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!