Last year, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Wim Crouwel in which he spoke about his long and wonderful career in graphic design.
Crouwel had an amazingly structured and logical approach to design. Someone once said to me that genius was seeing something that had always been there but noticing it, and his work definitely had this feel to me. It almost seemed logical, and the only right answer. An answer, rather than a solution as though there could only be one. His ideas seemed obvious once you had seen them, though I have little doubt that they never were.
Within the lecture Crouwel spoke about some of the many fonts he had designed. Some of them were just for campaigns and others were later digitised. This post will display a small selection of the ones I found interesting and was able to find information on. Hope you enjoy and find them as inspiring as I do.
This is the most famous of Crouwels fonts, so there is no better place to start. Designed in 1967, it looked to embrace the Cathode Ray Tube technology. It was made to the limitations of the new technology which struggled with digitising type and did not work over the curved edges. Because of this, New Alphabet used only vertical and horizontal lines and was designed using a monospace grid with every letter the same width and height. It followed Crouwel’s systematic gridded approach to much of his work with a page of type all aligning completely along the vertical and horizontal axis.
The majority of letters are based on 9 by 5 unit grid with 45 degree slants used on certain corners. There is no difference between the uppercase and lowercase letters. In Crouwels own words the font was ‘over-the-top and never meant to be really used. It was unreadable’. Despite this, it received massive coverage and contraversy, attracting criticism from many of his peers.
This for me is almost an alternative alphabet. Yes it is illegible but I think with practice it could be just as legible as the normal one. It kind of reminds me of ‘new speak’ in 1984. Rather than have a word like excellent, you have plus good etc. Essentially newspeak reduced the amount of words needed for communication or expression. With new alphabet, again it uses the minimal amount of information to communicate. The U V and W characters are very similar with minimal differentiation. Reducing the detail needed in order to communicate.
New Alphabet became popular again in UK pop music magazines in the 1990s. Joy Division famously used new new alphabet on the cover of their 1988 album substance.
Crouwell was affectionately named Mr Gridnik by his contemporaries because of his consistent use of grid systems both in his layouts and typeface design. This inspired the type foundries name for the font when it was redrawn from the original sketches.
This san serif typeface was originally designed for the new electric typewriter from olivetti, in 1974. Like some of his other faces its a monofont to suit the new technology, based in a square grid. Again its completely gemoetric with lines mostly at 90 and 45 degree angles. Much of Crouwel’s work and certainly this font was a reaction to new developing technologies. Its geometric qualities are similar to new alphabet but it has a more human feel.
Actually the typeface was not finished as the desire for electric typewriters declined and there was no longer a need with the continuing development of computers. Crouwel did use gridnik soon after on a series of postage stamps for the dutch PTT (Postal, telegraph and telephone service).
I think this is my favourite of the fonts featured on this post. It reminds me a lot of replica. It has an elegant feel and the angles, despite being uniform, give it so much character and an almost quirkiness.
Fodor was designed for the cover of the magazine published by The Fodor Museum in Amsterdam. To be cost efficient it was designed to be used on an electric typewriter the museum already had, it was monospaced with hard lines creating both horizontal and vertical lines.These were emphasised by the background, pink dots on an orange colour which set the page grid to which the text aligned to. The cover also included dots which shone through the type, giving it a futuristic and digital look. This was thought to be influential in later digital styled type design.
Catalogue was originally created for a poster of Claes Oldenburg, and later the whole alphabet was drawn as a gift for the artist, a personal friend of Crouwel’s. Redone by the type foundry and entitled catalogue, it mimicks the soft feel of the Oldenburgs sculptures.
I think this is a lovely font and so original. It is geometric still but has a lovely softness about it with a rounded soft feel. Perfect as a headline or poster font.
This typeface was designed for a poster for the painter edgar furnhout in 1964. It is based on a grid as always, this time of 4 rows, and 1 for the ascenders or descenders. Again it is very geometric, based on rectangles and quarter circles. It also cuts off some of the quarter circles for letters such as the E and G characters, which seems to add even more personality.
Like much of Crouwel’s work, the solution was derived from the content. The font structure flows from the short rectangular brush strokes used in a ferhout painting.
It has a lovely elegance and balance to it. It is legible as a headline with the similarity in shape giving consistency throughout. The font was never digitised, but you can find a fontstruct redraw of it here. It almost looks architectural like the font is being built in front of you, the two parts fit together perfectly.
Produced for the Stedelijk museum which Couwel designed most of the printed material since the early 1960’s, this font has since become a classic and probably the most reproduced Crouwel piece of print design. Again the font is very grid based, but one of the most strinking features of the poster was that the page grid was left visible, the same grid used throughout the museum catalogues themelves.
It still has an experimental feel to it, but not to the degree of new alphabet. Again it has a wonderful balance to. The black and white tones of the poster seem to place the emphasis fully on the structure of both the font and the page.
Images courtesy of Blam at Blanka
So thats it for this showcase. Hope you have enjoyed looking at these inspirational typefaces. Often when I am stuck for inspiration I go to the flickr Wim Crouwel pool. check it out. I hope you find it as inspirational as I do. Happy designing.