Font Designer – Akira Kobayashi

Akira Kobayashi

Interview with Akira Kobayashi on the occasion of the publication of his new font Between

Akira, when and how did you discover your passion for designing fonts?
I think it was in the early 1970s, when I was a 12- or 13-year-old. Drawing pictures with pencil and watercolors fascinated me and I loved drawing posters for school events and other festivities. On one occasion I designed a poster with a beautiful font that struck me as much better than my previous designs.
I then realized that a poster is more than just a piece of art. Because posters or placards are intended to transmit messages expressed by printed words. Illustrations may render posters more beautiful or attractive, but their function is really expressed by the written information they present.
I later started to teach myself in drawing fonts. In those days, I was not aware of the term “Lettering” and I also did not know that textbooks were available on this topic in bookstores. To practice fonts, I used Kanji letters to create headlines for newspapers.

Could you name us some of your favorite fonts?
All the fonts by Hermann Zapf and Adrian Frutiger, from whom I learned a lot. But I also have thousands of favorite fonts.

… I tried to create a mix of Eurostile and a humanistic sans serif to improve readability …

You recently designed the new Between – what inspired you to this?
I had some ideas for a new sans serif in the summer of 2013. A font with a square “o”, but with a humanistic look and feel. Another idea was to create a font without serifs using character shapes that were alive or dynamic.
The first idea gave rise to today’s Between 1, a square sans serif, well suited, for instance, for the automobile industry, with inclinations we find in Eurostile® or Helvetica®. These two fonts remain on our bestseller list and I tried to create a mix of Eurostile and a humanistic sans serif to improve readability. Some Eurostile and Helvetica characters are similar in appearance. The external shape of “c” is quite similar to that of “o”, for instance, due to the closed mouth. This was the aesthetics of the 50s and 60s or, putting it differently: this is the beauty of uniformity. I wanted, however, to improve recognition by enhancing the individuality of each character.
The idea of a sans serif with lively or dynamic character shapes led to Between 2 and 3, created through free-hand drawings.


First drafts


Did you allow other fonts to influence you?
No.

What was the greatest challenge facing you as you designed the Between?
The three styles have common weights, but different character widths and shapes, of course. It was not so easy, however, to achieve a common grey tone and a flowing rhythm.

How would you describe the style of your new font?
Between 1 has a style of a technical sans serif font with humanistic look and feel. Between 2 has a style like a neutral sans serif. And the style of Between 3 may be described as a relaxed sans serif with a handwriting quality.

For what applications (posters, text, newspapers, advertising etc.) would you recommend the Between as best suited?
For advertising, posters and catalogues. Between 1 and 2 are also attractive for typesetting.

... after placing the three variations next to each other‚ I realized that they had three different sets of characteristics but also had a common thread uniting them like three sisters.

What gave you the idea of designing a system of fonts with a style in three variations – and how do you envisage using these in combination?
Nadine Chahine saw my sketches in different variants. She liked the sketches and asked: “Why don’t you design a family of fonts with three styles?” That was the first idea towards integrating all the different styles into one family. I think the idea is ingenious – when I heard it for the first time, it sounded crazy to me. Yet, after placing the three variations next to each other, I realized that they had three different sets of characteristics but also had a common thread uniting them like three sisters. I then realized that this could be a new family form.

Could you also imagine that your font family might be mixed with other fonts? If yes, what would these fonts be? Fonts that you designed yourself and/or also fonts by other designers?
Style 1 will match quadratic sans serif fonts, such as Eurostile and Verdana®, nicely. Using DIN Next™ for the heading and Between 1 for typesetting can also be recommended.
Style 2 will match neutral humanistic sans serifs well, such as Stone® Sans and Frutiger®, also Frutiger® Serif.
Style 3 will suit humanistic sans serifs such as Frutiger nicely, but also casual writing fonts like Comic Sans®.
This is clearly illustrated in this PDF document showing a diversity of combinations of fonts.

Slightly rounded corners lend a soft and friendly appearance.

What are the unique and characteristic details distinguishing Between from other fonts?
Slightly rounded corners lend a soft and friendly appearance. The corners measuring exactly 10 units also feature in DIN Next and Akko®, both of which I developed.

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