Roba fonts specimen

Typeface Review


Reviewed by Briar Levit on December 31, 2020

At first glance, Roba may appear to be a deco revival display face useful only on rare occasions. And indeed, Franziska Weitgruber has created two subfamilies that echo the geometry- and contrast-loving 1920s. But the families go much further by offering humanist details that help Roba avoid placement within any specific era.

While working on the typeface, Weitgruber reflected on a concept put forth by Eric Gill: “Letters are things, not pictures of things”. Roba, which can be translated as “things” in Italian, is a versatile word used in many different ways, according to Weitgruber. And to her mind, this made plenty of sense for a face that would find itself in so many different situations.

The two subfamilies — one high-contrast, one low — each come with six weights (Extra Light to Black). Speaking from my own experience, the ability to pair the low- with the high-contrast weight (a title and subtitle) was a lifesaver!

While the face is gorgeous in caps, its lowercase offers nuance. The characters in bold weights, for instance, taper at the intersections of strokes and terminals, eschewing any perfect geometry. Again, in the bold weights, the tittle and diacritics like the umlaut sit long, slim, and flat. Short ascenders and descenders allow for tightly set blocks of text echoing another era (one that loved to reference the ’20s): the 1970s. But again, I wouldn’t place Roba alongside any particular revival of that era, either.

The bottom line for me as a graphic designer (not a typeface designer) is that I can’t wait to use this typeface again — and again! Weitgruber’s portfolio of faces shows a designer who is both respectful of her discipline’s history and looking forward to its future.

First issued on Future Fonts in 2019 and still under development, Roba’s price rises with each major release. It’s now available with all subfamilies and styles for $95, and Weitgruber’s most recent update promises Thin and Medium styles to complete the families. Get Roba before the price goes up again!

Briar Levit is an associate professor of graphic design at Portland State University with a research focus on graphic design history. She is codirector of The People’s Graphic Design Archive, a crowdsourced digital archive focusing on expanding the graphic design canon. Her forthcoming book, Baseline Shift: Untold Stories of Women in Graphic Design History, is a collection of essays by design scholars from around the world.

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