Birra Bruin font

Typeface Review

Birra Bruin

Reviewed by Robin Mientjes on December 22, 2020

Darden Studio’s Birra collection is an odd little project. Unlike most type releases, which may cite a designer, a particular typeface, or a construction principle as their starting point, Birra is inspired by craft brewery beer menus. It has an air of “dancing about architecture”, or a Brian Eno/Peter Schmidt Oblique Strategy — I mean: the reason and the result may not seem completely typical or logical, but I’m writing about it all the same. In particular, I want to talk about Elena Schneider’s Birra Bruin.

See, when you begin your inspiration with beer — some sort of really wonderful analogue to synesthesia comes to mind — the styles will necessarily be a little strong. Craft breweries take pride in exploring the edges of the potential beer design space. Ask any serious beer lover what their favorite drink is and they’ll all have really strong reasons for why they like what they like. And today, if you ask me what I want from the menu, I want the Bruin.

The blackletter relationship with “old” beers is obvious — beer brands and newspaper mastheads are the last big holdouts of passionate blackletter love. Elena has taken that to the craft-beer-nerdy next level. Although, formally, you can see it’s supposed to be blackletter, it never feels burdened with any of blackletter’s formal “official” limitations and rules. Letterforms are not compromised, joins are handled however the hell it seems to have pleased Elena, and the extended character set is crisp and graphic and totally indulgent. But none of that comes at any cost. Expressive moments such as the cowlick of the ascenders or the conjoined a and g or the inside of the e are all part of a well-functioning stylistic dialect. All of the ingredients, while we continue this silly beer metaphor, come through in a complex — but never complicated — final brew.

What is obvious from Birra Bruin (and the project’s mission statement) is that Elena had fun drawing it. We don’t talk a lot about that in our work, I find. In a lot of cultures you’re supposed to live to work, and in reaction to that we’re often told that we should do what you love. Both are ultimately miserable platitudes, because they both feed into a market of demand. Type design is, for better or for worse, a market, not an art, and so a large amount of expression is reduced to better appeal to a greater audience. What Elena accomplishes with Birra Bruin is an expression that shows me that the designer loved the work she was doing. It is an affirmative, positive, exciting project and it makes me want to draw.

Finally, let’s circle back to our drink of choice. We came here, picked an old brown ale, and enjoyed the flavor. And if I had to pick one word to capture the entire experience, it would be joy. There’s a joy in looking at this design that the designer clearly had joy in creating. It sparkles, it spins, it transforms, it dances, it intoxicates — I know, I know. I sound like a beer lover who just decided to tell you a lot about her favorite beer.

Robin Mientjes is a queer feminist type designer, with an obsession for baking, cooking, and thoughtful design. She’s been designing for print and web for fifteen years, and studied at the KABK, where she mostly made friends and nice food. She’s a visiting lecturer at HBK Saar, a senior designer at Scandinavian Design Group, and she runs the Tiny Type Co., a small foundry with big ideas.

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