Brutal typeface specimen

Typeface Review


Reviewed by Paul Shaw on October 18, 2018

Quite simply, I like Brutal because it is different. It is a refreshing change from the plethora of sans serifs and scripts that have dominated type design for over a decade. It is a refreshing change from the endless attempts to dig into the past to find undiscovered typefaces worth reviving. It is a refreshing change from the adaptation and extension of existing typefaces for zillions of languages. Brutal looks like nothing else today — though it immediately reminded me of the typeface experiments that Pierre di Sciullo engaged in between 1985 and 1996.

Brutal is an unfortunate name. Not only is there at least one other typeface with the name, but it does not do justice to the poetic qualities of Benoît Bodhuin’s design.

Brutal is advertised negatively as “not a stencil calligraphic typeface” yet it has both stencil and calligraphic features, though the latter disappear in the Light weight. The majority of the characters have separated strokes that give Brutal a stencil appearance. And in the Regular and Bold weights the characters with curves have thick/thin contrast reminiscent of the marks made by a broad-edged pen. These two features, in combination with variations in the baseline and x-height/cap height of several letters, give Brutal an appealing liveliness. (The strong stroke contrast of the Bold weight adds another level to its vibrancy.) When set in words, Brutal takes on a percussive rhythm that elicits a smile. It is a fun typeface.

My favorite part of Brutal are the letters e, f, r and t. Bodhuin has designed them so that their horizontal strokes line up with each other, resulting in a strong through-line that helps counteract the bounciness of other letters. (Some of these letters also form terrific ligatures.) The horizontal “dots” of i and j further this secondary pattern of words set in the font.

As exciting as I find Brutal, it is not perfect. In fact, I also find it frustrating. The individual parts of the “stencil” letters sometimes read as separate letters (e.g. a = ci). And several of the letters with curves I find awkward (e.g. the h m n u group) or simply ugly and out of place within the font (e.g. B). I would love to see Bodhuin revise his design so that Brutal could live up to its unique potential.

Paul Shaw is a designer and a design historian. For three decades he has researched and written about the history of graphic design with a focus on typography, lettering, and calligraphy. His books include Helvetica and the New York City Subway System, The Eternal Letter, and Revival Type.

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