Hoefler & Frere-Jones – Sentinel

Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Sentinel

For everyone who’s ever wished Clarendons had italics, everyone whose favorite slab serif is shy a few weights, and everyone who’s ever needed a slab serif to thrive in text: we designed Sentinel for you.

The first slab serifs were designed to be oddities. It was their intention to be eye-catching, to be novelties amidst the world’s conventional book types. Never mind that some of these faces treated different letters inconsistently, or had inherent qualities that limited the size of their families: these were eccentricities, and to a novelty typeface, eccentricity is strength. Two centuries later, their legacy includes three beloved species of typeface that are handsome, popular, and maddeningly difficult to use. Each is marred by a crippling deficiency, a situation inspiring us to create Sentinel.

A slab serif whose capital O is close to a perfect circle is called a Geometric. Its capital H will have horizontal and vertical strokes that appear the same weight, a policy that’s consistently applied throughout the entire alphabet. If the strokes are inflated beyond a certain weight, it becomes impossible to create a matching lowercase: the structural complexity of the lowercase ae and g limits how heavy the design can go before these characters close in on themselves. The Geometric that maxes out at the Bold weight can only achieve a Black by compromising the underlying design, and in a typeface characterized by rigid geometries, these kinds of concessions can be glaringly obvious.

An early compromise was the introduction of contrast, which allowed horizontal strokes to remain thinner than vertical ones. This approach, which made it possible to create lowercase letters in extreme weights, proved to be an attractive motif among the capitals as well, and the resulting style became popular under the name Antique. A cousin of the Antique is the Clarendon, which adds rounded brackets that connect its serifs and stems, a useful feature that gives bolder faces the appearance of extra weight. These brackets are consequently a liability in lighter weights, where they begin to overpower the letters themselves, and in counterpoint to Geometrics that lack heavier weights, Clarendons rarely have lighter ones. Their absence of a Book weight makes Clarendons useless for text, a fate sealed by a greater problem which they share with Antiques: neither have italics.

Sentinel was designed to address the many shortcomings of the classical slab serif. Unbound by traditions that deny italics, by technologies that limit its design, or by ornamental details that restrict its range of weights, Sentinel is a fresh take on this useful and lovely style, offering for the first time a complete family that’s serviceable for both text and display. From the Antique style it borrows a program of contrasting thicks and thins, but trades that style’s frumpier mannerisms for more attractive contemporary details. It improves on both Clarendons and Geometrics by including a complete range of styles, six weights from Light to Black that are consistent in both style and quality. Planned from the outset to flourish in small sizes as well as large, Sentinel contains features like short-ranging figures that make it a dependable choice for text. And most mercifully, it includes thoughtfully designed italics across its entire range of weights.

Continue reading


Hoefler & Frere-Jones – Mercury Display

Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display

A succinct family of display faces, Mercury answers the call for a contemporary serif that’s smart, quick, and articulate.

The signature typeface we designed for Esquire magazine began its life as a would-be historical revival, but developed into one of our most avowedly modern type families. During its initial design exploration, Mercury was envisioned as a revival of the work of Johann Michael Fleischman (1701-1768), a German punchcutter denizened in Amsterdam, whose unrevived typefaces had so expressively captured the drama and tension of the Dutch baroque. As Mercury’s design developed, it began to draw upon the work of other contemporary punchcutters: both the sparkling display faces of Jacques-François Rosart (1714-1774), and the progressive italics of Pierre Simon Fournier (1712-1768), were inspirations in Mercury’s evolving design.

The more time we spent with these historical models, the more it became clear that none of them truly possessed the qualities that were so exciting about the genre as a whole. As a collection, these faces were vibrant: tightly wound, yet quiet, using the tension between introverted and extroverted gestures — and between black letterforms and their white counters — to create a sort of “excited calm” on the page. It was these qualities that we hoped to capture in Mercury, so ultimately we chose to ignore the dictates of historical form and follow a more personal and expressive path instead.

Mercury debuted in the pages of Esquire in 1996, and though it had been designed to serve merely as an everyday headline font, it quickly became an indispensable part of the magazine’s painterly editorial openers. The sharp corners and tightly coiled curves that made Mercury lively at headline sizes made it irresistible in outsize typographic collages, and hinted at what we thought could potentially be a vibrant and hard-working text face as well. Rather than compromise the design’s crisp features, we explored these ideas separately, in what would become one of our most substantial type families: the high-performance Mercury Text collection, designed to thrive under all kinds of adverse conditions.

Continue reading