FontFont Focus: FF Franziska For Bündner Tagblatt

Type is a crucial element in the branding of a newspaper. It defines the atmosphere of the publication, its visual style. It can make the text sound a tad more authoritative, a little friendlier, a smidgen more serious. And if the newspaper is set in one single type family for the entire typographic palette from headlines to the small print, the type effectively becomes its voice. Even before it was released under the FontFont banner, Hamburg-based information designers Christian Hruschka and Stefan Semrau used Jakob Runge’s Franziska for the new Bündner Tagblatt. The modern, fresh layout won the European Newspaper Award 2013 in the category of Typography. The FontFeed interviewed Jakob Runge about the creation of his typeface, and twotype design’s Christian Hruschka about its application in the award-winning redesign of the newspaper. All images are from the development of the type family.

A short vacation can provide inspiration: a figure two, found in an engraved inscription below the St. Peter’s church tower in Munich…

… serves as the basis for the cursive shape of the figure two. The retouched version of the engraving on the left; on the right the vector construction in FontLab. The visible coordinates for each Bézier node point show the difference between the number cut in real, organic stone and the technical interpretation of the shape with Bézier curves.

The creation of Franziska

What are the origins of your typeface?

Jakob Runge | “The basic concept for Franziska was to create a text typeface for modern conditions, melding established ideas into a new hybrid serif face. This meant a number of functional and aesthetic requirements informed the character shapes – the low stroke contrast, the large x-height and the short capital letters. Other design traits like the subtly curved diagonals, the distinctive lowercase ‘g’ or the asymmetrical serifs were introduced to add some character to common letter forms. I decided to preserve those aesthetic features only if they did not disturb the comfort of reading, so I focused on testing the appearance of the typeface in text setting, rather than fiddling around with small details.”

Unexpected inspiration: doodling in calligraphy class gives birth to the distinctively shaped lowercase ‘g’.

“However I did enjoy adding little extras to each single letter. Sometimes I was inspired by happy accidents, like when I was doodling in calligraphy class and ended up with an oddly shaped but fascinating ‘g’. Other design details were natural extensions of the core concept. The ball terminals which usually are soft were sharply truncated, while the straight vertical serifs on the other hand were smoothly curved to give them a warmer feel. This supported my intention of creating a hybrid: something between a Garalde and an Egyptian, alternating “soft but edgy” with “edgy but soft”.”

“After finishing the industrious – and quite restrained – Roman weight, I started to map out the family structure of Franziska. I wanted to turn the type family into something more interesting than just a readable text face with italic and bold styles. Eventually I came up with a playful italic and an uncommon style transition in the weight progression. The hybrid aspect becomes evident when comparing the weights, from a slabby Hairline to a contrasted Black.”

Because capital letters typically are less playful than the lowercase I tried to give more character to their shapes in Franziska.

A possible way to lend the capitals more character is to have a ‘V’ standing on the baseline while the similar shape in the middle of the ‘M’ hangs below the baseline.

How did Franziska evolve from your masters thesis at the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel, Germany into the family that was recently published through the FontFont foundry?

Jakob Runge | “As I worked on Franziska non-stop for over half a year, the type family was nearly complete by the time I submitted it to the TypeBoard. With the help of the great people from the FontFont Type Department, I fine-tuned the existing character shapes and weight gradations. Some characters like tabular figures were added, the Unicode values were improved, all the diacritics were checked, ligatures were discussed, and faulty interpolation output was corrected. I also completely revisited the spacing and kerning. Eventually it took me around two months work between the presentation of my final thesis in 2013 and FF Franziska’s official release in 2014 to finish the typeface, without forgetting the extensive testing, hinting and production work done by the type engineers at FSI.”

Type design is more than just art. The technical aspect requires to keep track of a lot of mathematical and geometric values in order to ensure that every letter works well within the typographic system. To prevent clogging up the mind it is recommended to regularly commit technical data to paper.

Franziska was selected at the first public TypeBoard meeting during TYPO Berlin 2013. Were you in the audience?

Jakob Runge | “Sadly I could not be present; I only arrived in Berlin the day after. But a friend of mine who is part of the studio adhoc team (they design the corporate identity of TYPO Berlin) told me she got goose bumps when she realised that the only typeface selected by the TypeBoard members was by a former fellow student of hers. If I had been there, I think I would have been speechless. It was a great honour to have my student work selected to be a FontFont, without having to make any substantial changes in the design.”

“I have to confess I had the support of Albert-Jan Pool, who was a great adviser during the development of my master thesis. He made the members of the TypeBoard positively aware of my typeface by sending them a printed type specimen in the run-up to TYPO Berlin. The recommendation of Mr. FF DIN himself made me have faith in the chances of my typeface being selected.”

The first ideas for the Italic on paper. The primary purpose is not the beauty of the drawing, but visualising, recording and proving formal concepts.

Twotype design selected Franziska for their redesign of the Swiss newspaper Bündner Tagblatt long before its actual release. How did that happen?

Jakob Runge | “While I was still studying at the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design, I freelanced at twotype design in Hamburg where I collaborated on the design and production of an interactive editorial. So Stefan and Christian already knew me personally, and were aware of my interest in type design. After finishing the font files for Franziska, I sent them copies. They could play around with the beta version of the typeface and try them out in possible applications. Twotype were in the early stages of redesigning Bündner Tagblatt when my printed specimen arrived. Seeing it made them realise Franziska was a serious, viable option for the body copy of the newspaper. Having them pick my typeface produced a nice spin-off: I was hired to revisit the ancient newsletter flag, complete with three optical size versions.”

The product of a train journey from Kiel to the middle of Germany. The figures combine the dynamic shapes and open apertures of Renaissance faces with the static, closed model of Classicism. The aim for the letters was to meld the sharp, calligraphic italic shapes with a rounder and softer approach.

Did the typeface evolve any further during the development of the Bündner Tagblatt redesign?

Jakob Runge | “Well, when twotype started using the brand new Franziska in the first test layouts for the Bündner Tagblatt, they discovered an interpolation problem in the Swiss quotation marks. Further down in the development of the redesign I also had to do quite a bit of debugging to have the font files work properly in QuarkXPress and have them print PostScript data to PDF. Those problems were finally fixed by FSI with the release of FF Franziska. But they were merely technical improvements on the font files from my master thesis, no actual changes or additions to the design of the typefaces.”

“For a while Stefan Semrau of twotype and me were considering a sans serif companion for Franziska, for infographics and to entertain the reader’s eye by mixing typefaces. Yet as the creation of this custom sans serif would have required a bigger budget, we dropped the idea. Another reason for not developing a sans serif Franziska was that the original Franziska is very versatile by itself, thanks to the different personalities across the weights, the small caps and the playful italics. This made the one single type family perfectly suited for the complete redesign.”

When you have drawn too many letters for too long, having fun with dingbats can be a welcome diversion. Translating icons like the printer’s fist, the I-like-it thumb or the floral heart to contemporary forms that match serif characters can easily take up a day’s work

Redesigning the Bündner Tagblatt

When Jakob sent you the early font files for Franziska, what made you decide to use the typeface for your redesign of the Bündner Tagblatt?

Christian Hruschka | “The newspaper had severely suffered over the years as far as the design and visual style was concerned. There was no art director to keep an eye on things. As a result there was an atmosphere of mild anarchy where too many things were allowed. No one was really overseeing the evolution of the newspaper. The new chief editor Larissa Bieler wanted the newspaper to become more elegant and reputable, emphasising and strengthening the editorial quality.”

“When redesigning a newspaper we often develop two or even three different graphic approaches. Specifically in the case of the Bündner Tagblatt we did not know how much risk-taking the editors would accept. Therefore the three designs we presented ranged from a sincere, cleaned-up version (but also a bit “loud”) to an extremely reduced design, black-and-white only, emphasizing the text and using only one single type family. This one – as you may guess – was the Franziska approach.”

Testing early versions of Franziska in different printing conditions – offset on varying paper stock.

Using magnifying glasses to detect spotty rendition of the letter forms in final output.

Which qualities in Franziska attracted you, and convinced you it would be a good choice for the newspaper?

Christian Hruschka | “If I would try to imagine a serif typeface that is in no ways old fashioned, that can be very elegant and very loud at the same time, that has a modern and also humorous appeal, and has an italic that doesn’t shout “poetry”; then it probably would be something like Franziska. The type family is the perfect fit for a newspaper in the 21st century, with its twenty styles mixing harmoniously. I must confess that I don’t really like italics that much as a general rule. As there are not that many typefaces whose italics I enjoy reading, I try to avoid them as often as possible. But with Franziska it is a joy to have something set in italics. Of course the fact that Franziska was brand new back then helped in the decision making process on both sides. This added an air of exclusivity to the whole redesign.”

When the resolution of the laser printer proved to be not high enough, further testing of Franziska in print was done on the offset presses at the Art Academy.

Usually newspapers use a palette of different typefaces, specific for headlines, text, captions, infographics and so on. You however decided to opt for only one single family. Can you tell us why?

Christian Hruschka | “At a certain point we realised, like, “Wow! This typeface can cover such a large scope of elements. Wouldn’t it make sense to use it exclusively?” Again and again while we were developing the visual style of the redesign we came to the conclusion that substituting whatever sans serif with Franziska was a far better decision. The wide selection of fonts working perfectly together in harmony, yet with sufficient range and typographic variety, was the most compelling argument for kicking out any additional typefaces.”

So you were not tempted to add a sans serif?

Christian Hruschka | “No, never happened! We were never tempted, nor did the redesign force our hand in any way. We found it far more tempting to make it work without adding a sans!”

Offset printing on simple coated paper makes the typeface appear sharper, because the stock is rounding the letters.

Can you explain a little about the process of the redesign?

Christian Hruschka | “We had our first talks with the newspaper in Switzerland right after New Year 2013. The presentation of the initial graphic concepts took place three months later, the time it took us to developed three different design approaches. During the presentation it quickly became clear that the sparse Franziska-only design was the editors’ favourite. Like we mentioned earlier, the editors immediately saw the potential of Franziska, and independently came to the realisation that their newspaper could be a Franziska-only product. The pages we presented in Spring 2013 were the basis for further discussion; we had to adapt and change a few things. But I must say that the present visual style of the Bündner Tagblatt is extremely close to our first designs.”

“During the following months an extremely wide range of elements had to be designed. We had to switch to QuarkXPress from that point on, as our presentation pages were created in Adobe InDesign. Alternative forms of all the visual elements had to be gathered in Libraries and on Master Pages. This was a tedious and very time-consuming task. Every single item had to not only be designed, but also programmed in such a way that the production people would be able to assemble the newspaper spreads almost automatically, without needing to make too many manual changes.”

Offset printing on soft, thicker paper makes the letters swell and discreetly increases their weight.

How was the eventual reception of the new visual style of the Bündner Tagblatt?

Christian Hruschka | “When the first issue appeared on August 31st almost a year ago, the reactions were overwhelming! Everyone seemed to appreciate – and understand! – the reduced and elegant layout. The rare detractors were not happy about the return of the old newspaper flag. Already in the initial presentation we included, besides many serif and sans serif versions of the title, a quick and dirty reworking of the Fraktur version. The Bündner Tagblatt stopped using it somewhere in the sixties. You have to realise the newspaper has a long history dating back 162 years! It turned out that also regarding this aspect of the redesign we met the taste of the editors, who understood what we were trying to do. Returning to the old newspaper flag and banishing an electronically condensed Times was the last, consistent step in the overhaul. Fortunately Jakob Runge is also a brilliant type redesigner. He took care of this last piece of the puzzle with equal gusto.”

“We couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the entire project. Receiving the European Newspaper Award 2013 in the category Typography from the Society of Newspaper Design was the crowning achievement, and is testimony of the exceptional quality of Jakob’s type family.”

More about FF Franziska on the FF Franziska mini-site.
More about FF Franziska for Bündner Tagblatt on Fonts In Use.
More about FF Franziska for Bündner Tagblatt and ZEITmagazine Online on the Fonts In Use blog.

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