Old ideas and fresh takes: TypeMates’ Ottessa is an eclectic combination of typographic history
“Several visual ideas aided Ottessa’s final form,” Berlin-based designer Philipp Neumeyer tells us, discussing the inspiration behind his sans serif typeface release with German foundry TypeMates. “The open, abruptly curved apertures are a nod to Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive,” he explains, carrying the source’s horizontal and vertical weight distribution without its top-heavy structure – opting for a monolinear design instead – to avoid the resulting optical horizontal prevalence.
“Furthermore the spiky triangular forms of the light extreme are a reference to early geometric sans serifs,” Neumeyer details, referring to the likes of Kabel and Futura as typographic resources. “The curve-stem connection of the lowercase of all the upright weights are inspired by late-90s/early-2000s puristic dutch sans serifs,” an influence shared with Ottessa’s italics cuts, he continues, with the typeface’s heavier weights taking a more experimental form. “The non-linear interpolation – which is a fancy phrase for; the heaviest weight is different,” Neumeyer explains, “only came into being from liking what it did to that particular weight, but not to all the weights in between,” handling the in-between weights as if the heaviest shared the same construction as lightest cut.
As a result of Neumeyer’s meticulous craftsmanship, Ottessa is prolific in its variety, available in 10 distinct styles – each containing five weights and corresponding italics – shaped with an undeniably humanistic quality. “While the shenanigans are happening in the extremes,” such as the overtly spikey triangular forms of the heavy weights, Neumeyer suggests, “the less constructed and more tranquil middleweights are the sturdy middle ground,” where its friendly, organic tones shine through.
“What makes Ottessa interesting is this exciting mix of all kinds of different ideas,” Neumeyer notes, reminding us of his initial description of Ottessa as ‘a hybrid of euphoria and misinterpretation,’ whereby its contrasting and curated collection of influences combine to create the distinctive eclectic workhorse we see today.
“Ottessa plays with old ideas, new interpretations and bold takes,” he continues, balancing the playful hodge-podge of typographic references to form something striking, friendly, functional and familiar. “Among other features,” Neumeyer lists, including the typeface’s French apertures, Dutch construction and German triangular forms, “Ottessa also features a useful range of weights, figure sets, and a strong language support for Latin and Cyrillic,” he notes, “in addition to all of its intriguing visual horseplay.” Neumeyer adds, “in my mind, all of this makes Ottessa characteristic, or even peculiar and – or maybe; but also – useful.”
Looking back on the timeline of Ottessa’s creation, the exact timeline is quite unclear to its designer. “The very first version of Ottessa started off back in 2014 with the same extreme weights and pretty much most of its proportions,” Neumeyer recalls, changing most other features over the years and multiple iterations of the typeface. “I kept putting it away, because it just didn’t find the voice I wanted it to have… until it did in 2021,” Neumeyer concludes, “the newly added very dynamic italic helped immensely in finding confidence in its design,” culminating in the approachable, utilitarian family that defines Ottessa.