Reduction in letterform has always been an appealing type-design idea. Trying to find the magical point that removes enough to create something new, but not so much that the vitality of the original is lost and the form becomes lifeless, is a subtle art. At its most successful, it resonates with both type and graphic designers, striking a balance between the now and the familiar. Less effective designs can feel like exercises in type design for type designers.
Over the past decade, the Portuguese designer Rui Abreu has successfully explored reduction in his designs Gliko Modern and Grifo (chosen by Fred Smeijers as a favorite typeface of 2016). Both have echoes of the past without it becoming overwhelming. Although different in style and detail, they seem to share a commonality: similar proportions, contrast, and a confidence most emphatic in the heavier weights. Some reduction can create an arid feel, but Abreu’s work always seems to retain enough warmth to remain engaging and lively.
Flecha, Abreu’s latest release, is perhaps also his most radical, described by the designer as a “sharp and streamlined old-style typeface made for editorial design”. Its qualities are most visible in its largest sizes, where the details are emphasized.
Where one might expect to find long, elegant, tapered serifs, instead one finds memories of them — serifs reduced to short, sharp, stubby, triangular forms. The design at its most successful is a blend of this brutality and the retained softness in its curves. Dots are square and terminals have an internal flatness and angularity, yet on the outside are curved. Take the lower case a, for example. Overall, the letter has the familiarity of weight where one would expect it, yet the tail is curved on the outside and flat on the top. As the stroke tapers at the top in an expected fashion, it ends with a sharp angle and straightness. Throughout the design this balance is repeated: a point found between the new and the old, a sweet spot that combines a humanity and the rationality of minimalism.
Abreu, it seems to me, has made a design that other type designers can admire (perhaps a little jealously), but it is not merely a theoretical exercise. It is elegant without being overbearingly so, and it’s a design that I hope finds success. Although the face has the proportions and contrast that will delight editorial designers looking for something original (one can already see it in use in the relaunch of Max magazine), that certainly should not deter it from having wider appeal.