Reversing Typographic Conventions

Nina Stössinger discusses the connection between type makers and users, plus the benefits of breaking tradition

Swiss type designer and typographer Nina Stössinger is a rising star in the field of typeface design. After releasing FF Ernestine, she studied at the Type & Media post-graduate course for typeface design in the Netherlands. With a new typeface soon to be released by Monokrom, Nina works at the intersection of design and technology: she designs typefaces, typographic logos, books, and brochures, as well as writing code to support the production and presentation of fonts.

Her knowledge and willingness to share it is striking. With a rare mastery of both aesthetic and technical aspects of type design, this member of Alphabettes is a valued role model for young people entering the field.

Nina Stössinger presenting her upcoming typeface Nordvest at Typografische Gesellschaft München earlier this year. Photo by Michael Bundscherer.

I asked Nina about her experience as an attendee at last year’s inaugural edition of Typographics, and her expectations as a speaker for this year …

NS: I was very excited about the event last year, because — first of all — how is it possible that there was no recurring type conference in New York City? It seems like the place to host one. I also liked the concept of having a rather compact conference embedded in a longer event (or rather string of events) including walking tours, workshops, and so on. It’s a real treat for type nerds (a term I mean only in the best of ways), so I’m excited and honored to be part of the speaker line-up. I’m also curious to see what might change. Since last year was the first, I can imagine the organizers will strive to make the conference even better. In short, I’m really looking forward to Typographics.

YP: What kind of crowd are you expecting?

NS: Well, the conference is targeted quite explicitly at people who use type. The idea is that the speakers are type designers or typographers, and the audience are mostly art directors, graphic designers, web designers, and so on. This is so important — we’re at a point where we have to think very hard about bringing these two worlds together. So many exciting things are happening in type design and type technology right now. People who produce fonts are implementing concepts and features that can take digital type to new heights. But much of this work runs the risk of getting stuck somewhere before it can reach the eyes of readers. Many designers are not quite sure how to orient themselves and learn about the wealth of possibilities that type can offer, so we need to focus not only on advancing type itself, but also typography. Building bridges between people who make type and people who use type is really important, and I’m happy that Typographics is actively contributing to this effort.

Investigations in reversed-contrast typeface design by Nina Stössinger.

YP: What will your presentation Contrasting with Convention be about?

NS: At the heart of it, my talk is a story about conventions, how we automatically follow them, and how it is possible to (fruitfully) challenge them. I use the example of a typeface I’ve been working on, which challenges one of the most basic conventions in Latin typeface design — namely that vertical strokes are heavier than horizontals — a relationship my typeface reverses. Of course other people have done this before; most often this was done to great effect, breaking expectations to make the letters eye-catching. I tried to go the other way, to see if this alternative contrast pattern can be made so subtle that it is actually productive and useful rather than calling attention to itself, and to evaluate what effect that has on the texture of text.

It’s been an interesting journey. I’ve been investigating the history of previous typefaces with reversed contrast, but also the theory and the mechanics of what actually happens when you distribute the weight differently. And it has made me re-evaluate what we take for granted and what we question when we design — the value of rules, the cost of breaking them, and having to come up with new ones. So while this is a specific story, it has a wide background, and broad implications for how we as designers approach our work.

YP: That sounds great. Thank you for the chat, and we’ll look forward to your talk.

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