Typeface Review


Reviewed by Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens on March 13, 2013

Today’s large font families allow graphic designers to easily create variation — using different weights, widths, or italics — while retaining stylistic consistency. Kunihiko Okano, who is also an experienced package designer, chose an unusual way of creating a useful palette of fonts.

How do you achieve typographic diversity in display use? The layered approach of Quintet gives the designer a toolbox that allows exploration of different shades within the same underlying model. Different weights are implemented in an unconventional way: instead of varying the main strokes, Quintet varies the weight of the outline. And this contour itself is maybe the most remarkable feature of the font: it is in fact broadnib-based double stroke drawn as a single, connected line. This technique itself has been practised by calligraphers for centuries, albeit in ornaments and illustrations, not the letterforms themselves. This way, Quintet gives us the pleasure to enjoy it not only once at first sight but again as we discover its clever loops and connections.

You could think of so many design possibilities with Quintet, as well as applications. It could be perfect for chocolate packaging or cosmetics — perhaps each layer printed in a different colour, or maybe one layer embossed, or even better foil blocked? It is not often in student projects that one could instantly see applications of the font so clearly.

Quintet was originally developed at the type]media type design course in The Hague. If we remember correctly, the first two of the unofficial rules of the program are “Make it extreme” and “Enough is enough”, and Quintet is a perfect example of this. It is remarkable in that it implements so many concepts without looking like a mash-up. Despite its richness, the typeface looks strangely simple and systematic. It must have taken a lot of self-discipline, trying and discarding of options. Hats off!

Shoko Mugikura is a typographer and graphic designer currently based in Berlin. Since spring 2010, she has been jointly running the type design studio Just Another Foundry with Tim Ahrens, while she continues to work on her own projects.

Tim Ahrens is a type designer and architect based in Berlin. He runs Just Another Foundry with Shoko Mugikura. His JAF Lapture and JAF Mashine typefaces received honorable mentions on Typographica’s list in 2005 and his JAF Bernini Sans was selected for the 2012 list. Tim has a degree in architecture from the University of Karlsruhe (Germany), and holds an MA in Typeface Design from the University of Reading (UK).


  1. It’s been over a year since I saw Quintet on the KABK class of 2011 site and I am still amazed by it. It was a monumental achievement to produce an original script that has a double-stroke appearance while still using a single stroke. And watching the letters connect is mesmerizing.

  2. Hrant says:

    This is difficult to write. The terminology isn’t very accessible, and most of all I don’t want to come off as too antagonistic. But I feel that I have a duty. It might be a grim, thankless duty, but it’s my duty.

    Quintet is possibly the best thing to come out of KABK. People familiar with my beliefs will suspect that’s a loaded compliment. Well, I can’t deny it. But Quintet is still a very positive, hopeful development. Why? Because to me Quintet is not “in fact broadnib-based double stroke drawn as a single, connected line”. Instead I see it as a fundamental deviation from the Noordzij “moving front”; once you class the outlines above the letterform bodies it doesn’t matter what you’re pretending to look like, ideologically the link to the moving front has been broken. And it’s liberating; one can’t help but envy Okano.

    What’s tantalizing to consider is: where can this freedom lead to? What would a text font where the outlines (not the bodies) are made calligraphically look like? Clearly nothing like fonts where the bodies are made calligraphically (which I refer to as “painting”). And certainly more important than how they would look is how they would work.

    Of course, as Goudy would have reminded us there are always precedents, even at KABK itself. In fact I once toyed with such ideas myself. But for a student to mark this level of original progress, and a type of progress that I feel goes way beyond his curriculum is extremely impressive.

    Maybe Okano himself would strongly disagree with my analysis — I might be guilty of the same sort of thing that people who look at Legato and see the broad-nib pen are guilty of — but when you are too close to something, it’s hard to see it clearly. Dwiggins was a genius, but even he didn’t realize his M-Formula was essentially anti-calligraphic. Quintet is genial, but quite possibly not in the way — or at least not only in the way — its home crowd likes to believe.

  3. Manuel says:

    Reading this review brings back good memories. Originally, Quintet was drawn to answer TypeRadio’s question on how one can possibly translate type into sound and sound back into type. So Kunihiko redrew DTL Documenta without knowing it. Seeing them next to each other is so refreshing.

  4. Hrant says:

    A recent typeface release that’s conceptually related: Kelso.

  5. Also Quanten, also released this year.

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