About

Novo Typo is an independent (typo)graphic designstudio and foundry, based in Amsterdam,
The Netherlands. Some of our fonts are produced for special occasions, for example part of designing
a corporate identity, a bookcover, a signing system or a publicity campaign. Other typefaces were
designed on our own initiative. The Family Gagarin was first published at 2rebels and Fontshop Benelux.
The typefaces Cerny, Laika and Sjablony are part of the Linotype / Monotype Collection. All the fonts are designed by Novo Typo. Read more about our definition of the dynamic identity of Novo Typo.

 

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If you like to talk with us about a new design for your logo, corporate identity, publicitycampaign, website, business-card, bookcover or anything else... send us an e-mail. Or if you are interested in hiring the Novo Typo designers for producing a special custom made typeface contact us at

 


Read: Eye Magazine, no. 94, vol. 24, 2017 - by Jan Middendorp, Berlin.


Colour is the new black

For the past decade or so, Mark van Wageningen has been investigating the possibilities of adding colour to the conventional black-and-white universe of digital type design, resulting in work that is both thrilling and evocative

Mark van Wageningen of the Amsterdam foundry Novo Typo recently caught the international type scene's attention with a handful of projects featuring inventive and innovative colour fonts. He is, however, by no means a newcomer. During the past two decades he has been a book designer, identity designer and type designer, often seeking highly personal solutions to pedestrian problems, making irreverent work that challenged the viewer (and the client) with charming, unusual, yet approachable results. Now that he has decided to focus on what is also known as chromatic type, his long years of broad unorthodox activity are paying off.

The term 'chromatic type' is now mostly used to denote digital type families designed to create multi-coloured designs by layering frames in layout programs. Many of the designs lean heavily on the aesthetics of the mid-nineteenth century: trompe l'oeil effects galore, with bevels, 3D-shapes, inlines and shadows. Van Wageningen's work has managed to shake off those nostalgic elements. Eschewing Victorian ornamentation and third-hand Modernism, his Novo Typo project explores ways to deconstruct letterforms, rebuild them from multi-coloured fragments, and present them as something surprisingly usable. Not just that: the fonts are also in a format that allows all colours to be packed into a glyph, resulting in multi-coloured web fonts. When it comes to suggesting new ways of using colour in typography, Van Wageningen is suddenly miles ahead.

It hasn't always been that way. In the 1990s and early '00s, Van Wageningen designed mildly unconventional book covers and posters, often adopting self-designed typefaces in grunge-like styles that digitally represented the handmade. Several of these were subsequently published at Linotype and Montreal's 2Rebels. There were some avant-garde elements in his most unorthodox typeface project of the period, Gagarin (published 1998-2003). Van Wageningen's presentation of the face was typical of his tongue-in-cheek approach: 'Compared to a real family, a typographic family is usually a rather dull show. Where is the criminal nephew? Where is the uncle who knows all kinds of tricks?' With a wide range of styles designed within the same geometric grid, Gagarin aimed to provide all that and more. The series even included two 'female' fonts with incongruous calligraphic contrasts, created at Van Wageningen's request by left-handed designer Nele Reijniers.

Throughout the 2000s, Van Wageningen's urge to experiment and push back frontiers grew stronger. The cookbook Kook is a case in point. The recipes are typeset as dense type constructions, intriguing yet verging on illegibility, built with a rounded, square sans serif designed especially for the book.

The moment, however, when Van Wageningen began to venture where no type designer had gone before was when he discovered colour fonts. In the mid-2000s he began exploring the possibilities of chromatic type, both from a design point of view and on a technical level. He designed a number of digital fonts that could be used to create multi-colour typography by layering various versions of the 'family', including fonts offering coloured fills, shadows and bevels. Van Wageningen was exploring this route with attractive display faces that could be layered, such as Guru, Wolf and Fata. These were conventional stackable fonts, to be used with frame-based applications such as InDesign and Illustrator.

His earliest attempt to create all-in-one colour fonts was a series of fonts made of pixel images – composed of flowers, or colourful strokes with a 3D-effect. He sees these photo-font attempts now as a valid phase in the process, but ultimately a dead-end street. 'Working within the experimental, cutting-edge field of coloured type design,' he says, 'my work has a high trial-and-error factor … failure is always an option.'

In the early 2000s, design software companies developed formats that allowed type designers to pack colour into single glyphs, originally to support the use of full colour emoji icons. Noticing that phenomenon, Van Wageningen began to speculate about adding colour to the black-and-white, positive / negative universe of conventional (digital) typeface design. He was not interested in the decorative function of colour: to him, colour is a way to analyse or display the construction of each letter. And as a typographic tool to create distinction within a text, it was given a greater complexity than ever before.

'My first serious attempts to design coloured typefaces, using a pixel-based design, yielded some nice typefaces, but their usability was very limited. The designs became too illustrative, too decorative; also, for various technical reasons this approach was not working out. The other technique, which is vector-based, is way more interesting, has much wider support, and the visual and technical quality is much higher.'

On the strength of his early experiments he was approached by typographically inclined front-end developer Roel Nieskens, who subsequently solved technical issues and created a project website. Nieskens had embraced Adobe's new OpenType-SVG format, the most flexible of the formats that enable the use of colour fonts on the web.

Van Wageningen is convinced that the new technologies to design and use type are introducing new approaches and ushering in 'a renaissance of type design'. While the type community has embraced technologies that streamline type design and production, or work magic with family structures as in the new format of 'variable fonts', their attention is largely limited to the black-and-white realm of conventional type design. Van Wageningen's Novo Typo project is taking a different path. 'If you are able to construct a character from its basic elements, then it is also possible to deconstruct a character into its basic shapes. These deconstructed parts can be divided over different layers, to which you then assign a colour.' Working within this idea of colour-constructed type allows users to adopt colour for emphasising or lending distinction to parts of the text, replacing or expanding the more traditional text formatting. Van Wageningen boldly states: 'Colour will be the new Italic. Colour will be the new Bold.'

With Nieskens' help, Bixa, a stackable all-caps display typeface, designed as separate layers, was taken into the new realm of multicoloured web fonts using OpenType-SVG. Bixa was one of thirteen winning typefaces at the 2016 Type Directors Club (TDC) competition, and was immediately developed into a new project: Novo Typo Typewood. The various layers of the Bixa typeface – many of which only contain a part of each character, like a left or right vertical stroke, or a fill – were produced as large wood type fonts. The painstaking process of selecting the wood and the production technology was guided by Van Wageningen's quest for a natural appearance. Testing a laser-cutting process on plywood yielded wood type that was too clean and smooth: 'The results were too perfect and the experiment failed,' he said. Testing with a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) router on three types of wood resulted finally in what Van Wageningen likes to call 'the perfection of imperfection'.

'Perfection is nice but perfection is also a bit boring. I like it when there is something that somehow looks wrong. Technically everything should work perfectly, but in the design I like to see happy mistakes. Things you cannot design on purpose, that happen just by accident.' The Typewood-Bixa project resulted in an oversized brochure that combined offset and letterpress technique, as well as a series of posters showcasing multi-coloured overprinting of the various wood type fonts.

The latest phase in the quest is the typeface Ziza, demonstrated in Novo Typo Color Book, which features a preface by legendary type designer Gerard Unger (see Eye 40), who writes that 'it may take a century or more for colours to become mainstream … Meanwhile [Van Wageningen is] coming up with some extraordinary work involving type and colour. It's thrilling and evocative.'

Based on Bixa, the new Ziza font is a likeable family covering upper and lower case. It contains dozens of fonts of loose letter parts in a wide range of varieties, all compatible in some way or other: a mono-linear sans serif from hairline to black; a contrasted sans with calligraphic overtones; a stencil version. The book shows about a hundred of the infinite ways of combining these elements. Van Wageningen calls it a 'visual investigation' of the ways chromatic typography can be used in an editorial context. 'If a designer wants to emphasise a word in a sentence, a sentence in a paragraph or a paragraph in a chapter, it is standard practice to use the italic or the bold version of the chosen typeface. Would it not be much more interesting if the designer [used] the chromatic version of the typeface? Colour will then constitute a key element within the organization of text and layout.'

Certain samples are somewhat bland, but many are very attractive. What counts is the experiment, and the research into the usability and readability of this innovative way of constructing text. Eric Gill's dictum, 'Beauty will take care of itself', clearly resonates with Van Wageningen: 'I am not interested in decorative type design. The designs may look beautiful or ugly, that's a matter of personal taste … the initial goal is to start a discussion about the organisation of text combined with the use of chromatic type.'

Is legibility a concern? 'Of course, but I try not to think about it too much,' he says. 'My approach to design implies that legibility in contemporary type design is a bit overrated. Every character is legible. If not, it is not a character anymore. Ruminating about conventions will keep you on the safe side of the line; it makes you conservative and conventional in your design decisions and will impede progress.

'As for the acceptance of chromatic fonts,' he continues, 'I think it's only a matter of readers getting used to it. It may take time, but this is not a reason not to design fonts like this. Typography is subject to constant change. The same is true for browser or software support: do I have to think and design within the possibilities offered by the major software companies? If some technical option is not available yet, you have to design it yourself.'

Van Wageningen would like the whole industry to adopt his new approach, so that the palette of a typographic designer will become much more interesting. 'Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could use chromatic fonts?' he says. 'Please consider my work as an invitation.'

 



TypeCon, August 2016, Seattle, USA.

 

Typewood – declaration of deconstructed typography

TypeCon is an annual conference presented by the non-profit Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA), an international organization dedicated to the promotion, study, and support of typography and related arts.

 


Read: .CENT Magazine, January 6, 2015

 

Amsterdam graphic designers, Novo Typo, speak to .Cent

about their love of typography and its power of communication.

 

Why typography ?

Typography give us the opportunity to communicate in a very direct way. It's a visual language, and we consider a typeface as a set of beautifully shaped abstract signs. We like when fellow designers use our typefaces, and believe that by sharing our work, we invite designers to play with our typefaces to create something inspiring, while embracing collaborating and sharing as much as possible.

What do you consider the point of typography?

We think that a typeface will be the most important part of a corporate identity and that stands as a key point. That is why we think that every company or organization need to use their own customized / bespoke typeface. A typeface can visualize your personal voice or language, and can show who you are and what you stand for. We believe that within a few years, typeface will completely take over the role of a logo or a colour scheme in a corporate identity, and we consider this a very good development.

How do you feel typography is best used to communicate information?b>

Although we like to communicate, we think that readability is often mixed with legibility. Sometimes typefaces have different purposes depending on the job at hand. If you ask us to design a typeface for you, we guarantee you that you'll get something you've never seen before, and it would adhere perfectly to whatever brief you set. We never comprise design, and feel we can mesh the world of interesting and innovative typography and strongly communicate information if that is what the client wants.

At this time we design typographical patterns for a client in the fashion industry. We also work on several corporate identities and a packaging line for luxury home accessories with our own typefaces.

Can typography go between fine and bold and if so how and why? and how does this help in communication of messaging?

Your questions puts up another question. Why? This question we ask ourselves everyday. Why is a typeface fine, bold, italic, bold italic? Because we all agreed to do it like this? Because Microsoft or Adobe puts these typefaces it in your computer? Because your teacher told you to do it like this? We like to question these questions.

At this time we are experimenting with color in our typeface designs. Traditional type-designers think in black and white, we like to change this way of thinking. We like to add color in our type designs. The computer and new browser techniques makes it possible to make beautiful multi-colour fonts and useable for a wide audience. You can see these experiments here at Typopixo

Who has inspired your own creative journey over the years?

Our main source of inspiration has its roots in Russia, particularly in the 19th century. Aleksander Rodchenko, Vladimir Majakovski, Gustav Klucis, Russian Constructivists / futurists. We also like Horta, the Belgian Art-Noveau architect and Lucien De Roeck, designer of the logo, the 5 pointed star, for the World expo in Brussels in 1958. We admire the work of Jurriaan Schröfer, a Dutch typographer, designer Anthon Beeke and some of the work of designers Jonathan Banbrook and Peter Saville.
Concerning our design approach, the Do-It-Yourself punk movement from late seventies/ early eighties had a huge impact on our way of working and thinking as designers.

Check out more from Novo Typo on their Website, Facebook, Twitter and Ello.

 


Read: Novum Magazine, page 30, - Typeface Iconoclast - by Victor Garcia, 2013.

 

Typeface Iconoclast


The Novo Type design studio in Amsterdam designs creative and eclectic typefaces inspired by styles
as diverse as Russian Constructivism and Art Nouveau and rebels against the strict dogmatic precepts
of readability and legibility that are demanded by perfectionists and held aloft the cloister of academe.

How many designers would dare to insult Mies van der Rohe's 'sacrosanct' mantra of 'less is more',
alleging that it has caused great damage to typographic design? Many designers have ranted and raved about Helvetica, not knowing how to add a few curves and irregularities to improve its 'boring' appearance,
like that prank perpetrated by people of all ages and all countries who adorn photographs on street posters with moustaches? Which typeface designer did they recently hear say: 'We don't care about legibility very much. In our opinion a typeface is always readable, otherwise it will not be a typeface'? And how many
find inspiration in non-Latin typefaces, such as Cyrillic, Chines and Japanese, claiming that they let them appreciate the beautiful shapes of the letters, freed from the literal meanings? Novo Typo.
Novo Typo was founded by Mark van Wageningen in January 2012; its portfolio is made up of designs
that emerged from various projects such as sign systems, corporate identities, bookcovers and posters.
His typographic philosophy is almost a manifesto: 'We think that a good design is the result of a collaboration between the designer and his client.' (...) 'In the end, good type design is not only about legibility, it is about the right typeface, for the right message, at the right time, for the right medium.' (...)
'We like to make "imperfect" typefaces. In a technical way everything should be perfectly set, but in the design of the typeface, we like to add some imperfection, irregularity and disorder in the shapes of our characters. We think perfect is a little bit dull ... Nowadays there is a generation of too perfect type designers. We think it's beautiful when there is something wrong, at least it is miuch more exciting.' Perfection is divine, and they design for human beings – who are by definition perfectible – and their designs must reflect that sensitivity. Sharp, provocative, unbiased, talented ... they are enfants terrible who think – and work – really very well; with new, fresh ideas about typographic work which they express in their designs.

 

 


Read: Dutch Type, page 278, - Mark van Wageningen's Russian deconstructivism - by Jan Middendorp,
010 publishers, 2004.

 

Mark van Wageningen's Russian deconstructivism


The development of Mark van Wageningen (1969) as a type designer is typical of his generation. Having graduated from the Amsterdam Rietveld Academy in 1994, his early typefaces were derivative and grungy; but his interest in letterforms deepened and culminated in an extensive family of constructed typefaces, Gagarin, still expanding at the time of this writing.
Van Wageningen's motives for making type are those of a restless graphic designer who wants new and unusual alphabets to give his book jackets, magazines and posters a more personal touch. He began
selling his fonts because fellow designers asked for them, and because he enjoyed playing around with
their packaging and specimens. Several of them were later licensed to international foundries.
The first font issued was a graduation project called Stavba (1994). Van Wageningen described it as 'a laserprinter print-out of Futura Bold, each letter cut up in a consistent manner and the pieces pasted up
again and returned to the computer.' Cerny (1995) looks equally destructive, but was not derived from an existing typeface. Using a technique practised by fellow Amsterdammer Willem Sandberg, Van Wageningen tore each character out of black paper, then digitized the result without much alteration.
Cerny, a rough-and-tumble caps-only alphabet with no counters, is an amusing experiment of limited use.
It was judged interesting enough for inclusion in the TakeType 2 collection published in 1998 by the Linotype Library. Two more fonts by Van Wageningen were on that CD: Laika and Sjablony (from sjabloon, the Dutch word for stencil). Of his 'rough' fonts, the stencil type Zkumavka is the most interesting. It has rather original forms that are vaguely reminiscent of 1920s display lettering, and is surprisingly legible in smaller point sizes. Zkumavka dates from 1995 but was not published until 2002, when it was released by 2Rebels in Montreal.
Van Wageningen was first brought into contact with 2Rebels by FontShop Benelux. He had long been playing with the idea of a typeface family structured in an unusual way. In an article presenting the Gagarin family, he wrote: 'Compared to a real family, a typographic family is usually a rather dull show. Where is the criminal nephew? Where is the uncle who knows all kinds of tricks? A type family usually goes from roman to italic and from thin to thick ... These boring series allow very limited space to the individual freedom of their members. ... The Gagarin family is a real family, like life itself, in good times and bad times.' This last phrase is a reference to a well-known Dutch tv soap.
As his font names indicate, Van Wageningen is fascinated by Russian culture, especially by Futurism and Constructivism. Gagarin is the first typeface for which he has actually taken clues from that period: it is partly based on the geometric principles apparent in the lettering of Rodchenko and the Stenberg brothers and copied in a lot of vernacular lettering from the Soviet era. Each variant is drawn on the same simple grid.
The basic fonts are rectangular, with rounded angles; some are roughened or blurred. The structure of the family is an open system, allowing for foreign influences. When Van Wageningen wanted to add two 'female' Gagarins with a more calligraphic streak, he invited a young Flemish designer named Nele Reyniers to participate in his project. Being left-handed, she incorporated the inversed stress of a left-handed broad-nibbed pen in her two contributions to the Gagarin family, Leonora and Magda. A serif version of Gagarin drawn by Reyniers is on its way.