Typeface Review

Hobeaux

Reviewed by Nick Sherman on May 9, 2016

Hobeaux is James Edmondson’s modern-day homage to Hobo, the curvy, quirky, descender­less, Art Nouveau-inspired typeface released in 1910 by American Type Founders.

Since its debut, Hobo has suffered from mostly tacky usage on cheap signage, packaging, and advertising. After the revival of Art Nouveau aesthetics for psychedelic graphics in the 1960s and ’70s, Hobo became a common choice for ham-fisted or lazy attempts at “groovy” design. Such poor use (not to mention crude digitizations from the early days of desktop publishing) has given Hobo a dispropor­tion­ately bad reputation, yet it’s managed to retain a cult following among many type enthusiasts who appreciate its unique qualities and peculiar charm.

Edmondson cites this je ne sais quoi as what led him to reimagine the typeface for contemporary usage. His design for Hobeaux (pronounced ho-BO) deviates notably from the original, with the goal to be “more of a modern interpretation rather than a steadfast revival”. The overall feeling is more contemporary, with better weight distribution and a less wobbly/droopy feeling. Compared to the existing digitizations of Hobo, Hobeaux’s contours are less lumpy. Sharper features have been softened for a smoother overall style. The proportions are a bit wider across the board and the x-height is slightly taller in relation to the caps, allowing for use at smaller sizes. The high-waisted structure of the uppercase forms has been pulled down considerably, entering the realm of low-waisted caps that are more typical of Edmonson’s informal lettering work. Generally, Hobeaux polishes out the most wonky/​distracting features of Hobo and strengthens the qualities that make it interesting.

Beyond stylistic alterations, Hobeaux also introduces a wide array of functionality that makes it much more usable in contemporary settings. Edmondson went all out with the original Hobo concept of eliminating descenders, adding modified forms of less-common characters with descending elements, like ‘μ’ and ‘ç’. For those who can’t live without descenders, an alternate set of descending glyphs is included. For numerals, three sets are included: lining/​uppercase, mid-height, and descenderless oldstyle/lowercase. To improve spacing issues that pop up with the crossbars of the ‘f’ and ‘t’ or the egg-shaped ‘O’, contextual alternates are built in for automatic glyph replacement as needed. Top it all off with a fun set of arrows and ornaments and Hobeaux can be used for a surprisingly wide range of applications.

As one of the two typefaces that launched with Edmondson’s new type studio, OH no Type Co. (the other being Erik Marinovich’s Viktor Script), Hobeaux gives a promising indication of other things to come. Seeing all the experimental variants like rococo, dripping (animated and chromatic), script, stencil, chrome, log, and snow makes it clear that Edmondson takes his fun seriously. In a design landscape full of bland corporate typefaces and modernist trendism, it’s refreshing to see a new company that embraces a decidedly alternative approach to marketing type while also maintaining a high standard of quality. Like most of the best record labels or film studios, the OH no Type Co. brand won’t appeal to everyone, nor does it try to. Edmondson makes that brutally clear in his own description of Hobeaux, saying: “To the designers that scoff at such audacious curves, and prefer the sterile rigidity of geometric sans serifs: go suck an egg”.

Nick Sherman is a typo­grapher and typographic consultant based in New York City. He is a co-founder of Fonts In Use and a columnist at A List Apart. He serves on the board of directors for the Type Directors Club, and the artistic board for the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. Nick has worked at Font Bureau, Webtype, and MyFonts, directing web design and promotional material for typefaces in print and digital media.

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