Until the advent of OpenType, script typefaces were something of a contradiction in terms. Whatever the typesetting system — foundry type, photocomposition or digital — the possibilities of combining and connecting characters were limited; replacing awkward glyph combinations by ligatures or alternates was cumbersome, if at all possible.
OpenType has finally brought us the technology to create and use fonts which successfully emulate the improvised, context-driven characteristics of handwriting. It has also brought us an alarming new wave of pseudo-calligraphic kitsch. Typefaces come with hundreds of fancy ligatures, elaborate swashes and unnecessary flourishes, force-feeding us the kind of mindless “elegance” that some hoped Modernism had gotten rid of once and for all.
Some designers, such as Berlin-based Elena Albertoni, have realized that the wonders of OpenType aren’t only there to make type perform affected tricks or go orna-mental, but can also be a tool to simulate normality. Elena, a computer programmer’s daughter, combines a strong sensibility to the aesthetics of the handmade with a nerdy determination to make fonts behave more intelligently. Two of her script fonts were introduced to the general audience last year: Dolce and Dyna. Both were begun while studying and working in Paris, and further developed in Berlin, where she has worked at Lucas de Groot’s FontFabrik.
The two fonts are closely related. Dolce, an earlier version of which won an award in the 2005 TDC competition, is the most regular and well-behaved of the two. One of its features is a piece of OpenType wizardry that replaces uppercase with small caps when you’re trying to set a word in all-caps: the capitals were designed to be used as initials only. It’s a nice illustration of how a quality-obsessed type designer is now able to actually manipulate (or “help”) typographically naive users through technology.
My personal favorite is the more whimsical Dyna. It dances above and below the baseline, varying the angles of its strokes in a convincingly spontaneous rhythm. It also suggests alternate characters and specially made glyph combinations on-the-fly. When typing a word like “trapping” in InDesign, for instance, the font will make five glyph substitutions to select the best version of each letter in the given context. It is by no means the first time this is done, but in Dyna’s case, the result is so modest and self-evident that it seems to deny the sophisticated technology that’s going on in the back office. A fine piece of work — and very usable.
Jan Middendorp is a Dutch type writer and page maker working in Berlin. He wrote the acclaimed Dutch type and co-edited “Made with FontFont”. He is a contributor to Eye and was one of the 10 curators of Area2 (Phaidon). He works as consultant and editor for companies such as Linotype and MyFonts and is a book designer for Lannoo and Lannoo Campus publishers in Belgium.