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Typeface Review

Maison Neue

Reviewed by Chris Hamamoto on March 13, 2013

Maison Neue occupies an interesting space for a Grotesque. Adapted from an earlier design, Maison, this release balances the ideals of its idiosyncratic source with considerations of harmony and flow.

Maison was a Grot constructed around regularized widths and a lack of stroke modulation with little optical “correction”. Maison Neue revisits the design with a focus on making it more usable and expanding the family. The result is a functional typeface with roots in an nonfunctional ideology. Something that straddles geometric principles and usability in a peculiar, but pleasurable, and highly contemporary, design.

Timo Gaessner approached Maison Neue with modern reproduction technologies in mind. Where a design like Bell Centennial would require inktraps, Gaessner sees today’s concerns as much more formal than practical, stressing harmony and visual characteristics over classical technical limitations. In the transition from a few weights into full family — Maison Neue has twelve styles, two of which are monospace cuts (upright and italic) — some of the quirks of the original are gone. The stroke contrast is slightly more visible and some of the more colorful and noticeable characteristics are removed, such as the tails on the lowercase ‘a’, ‘y’, and ‘t’, or the sloping terminal on the lowercase ‘r’. In their place, we see more traditional character designs that aid in spacing and consistency.

However, what is retained from the original Maison is what makes Maison Neue so interesting. The distinctive ‘a’ is reminiscent of Akzidenz, but when run through the systematic drawing of Maison creates something quite distinctive. The angled terminals and slightly narrower width (something I assume was the result of the original design’s monolinear forms and regularized widths), along with the atypical origins of the typeface make it innovative in a saturated genre.

One of the most difficult things in any field of design is the balance between practicality and expression. This is particularly difficult in type design, as these decisions get amplified when repeated in a block of text. Maison Neue stands as a distinctive design that unites the functional with the unexpected.

Christopher Hamamoto is a graphic designer living in San Francisco. Currently with Flipboard, he's previously worked at FontShop, UC Berkeley, and Studio Kudos, and taught at RISD. He co-designed and developed Typographica.org.

One Comment

  1. This has a je ne sais quois, that I really like. It is perhaps the most anonymous typeface I’ve ever seen … completely without character, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. If you click through and find the PDF specimen, you can see the full character set and get a better feel for it. I find the monos super nice as they look remarkably elegant. I would use this face.

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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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