In German, Lichtspiele is literally translated as “light plays”. Historically, the term was used for films. However, this collection requires a degree of play in order to be used well, and I’d like to think that was taken into consideration when the typeface was named.
Lichtspiele is extremely narrow and constructed. Indeed, the width of its letterforms is almost a caricature of narrowness. The design brings marquees from old-timey cinemas to mind. Although Lichtspiele is not a revival of any specific theater’s signs, one can easily imagine it could be. In the best sense of the term, Lichtspiele is not a revival, but a piece of historical fiction.
Despite the historic framework in which Lichtspiele asks us to consider its merits, the typeface is clearly a child of 2014. It combines many of today’s popular trends. At the very least, Lichtspiele lives at the junction of German sign painting vocabulary, layered font releases, and typefaces debuting alongside a dedicated online specimen page – even though lichtspiele3d.com uses images in place of actual webfonts.
Two kinds of detail come to the fore in Lichtspiele. The first is the constructiveness – part of the German sign-painterly tradition. Any German-language lettering manual from the 1950s or ’60s serves up forms like those found in Lichtspiele’s ‘C E F G H J K P R S’, or ‘a g k ß’, not to mention the dots on the ‘i’ and ‘j’ or the diereses on ‘ä’ ö ü’. Since Stefan Huebsch’s father worked as a sign painter, some of Lichtspiele’s historic recontextualization may be a tip of the hat to the trade.
Remember that Jan Tschichold’s father was a sign painter, too. The second variety of apparent detail in Lichtspiele is “type porn”. For example, Lichtspiele is a display typeface that includes small caps. Are users likely to set these? Probably not, but they are there for designers who are in-the-know to appreciate. Even more evident to those who look are the oversized ink traps in ‘M’ and ‘N’, as well as Lichtspiele’s creatively positioned accents.*
Including these kind of details in a typeface – and matching the market’s currents, too – speaks directly to the trendiest segment of the graphic design audience. For a type designer releasing work in an environment already so saturated with fonts, being able to tap this vein is an important skill. That is what makes Lichtspiele one of the most notable releases of 2014.
Dan Reynolds loves fonts & cares about letterforms. He is a typeface designer and design researcher in Berlin, and he’s finishing up the last year of work on a five-year stint at the Braunschweig University of Art. In 2015, he finally started working on the dissertation he planned in 2011; it is due in 2017 or ’18. Wish him luck! He really needs it.