Font Designer – Helmut Ness

Helmut Ness
Photo: Waldemar Salesski

Interview with Helmut Ness on the publication
of Vialog 1450

How did you discover your passion for font design?
During my studies in Wiesbaden, I was fascinated with my professor, Werner Schneider and the enthusiasm for the formal language of letters and their sequences. During my first stay in Berlin, I experienced typeface development on a deeper level, spending time with designers like Henning Krause with his office formgebung, Erik Spiekermann (MetaDesign) and my first work for FontShop.

How many fonts have you designed up to this point?
Four families, a few corporate and headline fonts like Russisch Brot, for example, along with my fellow student Markus Remscheid.

Is font design your main focus? What do you do besides design fonts?
My current focus comes from jobs from the company Fuenfwerken, the development of user experience and innovations combined with brand development and design. However, fonts still play a role in making these consistent brand experiences recognizable.

The DIN 1450 legibility study was the basis for Vialog 1450 ...

What inspired you to design Vialog 1450?
The trigger for Vialog at the time was the goal to develop a font that met the requirements of a public transportation system, an established identity, and at the same time took into account legibility for the passengers. The challenge for Munich at the time was saving space and adhering to the economic requirements. So, a narrow version was necessary. The DIN 1450 legibility study was the basis for Vialog® 1450, so that Werner Schneider and I could design this version wider to favor the readability.

Were you influenced by other fonts during the design process?
Because of the close collaboration with Werner Schneider – but also from the time with Henning Krause in Berlin – design by hand and technical drafting played equal roles for me. Adrian Frutiger’s open, but unstructured Frutiger on the one hand and the open and yet narrow fonts from Holland (the Gerrit Noordzij school in The Hague) were influences for me. Not to mention the ideas of Erik Spiekermann and Luc(as) de Groot.

What technology did you use when making Vialog 1450 and what did the design process look like?
The definition phase took place on paper, as always. The testing of prototypical character forms and font patterns takes place exclusively via import into AI and then using Georg Seifert’s Glyphs. I no longer use Fontographer and Frontlab. For hand lettering projects I also like to use the iPad Pro and iFontMaker. But I also use Glyphs to refine them.

The spacing and kerning are always a challenge for me ...

What was the greatest challenge that you were confronted with during the design of Vialog 1450?
The spacing and kerning are always a challenge for me. In addition, for projects like Vialog 1450, the co-working between two generations with font designers working together via desktop sharing and Glyphs is another factor. But the experience and critical eye of someone like Werner compensates for these “technical” challenges more than 100%. I wouldn’t want to do without his advice.

How would you describe the style of your font?
A narrow and now, according to DIN 1450, normal width sans serif with a humanist character. A focus of the design was always the “grip” in favor of legibility.

The challenge was to have high legibility and uniqueness in the use of information while at the same time saving space because of financial specifications ...

Is there anything that you would like to tell the graphic design community about Vialog 1450?
The challenge was to have high legibility and uniqueness in the use of information while at the same time saving space because of financial specifications. Against this background, Vialog characterizes the ideas of two generations of font designers. The success of the solution is reflected in the choice of Vialog as an information font in places like Japan and New Jersey. The evolution to the new DIN 1450 focuses on the legibility, and not the economic requirements.

For which applications (poster, text, newspapers, advertising, etc.) would you recommend Vialog 1450?
The presentation of information, where uniqueness is required. For example: Guidance and orientation systems, like the highway signs in Japan or the passenger information in the subway in Munich.

What are the unique details that characterize Vialog 1450, in your opinion?
The distinctiveness of letters like “il” due to the unique shape of the “i”. This was decisive for the use of Vialog in Japan.

The goal was to design a typeface for navigation  ...

Why did you give the font that name and what does it mean?
The goal was to design a typeface for navigation whose design had a certain “logic” in light of the high demands on legibility. So we came back to the idea of “via” and “logos”, which led to the name.

Is there anything that you would like to tell the graphic design community about Vialog 1450?
My goal would be – if there were time between family and Fuenfwerken – to expand Vialog specifically for the design of digital experiences, so that the font could have even more diverse application as a corporate font.