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Typeface Review

Turnip

Reviewed by Eben Sorkin on March 13, 2013

Turnip’s distinct, unapologetic voice and engaging readability break new ground for text-size book and editorial use. The idea that a text face intended for genuinely serious purposes can take on such a fresh new personality is worthy of note. Perhaps the rise of the editorial format as the dominant form of consumed text is what inspired the intensity of Turnip’s personality. In any event, Turnip is both timely and appropriate.

Another very timely aspect of Turnip’s design is the consistency with which both its character and utility can be maintained from print to screen. Turnip can do this in part because of the nature of its design which is screen friendly to begin with but also because it is offered in a print and the screen optimized version (Turnip RE). This ability to stay consistent across media is far too rare a virtue.

The outsize personality you see at large sizes becomes lovely, lively and engaging at text sizes. Admittedly if you look at single glyphs at very large sizes some of them can seem almost willfully naive or even theatrically grotesque. Don’t be misled by this. These choices were made for a purpose. Turnip gets rid of excess prettiness, timidity, and preciousness to ensure that text sizes set as well and clearly as possible. I find this very impressive.

Turnip bears more than a passing resemblance to Dwiggins’ Hingham experimental newspaper type. (See Postscripts on Dwiggins, Vol. Two, Walter Tracy’s Letters of Credit, and The Crew of the Ship “Earth”.) This is another reason I find Turnip remarkable: it manages to successfully build on the very exciting but profoundly difficult experimental legacy of W. A. Dwiggins. Having seen so many designers try and fail to stand on the shoulders of the giant Dwiggins I can’t help but remark on this achievement.

David describes Turnip as being especially suitable for texts which may benefit from a rougher or more salty sensibility. I suspect that while this is true, this is also his humility talking. Turnip’s clarity, accessibility, and sheer functionality make it suitable for a much wider range of purposes. My girlfriend’s unsolicited reaction to seeing it set in the format of a novel was “I would think about buying a book set in this just for the typeface.” She meant it. Turnip deserves our attention and use.

Note: at the time of this review, Turnip was the text typeface for Typographica.org.

Eben Sorkin is a type designer and type publisher living in Boston, Massachusetts. He has been designing fonts for four years and has an MA degree in type design from the University of Reading in the UK. He is also an ATypI board member.

8 Comments

  1. Hrant says:

    I love Turnip, for the magical transformation it performs between display and text, and the wonder it injects into the craft of type design. Thank you, David.

  2. Turnip was among the three typefaces I was interested in writing about for the 2012 list. It’s a great piece of work.

  3. I love this. I love the way it goes from quirky to useful. How can it be so digitally contemporary and late 19th-century at the same time? It’s like magic! It goes perfectly with Mark Twain and a side of beef.

  4. One day, not too long ago, I was gazing longingly at a sample of Hingham in a Dwiggins collection, wishing that something like that was available today. Weeks later, here I am, reading my very own comments set in the very like-minded Turnip — functional, readable, and tuned for the screen. This is why I love type design right now.

  5. Josh Farmer says:

    It has been fantastic to see Turnip used in this text setting. It works so well. My only quibble, which was answered in this article by stating that form was manipulated to achieve function, is with the lowercase f. Every other lowercase character is quite wide. The lowercase f feels quite narrow and the hook feels quite close to the stem to me. But for the life of me, I can’t imagine it looking better if the hook were pulled more to the right. It’s a great typeface.

  6. Indra Kupferschmid says:

    Josh, luckily the desktop version of Turnip has this narrow “non-kerning” f as an alternate character, the standard f is slightly wider, as explained in this section on DJR’s site: http://djr.com/#features

  7. Peter Glaab says:

    I really love this typeface. It brings a warm sound and liveliness into texts – especially in german written texts. Even the italics are a welcome accentuation with some great characters (i.e. alternativ p). I just use it for my current project and happy seeing it on screen and paper.

  8. […] would be FF Folk, the 2003 fontification of Shahn’s style, but David Jonathan Ross’ Turnip (a Typographica favorite) is a newer release with much more subtle and interesting […]

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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.

Set in Bureau Grot by Font Bureau, Nocturno Display by Nikola Djurek, Fern (unreleased) by David Jonathan Ross, and JAF Bernini Sans by Tim Ahrens.

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