Thursday, 4:13pm
28 June 2012

Home of the hits

Made with FontFont

Edited by Erik Spiekermann and Jan Middendorp<br>FontFont, €49<br>

Way back in 1990 new software tools, especially Fontographer, had just begun to democratise the font design landscape. A new generation, raised on Letraset and headline photosetting rather than the relatively sober output of a time when ‘foundry’ implied working with metal instead of silicon, were to provide a new pool of talent that a new font label was about to tap into.

FontShop began as a distributor, offering other foundries’ wares (which in those days were still usually supplied on floppy disk), but that soon changed. The brainchild of Neville Brody and Erik Spiekermann, FontFont almost immediately became the hippest label around; to a type designer it was the equivalent of being signed to Stax or Factory.

FontFont launched in 1990, though, as Spiekermann writes in his introduction, there were no spreadsheets, no business plan, and no one remembers exactly when it really did begin. Over the next fifteen years, the library was to expand exponentially. From Meta to Moonbase Alpha, it is a broad and eclectic mix, and therein lies its strength – finessed classicism rubs shoulders (or serifs) with the more outré fuse experiments. Fonts ‘by designers, for designers’. Like Stax, they even had a yellow and black logo. FontFont: Home of the Hits.

This sumptuous volume, part catalogue, part history, part celebration, is curated by Spiekermann and Jan Middendorp, and collects a variety of essays by and about FontFont designers that are as varied in tone as the fonts themselves. We have Spiekermann discussing the genesis of Meta in 1985; the LettError boys on random fonts, instant fonts and found fonts; Middendorp on geometry; Albert-Jan Pool on the FontFont reworking of 1930s machine-age classic DIN; Christian Schwartz on reviving Schelter Grotesk, font of choice for the Bauhaus. Sometimes disarming and humorous, we have interviews in which FontFont designers discuss the genesis of their own fonts, and, to show that these designs do have real-world uses, samples of wine labels, cards, corporate identity systems and record sleeves.

We also get font specimens by the designers themselves – rare promotional postcards, posters, sketches and early works-in-progress. These can serve to give both context and inspiration. Such was the uncharted territory that was opening up, it seemed that new faces appeared every few months ready to single-handedly kick-start a new design trend.

Non-designers seem to be surprised there are still new fonts to design. My reply? There are still new songs to write. We haven’t run out of new variations on those familiar letterforms just yet, and with the new possibilities offered by OpenType, the next fifteen years could be even more interesting.