Universal sans devotees are legion. They have strength in numbers. Few love Univers 67 or Helvetica 43 Extended Light Oblique. Such styles and the semi-demi-almost-nearly-extra modifier widths and weights found in superfamilies are specified because they can be. They exist in states of usefulness, not desire. Florian Schick and Lauri Toikka give us both in four-style antique Grotesque Dia. They’ve managed to contrast utility in something spare worthy of affection. Dia’s express pride in cherry-picking the quirk from premodern superfamily poles reminds us to express more using less, with style.
From afar, the scaled rigor of the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing was stunning, intimidating. That is how I feel about sans superfamilies and their marshaled feats of engineering. Even when beautiful, the volume can be numbing. Often, too much neutral logic in those impressive systems leads to mixed ends, improved-to-illegible character sameness. Prescribed regiments of pieces shaved and shorn to uniform ends, or at antiseptic worst, little letter-lab clones. As Spiekermann noted: “a fucking army.” In comparison, Dia seems a related family of antique sans individuals, who might take sides in dinner-table arguments, but love a little harder for it in return. Concision and volatility is refreshing, smart.
When one closes in on Dia’s shapes, one sees that the incised Griffith approach to stem and bowl structure makes for virtual flourishes in the less-becomes-so-much-more world of Grotesque sans design. Deliberate choices of where to gouge versus gently shave add timbre to Dia’s frantic voice. It looks as though the meat of formerly flat ascender tops was scooped out, liposuctioned, to be implanted elsewhere. How else do those ‘a’s pitch so distinctly into themselves, or the ‘g’ ears seem so alert? Ascending spurs displace some rhythm in paragraphs, adding wobble between lines of type. White space ought to be allowed to wiggle with tension, too. Altogether, across the weight–width transition, Dia is weird and personably legible.
A wealth of good digital antique Grotesques exist now. Dia wasn’t even necessarily an aesthetic favorite of mine from the 2014 batch. But, when considering it as a follow-up to last year’s Noe, which made me giddy, I am now hooked on Schick Toikka’s taste in library-building and ability to subtly tweak forms we already know.