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Wednesday 16 January 2019

10 minutes read time

The face of the Tortoise  

The type design used can radically affect how you feel about what you’re reading. Tortoise’s creative director explains our choice

 

By Jon Hill

It is estimated that there are about 300,000 different typefaces available to use. That’s enough for every single person in the city of Brighton to have a different typeface on their birthday card spelling out “Happy birthday”. How to choose from that vast menu?

With so many options we have to think about the personality and tone of voice we’re aiming for. Too wacky and we won’t be taken seriously. Too geometric and austere and we’ll be perceived as aloof; not the open newsroom that we strive to be, inviting our members in and producing journalism that looks for the human interest.

To many, the difference between one typeface and another is barely perceptible. But once you look more closely and start noticing the angles of a serif or the swoosh of a curve, it makes you feel differently about what you’re reading.

You probably don’t believe me. This sounds like a chin-stroking designer geeking out. Well, Sarah Hyndman has researched this and, as she explains in her book, Why Fonts Matter: “Fonts have different personalities that can create trust, mistrust, give you confidence, make things seem easier to do or make a product taste better. They’re hidden in plain sight, they trigger memories, associations and multisensory experiences in your imagination.”

Hyndman proved in a “type taste” experiment that one’s sense of taste – and we’re talking here about the taste on your tongue – differs depending on the typeface used on the label for a drink.

So, what do we want you to feel when you’re reading Tortoise’s journalism? What taste should it leave in your mouth?

Our ambition is to be open in everything we do; human and warm; an antidote to algorithms and clickbait. We want to be unhurried and meticulous, unique and – perhaps an odd word for journalism – elegant, too. Importantly, we want to convey authority without being officious. So that’s how our type should taste, too: open, crafted and warm, with a slightly unexpected sharpness.

And the typeface we have chosen? Monotype’s Wolpe Pegasus, designed by Berthold Wolpe in 1937.

Typographer who fled the Nazis to end up in a Croydon jail

Berthold Wolpe was a German typographer, calligrapher and graphic designer, born in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, in 1905 to a family of dentists. A family friend noticed his talent for drawing early and advised him to take an apprenticeship in design. As a young man, Wolpe went on to work at a bell foundry. His first experience as a typographer was engraving the lettering on bronze bells.

Monotype archive

Berthold Wolpe

In 1932, he began travelling to London to work for the type foundry Monotype. He was commissioned to design a printing type consisting only of capital letters. The typeface, Albertus, became one of the most popular in advertising and marketing in the UK. It is still used for City of London street signs. It featured on Sainsbury’s packaging and in the cult TV series The Prisoner, the video game Uncharted and album art for New Order, Coldplay and The Smiths. Since 1987 it has also been on the crest of Liverpool FC.

In February 1935, the 29-year-old Wolpe received a letter from the Chamber of Applied Arts in Berlin. The chamber decreed that, as a Jew, Wolpe was now forbidden to practise as a professional graphic designer.

Despite his contribution to British design, he had not yet been granted permission to stay and work permanently in the UK. He was subject to constant scrutiny by the Nazis when in Germany and was eventually arrested, fingerprinted and sent to prison.

The year was 1936. Wolpe was released suddenly and inexplicably, and attempted to fly to Paris without the correct paperwork, only to be turned back and sent to Croydon instead. There he was arrested and locked up again. “Although the policeman put him in jail, he also apologised and offered my father a cup of tea,” Deborah Hopson-Wolpe, Berthold’s daughter, said in an interview last year.

It took years to organise the correct paperwork for Wolpe to stay in Britain, and he had to get written permission whenever he wanted to travel from Germany to London. But in the late 1930s, Wolpe was invited to a tea party for refugees by fellow artist William Ohly. There he fell in love with a British fine artist called Margaret Smith, who was a wood-worker, letter-cutter and dress-maker during the war. Margaret described Wolpe as a “dashing young man with irresistible broken English”. They married in 1941.

Wolpe’s perseverance had paid off. Partly as a result of his marriage to Margaret, he was granted permission to stay in the UK and went to work for the publisher Faber & Faber. Over the next 35 years, he designed more than 1,500 book covers for his employers.

He also taught at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts, the Royal College of Arts and ran a lettering course at the City & Guilds of London. In 1966, he designed a new masthead for The Times newspaper.

Wolpe designed a new masthead for The Times in 1966

 

Wolpe Pegasus: the Tortoise typeface

The Pegasus typeface – that’s the type you’re reading now – was commissioned by Monotype in 1937 as the text companion to the Albertus design, which, you’ll remember, was all capitals. The original letter designs had a lot of inconsistencies. For example, characters that would conventionally share details, such as b, d, p and q, don’t. And some serifs in the upper-case alphabet of the Pegasus typeface are different.

You might assume the inconsistencies are the result of the scaling-up of “imperfections” in Wolpe’s hand-drawn designs. More likely, they were a conscious effort by Wolpe to create totally individual letterforms. The design of each letter is unique and this is what makes Pegasus such an effective and easily readable text typeface, with a few twists.

In a lecture in the 1950s, he told an audience of designers: “A lot of nonsense has been talked about the fact that a printing [text] type has to be designed in a much larger size. In my opinion it should be designed as near as possible to its actual size [in use].” True to his word, the letterforms he drew for the Pegasus typeface in sharp pencil were just a centimetre tall.

Fast forward to 2014 in Monotype’s London Studios and we come across Toshi Omagari, a Japanese type designer, schooled in Tokyo and Reading but now knee-deep in Wolpe’s dusty original drawings of type from 80 years ago.

monotype

Toshi Omagari looking through Wolpe’s drawings

Omagari revived the Pegasus typeface for the digital age alongside four other Wolpe type designs: Albertus, Fanfare, Tempest and Sachsenwald. Monotype released the “Wolpe Collection” in the autumn of 2017.

“The inconsistencies in Wolpe’s [Pegasus] designs were freeing – rather than frustrating – in the sense that it taught me to challenge conventional design and rethink how typefaces should be constructed,” Toshi said.

“He probably wasn’t interested in copying over the same details. Even if copy-and-paste had been available then, he might not have repeated details. That’s not what he was about.”

Omagari was careful to faithfully translate the drawings from paper to pixels, keeping every convention-defying detail of the original character set. Yet in the process he made sure the type was durable for today’s demands, rendering consistently on screens of all sizes. He also added extra characters to the set, including € and @.

Characters from the Wolpe Pegasus typeface showing its quirks and some of Toshi Omagari’s additions, bringing the typeface up-to-date

As an editorial designer, I like to think of type as land mass surrounded by oceans of pictures. Together they map and make sense of our world. Wolpe’s Pegasus, with its idiosyncrasies and its radicalism, challenging conventions yet born from humble beginnings, seems to me to be the perfect voice for the part of Tortoise where land rises from the ocean and our stories are told. There could be only one choice.

Glossary of typographic terms

Typeface The noun given to the design of a family of type, for example, Times New Roman. A typeface includes all the associated fonts for that family, see below.

Font The specific weight of a typeface, for example Times New Roman Bold, Light, Regular etc.

Serif and sans serif Serifs are the small detailed “flicks” at the terminals of each letter of a typeface such as Times New Roman, or Pegasus. Sans serif, to state the obvious, is a typeface without serifs, for example Helvetica or Gill Sans. Serifs originated when type was chiselled from stone. Modernists removed serifs from their type designs.

Kerning is the space between each letter. If a typeface hasn’t been carefully kerned it is harder to read. For example if you have an upper-case “T” and a lower-case “e” next to each other in a word like “Test”, the top bar of the “T” should overhang the “e”.

Leading is the vertical space between lines of text. It derives from strips of lead in the days of printing with metal type. The thicker the lead, the wider the gaps between lines of text. If there is no leading, the type is “set solid”.

Upper and lower case describes capital letters and small letters. The term comes from physical trays of metal type. Capitals were stored in the upper case and small letters were stored in the lower case.

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