Tag Archives: monospace

Type Trends: The Monospaced Aesthetic

When we left off last time I was right in the middle of monospace as a tacked-on nice-to-have variant for well developed superfamilies. Something changed though around the turn of the last century as designers in growing numbers seemed to turn back and look at the loose monospace aesthetic, appreciating it for what it was on its own. In contrast to what I call ‘documentary’ types—single face revivals mainly, entire families were begun to exist solely in monospace, or with monospace as a starting point. It’s this last point that I’m keen on identifying. What faces have you seen that aren’t monospaced, but come from the same, loosely spaced tradition?

FF Magda Clean Mono

Critzla, Cornel Windlin, & Henning Krause’s FF Magda Clean / Mono, 1998.

Kettler

In 2002, Process Type’s first release was a monospace, Kettler, named after Howard Kettler, the designer of Courier and several other typewriter type designs.

MVB Fantabular

Akemi Aoki’s MVB Fantabular, 2002. Nitti Pieter van Rosmalen’s Nitti, 2007, now with italic, as of a couple weeks ago. Nitti feels to me to have taken its lessons from Helvetica Monospaced and similar Monospaced 821. It’s one of the most even-colored monospaced faces, even in its heavier weights.

Alix FBMatthew Butterick’s Alix FB, 2011. FF Suhmo  Alex Rütten’s FF Suhmo, 2010. Not monospaced, but still exhibiting some of its effects.

Treza

Benjamin Gomez’s Treza, 2010.

Rubrik

Miles Newlyn’s Rubrik, 2011. Miles cites the monospace aesthetic of the typewriter when starting on Rubrik.

Countdown: V

It’s practically over. November’s up in a matter of hours, leaving us with about three good weeks in December before the moon is turned to blood and the earth is rolled together as a scroll. (Is it clear yet that I don’t know any proper Mayan world-end prophesies?) We’re already to V, set in Erik van Blokland’s FF Trixie. This monospaced marvel and X-Files star comes in two rough weights, with a new HD variant for maximum character alternation (10,000+ alternates). Get the whole FF Trixie story, trailer, etc. on the microsite. And remember, time is limited.

V, set in FF Trixie

Type Trends: Monospace

If you’ll allow me to get a little meta for a moment; There’s been a popular call for this series to go into a bit more depth, so I’m splitting the next few editions or so into two parts—just to see how it goes. Each half will concentrate on the theory, and then practice of a given topic. I’m realizing that such a move may spell the end of type trends as a regular gig, but I’m okay with that. It’s better that a series be pointed and great and come to a controlled stop, rather than uninspiredly droning on, or publicly running out of gas. Anyway, I thought I’d warn you. I could cover phenomena I call ‘trends’ forever, but at some point the content would start to feel a bit forced. Little chance of that happening though, I’ve got at least four more good ideas and I know how to stop when it’s time.

Now on to monospaced fonts. The keyboard you sit up to at work has a layout taken directly from the typewriter, whose letters, out of practical necessity were hammered into the page at a fixed interval. Each character therefore was designed to function within the same space as any other character. Under these constraints, M and W appeared too narrow; I took up too much space, etc.. Type foundries were soon to jump on board, offering typefaces that could be hand set to mimic typewriter output. (I happen to have a small type case of this at home.)

The above images are from ATF’s 1912 catalog, perusable online at archive.org. I can imagine these types were useful for setting keyboarding textbooks, or, as the above pitch explains, for personalized impersonal correspondence. FontShop has a pile of typewriter faces to choose from, Frederic Goudy’s Remington Typewriter being a favorite.

Just a quick note—though complete monospaced typefaces didn’t come about until after the invention of the typewriter, the concept of monospaced type or lettering did exist. For example, tabular figures were fit to a common width. Such was also the case with many interchangeable numbering and labeling systems. I was surprised to learn in my research that the Greeks sometimes composed their inscriptions in a gridded fashion not unlike monospaced type.

Obviously character-based languages often exhibit fixed spacing. (All Korean fonts are monospaced.)

Moving ahead to early computers, engineers—this time to conserve precious memory and computing power—kept similar constraints, resulting in all the first typefaces for screen, and computer line printers being monospaced. In 1984 the Macintosh introduced proportionally-spaced bitmap fonts, on screen and in print, though it kept Monaco around for tasks where monospaced fonts were best suited. Since that time, it seems like monospaced fonts have either been created primarily for use on screen, or for reproducing type used for the same purpose, in print. The exceptions are expansions of popular type families, (Univers Typewriter, Helvetica Monospaced, etc.), faces drawn to demonstrate some novel concept, (FF Trixie) or what I call documentary types, one-off faithful revivals of individual out-of-production faces.

Univers Typewriter

Helvetica Monospaced

Erik van Blokland’s FF Trixie

After some time, new typefaces began to expand their families to include monospaced variants, like Luc de Groot’s TheSans Mono, above. It’s at this point where things begin to change for monospaced type. Pick it up here next week.

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