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Typeface Review

LL Circular

Reviewed by Benjamin Shaykin on March 11, 2014

Some typefaces are distinguished by a sense of newness and surprise — the unexpected influence, the unfamiliar combination of disparate historical models. Others surprise you with their very regularity — their sense of rightness, of always having been there. They are so of the current moment that they seem classic and timeless.

Laurenz Brunner’s designs for Lineto fall into this second category. His debut release, Akkurat (2004) — a contemporary take on the Swiss sans serif — was one of Lineto’s first serious text families and perhaps its largest success to date.

With LL Circular, his second release for Lineto, Brunner has done it again — this time reworking the geometric sans, drawing from Futura, Neuzeit Grotesk, and other 20th-century models to create something unmistakably current.

Circular doesn’t draw attention to itself. From its earliest appearances in The Most Beautiful Swiss Books series of 2007–09 (designed by Brunner himself while the typeface was under development), to its recent uses in Conditional Design: Workbook, Unit Edition’s FHK Henrion monograph, and the pages of the New York Times Magazine, Circular is serious, timeless, and neutral.

It has a pleasing, even color, substantial in even its lightest weight. A handful of alternate glyphs (includ­ing an ‘r’ constructed of only a line and a dot — a nod to Renner’s experimental letterforms) and a set of char­ming roman numerals allow for more atyp­ical settings. But even without these alter­nates, Circular is geo­metric without being cold. It is anon­ymous in the best way possible.

But oh, the lowercase ‘t’! I adore the lowercase ‘t’. The intersection of stem and crossbar is perfectly rounded, suggesting the slightest hint of Clarendon or Century. And it is this subtle softness that gives the typeface away. It is Circular’s defining character, and my favorite glyph of 2013.

Benjamin Shaykin is a Providence-based graphic designer and educator, specializing in book design and other printed matter. He teaches at Rhode Island School of Design.

6 Comments

  1. Pat says:

    I’m so happy the article draw the attention to that lowercase t, I’m also sharing the feeling that it might be the nicest glyph of 2013. When I first stumbled upon Circular, I thought “here we go, another grotesque, let’s see if I can find the difference from any other one made to date”, but after some time (and I had the same feeling about Akkurat) it’s one of my favorite typefaces. I guess God is in the details!

  2. Great writeup Ben – I’m glad to make the introduction to Brunner’s work! The ‘t’ is indeed lovely, but I’m also drawn to the more open terminals and the rounder feel. It makes it much more approachable and a little warmer than most classically Swiss faces. The roundness gives at a bit of a ‘Lubalin-esque’ feel to me – thinking it would pair really nicely with Lubalin Graph or Memphis.

  3. Jason — While Circular, Lubalin Graph, and Memphis could all be considered “geometric” typefaces, I think Circular has very little to do with those slabs. It has proportions closer to a book typeface (moderate x-height, extenders) and its shapes are warm and modeled rather than strict and machined. I suppose you could use LG or Memphis to contrast with Circular, but I’m not sure those would work as well as a slab or serif from another genre.

  4. Hi Stephen. True about the x-height, but I just tried mocking up the 16pt sample from the Lineto site and a headline in Memphis and thought it looked well paired. I do enjoy the warmth of Circular and while both Memphis and Lubalin Graph are pretty rigid, the quirkiness seems a good counterbalance and gives the two a hook that lets them sit together nicely I think. Curious to know if you’d agree. (Wish I could upload the mockup here!)

  5. I’m sure one could make these pairings work. (Nearly any pairing will work in the right hands and situation.) It’s just not the first thing that comes to mind as an easily compatible combination. But I welcome your illustrations. If you send me an image I’ll include it here.

  6. Curious to hear your thoughts. It wasn’t an ideal test (had to use a 16pt sample graphic from their website) but I think with Memphis Bold Italic at 32pt works nicely. Perhaps not the most natural pair, but I’ll admit my stubbornness prompted me to keep poking at it to see if my initial reaction was too knee-jerk or a good leap.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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