from this shape are all about.

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