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.

Sunken die­reses are avail­able via OpenType-​Feature.

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.

No liga­tures needed to keep a well balanced spa­cing behind f.

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?

Bungee is a typeface that celebrates the urban sign. You can adapt to horizontal or vertical text.

Bungee is a typeface that cele­brates the urban sign. You can adapt to hori­zontal or ver­tical text.

Output is a sans serif that was designed for interfaces.

Output is a sans serif that was desi­gned for inter­faces.

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.

David, thank you very much!