A humanist grotesque (sic!)

Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
edited October 2022 in Type Design Critiques
The recent resurgence of the old discussion whether a «humanist geometric sans» was an oxymoron or not prompted me to try out something else that's been itching in the back of my head: A humanist grotesque.
Now, I generally vastly prefer humanist sans over grotesques, but every now and then a super-clean neo-grotesque catches my eye, and I'm starting to warm up to their aesthetic.
So here's my attempt at crossing the genres while trying to preserve what I like about either of them. I've probably gone overboard with it, but it's always easier to rein something back than to make it more interesting retroactively...

What currently stands out to me is the stylistic disparity between the drop-shaped counters and the upright /c/ and /s/ (an presumably /e/, though I notice that much less). The /c/ already looks a lot less out of place after I've opened the aperture from the original drawing; perhaps there's more to be done in that direction.
In any case, I'd offer alternates for a pure neo-grotesque experience as well:

I'd probably still use the humanist forms for the Italics, though.


  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
    edited October 2022
    I've probably gone overboard with it, but it's always easier to rein something back than to make it more interesting retroactively...
    Then again... :grimace: 

    (Obviously not for the default cuts...)
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,973
    /c/e/s/ all look to me like they belong to a different typeface.

    Part of the problem is the width of /c/e/: they’re too wide relative to /o/, which is a better fit proportionally with the other letters.

    The /a/b/d/g/p/q/ all have a strong LR directional stress, while /c/e/s/—and to /o/—all have a static, vertical stress. I would experiment with the outer extrema and stroke modulation in these letters to compensate and adapt to the directional stress of the other letters.

    Idiomatically, I don’t think you have made a humanist grotesque: I think you’ve made a humanist type with a handful of grotesque letters that don’t fit. When you show the proposed alternates for ‘a pure neo-grotesque experience’, what I see is the /h/m/n/u/ now jumping out as being non-grotesque.
  • Hi John,
    I agree that /c/e/s/ are problematic in the humanist cut. I don't mind the arched letters in the grotesque, though... perhaps they could thin less at the joint? Are the arches too asymmetric for your taste?
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
    edited October 2022
    Ugh, I've tried making the /c/e/o/s/ more humanist, but now /e/ looks like Syntax and /s/ like Scala. :unamused: I've tried to preserve the horizontal cuts of the grotesque substrate, but maybe that's asking too much? And the /k/ will probably have to sneak away into a stylistic set.
    I find it much easier to work on the grotesk than on the humanist, it seems. Maybe I should focus on that for the moment.
    Admittedly, the world doesn't need another neo-grotesque. Then again, maybe a true Italic to go with it would make it more interesting.
  • Meanwhile, I quite like where the grotesque is going with a two-storey /a/.
  • How about comparatively narrow caps just a touch shorter than the ascenders?

  • In that last one, /m looks wide (thus light). Perhaps /u and /n too, to a lesser extent.
    /k leg also looks light. 
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
    edited October 2022
    Thanks Craig, good points!
    State of affairs at bedtime:

  • Completed a set of base capitals. Not sure about the Germandbls yet. Zehlendorf is out of character for me, but it might still fit the typeface...

  • The flare of the leg of the R stands out
  • I think the construction of /h/n/m might suit the initial humanist concept better? in the pure neogrot, they stand out a little compared to the /b/d/g/p/q where the strokes are more continuous and branch out
  • Good points. The arches were indeed too «Syntax». I've also toned down the R:

  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
    edited January 2023
    Oh wait, you meant to meld the arch into the side of the stem, like in the middle here?

  • Exactly, yes, apologies for being unclear. The new middle /n and /p feel more related to me.  Syntax and News Gothic are good examples of going in the other direction - taking the /n on the left and applying that construction to the the /p. I think either could work well - what stood out to me was the inconsistency, not the drawings themselves
  • I'm having more trouble than usual getting the Eszetts right. The lowercase one stands out in large amounts of copy, but I don't think I can get away with anything other than Sulzbach. As for the capital, I'm really undecided, but tending away from the Zehlendorf (Middle).

  • Bottom one!
  • Hmmm, dunno. It looks like it's stolen from DIN. And the clipped top right corner is irritating; I should probably allow the obtuse joint.
  • I think /B is too narrow. 
  • This is progressing nicely and I'm diggin' it.
  • I actually made the B a bit wider since the full-alphabet spread up there. You can see it in the Fußbad sample. Looking at it in particular, it struck me as a bit dark, so I shaved it ever so slightly. I like it that way though. I have a particular distaste for B's that are so wide they're mostly a stack of parallels, and I don't mean to mimick the unhealthy proportions of Helvetica etc...
    I try to retain at least a soupçon of humanist flavor despite the commitment to the neogrotesque style; hence also my slope-sided M.
  • Bottom choice with changed proportions and smaller-scale corner clipping. Works pretty well for me.
  • (Just dumping a status-quo image here for me to hot-link to typografie.info; don't mind me...)

  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
    edited January 2023
    I gave the humanist variant another chance, and now I like it again. I just had to revise the characters I liked least (k, e, s) a bit. Robert from Typografie.info suggested a Bree-like /e/ with a more or less upright silhouette — that works much better than the wonky Garamond-leaning one I had before. That also allows me to get away with versions of /c/ and /s/ that cleave closer to the neogrot ones.
    I'm also experimenting with leaning into the humanist flavor even more by changing the capitals to match. Too funky? (I can always offer the capitals as an extra layer of stylistic alternates...)

    Not quite sure what to do about the F though:

    Maybe I'll just stick to the angular one.
  • Descending /z/ or not?

    I think I can fix the /k/ by stretching out its leg into a diagonal, which finally allows me to close the gap in the joint.

  • I like the new k. If you ask me, the descending z and the strange caps are a step too far.
  • Agreed. I like the new A, the rest not so much. I’m certainly going to keep the caps unchanged for the main humanist cut (and probably dump all alternates but A, and perhaps matching G, Y).   
  • Is this slightly less droopy implementation of the teardrop shape better?

  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,941
    edited January 2023
    (Another figure dump, don't mind me...)

  • Had another go at making some caps that would mesh better with the humanist lowercase. The thin abstract joint of the /K/ in particular looked weird next to the spaghetti /k/ and needed some softening. The rest sort of followed from there. I'm wondering whether I can still keep the straight diagonals in /X/Y/ though.
    Unfortunately, they bring quite a bit of unrest into the caps family:
  • Throughout this thread I keep wondering how much of the "mismatched" impression I get comes from objectively incongruous visual forms, and how much from genre expectations. (I gather you're intentionally trying to solve the former but intentionally dismissing the dictates of the latter.) It's an interesting quandary.
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