Investigating the rational simplicity of mid-twentieth century modernism, Practical Grotesk is Apex’s take on the neo-grotesque genre. Drawing influence from the superstars of the last century (Akzidenz Grotesk, Folio, Neue Haas Grotesk…) as well as later, more “confidential” responses (Forma, Unica…), Practical Grotesk is an exercise in style, a love letter and a tribute to the legacy of Swiss typography. Firstly developed as a single regular style to embody and carry the identity of Apex, Practical Grotesk slowly grew into a comprehensive family of 10 weights (from hairline to black) and their italic counterparts to provide graphic designers with a solid and versatile sans-serif workhorse. Ready to compete and prove its many qualities —from discrete footnotes to smashing billboards— Practical Grotesk is a utilitarian yet spirited typeface, not devoid of a certain warmth, and fully equipped with numerous key alternates, various figure sets, ligatures and case-sensitive forms (among other features) which definitely make it an indispensable ally for demanding contemporary design conditions. Global branding, fashion, architecture, packaging… Practical Grotesk might just become your go-to asset to fulfill every need. Oh, and —cherry on the cake—it also comes as a two‑axis (weight and italic) variable font to give you full control over its designspace.
© Photo: Dorothea Oldani
“We choose to believe that the granite is alive. If life is movement, then rock – with its atoms flying around like stars in cosmos – is alive.” — Yvon Chouinard
Gleaning vernacular letterforms from the realm of 19th and 20th century headstones (including from the notorious Père-Lachaise cemetery) as initial inspirations, Alex Chavot revisits these varied sources into a new display typeface with a modern sensibility. Discreet and elegant in its contrast, Granit is a sharp serif typeface that speaks with refinement and achieves the perfect balance between gravity and delicacy. The proportions of its capitals – loosely based on the monumental Roman models – give it the austere “gravitas” and graceful confidence of historical inscriptional letters while, on the other hand, its lowercases tend to be slightly more condensed, thus creating an unexpected contrast in text settings. Granit inherits its distinctive personality from a very specific stencil-like feature often found on letters such as “a”, “g”, “n”, “r”, “y”… While giving us a glimpse at the by-gone charm of traditional stone carving techniques, these subtleties empower Granit’s palette with a more eccentric and optimistic character that reinvigorate any composition. This fragile tension between stone-harshness and hand-finesse is even more palpable in Granit’s italic: with a slightly-more-condensed width, it oscillates between mechanical slant and calligraphic forms – additionally offering alternate characters for designers to play with. Granit definitively aims at top league whimsical titling players with its full set of 230+ ligatures to create dynamic, expressive headlines.
Kellar was named after the multi-talented Thomas MacKellar (1812-99), associate owner of one of the nineteenth-century leading American type foundries: MacKellar, Smiths and Jordan (MS&J). Not only was he a published author and poet who came to manage the composing room floor, but he also was the founding editor of the Typographic Advertiser, M&SJ’s house organ. MacKellar introduced the practice of composing humorous riffs to print as sample text in specimen books. Kellar started as a synthesis of various Condensed Titles cuts found in MS&J’s Printers’ handy book of specimens (1871). Incorporating the typical high contrast and narrowness of Didot-like fashion typefaces, Kellar stands as a quirky outsider, with it’s organic lowercases, expressive figures and emphasized oval structure. The homonymous Harry Kellar – a 19th century American magician, predecessor of Harry Houdini – was yet another source of inspiration for this typeface: reviving the heydays of Victorian era letterpress posters into contemporary editorial typography. As a nod to the period, Kellar embed a specific alternate form of “G” found on an antique circus poster as well as several other alternates. Eying specific Scotch Roman’s characteristics and fully equipped with “almost-too-long-serifs”, Kellar is cut out for distinctive, bizarre headlines.
What could have happened if Roger Excoffon & Eric Gill gathered in Marcel Olive’s backyard in Marseille to share a few Pastis together back in the days? In some way, Marsel could be the surprising result of this hypothetical weird experiment. It started out in 2016 as a single “black” cut, mostly intended for display: a colorful fat sans with uncanny high contrasts and utter personality. While flirting with the strangeness of Gill’s Kayo, Marsel primarily started as a very distant hommage to Excoffon’s mythical Antique Olive, a reminiscence of a Latin taste for exuberance. In 2019, I wanted to push things in another direction and see what would be the more quiet, rational, counterpart of Marsel Black on the other side of the spectrum. I went ahead and designed a very sober and straightforward “Hairline” version, which opened the door for the new Marsel family members to come: an incongruous mix of the two approaches. The family’s main particularity thus resides in the distribution of thin and thick strokes (especially at junctions) getting odder across weights as it subtly turns from a monoline sans serif to a contrasted one – from the notorious British sense of politeness, manners and discretion to the invasive and colorful exhortations of a Provençal fisherman. Cheerful but steady, daring but finely chiseled, Marsel comes in a broad range of weights, with a complete set of contemporary Opentype features, ligatures, figures and alternative forms to suit every contemporary needs, from quiet voice to bold statement.
Pyros is a Modern, slightly condensed, typeface with a contemporary twist. Well-grounded, thanks to its conventional vertical axis and its thin serifs, it revisites the genre with surprising elements. Despite a manifest contrast between thin and thick strokes, the elegant repartition of weight keeps Pyros sturdy enough for running text use, giving an elegant and peaceful tone to your layouts. But it’s in the details that Pyros expresses its most distinctive personality. Letters such as “f”, “t” and “y” among others, present a subtle peculiarity, as if a stem made of paper had been folded on itself, bringing playfulness into the design of an otherwise rational typeface. Just like a volcano, Pyros convokes both ideas of stiffness and softness at the same time, oscillating between rock-solid straight lines and sharp cuts (f, g, j, k, r, t, w, y…) on one hand and the magma-like prominent trickling shape of its “a” on the other hand. The fire is definitely invoked by its nervous italic counterpart, which shapes are more subtly refined by a calligraphic heritage.
The basis for Smithee was found in an old French foundry’s wood type specimen in the archives of the Musée de l’imprimerie et de la communication graphique, in Lyon.
Although there was no mention of the foundry’s name to be found (the specimen’s cover only stated “Caractères d’Affiches – Bois et Galvanos”), the variety of available styles all fell under the rather utilitarian generic designation “Série A”.
Its mechanical – and rather straight forward – shapes (b, d, p, q…) balanced with some subtle, more organic, twists (“a”, “s”) immediately caught our eyes. In the wide range of displayed styles, we chose to develop the most condensed one which strongly reminded us of Edward Wright’s titling for Whitechapel Art Gallery’s 1956 exhibition “This Is Tomorrow” as well as the archetypal lines of condensed credits at the bottom of most movie posters.
“Série A” thus became “Smithee”, in reference to “Alan Smithee” – a commonly used pseudonym for directors whose film was clearly taken away from them and heavily recut against their will in ways that completely altered said film. Smithee expands into a 5 weights family to address a wide range of typographic needs. Filled with a bunch of alternate letters, Smithee’s industrial personality subtly shift to a more friendly tone as it gets bolder and thanks to its quirky shapes: a straight-sided condensed sans for expressive and daring typographic treatments!
No revival or historical models here, Almeria is a bold and distinctive serif typeface (almost) only born from it’s author’s mind! Almeria’s surprising shapes undoubtedly make it a contemporary companion for every designers. With a right contrast between thick and thin strokes, Almeria combines sharp terminals and elegant calligraphic bowls with a slightly condensed width optimized for both running texts and display purposes.
Peckham takes its roots in a surprising French Canon from Vincent Figgins specimen (1801 / 1815). It has the typical boldness of Figgins’display type but was adapted to the contemporary taste. While keeping the original contrasts and sharp verticality of Figgins’French Canon, Peckham is also nourished by early nineteenth century’s Scotch Roman typefaces and later revivals of the genre.
Grotex was inspired by European 20th century sans serif. Rather than an historical grotesk, Grotex was designed as a geometrical sans serif with humanistic hints — both suited for display purposes and running texts. During the development of the family, a monospace version and a weird “micro” version (for very small sizes) came to life as special companions to the standard styles. These gross distortions deliberately made “micro” the Grotex’s crooked twin brother. A few years later, the name “Grotex” was stolen. This new version – Gortex– is the family’s only survivor, adapted for very small size uses: fully redrawn with exaggerated ink traps, shortened descenders, splayed squarish counters and bowls, and loose spacing.
These flaws are lost in the mass of a 6 pt text, but become obvious when you take a closer look. In the spirit of great classics (as Matthew Carter’s Bell Centennial), Gortex Micro’s design makes it perfectly legible at any size and utterly surprising for titling – Well, yeah, we know that’s how it’s going to end anyway…
Hazel is a rather contrasted stencil face meant for display uses –although it also proved to perform equally well in text settings– with taut curves and blade-sharp cuts.
Firstly drafted with “Times-and-alike” classics in mind, notably in terms of contrast and text color, its design eventually radicalized while being infused with more surprising forms and finally reaching for a stronger personality. In 2020, Hazel comes back to the drawing-board to undergo an overall re-lifting. Letter-shapes, metrics, kerning, Opentype features… Every aspect of the typeface is carefully checked with fresh eyes and duly remastered. An italic companion was finally added. If the newly re-born Hazel Display New now delivers all its subtleties at display sizes, its rather open counterforms and subtle stencil cuts manage to enlighten every texts from the inside, even at smaller point sizes.