specimen of Brenner family

Typeface Review


Reviewed by Reed Reibstein on December 16, 2019

Superfamilies are an attractive option when composing type palettes. Packaging up a sans, serif, and maybe a slab or some optical sizes offers an array of typographic options — a one-stop shop, with components relating to one another through shared weights or skeletons.

Type designers can create a harmonious superfamily when they shear off a serif’s protrusions and reduce its contrast to make a sans. And even more when they add back serifs for a slab. (You often know a superfamily’s gone too far when it reaches semi-serifs.)

Type palettes, however, shouldn’t be blandly uniform, especially in publication design. Variety is necessary not only for functional roles (headline versus caption, body text versus page number), but also to tell distinct stories through visual tone.

Nikola Djurek’s Brenner type system offers a rare, richer take on the superfamily. Its seven variants — Serif, Display, Sans, Sans Condensed, Mono, Slab, and Script — share weights and vertical metrics like most superfamilies. But Djurek assembled his collection thinking like an editorial designer.

The serif is an unusually playful Didone, with even peppier display styles. Instead of a similarly bouncy sans that would limit Brenner’s usefulness, Djurek created a restrained neo-grotesque. Since it’s based on the sans, Mono adds contrast to the suite through spacing more than shape.

The slab and script fully upend the standard superfamily sameness. The slab’s aggressive ink traps make its bolder weights perfect for setting huge as a magazine opener. The script is even more unusual, with teardrop terminals, closed loops, and serpentine in- and outstrokes that narrowly fail to connect.

Brenner’s forty-six styles have a distinctive energy that won’t be right for just any publication or brand. But it establishes a model for type systems that I’d love to see others follow: a set of related faces designed to maximize contrast in a palette, not downplay it.

Reed Reibstein is product design manager at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he focuses on design and user research for Inquirer.com and its mobile apps.

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