Font Designer – Interview

Ben Jones

Interview with Ben Jones

How did you fall in love with type design?
I’ve always had an interest in art, design, the visual world, but it was only after talking to a friend of the family (a graphic designer) that I became interested in type design. It was just after I graduated from University and, having failed to find a job, she suggested I look into type design because, and I quote, “that’s were the money is”. Pretty much anyone involved in the design of type will tell you that type design isn’t where the money is but, not knowing any better, I got a copy of Fontlab and set about building one of the worst typefaces ever created by a human being. Despite sending it to MyFonts (where, hilariously, it is still available for sale), my promised fortunes never arrived, but by that time it was already too late, I had become addicted.

How many typefaces have you developed until now?
About ten. Most of them terrible.

Is type design what you are mainly doing? What is your profession aside from type design?
Most of my time is spent as a font engineer at Monotype. Type designers usually have a hard time explaining what it is that they do for a living; font engineering is a whole other level. To be honest, when I say „I’m a font engineer”, I think most of the time people just assume I fix the plumbing in churches.

Perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference between Joanna and Joanna Nova is the increase in the number of weights …

How did you go about the process of reviving Joanna?
We have quite a range of material available in the Monotype archives on the design of Joanna. From Gill’s original sketches, through to more polished drawings, proofs, template drawings and even the copper patterns actually used in production. But after looking through the available material, this raised the question of what exactly is “Joanna”? Some of Gill’s original drawings have a sloped “M”; there is also a “K” and “R” with a curled leg and a “d” without the flat bottom. Is that Joanna? Or is it the version used to print Gill’s “Essay on Typography”? Or is it the digital version with which most people are surely more familiar than any other version? Ultimately, I think, none of these and all of these were “Joanna” because, as with any typeface, it is more the idea or concept behind the typeface that makes it what it is. So my approach was to rework Joanna as if seen through “rose-tinted spectacles”; the version of Joanna that appears in your mind when you think of Joanna. One of the most notable aspects of Joanna is the italics but, for reasons unknown, many of the characters in the digital versions were much more condensed than the originals making them almost unbearable at small sizes. The italics in Joanna® Nova have been reworked to be much closer to their pre-digital widths. Perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference between Joanna and Joanna Nova is the increase in the number of weights; there are now nine in total including the Thin and Ultra Black display weights. The character set is also far greater, including pan-European, Greek and Cyrillic, the usual range of Opentype numerals and of course, all the latest fashionable currency symbols.

Are you influenced by other typefaces by the design of Joanna Nova?
No. Except the original Joanna. Obviously.

For Joanna Nova‚ all the glyphs were initially drawn from scratch in Fontlab …

What techniques did you use creating your font and what was the process for creating the design?
Many designers like to do extensive sketching on paper but I find that technique to be useful in only a limited number of circumstances (such as quickly recording an idea or rapidly testing variations of an idea). Normally, and certainly for a project such as this where the main design decisions have already been made, I find it makes much more sense to work directly on screen. For Joanna Nova, all the glyphs were initially drawn from scratch in Fontlab, although about three quarters of the way through the project I switched the whole thing over to Glyphs (a somewhat challenging transition but ultimately worth the effort).

What was the greatest challenge you faced while creating Joanna Nova?
Finding the time to work on it.

It’s main strength is in long text for immersive reading as it produces a very comfortable texture on the page.

Please describe the look and feel of your typeface.
Eric Gill’s aim in designing the original Joanna was to create, as he put it, “a book face free from all fancy business”. Obviously, even a cursory glance will tell you that this book face does in fact have its fair share of “fancy business”, but it is those idiosyncratic details that Gill considers to be “un-fancy”, tempered with his attempt to be restrained, that make Joanna such a distinctive and useful typeface.
It’s main strength is in long text for immersive reading as it produces a very comfortable texture on the page. However, the nature of the typeface enables it to work surprisingly well at larger sizes, in no small part because of it’s serifs (they are technically slab-serifs but are much closer in size to that of a “normal” text serif than those of more traditional slab-serif typefaces, allowing the typeface to work unobtrusively at small sizes while retaining a display feel when set larger).
The italic is one of the most distinctive features of this type family, as it has a very small slope angle, only 3°, and has only a reticent nod towards cursivity. Instead, it relies on its narrow width for differentiation which produces a very uncommon appearance (and has the benefit of being monstrously economical). Joanna Nova also has the new additions of a Thin and Ultra Black weight.
The Thin is almost entirely mono-linear and is extremely light with a very small stem thickness. The Ultra Black, unsurprisingly, goes in the opposite direction with the heaviest stems possible and it is the counters that become incredibly small. Interestingly, this creates a problem in the Ultra Black Italic because condensing the letters to create differentiation, as is done to all the other weights, isn’t possible. Instead the slope angle had to be increased to a mighty 7° (still very shallow compared to most fonts) in order to be sufficiently distinct from the upright.

Joanna Nova works exceptionally well with Joanna Sans‚ but it’s worth noting that they are not direct siblings‚ more like half-sisters.

Are there aspects of the design that you think should be highlighted, or you particularly want the graphic design community to know about Joanna Nova?
Joanna Nova works exceptionally well with Joanna Sans, but it’s worth noting that they are not direct siblings, more like half-sisters. They were both developed independently and with different purposes in mind, although Terrance and I obviously coordinated on some aspects, such as number of weights, vertical metrics etc., so that the two typefaces could be used together harmoniously.

For what applications would you recommend your typeface (posters, text, newspapers, advertisements, etc)?
Everything. The lighter and heavier weights make for excellent display work while the middle weights have a enough variety and distinction for text-heavy applications such as book work without being overly conspicuous. Joanna Nova also has corresponding small caps for the Latin, Cyrillic and Greek (and even in the italics) which makes is highly suited for complex multi-lingual applications.

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