You could enjoy and appreciate Tal Leming’s 90 Minutes without ever seeing it. You’d just need to read his account of the project, told with detail and passion. It’s an object lesson in solving present and future problems, anticipating usage, and leading a client toward the best solution. (Leming dutifully points out an early sketch by Nike, but his three-part family has so much more subtlety and capability that it’s hard to see a connection.)
But luckily we do get to see the family, as part of the identity for US Soccer, across print and screen and merchandise. The style threads between Geometrics like DIN and less rigid styles like Helvetica and News Gothic, making the family more distinctive but also providing the means to adapt to the different circumstances of a sports identity. Check his reasoning behind the jersey numbers (and the demo animation) and you’ll see a committed professional at work.
A mix of square and rounded corners is often cloying, like the designer was trying way too hard. But Leming used a light touch here, letting the mixed corners be more conspicuous in the Display styles, and tamping them down in the Text subfamily. In the jersey numbers especially, they echo a calligraphic kind of shaping, feeling natural and altogether unforced. In the Display subfamily, the arrangement of corners leaves a fleeting impression of dimensionality, like a drop shadow that flickers and then runs as soon as you try to find it.
Font development tools make it really very easy to bloat a family with dozens of interpolations of width and weight. But every member of this team has a clear purpose, and Leming saved the really fine-grained interpolations for the specific job of names on the jersey backs. He also knows just when to turn the stroke contrast on, which is how the lowercase can work so well in text, and over a long range of weights.
90 Minutes’ carefully tinkered style and organization makes it interesting for fellow designers, but more importantly it gives US Soccer’s identity a longer life. I don’t see this getting dated any time soon. Perhaps I ought to watch more soccer.
Over twenty-five years, Tobias Frere-Jones has established himself as one of the world’s leading typeface designers, creating some of the most widely used typefaces, including Interstate, Poynter Oldstyle, Whitney, Gotham, Surveyor, Tungsten, and Retina. In 2015, he launched his own foundry, Frere-Jones Type.