Dinamo’s Johannes Breyer on the process behind innovative sans to serif superfamily ABC Arizona
The result of an intense, three-year collaboration between its creator Elias Hanzer and Swiss type design agency Dinamo, ABC Arizona is the first-ever sans to serif superfamily that packages its five styles – Sans, Flare, Mix, Text and Serif – into one single variable font file. To learn more about the process of bringing such an ambitious project to life, we caught up with Dinamo’s Co-founder Johannes Breyer.
EM How did the team come together to release Arizona via Dinamo?
JB I first met Elias when he was participating in a type design class at UdK that I was teaching. He interned with us in Berlin right afterwards and ever since, he’s been a close friend and collaborator. While Elias was setting up his own practice with Lucas Liccini – Hanzer Liccini – he began Arizona and we started talking about releasing it with Dinamo. We’d been playing with Variable Fonts in the studio for a while and were spending a lot of time trying to find fantasy axis: with Whyte, for example, we were experimenting with the concept of an ink trap axis. Elias was wondering what axis he could introduce that hadn’t been explored before, and he came up with the idea of a sans to serif axis. He wanted to blend the notion of a superfamily – a family of different genres housed together under one roof – with new variable technology, so that everything was packaged into one file. We all thought it was almost impossible, but worth trying.
We all thought it was almost impossible, but worth trying.
EM Designing such a complex family must have required a lot of brainpower – what was each party’s role during its creation?
JB We set up a studio structure where Elias would sometimes work on his own things and at other times support our projects. At some point in the Arizona journey, we began meeting one day a week so that the whole team could provide him with feedback. The font is entirely and absolutely Elias’s work, but you can also see the collective brainpower that went into pulling it off with Rob, myself, Fabian, and Renan all adding our thoughts into the mix. It was nice to see how sometimes one small comment from one of us during a feedback session would inspire Elias to make a big turn: he’d suddenly come back having, say, redrawn the entire serif. We often work in this way, with a lot of eyes judging a work together.
EM How much did Arizona change throughout its three-year development process, and what challenges did you face along the way?
JB Arizona definitely shifted over time. From a technical perspective, all the characters need to be interpolable, and that was a challenge. It means that each character has to be able to morph into another one, and that’s achieved by constructing the letters in a certain way. Some characters are really difficult: With an ‘o’ it’s easy, but with a ‘G,’ the challenge is making it technically possible to slide across different axis while also ensuring each step looks beautiful.
EM From a technical perspective, how does such a broad family of styles go from idea to design to living, breathing variable typeface?
JB Through a lot of trial and error and testing in our Gauntlet. The Dinamo Font Gauntlet is our public and free tool for proofing, generating, and animating fonts. We’re basically living in a new reality in that when you work on Variable Fonts, you have to test them in a variable scenario. So to create this living, breathing font, Elias spent many hours throwing his designs into the Gauntlet, choosing a parameter within the axis – say 25% serif, 75% sans – and then asking himself, does that look satisfying, does it animate smoothly? Each time, it’s like a discovery. You’re continually finding new and unexpected results within your own parameters.
EM What is the advantage to a user of having so many possibilities within one family, instead of just choosing two or three complementary typefaces for a project?
JB On the one hand, it’s an exciting type experiment. And on the other, people can design an entire magazine or even a library with just the one font. There’s a beauty to that. Economically, in terms of file size and management, Arizona is also just the one file, so you don’t have to open and install six different font families. Also, if you’re thinking about combining different genres – let’s say for a magazine or an identity – if you combine different fonts by different people, sometimes they have different metrics. But with Arizona, it’s all the same. It’s immediately harmonious.
EM Do you have any favourite examples of Arizona in use so far?
JB Arizona’s debut was as the only typeface used in the identity for font design software Glyphs, which is absolutely a perfect home for it. We also loved seeing it appear across the new Fashion Research Library platform, which was founded by Elise By Olsen with graphic design by Morteza Vaseghi and Eric Hu. We recently used Arizona as the base for our custom font for the San Francisco Symphony identity designed by Collins, which is a project close to our hearts. For it, we created a dynamic version of Arizona that responds to sound and can be used to generate moving posters. And now we’re excited to see how other people will use the font. Will they pick one darling style, falling in love with just the serif? Or will they create an identity mixing two, or three, or four styles together? We have no clue, and that’s part of what makes it so interesting for us. We’ve actually just built a special page on our website to demonstrate Arizona’s many possibilities, and we hope that’ll help people dream up new directions for the font. We’re curious to see how it’ll live and grow!