“Intentionally a failure”: PFA’s new typeface looks like it’s been drawn with a pen held between someone’s toes
We talk to the graphic designer behind PFA about two very different typefaces, one which emulates handwriting, the other mimicking type-written game console fonts.
- Elfie Thomas
- 25 May 2022
“Imperfection and disproportion” are the guiding principles for PFA’s new typeface Pardon, Martin Aleith tells It’s Nice That. The name is paradoxical, he adds, because “Pardon would never be sorry, it would like to be taken as it is”. It is a single weight, handwritten font, which was carefully crafted to give the impression that “someone is writing while holding the pen with their toes”. To emulate the variety and spontaneity of real handwritten words, each uppercase and lowercase letter has four different alternates which means for every four letter word there could be 256 different ways to display it. Sound a little overwhelming? Never fear, PFA has invented the Pardon-4x4-Generator. When you type in a word it will randomly generate a selection of letters so you can explore all the quirky possibilities of the typeface of with ease.
PFA typefaces is a branch of Berlin-based PFA Studios collective, with Martin working solo on the graphic design side and developing all the typefaces with a programmer. This meant that producing such an extensive range of lettering for the typeface involved a lot of hard work. But it was also a hilarious and fun-filled creative process, Martin tells us: “I have never laughed so much at any other typeface developing progress.”
He used a mouse instead of a pen on Illustrator to draw the letters and encouraged experimentation at every step of the process, making an average of 50 iterations for each character, “some characters were even drawn mirrored or upside down”. He also designed a huge selection of numbers, arrows, icons and special characters which he fondly refers to as “freaks”. He describes the finished typeface as “intentionally a failure – it is multipersonal, nonconformist, original and eccentric”.
The KyotoTW typeface was one of the first projects to come out of PFA typefaces, founded just two years ago. It provides the ultimate contrast to the spontaneity of Pardon. Kyoto TW mimics the appearance of machine-produced type-written letters with particular reference to early game console fonts. It recalls the style of font used by a video game company headquartered in Kyoto (Japan), Martin tells us. But instead of studying examples for the company closely, he decided to emulate it through his memories of the font, adding: “I didn't want to imitate anything typical. I wanted to develop all glyphs without visual influence.”
A far cry from the scribbles and scratches which make Pardon look so human, KyotoTW is a typical monospaced typeface that “requires all its glyphs to have identical character widths,” says Martin. “It insists on rigid spacing.” This meant that kerning was unnecessary during the creative process, leaving him more time to approach the challenge of creating recognisable letters within a very specific space and style. He also focused his attention on adding character to the mechanical forms. For example, he points out how the use of vertical stems with different widths imitate the imperfection of typewritten letters, “like an accumulation of ink on paper”.
Thus KyotoTW is both formulaic yet imperfect, beautifully evoking the fonts used in outdated tech like typewriters and old game consoles. “It’s a reminiscence to all the typefaces that were born with the machines and died with them,” Martin concludes.
Martin Aleith: Pardon 4x4 (Copyright © PFA Typefaces, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.