Steve Matteson: Charm and consistency

John Walters, of Eye magazine, interviews the design team behind the newly released Eric Gill Series typefaces. In this article get a behind the scenes look at the type design process from Steve Matteson the type director and designer whose role was to oversee The Eric Gill Series.

John Walters: Why put these three typefaces together in one series?

Steve Matteson: It was my idea to pull them all into one release. The fonts may be used together, making it easier to mix and match serif, sans, and display variants in heading, caption and text uses.

Is there a precedent for this?

There’s certainly a number of individual ‘super families’, which contain serif and sans serif versions. Romulus, designed by Jan Van Krimpen, was one of the first. The Lucida® family by Bigelow and Holmes even includes styles of handwriting to harmonize with serif and sans. With Gill Sans® Nova and Joanna® Nova we are taking two proven designs and re-tooling them to function well for the modern designer. Joanna® Sans Nova is an all-new design with the same ‘bones’ as its serif counterpart.

How did you co-ordinate work with so many designers on different continents?

I work with a fantastic team of designers who collaborate closely, and each of them has an understanding of what it takes to adapt designs meant for a historic technology to be more useful for today’s needs. I worked with Ben and Terrance to get the two Joanna families in sync. My role was only advisory. The heavy lifting was done by these two gifted designers. Gill Sans Nova was a different animal. With so many weights, many of which contain idiosyncratic features, it was a challenge to keep the family’s charm but offer more consistency between styles. We were very intent on preserving the experimental ideas produced over the years when customers asked for added nuance or unique characteristics like pointed diagonals on the capitals ‘A’, ‘V’ and ‘W’. OpenType allows for these features to be present in the design and added or removed according to the designer’s taste. George Ryan created many additional characters from our archives, including alternatives for ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘p’ and ‘q’ where the original products had changed forms from one weight to the next. We took ideas withdrawn from the Monotype library and brought them to light, including the unique Gill Sans® Deco (originally called Gill Shadow Line).

Is there an intrinsic ‘Britishness’ to Gill’s designs?

The classical proportions of the capital letters have a classicist appeal that reaches beyond the UK. For example, the huge capitals that make up ‘SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL’ at San Francisco airport have universal appeal.

Find out more about The Eric Gill Series and buy the families