Coppers and Brasses’ humanist sans serif Agena Display thrives in its intentional imperfections
Montreal-based type foundry Coppers and Brasses’ Agena Display spent the first part of its life in the “rejected by client” custom typeface drawer; being slowly revived over a period of 18 months in which type designer and co-founder Étienne Aubert Bonn tweaked it to find the right look and feel. Designed to bridge the gap between the expressive humanist sans serifs of the 1960s and the formulaic geometric superfamilies of today, the huge 28-style family is intentionally imperfect – staying true to its humanist inspirations. “I always admired Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive (especially the Nord variant),” Bonn explains, “and I wanted to bring its quirkiness into a somewhat more modern package.”
“It sounds counterintuitive,” he continues, “but keeping imperfections in and integrating them well so that they all make sense together is actually much harder than making a perfect geometric sans.” The result is a typeface that prospers from its quirks, with exaggerations to the usual optical corrections seen in sans serif typefaces giving it a unique character at display sizes. The family manages to be versatile, cohesive and unusual at the same time; primarily down to its wide range of weights and widths that encourage mix-and-matching.
Agena’s personality comes to the forefront in its heavier weights, but that’s not to say it doesn’t also thrive in smaller, lighter uses. “We tried to showcase this in the Agena Launchpad project,” Bonn tells us – the typeface’s striking cosmic-themed specimen that was designed together with Montreal-based studio Caserne to highlight Agena’s Medium weight at a variety of scales.
“My dad worked in remote sensing, so I was introduced to satellites at a very young age,” Bonn explains,” adding that the name of the typeface was actually inspired by the ‘Agena’ target vehicles that were used to practice orbital rendezvous in his favourite space programme, Gemini. “Naming a typeface is always a bit tricky,” Bonn explains. “Not only are there tens of thousands out there using most of the names you can think of, but you also need a name that works well in most languages, uses interesting characters and is easy to remember.”
Undoubtedly and unapologetically a display typeface, Bonn concludes by letting us know that there is in fact a text version in the works, but he is unsure if it’ll ever be published. “It lives better in display… it has a bit more room to express itself.”