Vaibhav Singh and Alessia Mazzarella worked together to produce Marble, the first font in the Asterisk Type Collection.
How did you start the project?
We were given a brief for a functional sans, with a lot of creative freedom on how we wanted to interpret it. We started with the idea of exploring a neo-grotesque sans serif but then we found far more interesting design possibilities in a more humanistic style. So we proposed an initial plan for a design on the humanist side that had a clean, structured approach, but that still retained a strong character. In short, a sans serif with a balance of style and functionality that doesn’t distract in workaday settings but that emphasises distinctive characteristics at larger sizes and in heavier weights.
How would you describe the character of Marble?
The main criterion was to achieve a balance between the structured geometry, distinctive stylistic interventions, and the expected functionality of sans serifs – in other words, something pleasant for the eye involving generous proportions. The key space that the design tries to address is an approachable but not informal sans serif, one that presents a full-bodied set of proportions through the range of widths on offer. We tried to have an overall character that is quite friendly, so we have some features that are eclectic and playful but that nonetheless encourage the eye to move easily across the text.
Alessia Mazzarella, designer of Marble
Where do you start?
[A] Although I usually start with the lower case “n”, expand to “m” and “h” then “d” and “b” etc, for this project I started with “a” because I felt I could get clarity about the characteristics of the typeface better. We both realised early on that we really wanted an “a” with a tail to bring a sense of approachability and distinct character, while giving us interesting possibilities to experiment with across the various widths.
[V]. I started with the Wide width as it was the most challenging to address. In general, I start with the lower case “a” because it tends to be quite a defining letter for the style, especially in sans serifs where you have much more limited options for simpler shapes. We knew it would be a humanist skeleton, but what kind of angle are the counters going to take? We wanted a smooth horizontal feel and at the same time something that has a roundedness about it, a full-bodied presence which is something that gets emphasised in the wide, heavy weights. That’s where I recall making important decisions. In the initial design direction we had quite thin joints, there was a lot of modulation and contrast in the heavy weights. Once we experimented with the widths, we tried to move away from that to made the whole family more cohesive.
It was also a question of getting the character of the typeface across without being too gimmicky in one weight and too subtle in another. For example, we started with the idea of having different angles for the terminal of “a”, “c”, “s”, etc but we felt it needed a more stabilising element. We decided to keep the terminations confined to horizontal and vertical cuts, a constraint that allowed us to look for other ways of introducing distinctive character in the shapes. The design thus aimed at balancing stark geometry with a sort of playfulness.
What do you mean by structured?
The design has striking cuts at the terminals, that are quite deliberately angled. For example, the top terminals of the “a” or the “s” are chopped off: they follow the horizontal and vertical terminations which you mostly see in more geometric-style sans. We balanced that with the humanistic feel of key shapes like the “a”, the “e”, and the “s” that tend to be defining features for the design. Also, there are no single storey features in the case of “a”, but we mix it up with the single storey “g”, so there is a bit of playfulness in the style and openness in the texture. That also derives from the functional idea that having a double storey “g” might get too dark in a heavier weight. So those decisions come from a much more practical point of view but without losing the overall character of a subtly balanced sans serifs.
Where do you see the font being used?
It’s quite a big family with 3 widths and 9 weights. We started with the brief that it is has to be versatile because we want to cover as wide a spectrum of use as possible. It has comprehensive coverage for corporate and branding applications, it has good readability and it’s very likely that it will be used both on screen and in print. The idea is that you have sufficient variety of weights and widths to address as broad a range as is relevant. At a cursory glance, the wider widths might not seem too appealing for conventional print settings but it’s actually quite useful for short titles that impart a strong presence. It is also advantageous to have those wider widths in a web setting where more generous proportions can be helpful. But we know as type designers that the actual use the fonts are put to by users are always unpredictable!
Have your own backgrounds and interests found their way into the font design?
The design was developed in a dialogue, a lot of back and forth especially at the early stages. We both have our ways of doing things, for instance we both handle curves in a different way. Then you have your individual preferences for drawing things a certain way, but you have to justify that, so there is a lot of keeping the design in check. It was most importantly a question of looking at how cohesive the design can be without losing a sense of variation and play. We determined what the driving characteristic of the design would be and from there on a lot of decisions were made in discussion over tests. If you take the “k” for example, we didn’t necessarily agree on the notion of having a central bar, but we wanted to develop something that can be flexible across the widths. We wanted a form that doesn’t get too sharp in the thinner weights because if you have a “k” with a very sharp angle in the middle it’s not something that goes well with the design’s more subtle flow. So, we tried to balance that with a wider structure of the “k” across half the weights to keep the angles shallower, while moving away from a central bar in the heavier weights. Those are the sorts of dialogues you have.
Vaibhav Singh, designer of Marble
Are you aware of how the weights relate to each other as you work through the design process?
The overall direction develops gradually, with a good measure of trials and testing. We started with the straightforward idea of 3 widths with a particular design character, and quickly we realised that very different things were happening in these different widths. The Wide is unusual and generous in its proportions, and we even had a wider version to begin with. It was far more playful than what we’ve got now, but it didn’t suit the brief and didn’t translate well across the rest of the weights and widths. So, we tried to keep the relationship between all the extremes as cohesive as we could, while addressing the individual limitations and possibilities of each.
We know that there is a particular kind of character that will emerge from the wider width and that is going to be interesting for online text and headlines, but the Condensed is not going to have the same character: it’s going to have more of a vertical emphasis. We know that the playfulness that exists in the curves of the widest family cannot translate directly to narrower widths because there is very little room for the curves to make their presence felt. It’s a challenging negotiation, but the key is figuring out the middle weight and regular width which we assume will be the most used, and that the decisive factor. Everything you want to achieve with a family should be there, then you can experiment with the extremes.
Tell us about the roundness and openness of the counters and how the length of the descender emphasises the sense of white space.
The depth of the descenders was determined by practical considerations, it was dependent on the heaviest weight and what we wanted to do with it. We knew we were going with a fairly large x-height and we wanted to retain the overall feeling of roundness as well, such as in the bottom of the “g”. For that you need more space, so you have to decide how much can be accommodated under the baseline in relation to other descenders. It’s a question of translating the desired look and feel in that space.
More generally, our main point of departure was the idea of having distinctive proportions. Because functionally driven sans serifs are often related to standard proportions and economical typesetting, some can feel devoid of any character. Our main concern was to try and have space to manoeuvre curves to make the design characteristics more apparent. What’s distinctive about this design is that the overall texture does not have a cramped feel, instead the letter shapes offer a generous flow to the text. That gets pushed even further in the wider widths and bolder weights, a particularly rich typographic repertoire to make a statement.
VERSATILE NEW TYPEFACE FOR CORPORATE AND PUBLISHING USE SHOWS CHARACTER
• Marble is a sans serif with a difference, purposefully side-stepping economy
• Ideal for web and mobile apps and readable across all media
A new sans serif typeface that strikes a different note with its full-body and generosity, is available from URW Type Foundry from today.
With 108 styles and available as a variable font for web and app development, Marble is the first typeface to launch from URW’s Asterisk Type Collection. This new collection will progressively introduce a new range of corporate typefaces that are noted for their design characteristics and originality as well as their performance on the full range of platforms required by corporates.
Designed for corporate and publishing use by Alessia Mazzarella and Vaibhav Singh, Marble is a modern sans serif with a distinct character. It is rounded and approachable and its three widths (Condensed, Normal and Wide) range from slender elegance to warmth and playfulness without ever being informal.
“The key space that the design tries to address is an approachable but not informal sans serif, one that presents a full-bodied set of proportions through the range of widths on offer”, says Vaibhav Singh. “We tried to have an overall character that is quite friendly, so we have some features that are eclectic and playful but that nonetheless encourage the eye to move easily across the text.”
“With such an extensive number of styles Marble gives organisations and publishers the range they need for all their requirements,” says Stefan Einkopf, URW sales director. “For instance, the condensed style allows for the compressed display of information, values and numbers, whereas the Wide style allows headlines to be set with width and presence. It’s also ideal for web and mobile app developers because it’s available as a variable font. Variable fonts give complete control over how fonts are presented and are produced to the very highest standard of technology.”
The extensive Marble family comprises nine weights in Latin for each Condensed, Normal and Wide variant as well as true italics. It’s ideal for establishing hierarchies of information with a wealth of choices for headlines, subheadings, captions and body copy styles that are all in harmony with each other.
“What’s distinctive about this design is that the overall texture does not have a cramped feel, instead the letter shapes offer a generous flow to the text”, comments Alessia Mazzarella. “That gets pushed even further in the wider widths and bolder weights, a particularly rich typographic repertoire to make a statement.”
Marble derives its character from the generous roundness of the x-heights which is balanced by the striking horizontal or vertical cuts to the terminals. The result is a readable font that encourages the eye to move from one shape to the next and that offers a range of possibilities for digital and print.