Typeface Review

FF Hertz

Reviewed by Frank Grießhammer on May 9, 2016

FF Hertz is one of the best typefaces of 2015. This statement has a number of reasons: First, it is a great-looking design. Second, it is technically superior to many of the typefaces that came out last year. Finally, the release in 2015 is a beautiful coincidence.

Jens Kutílek, designer of FF Hertz, has talked about its attributes; it is, as he says, “scholarly, scientific, a bit dusty (in a good way)”. Indeed, I think that FF Hertz looks a little like something we’ve seen before — usually a good sign for text faces. Describing the shapes of FF Hertz, I would say they are somewhat angular and a little idiosyncratic. The construction of the letters is static, and follows the model of the pointed pen. Appropriate to a Modern/Rational design, FF Hertz has some chunky ball terminals, a feature I appreciate.

The spirit of FF Hertz can be found in Hermann Zapf’s Mergenthaler Antiqua, which was designed for typesetting scientific publications. It is atypical for Zapf, carrying fewer of the calligraphic traits usual to his designs. In fact, working on that project seems not to have been an easy task for Zapf, who described the design process as “torturous”. Mergenthaler Antiqua is virtually unknown because it was unsuccessful in its day, and therefore never moved to technologies that followed hot metal (Linotype) typesetting.

The story of Mergenthaler Antiqua could have ended here, had it not been for Jens. He took note of the features he liked and used them as an inspiration to create something completely new. FF Hertz is not a revival; it amalgamates various sources, some of which can be traced back to Zapf. One can read more about the inspiration behind FF Hertz in David Sudweeks’ excellent interview.

The huge amount of creativity Hermann Zapf had in the world of typeface design is impressive. Maybe without intending it, Jens has created an homage to Zapf’s work, and the result is far from nostalgic or cheesy. Hermann Zapf died in 2015 and didn’t live to see the release of FF Hertz. I’m sure he would have been happy to serve as an inspiration for some of the best typeface designers today. In my mind, many of the details in FF Hertz are a nod to Zapf, such as the old-timey “German-style” alternate ‘w’ in the Italic, a variation often found in Zapf’s earlier designs.

The typeface’s name is ingenious. Naming it after Heinrich Hertz, the German Physicist who first conclusively proved the existence of electromagnetic waves, describes the typeface well — scientific, precise, German, no-nonsense. The symbol for Hertz as a unit of frequency is ㎐ — which in turn are Hermann Zapf’s initials. Isn’t that an amazing coincidence? (Also, who said naming fonts was hard?)

Why is FF Hertz technically superior? Simple: Jens knows what he’s doing. He has worked as a font engineer with FontFont for many years, and has produced countless quality fonts. He certainly knows what is needed to make a typeface family perform flawlessly. Jens’ persistence and meticulousness are impressive; evidence of this might be the amazing pedigree of his (yet to be released) Magnum Opus, Comic Jens.

I trust Jens to go above and beyond to make his fonts a joy to work with even for the most discerning users, but he doesn’t stop there. FF Hertz is also a well-balanced typographic toolkit.

For example, there are two sets of small caps — one to be used for abbreviations, and then slightly smaller “Petite Caps” at x-height, more appropriate in the context of a text face. The family has very finely graded weights, which helps to get the density of a page “just right”. On top of that, FF Hertz is a uniwidth design, which means that that changing weights won’t reflow the text.

Finally, FF Hertz doesn’t get caught up in being functional. It looks confident rather than boring, it is proud to be from Berlin-Wedding, and it is obvious that its designer poured a lot of love into it. A quirky celebration of FF Hertz is its Twitter account, which is awesome and (I am sure) fully automated. Pure nerdiness, pure joy!

Those are all reasons why I have come to the conclusion that FF Hertz is one of the best typefaces of 2015 – I am sure you agree!

Frank Grießhammer studied Communication Design at HBKsaar in Saarbrücken, Germany and at ISIA Firenze, Italy. He received a master’s degree in typeface design from Type & Media at KABK Den Haag in 2010. After working for FontShop International in Berlin, he joined the Adobe Type Team in 2011.


  1. Robert Tong says:

    As a typeface intended for scientific publishing I think the biggest technical showstopper is the lack of a complete set of greek letters (e.g. phi, psi, etc. which are often used in physics) and mathematical symbols. With the availability of other already-mature typefaces for science like Minion or even the old Computer Modern Roman, it will be a long way to see it adopted for scientific publications.

  2. Frank Grießhammer says:

    Robert, I will forgive you for skimming the review. There are indeed typefaces specialized for setting scientific publications, Zapf’s Mergenthaler Antiqua among them.
    However, Hertz does not claim to be one of them.
    I can definitely see the possibility for expanding FF Hertz into a full-fledged tool for the needs of scientific publishing (possibly the name even suggest that), but I would leave that open for Jens Kutílek to decide.

  3. Robert, thank you for taking the time to comment. “Scientific” was indeed an attempt to describe the look and feel of FF Hertz.

    That said, I would love to see FF Hertz used in scientific publishing. It is however a broad subject and I think it’s nearly impossible for a general purpose commercial font to cover everything that might be needed.

    Where would I stop after Greek? Phonetic alphabets, mathematical operators, transliteration … it would bring the price up considerably to include this all in standard off-the-shelf fonts. But I can always add support for specific requirements on commission.

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