Otherwhere Collective’s variable sans Highway VAR weds contemporary tech and analogue imperfection
Meet Highway VAR, a free typeface 80 years in the making from the minds of NYC-based design foundry Otherwhere Collective. It is a variable evolution of its primary point of inspiration – Ash Pikachu’s Highway Gothic, a much-loved sans serif which is itself a digitisation of the USA’s Standard Alphabets for Highway Signs.
Measured in inches, The Standard Alphabets for Highway Signs was created in the mid 20th century and was fundamentally analogue in its architecture; significantly pre-dating computerised construction and altered in scale across typographic applications via screen-printing and manual transfer. Despite many digital reinterpretations of the typeface, Otherwhere Collective were drawn to Ash Pikachu’s cut due to its imperfect aesthetic, and how these typographic blemishes are indicative of the original typeface's analogue flaws.
Using Highway Gothic as their starting point, Otherwhere Collective returned to The Standard Alphabets for Highway Signs to further their research, looking for ways in which they could modernise the typeface without losing the unconventional charm of the original. Highway VAR is a unique balance of the past and present; consisting of a variable master typeface, five original styles, four entirely new widths, a full set of obliques and 18 static styles.
“The type was originally hand-drawn and applied with analogue techniques so the human touch is evident,” Creative Director Andrew Bellamy explains, “and the natural inconsistencies give the font an inimitable soul,” he adds, discussing the obstacles overcome in Highway VAR’s design. “The biggest challenge was cleaning up the paths to make them compatible for interpolation,” Bellamy continues, “without taking away the characteristic imperfections that give the font its authenticity.” Crucially, the typeface maintains the “intangible je ne sais quoi” of its predecessor whilst resisting the urge to digitally perfect its architecture. Meeting in the middle to create something colourful, honest and earnest.