I first became aware of Susana Carvalho and Kai Bernau in Footnotes, where they published an article about their revival of Josef Müller-Brockmann’s typewriter typeface Candia. It was a nice surprise to discover that Carvalho and Bernau were also the designers behind some solid typefaces I was already familiar with, like Atlas and Lyon.
Crafted for reading, Algebra reflects the general approach of Atelier Carvalho Bernau. The blocky feel of the letters creates a perfect rhythm of negative and positive shapes; the design leads you through the line at a consistent speed.
Carvalho and Bernau reference squarish designs from the middle of the twentieth century, like Melior and Schadow. But although some details mirror previous designs, Algebra is a contemporary typeface that does not rely overly much on the past.
Algebra could be described as a slab serif, but the face also integrates features from other type genres. Letters like s, with its clean terminals, could come straight out of a contrasted sans serif. And the heavy horizontal strokes — most obvious in the bolder weights — bring to mind reversed-stress designs; see, for instance, the beautiful tail of the lowercase y.
As I went deeper into the analysis of shapes, I initially questioned some of the design decisions. Why the round punctuation marks? And why the cursive alternates in italics? Do they fit the overall design? All doubts were put to rest when looking at the type samples again. The round punctuation marks give the text a needed break in its seriousness, and the alternative italic letterforms are not out of tune with the design. Moreover, they offer an extra voice to the user.
Many design details and beauties are concealed in this typeface; the best thing is that you don’t even notice them. This is obviously a typeface created for readers, who will benefit, without distraction, from Algebra’s distinctive personality.
I’m afraid this isn’t quite accurate—as the publishers, we (Commercial Type) describe Algebra as a slab serif, referring on the surface level to its contrast and serif shape. Susana and Kai, on the other hand, describe it as “a Grotesk, but with serifs and contrast”, referring to the underlying approach to construction and the rhythm of text rather than the surface details. We oversimplified the description for the sake of brevity. Most designers know what a slab serif is, but the idea of a Grotesk that happens to have serifs requires a little more explanation.
Thanks for the amendment Christian. I have reformulated the sentence not to confuse the designers’ with the distributor’s description. Summing up that paragraph, Algebra is a great example of mixed genres.