Responses by Fernando Mello, senior type designer, Fontsmith and Michael C Place, creative director/founder, Studio.Build
Background: The idea behind FS Split Sans and Serif was to create something different, less perfect and less fine-tuned, which would stand out from the usual digital, geometric typefaces. Fontsmith founder Jason Smith wanted the typeface duo to be a bit odd in proportions and a bit “wrong” in traditional type design terms. The Sans and Serif needed to be different enough to provide a contrast while working in harmony together.
Reasoning: We created moodboards of current visual trends, looking at things like architecture, furniture and cars. The sans serif was designed first and formed a base for the serif. The two typefaces have similar proportions and dimensions offering ease of use as they can share the same design space, but distinctive features also bring difference and quirkiness. We wanted to push the design oddities and balance the quirks with the quality of the type.
Challenges: Fontsmith commissioned Studio.Build to design the specimen and identity for the typeface, who decided newspaper would be the best format for a tight budget. This enabled us to maximize the print budget and allowed us to have fun creating the printed specimen. The loose-leaf format enabled us to create a series of 24 posters, which then turned into a series of “graphic collisions” when assembled into the newspaper. These collisions were intended to clash, creating a series of beautiful chaotic moments, which reflect the nature of the typeface itself.
Favorite details: The quirky but very usable feel of both variants; the mix of circularity and sharpness on the Sans variant and the balanced but slightly softer appeal on the Serif; and the unusual exaggerated slant angle of the italics. But first and foremost, the family challenges the expected ways of designing sans and serif typefaces in nearly every sense. At first the family may look eccentric, but could it be because people’s eyes have become too used to standard, classic letterforms? We like to think of FS Split as a real tour de force exercise on how it is still possible to innovate with typeface design, how it is possible to move on from certain rules and standards that define how to draw letters correctly, and still create something new and usable.
Visual influences: The family was born out of conversations between Smith and Fontsmith senior type designer Fernando Mello about how the world of type has become uninspiring over the last few years. We’ve seen a lot of perfectly designed grotesques and geometric sans with super clean rationales and complex ranges of weights. We wanted to design something challenging and interesting, something that could bring life back to type. We looked at many references of contemporary graphics and products, and what sort of shapes and trends were in vogue to get inspired. We imagined many ways the family could be used in advertisements, magazines and other media and this fueled the quirks and characteristics we added to the font’s design.