Jörg Hemker’s FF Nort family is a refined yet friendly take on Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir's Transport typeface.
“Today, we take street signs for granted, but these signs are just as important as the drop of oil in the engine,” says Jörg Hemker, whose FF Nort typeface is heavily inspired by Transport - the design used across road signs in the UK. Originally created in the 1960s, Transport was designed by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir to rescue road signage from typographic chaos, particularly when it came to the nation's newly opened motorways.
These days, Transport - which Hemker describes as "the model for modern street signage" - is a ubiquitous presence in the UK, known for its clarity, immediacy and a certain undeniable friendliness. It's these qualities FF Nort also embodies, offering warmth and friendliness alongside improved readability, and sharper details.
Hemker began thinking about designing an updated version of Transport as early as the 1990s, after a visit to the Scottish Highlands introduced him to the “imperfect but very charming” typeface. Twenty years later, the designer rediscovered his photos from the trip, and felt ready to create his own take on Transport.
“I wanted to design a well developed family, as Tobias Frere-Jones did with Interstate, or Albert-Jan Pool with FF DIN,” he says. “But I wanted to give FF Nort more independence.”
FF Nort's formal qualities make it ideal for on-screen use; the requirements are quite similar - large x-height, compact letters and open interior shapes.
Hemker researched other typically British typefaces to understand their formal characteristics, deciding to replace the rounded connections of Transport’s lower case letters with sharper versions - not only lending FF Nort its own distinct personality, but also improving readability. Current technology also gave the designer some advantages over Calvert and Kinneir's original work, which was restricted by what was possible at the time.
“My design should appear more elegant and less stencil-like,” explains Hemker. “Transport had to follow technical reproduction conditions of its time, and slide plots from the computer did not exist yet, therefore roundings are quite unclean.”
In addition, Hemker boosted the x-height, adapted the proportions of characters to one another, and optimised the contrast between horizontal and vertical strokes. However while FF Nort has its roots firmly in the world of road signs, it’s not restricted to this environment. Hemker sees its striking appearance - and support of Greek and Cyrillic languages - allowing it to branch out to corporate design, as well as digital uses. “FF Nort’s formal qualities make it ideal for on-screen use; the requirements are quite similar - large x-height, compact letters and open interior shapes,” he adds. “The face also shows its charm at regular text sizes.”
With eight weights (and italic counterparts) available, from “subtly elegant” thin to “strong and forceful” ultra, FF Nort is also versatile, able to shift its personality accordingly.