What first struck me about Roxane Gataud’s Bely is how it combines plain rectangular slabs on the bottoms of its letterforms with sharp triangular serifs on top. I would have assumed that this kind of stylistic mashup was best left to ’90s po-mo classics like Dead History, but somehow Gataud pulls it off in a contemporary design. The juxtaposition of rectangles and triangles is fresh and striking, but never jarring. Bely succeeds by uniting these serifs in their stark geometry; it almost feels like Gataud constructed them with tangrams!
In Bely’s four text styles, these serifs sit on top of a framework of simple, open forms with low contrast and a subtle diagonal axis. It is restrained, even spartan, but those pointy wedges are so busy slicing up the space that it never feels static. I admire Bely Text for many of the same reasons I’ve always loved Scala and Whitman: it manages to be confident without being showy, to be plainspoken without being plain.
And then there is Bely Display…
This single jaw-dropping weight is a totally different animal. Rather than simply tweaking the text design to optimize it for larger sizes, Gataud returns to Bely’s defining features and dials each of them up to eleven. Contrast? Check. Razor-sharp wedges? You betcha. And that diagonal axis that was so subtle in the text cut? Now it’s completely bonkers.
This is not to say that Bely Display is merely some caricature. It is incisive, playful, stylish, and innovative — perfect for titles, posters, or packages. The rectangular serifs, reduced to hairlines, counterbalance the bold triangles that now permeate the design. The diagonal axis forces the counterforms of letters like c and e to lean back as the weight slides underneath them. Its charming set of arrows and symbols are just one more reason why this typeface is worthy of another look.
But don’t take my word for it! I’m just one of many Bely-vers out there. Bely was selected by TypeTogether for their Typeface Publishing Incentive Program, and since then has already earned Gataud the SOTA Catalyst Award and honors from the TDC. Between Bely’s inventiveness, usefulness, and cohesiveness as a family, it is not hard to see why.
David Jonathan Ross makes fonts at DJR, more fonts for the Font of the Month Club, and helps out at Type Network too. Even though he co-curates Retro Script L.A., you’ll find him now in Western Massachusetts.