TypeTalk: Investigating Insouciant
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Insouciant is the latest typographic offering from the talented James Montalbano of Terminal Design. Montalbano has been designing type for more than 20 years. From his one-person studio Terminal Design, he has created more than 1,000 custom and retail fonts.
He is probably best known as the type designer responsible for the Clearview family of fonts designed for road signs, text use and interior signage. In 2011 the Clearview family was acquired by the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum as part of its permanent collection.
Insouciant, his most recent creation, is a legible, practical, yet classy upright script available in 10 weights. I sat down with James and asked him to enlighten us on how this megafamily (or shall I say deca-family?) came about.
Q: Insouciant is a stunning upright script in a whopping 10 weights. How did the design come about?
A: It began as a one-weight custom design for Vanity Fair magazine in 1999 named VF Script. The design was based on some lettering on a 1920s French automobile poster. It was done quickly, finished in a few weeks at most. The connecting strategy — how the characters connect to each other in a natural way — was not as concise as it could have been, and many problem letter combinations were solved with ligatures.
This caused composition problems since this was all done in the pre-OpenType (and pre-InDesign) days. Getting access to those ligatures required determination on the part of the compositor. That's because ligatures were hacked into other glyph spaces. A person doing the page composition had to refer to a chart as to where the ligatures were positioned in the font. Nothing was automatic.
Accessing the ligatures required too much determination it turned out. Vanity Fair used it for a short time, but it never really played a large role in the typographic identity of the magazine.
I also think a vertical connecting script is the hardest style to pull off. A vertical connecting script is more difficult than a slanted script because some of the letters do not naturally connect. The natural slanted forms of the s, r, x, z are easier to connect to and from in slanted script than their upright companions.
I would see my type design students attempt an upright script, and I would always warn them how difficult it is to get right. I think at some point I wanted to prove to myself that I could get it right.
Insouciant is casual and inviting, and amazingly versatile. Not many connecting scripts are this legible in running text.
Q: How has the OpenType technology changed what is possible when designing digital script fonts?
A: OpenType programming allowed me to include automatic beginning and ending forms, which helped me keep a simple connecting logic. What I do see happening, though, is that OpenType has created a sort of "arms race" as to who can include the most alternates, the most swashes, the most of everything, and frankly it makes me not want to participate in script-font development. In a way, I don't even consider Insouciant script, since it has very modest set of alternate glyphs.
Q: What motivated you to create so many weights? Most scripts are available only in one to three weights.
From Extra Thin to Heavy, Insouciant has a weight for every need.
A: Whenever I design I always think in multiple weights. When Insouciant was under development I showed it to a few colleagues whose opinion I trust, and they suggested that I go lighter and lighter. After getting a really light weight and quite a heavy one, it was simple to interpolate the intermediate styles.
I think other scripts come in fewer weights because they contain so many alternate glyphs and swashes. Insouciant is really a simple connecting design with some contextual alternates for beginning and ending forms and a few alternate styles. But nowhere near what some other scripts contain.
Q: Do you see a demand or a need for so many weights?
A lovely grid of type shows Insouciant at a variety of weights and sizes.
A: Before I designed type I was a magazine art director for many years and I always wanted multiple weights of any type design. You never know when something in a layout needs to be just a bit heavier or lighter to work the way you want it. So I figure, I’ll make all these weights to give designers and art directors more choices.
Q: How do you envision Insouciant being used?
A: Personally, I think it makes a great text face. I test all my designs at text sizes and Insouciant really looks great as small as 7 or 8 point. But "How will it be used?" I just look at it as another “color” in the typographic palette. It is really up to the graphic designer to come up with a use.
Insouciant Extra Light, shown from 12 pt to 24 pt, can be set even smaller in print due to its extreme legibility.
Q: What are your favorite features of this design?
A: My favorite feature of the Insouciant design is the fact that I created a connecting strategy that doesn’t use any ligatures to solve problem combinations. The font does contain the standard f-ligatures, but everything else connects based on the connecting logic in the design. Like I mentioned earlier, an upright connecting script is the most difficult style to get right because of these problem connections. Letters like r, s, b, p, v, w, and especially x are a real challenge.
In order for the connections to work seamlessly, all connecting strokes had to be drawn so they terminate at precisely the same angle, height and width.
Q: For a tough-looking martial arts master, you design some, how shall I say, very lyrical and graceful typefaces. Do you ever get this?
A: Ah, type design and martial art. I’ve thought about this a great deal, yet you’re the first person to ask the question. The martial art I’ve been practicing and teaching these last 32 years is called xingyi chuan (alternate spellings are hsing-yi chuan and shing-yi chuan). Translated it means shape- mind- fist. The body can be in a powerful and strong posture (shape) or a weak one. The difference between a strong body shape and a weak one can be measured in a few millimeters. I think of this when I draw type, always looking for the strong graceful shape, and the difference between that and a weak sloppy shape is in the tiniest of movements. There’s more to it, of course, but this is an important connection.