Stereotype: The Future of Type Design—Kai Bernau & Nikola Djurek

When we think about contemporary type designers there is a tendency to forget that we are now into the third decade of the digital revolution and that the once-young pioneers of the genre—Robert Slimbach, Zuzana Licko, Jonathan Hoefler, Jean-François Porchez, Tobias Frere-Jones, Martin Majoor, et al—are now mature, well-established figures with thriving (we hope) businesses and a raft of fonts under their belts. So, who will shape the future of type design? Here are two accomplished young designers whose typefaces could become an enduring part of the typographic repertoire. Their names may be lesser known—especially in the U.S.—but their work is already widespread and we expect much more to come.

Both Kai Bernau (b. 1978, Germany) and Nikola Djurek (b. 1976, Croatia) studied type design at the famed Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (KABK) in The Hague. A year after graduating from the Type and Media master course in 2004, Djurek established Typonine, a design studio and font foundry. He has designed fonts not only for Typonine (most notably Marlene, Tempera Biblio, and Typonine Stencil) but for OurType (Amalia) and Typotheque. At Typotheque he worked with Peter Bil’ak on Fedra Serif Display (2007), Greta Display (2007), Greta Grande Narrow (2008) and other fonts. On his own he designed Brioni (2008), Brioni Text (2008) and Brioni Sans (2010), his most mature designs to date.

Bernau attended KABK as both an undergraduate and a graduate. In 2006 he set up Atelier Carvalho Bernau with his wife Susana Carvalho. Bernau is best known for the fonts he has done for B&P Type Foundry (Neutral BP), House Industries (Neutraface Slab) and Commercial Type (Lyon). Neutral, his undergraduate thesis project, inspired by an exploration of supposedly “neutral” typefaces such as Helvetica and Univers, was a well-chronicled attempt to achieve an impartial typeface. Lyon (2005–2010), also begun as a student project, is his best design so far, a typeface that looks like an instant classic.

Djurek seems to like designing typefaces that hover between established classifications. Marlene, released in 2008, is neither an egyptian nor a humanist slab serif. Similarly, Brioni occupies a space between an oldstyle and a slab serif. It has a combination of slab serifs and, at the top of lowercase stems, thick, slightly angled serifs. The combination is reminiscent of display sizes of Caslon or, given its low stroke contrast, W.A. Dwiggins’ Hingham. Brioni is decidedly on the narrow side with a tall x-height, in keeping with the centuries-old goût hollandois, though the capitals are shorter than the ascenders, a humanist trait. The forms are generally oldstyle which provides some personality to the font, while remaining quiet. It is sturdy—even the light weight is substantial—yet economical. Brioni’s italic has more calligraphic flow than similar designs, most notably in the thinner branching strokes on a et al and the thickly swooping tail of y (shades of Photina!). Brioni Sans is more than a direct translation of Brioni. Some characters (the italic f and y) are different in form. But it does retain the same heavier-than-normal weights as the serif version. Brioni Sans is a pleasant design, though not as distinct as its namesake.

Bernau also does book design and the evolution of Lyon from student project to full family over the course of five years reflects lessons learned working with text type. “Designing type, you not only develop a keen eye for rhythm, harmony, and contrast (which then you can easily transfer to other design tasks), but also a very deep understanding of how to use type, Bernau told Wallpaper.

A comparison between the early Lyon and the commercially released version is instructive. The typeface is based on the work of Robert Granjon, the celebrated 16th century French punchcutter, and thus the first version had an italic replete with ligatures, including an odd double p. The final design has none of that. In fact, Lyon is notable for the paucity of its alternate characters in this age of Open-Type excess. The roman has only seven while the italic has seven plus 12 swash caps—and neither have any extraneous ligatures. Although they are both based on the work of Granjon, Lyon is very different from ITC Galliard by Matthew Carter. Whereas Galliard is sparkling in the roman and aggressive in the italic, Lyon is quieter in the roman and warmly lively in the italic. This is partly because the designers worked from different types by Granjon, from different stages of his career—Carter from the 1570 Gros-parangon roman and the 1571 Gros-parangon italic in Granjon’s late (baroque) phase, Bernau from an unspecified roman and the 1564 Gros-canon italic in Granjon’s middle phase. Lyon has already proven itself successful—it was debuted in the pages of The New York Times Magazine in 2009 and used in the recent Roger Excoffon and José Mendoza y Almeida monographs. The quietness of its roman is perfect for those who follow the Crystal Goblet model of typography, while its italic provides a sprinkling of pizzazz.

Lyon and Brioni are both of an enduring quality as we hope will be the careers of their creators, Bernau and Djurek.

Print 65:3 (June 2011) p. 50; Stephen Coles’ companion profiles of Tomás Brousil and Alexandra Korolkova are on p. 51.