Responses by Tom Foley, creative type director, Monotype.
Background: I work a lot with creative agencies and designers, and I’ve seen digital branding mature and evolve with changes in technology. I realized that designers and companies are ready to embrace typefaces that are more human and personal—but users still expect reliability and versatility. Cotford was designed in response to this. The ambition was to design a soulful contemporary serif typeface with the flexibility and robustness that today’s designers expect.
Design thinking: I identified the need for a design like Cotford about four years ago, but the design itself is something I had been toying with for many more years. I am constantly drawing letters by hand, trying to find interesting shapes and unique expressions.
The first ideas for Cotford were hand sketches dating back to 2014, and the idea kept reemerging in sketches year after year. When I identified the need, I revisited my sketchbooks to figure out the concept and create a more coherent design proposal.
Challenges: The variable component of the design. I wanted to make the design as simple as possible from a technical perspective without compromising on the idiosyncrasies and warmth of the original idea. This required a lot of design exploration to determine what serif shapes or terminals would work from hairline to black weights and across micro, text and display optical sizes. Cotford underwent a lot of reworking, revisiting and adapting shapes and curves. The process needed to allow for this trial and error with constant proofing and checking. The result is very effective and is informed as much by this process of adapting to variable functionality as by the original design sketches.
Favorite details: Some subtle but memorable features in Cotford were present from the first sketches, such as the hooking terminal on the bottom of the capital C, the serif-less crossbars on the E and F, and the serif-less diagonals on the k and ampersand. These are identifiable features that also feel comfortable and not out of place.
New lessons: Cotford is the first time I have designed a large typeface family outside of a client brief. Learning to take advantage of the creative freedom afforded by this project was challenging. I’m used to creating custom typefaces for clients with clear briefs and requirements. Cotford had a clear vision, but the process, path and result were all under my control. This was terrifying at first, but it was also very liberating—and it gave me the confidence to follow my creative instincts.
Visual influences: Cotford was in the works for years, and it absorbed many influences over time. Classic designs like Caslon Graphique and Grouch can be felt in the heavy uprights, while the text upright styles tread similar ground to designs like Lyon and Lexicon. But these are subtle references and influences. In this way, I see Cotford as a “pop” serif, taking on many influences while expressing them in a new way.
Time constraints: In the case of Cotford, time constraints led me to develop a very systematic and consistent design process, which led to a better result. Taking time and complexity into consideration early in the creative process forced me to define the design features clearly and to test things regularly.
Divergent paths: Since this is the first time I have designed a major typeface family outside of the structure of a client brief, the creative freedom was new for me, which created a lot of self-doubt. If I were to do it over, I would trust myself more and enjoy the entire process.