Interview with David Jonathan Ross
I talked with David about Gimlet, his own type label DJR and new typefaces in progress.
Hi David, you recently founded your own type label DJR. What was your motivation? Which meaning does the Type Network have for you?
In recent years, I have taken a more active role in the licensing and marketing of my typefaces, in addition to the design and production. I have released my typefaces with Font Bureau for years, but we realized that I could take this further as an independent foundry. Currently, the font market is short on independent distributors, which is why I am happy that Type Network exists and that it encouraged me to join as an independent foundry. They have been very supportive of me as I’ve undergone this whole process.
Your new font family Gimlet draws its inspirations from Schadow-Antiqua. Which characteristics did you transfer and what was your own infusion?
Technically Nick Sherman introduced me to it, and I had many discussion with both him and German designer / educator Indra Kupferschmid about the nature of the design. Both helped me analyze the design and decide how to reinterpret it. I took most of my inspiration from the Schadow Werk style, which is quite distinct from the rest of the family. I wanted Gimlet to keep some of Schadow’s quirks (like the leg of the R‘ or the open ’g‘) but I wanted it to feel organic and natural, instead of awkward or geometric. The reverse-taper of the serifs is another feature adapted from Schadow, as well as the default eszet. The geometric-style ’a‘ is available as an alternate glyph. Another set of alternates taken from Schadow that might be of interest to German speakers are the sunken diereses.
Was there a masterplan at the beginning to design a big family combining display and text fonts with three optical sizes and with four widths?
There was no master plan … the family just kept growing out of control! My first focus was the Micro styles, since I wasn’t sure how much of Schadow’s personality I needed to change in order to make it a successful text face. Once I was confident with how Gimlet performed in text, I began to change the proportions, raise the stroke contrast, and add back some of the quirks for Gimlet Display.
Which challenges did you have to master during the design process?
I think the biggest challenge for Gimlet was balancing the personality and functionality of the typeface … paying homage to Schadow without doing a revival of it. I wanted this typeface to have a sense of humor, but I didn’t want it to be a joke. I wanted it to be a useful and versatile tool that speaks with a distinct voice. It was an interesting problem to figure out how to get all of the quirky details in there, but still end up with a smooth block of text and headlines that aren’t too distracting.
Why does Gimlet have no ligatures?
Besides an ’ff‘ ligature in some of the bolder styles, Schadow didn’t do ’f‘ ligatures. Sometimes ligatures can look finicky, so I decided to avoid them as well. Instead I let Gimlet’s ’f‘ gets narrower as it ascends (something that Schadow also does), which (combined with a long serif on the right) creates more room so the overhang is less.
For what sizes do you recommend Gimlet Display, Gimlet Text and Gimlet Micro?
I didn’t issue specific size recommendations for Gimlet because I wanted to designers to feel confident in using the styles that they feel worked best in their environment. Gimlet Micro will begin to look coarse and ungainly when used above text sizes, and Gimlet Display will begin to get too tight under 24 px. Beyond that, width, weight, color, and printing / rendering can all play a part in the best style to use in a given situation.
Which styles are suitable for long screen reading?
Assuming relatively large text and a single column, I’ll usually start with Gimlet Text. The Micro styles are a bit hardier, and are great for captions or multi-column designs where the body text is smaller. Generally, I find the wider styles to be more comfortable for extended reading than the narrower ones. But when reading an article on a phone, the narrower styles allow an extra word or two to fit on each line, which makes for a more pleasant reading experience. For text, I usually start with the Regular weight, though the Light weight is good for reading against a dark background.
Can you tell some successful usecases of Gimlet in print and web?
I like that designers have found a variety of ways to use different parts of the family. For example, Robb Rice’s design of Footwear News uses Gimlet Display very large, adding tons of personality to the magazine. Meanwhile, Typographica’s Type Foundries Today uses only the text size, where it communicates much more subtly. The 2015 Typographics Conference used Gimlet as a companion for Stilla, and left the personality to Stilla. Nick Sherman thought that Gimlet was too wide for narrower screens, which is where the idea of text widths was born. Kat Ran Press also used it for a book about dogs, which I thought was great.
Are there new typefaces, you’re working at the moment?
There is always something! I just released Bungee recently, and you can find several previews of things on my website, including Forma, a revival of an Italian neo-grotesk from the Nebbiolo foundry, Fern, a humanist oldstyle designed for the screen, and Output, a cousin to Input optimized for user interfaces.