Typeface Review

Eurostile Next

Reviewed by Claudio Piccinini on April 7, 2009

Eurostile was a vision of the future. In this sense, it appears appropriate that Akira Kobayashi, a Japanese designer, took on the task of realizing a good digital version. Japan is probably the country which best represents the modern relationship man has with mechanization.

The idea for Eurostile could be traced back to when Alessandro Butti (art director of the Nebiolo foundry up to 1952) was reflecting on letterforms appropriate to modern times. For Butti, letters should shed all superfluous ornamentation. Butti did not think that the lineale, or sans-serif, would completely substitute classical typefaces in books, he just looked at those forms as an appropriate direction.

In a booklet written in 1952 he used Maximilien Vox’s type classification and proposed a new category which he named “quarrés”, identifying a tendency towards squared forms, which he thought suitable for the sense of mechanization dominating the 20th century, and forecasted they would be developed in future type designs. In fact, we may assume the idea had been in his mind since the 1930s, possibly after the release of Giulio Da Milano’s Neon (1935), as Butti’s Quirinus (1939) already shows the seed of what would become Eurostile’s forerunner, Microgramma. Microgramma, released in 1952, takes Butti’s idea of the lineale as the “typographic form of the future” to a radical solution.

Butti tried to cast forms with no specific dominant feature to cover the widest gamut of applications. And Microgramma covered a wide range of sizes, with particular attention to small ones.

Although Eurostile and Microgramma can’t actually be considered a single typeface, we can safely affirm the true conception of the design occurred with Microgramma, and Eurostile was a natural progression. Novarese picked up Butti’s exploration and tried to extend Microgramma’s functionality to text, adding the lowercase, although he was less convinced monotonal type could support continuos text settings. Eurostile was designed after Butti’s death and released in 1962, in three widths and two weights.

Akira Kobayashi has now extended the family, adding three weights for each width, for a total of 15 variants, which is quite a number, considering Butti’s fixation on economy of means and simplicity as key features of modern typography.

The Linotype effort, however, is commendable under many aspects. Kobayashi’s skill and expertise allowed him to catch the essence of the forms and develop with confidence and consistency a family preserving its original spirit.

What is puzzling, however, are Eurostile Candy and Eurostile Unicase, two typefaces produced by Kobayashi and presented by Linotype as a sort of “family extension”. Taking into account all the rationale which went into the genesis of Eurostile and Microgramma, it’s no exaggeration to say Butti and Novarese would not have seen such forms as pertinent to their research.

Unicase does not follow the sober internal grammar of Eurostile, as it was the case of Da Milano’s Neon which could have been take into account as an example for the idea.

As for Candy, I’m not questioning the design per se — it is a “typographically wise” take on the Japanese aesthetic of mechanized cuteness (as seen in Kotaroh Hatano’s Gray Graphics). But, while such ideas may clearly function as statements on their own, if we compare Candy with Kobayashi’s TX Lithium, it looks inappropriate to name them as descendants of that “vision of the future” which implied an entirely different concept.

Claudio Piccinini

Claudio Piccinini is a graphic and type designer based in Modena, Italy. He has worked for many years as a commercial graphic designer. He always cultivated interest in typeface design and lettering, publishing his first typeface Ottomat in 1996. He is now focusing on type design as his main job and developing typefaces for commercial release.

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