It was so much fun to make the modular titling type for The Heads that I wanted to do it again for the second iteration of the New Manifesto. In the first iteration I used the face Placard Condensed for the titles, which has been a longtime favorite of mine, even before I realized that it is essentially, at least in the capital letters, supposed to look like the lovely, generic, “Gothic” wood type that is common in letterpress studios. The thing that I don’t like about that typeface is that it often looks too condensed for my purposes. This is a major typographic confession—I’ve often used it and widened the glyphs 20% – 30%. As far as I know no one has ever noticed, but after I started looking carefully this time around, it became awkwardly obvious. So it was time for some new titling type.
Why modular type? The main answer, for me, is constraint & how that drives formal & structural decisions. I am drawn to the aesthetics of modular type, and it fits nicely with the formal qualities & structure of books—books (often) have rectangular pages, and they are at their core modular constructions—page after page after page designed on grid over grid over grid.
The complication (or perhaps luxury) that I gave myself this time around was the inclusion of a second modular unit—a triangle that is one half of the base square. I knew that I was going to print these letters from photopolymer plates, so why not, you know, get crazy?
I played with shapes & contours of the individual letters themselves for a while, trying out different shapes and refining. I needed numbers for this book, and that complicated things a bit, as the shapes of “S,” “Z,” “2” and “5” are very similar once curves & angles are eliminated. I could have used the same shape several times and relied on context to make the glyph, but I wasn’t sure that context would be enough in the case of the titles.
As the shapes of the letters developed I realized that there was something else to consider—proportion. While I was trying for letters that weren’t as narrow as Placard Condensed, I still needed them to be somewhat condensed so that they would fill the marginal space of the page. The width of the individual glyphs is one thing, but how narrow they are depends on the relationship of width to height. (This is all basic stuff, I know, but I am a beginner when it comes to type design, and these small realizations are an important part of learning.)
After I settled on the proper proportions for the letters, I was able to refine the contours within those proportions and determine the final letterforms. One challenge with modular type (at least in how I’m approaching it at this point) is its monotony & rigidity. It often looks forced into the flexible space of the book, particularly when paired with a great text type—like Palatino Linotype, which is what I was using for the main text of the book. The last tweak I made to the modular face was to change its base unit from a square to a vertically-oriented rectangle that was half of that square. The original square was still used for most of the letters, but that rectangle allowed for some small subtle differences that gave the letters more character and made some of them appear less awkward. The “F” and “G” are two examples.
Using the rectangle of the base unit also gave me more flexibility when typesetting and spacing the letters, allowing me to stay within the modular system when spacing but giving me enough options to balance the spaces out better.
The above images show the actual setting of the titles. I did not make these letters into an actual, usable font—I just drew them as vector objects within InDesign and cut & pasted them into place. Once they were set I could just copy them into the actual book document and scale them appropriately. Even during typesetting I still played with the letterforms a bit—it’s just so hard to resist the impulse to keep refining the letters. But there was a deadline & I had to get to printing. So here are some images of the type printed from the photopolymer plates: