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Five Young Typeface Designers and Their Former Careers
by Allan Haley

Keller takes a page from both Hasebe and Henestrosa. “In addition to the commercial aspect of making a living, my passion for type keeps me drawing new designs,” he says. “I have so many projects that I want to tackle and ideas that I want to explore, I’ll probably never have enough time to complete them all.”

Keller’s Gemma typeface is one idea that grew into a suite of fonts. “My thinking was to make a typeface that could replace Comic Sans,” he says. “This inspired the somewhat laid-back and casual aspect of the design.” Gemma, however, is no toss-off. Keller spent many weeks refining the typeface, drawing the five weights and three widths of the family and incorporating numerous OpenType features. The end result is a suite of typefaces that could be called rakishly cute—yet only pays a passing nod to the typeface that graphic designers love to hate.

Rising to the new Web font challenge, Keller also opted to manually hint the TrueType font data. This serious extra step requires hand-tuning the digital fonts, subsetting them and then converting them into the four Web font formats. In the end, Keller produced 22 fonts (20 for Web, plus “Standard” and “Pro” character-set versions) for each individual weight and style.

Sysmäläinen’s most recent design project also involved creating a large suite of fonts—but of a very different kind. “Franz Kafka is one of my favorite writers,” she says. “He also had a very rich handwriting style with pronounced calligraphic features. The rhythm and mood of the script change from slow and relaxed with wide characters, to fast, tense, very tight scribbles that are almost unreadable.” Spurred by her twin fascinations with Kafka, Sysmäläinen decided to analyze his handwriting and interpret it as a digital typeface. Her sketches slowly evovled into a type family with a number of different styles that endeavor to capture the various moods of Kafka’s writing. According to her, “Thanks to OpenType’s features, and many hundreds of ligatures and alternate characters, I was able to create a lively typographic flow. In fact, the design is so lively that the structure of the words can change as you type. I think that graphic designers will find that they are not just using the font, but having a dialogue with it.”

Mister K, by Julia Sysmäläinen, is more than a typeface design; it is also a study of the idiosyncrasies and psychological influences within Franz Kafka’s handwriting.

The name of the typeface “Mister K” is derived from the main character of Kafka’s The Castle and The Trial. Mister K was initially available in three versions—including one in which the letters are crossed out. Sysmäläinen has recently added a set of 600 pictograms that echo the characteristics of Mister K Regular.

Henestrosa also drew his newest typeface as an homage. After finishing his thesis on Antonio de Espinosa and graduating from college, Henestrosa decided to update his earlier digital version of Espinosa’s typeface. He says, “The typeface has its roots in the books printed by Espinosa and other Renaissance printers, but I was also influenced by the typeface revivals of Robert Slimbach.” The design is a melding of strong calligraphic overtones, seen in characters like the “a” and “n,” and constructed shapes, in characters like the “e” and “s.”

Cristóbal Henestrosa's Espinosa typeface is an old style design that pays homage to Mexico’s first important type designer.

Hasebe credits geometric sans serif typefaces of the 1920s and 1930s as the main influence on his latest design, Platform. “While most typefaces have harmonized letterform proportions, I have emphasized the differences in character widths,” he says. “My goal was to create a typeface that has a distinctive texture when set as blocks of text copy. I was interested in drawing a typeface that could balance somewhat awkward proportions with well-drawn curves.”

Although Von Döhren has only been designing type for the last five years, he is the senior citizen of these young designers. He has over 20 typeface families to his credit. His newest design, Brandon Grotesque, is a sans serif type family of six weights, each with complementary italics. Like Hasebe, von Döhren also found his muse for the design in the geometric sans serif typefaces that were popular during the 1920s and 1930s. “I love the old magazines that are set in these typefaces,” he says. “I wanted to create a typeface that echoed the fonts used in these publications, strict in its architectural forms and yet evoking the warmth of the yellowed pages.”

Hannes von Döhren’s newest typeface family, Brandon Grotesque, is a modern interpretation of early twentieth century sans serif designs.

As the elder of the group, von Döhren also has some advice for younger designers. “Never lose your passion. The most important thing is that you love what you do. It’s a long journey to become a good type designer. It is hard work and there is much to learn. And—with few exceptions—there are no rich type designers. The only reason to start designing type is for the love of it.” CA Haley
Allan Haley ( is a storyteller and a consultant with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He held the position of director of words and letters at Monotype for fifteen years and has six books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He is a past president of the Type Directors Club and was executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation.