There are more exciting tasks than digitizing someone else’s designs. Staying faithful to the original can be limiting; as a result, many typeface revivals are empty vessels, adding little (if anything) to typographic diversity. All the more reason to highlight releases that manage to push the original design to a different level. Prismaset is a great example of such a successful reinterpretation.
There’s plenty to enjoy in Prismaset. Designers James Goggin, Rafael Koch, and Mauro Paolozzi drew caps faithful to Prisma’s original five-line design and added an entirely new set of lowercase characters informed by Koch’s Kabel and Zeppelin. Especially difficult letter shapes like œ are beautifully solved, demonstrating the possibilities of the multiline design (whereas the shoulders of the letters h, n, and m could have perhaps used more love).
Additional variations include three-line, two-line, and single-line styles. The intention of these is not to achieve a similar color and to avoid filling in at smaller sizes (as it was in Prisma’s four-line version), but to push the modularity of the design to its limits. Further styles of this release, like the Solid, Stencil, and Outline fonts, are a nice byproduct of the multiline explorations.
A particular highlight is the designs with overlapping strokes. This sometimes results in almost figurative shapes, as in the spidery M and the ladder-like E in Prismaset Two X. All in all, Prismaset emits a pleasant — and rare — sense of lightheartedness that probably stems from an indifference to creating a top-selling typeface.
Since its release in 1930, Prisma served as an inspiration for numerous multiline designs. Noteworthy examples include Photo-Lettering Inc.’s Bauhaus Prisma and Futura Prisma, and Joseph Churchward’s Churchward Design 70 (all three from the 1970s, surfing on the wave of op art). Perhaps its most famous relative is Lance Wyman’s identity for the 1968 Mexico Olympics, in which the multiline design often escapes the boundaries of the letters. The near infinite possibilities of imposing multilined and shaded variations on a skeleton are evidently tempting: Prismaset’s designers indicated that they are currently exploring more styles than the ones shown in the first general release.
Recent typefaces like Prismaset, Hobeaux, and Dunbar share a deep understanding of the intentions of the original design. Their designers succeeded in translating those ideas to suit contemporary tastes and environments. I admire their dedication and remain hopeful that more revivals will be replaced by careful reinterpretations.
Bianca Berning is a font engineer and type designer and heads up the Skills and Process department for font foundry Dalton Maag. She is an active member of Alphabettes, ATypI and the Unicode Consortium; and she coordinates a mentorship program with the aim to help students and professional newcomers immerse themselves in the industry.