On one hand, a successful type designer needs to master the many optical peculiarities of human vision to make letterforms appear as intended. On the other, type designers navigate thousands of years of history and tradition. Readers grow up surrounded by letters that look a certain way, and straying too far from this “mental” image runs the risk of appearing wrong or strange.
Enter Gareth Hague. With Sabre, Hague battles the constraints of the broad-nib ductus. The triangular serifs are — for the most part — located in their usual positions, and contrast between thick and thin appears mostly as expected. Hague’s playfulness is primarily apparent in the detailing. Notice the crossbar of ‘f’ and ‘t’, the diagonals of ‘v’ and related shapes, but most importantly the terminals of round shapes like ‘a C c G J S s’. The edges of the letterform seems to cross over the skeleton, twisting the shape inside out. Hague considers his type “graphic rather than typographic”.
I suspect many discard such details as mannerism. I certainly have trouble using Sabre in situations where the type is required to silently carry the content. Intentionally or not, Hague steps out of the comfort zone. I choose to applaud it, not because the results are exceptionally good (for one thing, there is a noticeable drop in quality when one ventures past Sabre’s basic alphabet), but because I think the will to experiment is lacking among contemporary type designers.
Type design history reveals a movement towards an abstracted ideal of the written letter, but the memory of handwriting is still very much present. Envision a future where nobody cares, or even remembers, how a serif typeface is “supposed” to look. Though covered in decades, centuries, or millennia of throw-ups and pieces, the original tag still reads “Gareth Hague was here”.
Frode Bo Helland is one third of Monokrom Skriftforlag.