Nguyen Gobber has taken a 1960s design challenge and turned it into a typeface
Inspired by an exercise in Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual, the Hofmann typeface is built around a four-by-four dot grid.
- Olivia Hingley
- 11 December 2023
Behind every Nguyen Gobber typeface you can be sure to find a mountain of research. Last year we covered their “menacing” Lucifer typeface, which delved into the work of the early 20th century designer Robert Stöcklin. Their Hofmann typeface, however, deals more in the contemporary, and began after Hoang Nguyen and David Gobber dug into the teachings and manuals of Basel School of Design’s teachers practising in the 1950s and 60s.
The 1950s and 60s were a significant time for the Basel School of Design, as David explains that it was a period in which the institution became influential in the international design field. “The teachers in Basel like Emil Ruder, Armin Hofmann, Wolfgang Weingart, and others, shaped a distinct design approach and corresponding design education back in the day,” he says. “Their work is often referenced in design literature when the so-called Swiss style is mentioned.” It was when Hoang and David were themselves studying at the school that they felt compelled to explore the work of the teaching alumni further, and found themselves intrigued by a design exercise in Hofmann’s 1965 Graphic Design Manual.
The exercise was part of a teaching segment on dots aiming to “help the students visually explore the various kinds of shapes they could potentially draw with a dot grid”, Hoang says. Rather than being a task that would result in the concrete creation of glyphs, the lesson was more open, a means for exploration; though the pair couldn’t help but see the potential for a fully fledged typeface. This discovery then became the springboard for their newest project, which fittingly earnt the title Hofmann, in an effort to be “transparent” about its origins.
In the main, each of Hofmann’s glyphs are built around a four-by-four dot grid, with the only exceptions being slim characters or wider ones, like M and W. Unlike the original experiments from 1965 which were all hand drawn, Hoang and David wanted to make the typeface digital, so it could be used by fellow designers. And so, they revisited the method of geometrically constructing tangents between circles, a process they learnt at school. In process videos of glyph creation you can see the step-by-step process of circles being drawn, points being identified and the satisfying moment it translates into a recognisable letter.
Looking back over the process of creating Hofmann, Hoang and David are proud of creating something with such a strict formula with the same underlying dot grid and rules dictating each element. What’s more, in light of this rigidity, the fact the typeface still has a “playful and almost spontaneous-looking” feel is cause for celebration. Since Hofmann’s first release in 2020 and later expansion in 2022 it has been used in a variety of projects, from a design exhibition poster in Berlin, to Jaehoon Choi’s series of graphic greeting cards. Finally, there’s also something to be said for how successfully the duo have taken something rooted in mid 20th century Swiss design, and developed it into something contemporary, all the while celebrating the very person that made it possible.
Nguyen Gobber: Hofmann – Play (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.