Time for type: Camelot on designing a typeface fit for a watch
Earlier this week we introduced the It’s Nice That watch created in partnership with Timex. The final product considers the tone, values and historical context of the watch makers and ourselves, in a typographically-led design which sports a positive pledge for the wearer: Nice Time Guaranteed.
From its initial stages, the project’s aim has been to encapsulate both the typographic styles shown on previous Timex watches and the hand rendered tendencies of It’s Nice That’s in-house design approach. To find a middle ground between the two companies, It’s Nice That art director Ali Hanson has worked closely with Leipzig-based foundry Camelot, creating a custom made font to bind together both Timex and It’s Nice That’s graphic differences and similarities.
A logical brief such as this is one Camelot thrive working within. “Most of our design ideas for typefaces come from a design task,” Wolfgang Schwärzler from the foundry explains. “We like to design customised fonts for projects with specific needs. The request to design a typeface for a watch face was in this regard a task as we like it.”
A methodical approach kickstarted the project as the type foundry delved into the history of Timex, presenting research back to the design team at It’s Nice That. This initial analysis began by looking into the chosen model to work with, the MK-1 Resin. Chosen as one of the most affordable and wearable Timex products, Camelot first looked at “the time and circumstances of the watch,” Katharina Köhler from Camelot explains. Originally designed as a lightweight and disposable watch for American soldiers in the 1980s, what caught the attention of the foundry “was the loud and interesting typography that was applied to sell products starting in the heyday of American advertising”.
Further research allowed the foundry to discover “wonderful specimens of numbers,” says Katharina. In turn, the strength of Timex’s former numerical designs “presented us with some unusual design decisions,” the designer explains. Although the watch’s initial design idea was to centre around the “Nice Time Guaranteed” pledge, “we saw for our concept the most potential in design of the numbers,” she explains.
Consequently, the numbers became the larger typographic element of the watch, scaling down the size of It’s Nice That’s pledge to fit within the centre. But, when working to a small scale like a watch face, certain font considerations needed to be examined. Within the saying “Nice Time Guaranteed” Camelot explains there are “multiple ascenders and descenders,” and to enable optimum legibility it “quickly became clear that the design should work with uppercase letters only,” says Maurice Göldner, another designer at Camelot. “The uppercase letters can build a strong connected line within the limited space of the watch face,” in comparison to lowercase letters that would have needed additional space.
To maximise the clarity of the typeface on the watch, Camelot then elongated the characters in bold, “to make this effect even stronger,” says Maurice. “This circumstance was fitting with the concept of establishing a character of playfulness with human tone as well.”
This design decision helped Camelot harmonise the tone of It’s Nice That and Timex. As the original Timex lettering was built of “simple geometric shapes,” the foundry used it as a framework to build “a lively and distinct character,” in details as delicate as the extended flick of the number one on the watch face. “It was a great joy to almost cartoonize the numbering so that each number became an individual by itself,” Katharina explains. “Since the typeface is used for the watch face and the packaging in a small size display, we were free to play with glyphs rather than pay attention to the particular needs in legibility of text faces. Our approach therefore was to dive into the freedom of vernacular typography.”
Although Camelot’s research into Timex’s historical use of typography sparked ideas, it also highlighted the possible problems that could develop when designing a product as small as a watch. The decision to design an extended typeface meant that the foundry had trouble finding “a balance between single and double numbers,” says Katharina. “This is something we found in our researched watch faces as well.” To tackle this, the 10, 11 and 12 featured on the watch face have been specially altered, and therefore do not appear noticeably wider than singular numbers.
In order to finesse the alignment of the numbers and the positive pledge which features in the centre of the watch, It’s Nice That and Camelot worked together trying numerous layouts “in a continuous back and forth,” explains Wolfgang. After trialling “a gradient by fading out the weight of the glyphs,” testing the “Nice Time Guaranteed” phrase in an inferior size to the numbering and then the other way round, as well as black type on a white background and vice versa, the teams decided “it was most elegant to stick to the reference of the MK-1 as much as possible, including the idea to work with fluorescent colours”.
This introduction of colour as a concept led to the idea of featuring a roundel sun shape on the watch, a visual representation of time passing. “This element is meant to pick up on the position of the hands for hours and seconds, but also of course to bring something irregular and sunny into the design,” says Camelot. Once this shape was added, It’s Nice That’s positive pledge also fell into place, “finding itself in the more expected position referring also in size and position to its origin of a ‘lifetime guarantee’”.
Now that the watch has gone through its production process and is an actual wearable product, Camelot explains it is “super happy on how the cooperation and the final product has turned out,” says Wolfgang, Katharina and Maurice. “It was a fun team and hopefully the watch will be perceived as that as well.” Concluding that all in all, the watch — despite its meticulous redesign — “follows perfectly into the steps of its predecessor the MK-1 as an affordable product with a claim of mass appeal due to its sophisticated design”.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.