How similar do font family resemblances need to be? Character Type on its NewsSerif typeface

Henning Skibbe discusses the creative thinking behind Character Type’s latest release NewsSerif, a typeface completing a toolbox for editorial typographic challenges.

12 February 2021


Based in Hamburg, Character Type is the type foundry behind a plethora of retail and custom typefaces including Haptic Script, NewsSans, MedienUnion and most recently, NewsSerif. Founded by Henning Skibbe in 2018, the studio works with small and international brands to create a unique and personal typographic expression. “The typefaces we create aim to have character,” he tells us. "It’s always about flavour. Not being bland is our mission and our name.”

Having studied graphic design in the early 2000s at the University of Applied Science in Potsdam, it was here that Henning first became captivated by type design and spent much of his time delving into the medium under the tutelage of Professor Lucas de Groot. For his Master’s thesis, he created Haptic, one of the typefaces now released under Character Type, which was later awarded a Type Director’s Club 2 Award in 2008. It was the first typeface that Henning created, helping him to understand the attention to detail and amount of work that goes into releasing a type family on the market. That being said, it was also the first glimpse of what he wanted to do to make a living: a type designer.

In between graduation and establishing Character Type, Henning cut his teeth working as a designer and creative director in various design agencies. There, he finessed his wider design knowledge, working on predominantly editorial and corporate design while around a fifth of the work was type design. This period of time was invaluable, as Henning learnt how brands communicate with each other and the important role that a typeface plays in this communication. In these years, he led the redesign of Norwegian newspapers Morgenbladet and Dagens Næringsli as well as Germany’s largest online marketplace Otto.

Across these years, Henning familiarised himself with the ins and outs of the editorial spectrum, observing typography’s relationship with a wider layout or visual system. Throughout it all however, type design remained at the heart of his focus. Henning and his team were lucky enough to embark on some major projects, amongst them the redesign of the central typefaces for the German daily paper Süddeutsche Zeitung as well as the Median Union. Two firms that remain clients of Character Type to this day.

GalleryCharacter Type: NewsSerif (Copyright © Character Type, 2020)

So when Henning was presented with the opportunity to start his own venture in type design, he leapt at the chance and Character Type was borne. Its latest release is NewsSerif, a sister to NewsSans and, together, the two designs culminate in a complete toolbox for every editorial and typographic challenge; analogue or digital. The latest product in an extensive line of commercial and custom typefaces, NewsSerif’s style evolves through its subfamilies, gradually becoming more expressive and excessive as it crescendos into the Large and Huge families.

The type foundry is known for its creation of extended type families. While Haptic Script is formed of a whopping 90 styles, NewSans has five widths across nine weights, and NewsSerif has 20 styles for different sizes from the minuscule to the huge. “Our intent is to create tools for exceptional typography,” Henning adds on Character Type’s technical ethos. “And one of the central aspects of typography is contrast.” Acknowledging the breadth of results which type needs to consistently work across, Character Type fully knows how its releases can be used. So whatever type application the user is in need of, Character Type can offer it.

It took Henning around 14 months (with a few breaks in between) to develop the classic text serif family. First off, he started working on the text version of the typeface, experimenting with how much stroke contrast was suitable using only the basic alphabet. Then, it was time to consider the curves. As NewsSerif and NewsSans are closely related but not twins, Henning took the time to contemplate what a type family really entails; how similar or different do font family resemblances need to be?

GalleryCharacter Type: NewsSerif (Copyright © Character Type, 2020)

The type designer doesn’t necessarily prescribe to the idea that type family is a superimposed biological concept. He notes that, in the industry, the common phrase ‘the DNA of a typeface’ – an idiom used to quickly explain the narrative of a design – in fact creates “a more narrow mindset as to how typeface families are conceptualised and drawn.” Henning adds: “there should be no rules or laws” when it comes to type design, “no well trodden path.” In this sense, the designer creates his own meaning and function for his type families.

This is not the only interpretation when it came to the creation of NewsSerif. Additionally, Henning bundled all Roman styles from the text with italics from NewsSans. “While this may appear to be an unusual pairing, it makes a perfect match,” he adds on the matter. Historically, italics have a different construction to their Roman counterparts as the emphasis is placed in different parts of the structure. So for Henning to combine sans serif italics with a serifed Roman is unconventional, to say the least. That being said, it works unexpectedly well, providing NewsSerif with a contemporary edge and setting itself apart from its editorial competitors.

It’s been a mighty amount of work, readying the NewsSerif and NewsSans type families for public release. But now it’s done, it leaves Henning and his team with a gaping space to embark on their next (and very exciting) new projects. At the moment, they are finishing a Neo-Grotesk sans family which is currently undergoing its ultra heavy weight adaptation. Set to be released in March or April, Character Type are also completing work for its long term client Süddeutsche Zeitung, all the while continuing its explorations into how to creatively challenge its next typeface families.

GalleryCharacter Type: NewsSerif (Copyright © Character Type, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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