Mencken is a new Typofonderie typeface. Conceived in 2004-2005 for the Baltimore Sun redesign, it took twelve years to complete the expansions of this initial dozen styles family to this large family presented today. The new Mencken now has sixty-three styles, divided into three widths, three optical sizes, romans, italics, borders and dingbats. Generally, optical size typeface families belong to a same common construction. It falls into the same category of type classification, while presenting different x-heights or contrasts. Mencken is unique because it is designed according to different axis and optical sizes. Firstly, Mencken Text is a low-contrast transitional typeface, designed on an oblique axis, asserting horizontal with featuring open counters. Its capitals follow Didots to better harmonize the rest of the family. On the other side of the spectrum, Mencken Head (and narrow variations) is designed on a vertical axis, high contrast, in a contemporary Didot style.
From Baltimore Sun’s project to Typofonderie’s Mencken
It is a bespoke typeface for American newspaper The Baltimore Sun started at the end of 2004 which marks the beginning of this project. The story started with a simple email exchange with Lucie Lacava then in charge of redesigning the American East Coast newspaper. As usual, she was looking for new typeface options in order to distinguish the redesign that she had started. I then got back to her with some quick tests around the idea of a Compressed Caslon and Didot, because the daily used a kind of Century ultra-narrow and not very readable. After few weeks of work, the concept of the Mencken emerged little by little: The first variation is very compact but with a low contrast oblique axis, open, ultra-readable and suited to small text settings; a second variation adapted to the intermediate subhead sizes and a last set suited for headlines. It’s a compact design because the challenge was to be able to set more easily narrow columns of the daily for a better type color. Also to remain economical and thus to preserve the necessary space for a clearer structuration of the overall design of the pages. In a rather different design from the text version, the headline version is a kind of Didot strongly inspired by the so particular Ambroise finish on serifs. Of course the result is very different because Mencken is a contemporary large x-height style, featuring slightly triangular drops terminals, specific glyphs like y, in a design suitable for languages and using lots of y in their words… The headline version is designed on three widths enabling the daily Baltimore to rhythm the different sections and their specific thematics. For the variants of the family, Tom Grace who just arrived at Typofonderie, helped us with a fast collaborative work early 2005 in order to deliver in a short time.
At the time of its implementation, a survey of the newspaper’s readers has revealed that its previous typeface, drawn in the mid-1990s, was unsatisfactory. The Mencken was well received, some reader responses was particularly enjoyable: “It’s easier to read with the new type even though the type is designed by a French.”
Why it is called Mencken?
The name Mencken — proposed by Monty Cook, Baltimore Sun editor at the time — is a tribute to H. L. Mencken’s journalistic contributions to The Sun. According to the London Daily Mail, Mencken ventured beyond the typewriter into the world of typography. Because he felt Americans did not recognize irony when they read it, he proposed the creation of a special typeface to be called Ironics, with the text slanting in the opposite direction from italic types, to indicate the author’s humour. Affirming his irreverence, the Mencken typeface does not offer these typographic gadgets.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880 — 1956) was an American journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. Known as the “Sage of Baltimore”, he is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of the first half of the twentieth century. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. Source
The super-family concept re-investigated
The Mencken is therefore a typeface answering to different sorts of uses, whose design is different according to its uses: from oblique axis in small size to vertical axis in large sizes. Vertical proportions (x-height, capitals height, etc.) were designed to be compatible with Le Monde series. The difference with Le Monde remains on the Mencken’s small caps, drawn on an intermediate height between the lowercases x-height and capitals, in order to remain present for acronyms or to compose the first line of a paragraph or the words following a drop cap. Lucie Lacava and I followed the idea launched by Matthew Carter few years ago for some of his typefaces intended for publications.
The concept of super family is already old, imagined by Jan van Krimpen in the thirties, affirmed by Gerard Unger in the 70s, then by Sumner Stone in the late 90s. With Le Monde started in 1994, I naturally followed this idea which seemed wonderful: bringing tones of particular typographic style while remaining modular and compatible. But quickly I realized that drawing a family following a structurally similar design did not bring the required contrast when set side by side on a single line of text.
This desire to simplify the work of art directors, graphic artists in their needs of nuances, contrasts in their typographic system remains an important point. That’s why, when we’ve finalized Ardoise with Mathieu Réguer around 2010-2011, I did everything to make Ardoise compatible with Mencken, while they were structurally different. The goal is to keep some ideal of a super family, its practical aspect without the design’s standardization of the structure that rides out its nuances and stylistic differences. Ardoise therefore perfectly follows the vertical proportions of the Mencken: heights of capitals, tiny, small capitals and figures. But neither the style, nor the shapes’ structure, in order to keep some contrast when set in the same line of text. And as Mencken, Ardoise offers narrow variants for headlines which remains compatibles.
Dingbats and borders
For Ambroise in 2001, I took advantage of the different weights and widths in order to create ornaments and borders adapted to each of the family’s weights. Since then, it became a tradition as it is here the case for Mencken which borders are not only tailored to weights but also to contrasts. There are two sets in the Mencken: dingbats suitable for publications together with combinable dashes and lines.
Production and publication
Imagining, designing, producing, and then marketing a family requires a long-term investment. The Mencken’s extension starts slowly towards 2009. We start from a reduced character set of about 250 glyphs, of four masters for Romans, two masters for italics and also two masters for headlines variants. Over years, the project becomes clearer, and I reach to ten masters, 800 glyphs per masters. With a rounded finish, holding the design in its extensions proved to be tedious, and the various extensions attempts have been repeated several times. By 2014, however, the family foundations were established in a sustainable manner. Then Mathieu Réguer arrived on the project and took over some finalizations such as the Head Compress masters and final production with me.
The optimization of the optical variations started in 2016. Mathieu Réguer has set up mechanisms in order to change glyph shapes via Superpolator. It should be recalled that in this font family outlines are quite different because of the oblique axis – vertical axis with rounded-shaped finishes placed in the diagonals, and therefore at the boundaries of the grid of 1000 units of the OpenType PostScript fonts. When interpolating a complex shape, it requires many points such as rounded finishes, the 1000-unit grid positions then the BCPs on the grid and breaks outlines. With Benjamin Blaess, and Mathieu Réguer we therefore spend lots of time to make interpolation transitions being fluid. Subsequently, it is then the adjustment period for all weights, which according to the widths and contrast must perfectly fit together. Each change in a sixty-three weights family takes a considerable amount of time for production. We did not know in advance that Narrow family’s extrapolation would work. As, beyond design’s space generally established by masters, distortion risks are importants. We arrived there, not without numerous tedious optimisations of our sources.
Mencken: A typeface specimen designed by Claudia de Almeida
Lover of all things related to design, Claudia de Almeida left her home in the south of Brazil at age 18 to study design at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. After graduation, she worked for nearly 10 years as an award-winning designer and art director at titles including T:, the New York Times style magazine; The New York Times magazine; Blender; More; New York; Domino special editions; Gourmet special editions; and Men’s Health. In 2013, she headed west to serve as design director at Wired. Inspired by her instructors at SVA, Claudia went on to teach there; and she continues to educate designers-in-training through type classes at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is also the education co-chair for the San Francisco chapter of AIGA. In 2014, Claudia launched o Banquinho with the redesign of Real Simple magazine. Now she spends her time working on projects she loves; jetting between San Francisco, New York City, Seattle and anywhere great projects take her. At Typofonderie, we’re thrilled to see how she has designed a powerful, beautiful specimen of Mencken. This specimen will be sent for free to all customers of this typeface family.
A typeface is designed for a specific use. Here the daily newspaper of Baltimore’s columns, enables to affirm a style due to the technical and formal constraints defined during the design stage. Obviously, a typeface cannot be confined to a single use linked to its history. The role of the typeface designer is to produce a tool intended for users who know how to respect rules in order to break them and to create new things for new territories. Mencken is used in various dailies, magazines such as Variety since its last redesign by Chris Mihal in 2016. The latest one is use by the art directors Thibault Caizergues and Olivier Alexanian launched since few days ago for the end of presidential campaign of Emmanuel Macron.
Like every time, it’s an absolute surprise with uses I could no even imagine during the design process. My only recommendation for the future: Graphic designers, artistic directors, designers, designers, etc. please surprise me! I love that.
By Jean François Porchez, April 2017. All rights reserved.
Mencken: Availability of the new typeface family
Mencken is exclusively available at Typofonderie. This new typeface is presented in two subfamilies: Mencken and Mencken Head. The fonts include now more than 900 glyphs by font, extended languages support, 4 sets of figures, capitals, small caps, lowercases, superiors, ligatures, dingbats and borders, etc.
The new Mencken OpenType fonts are available in our STD, ePub versions and exclusive PRO version. Download the Mencken specimen in pdf format for full details of these Advanced typography functions. Download the Try-out versions!
→ € 45 – € 55 for any of Mencken styles STD or PRO
→ € 45 – € 55 for any of Mencken Head styles STD or PRO
→ € 119 – € 146 for the Mencken Family of 4 fonts STD or PRO
→ € 367 – € 448 for one of the Mencken Head Family of 14 fonts STD or PRO
→ € 719 – € 872 for the Mencken Head Full Family of 28 fonts STD or PRO
→ € 887 – € 1084 for the Mencken Full Family of 35 fonts STD or PRO
→ Download for free the Mencken Head Full Family of 28 fonts in Try-out format
→ Download for free the Mencken Full Family of 35 fonts in Try-out format