type spotlight: ff avance

While new typefaces appear with ever-increasing frequency, few are truly novel. I consider Evert Bloemsma’s FF Avance to be a pathbreaking typeface, due in large part to the asymmetrical placement of the serifs, and I find his theory and motivation behind it – as described on the FontFont site – to be most compelling.

I recently asked Mr Bloemsma a few questions about Avance and about his approach to type design via email. My questions, and his answers to them, follow:

JC: The information piece about Avance on the FontFont site is unique in that it presents a mini-theory of (serifed) type design. But what was your primary goal with Avance? To investigate the possibilities of a new serifed roman? Or more generally, to produce a distinctive text face?

EB: My primary goal was to design a typeface suited for long texts, containing small details like serifs for the eye to hold, and with a fine/detailed visual appearance as serifed type usually has. This is what I wrote about it: “First I hesitated drawing serifs. The serif has many purposes and possible origins, and it took some months before I felt ready to handle this item. The serif may carry a burden of outdated conventions, so applying serifs is risky when trying to avoid the swamp of traditions. An expression of static monumentality and ornament/decoration should be avoided in contemporary type design.”

JC: Gerrit Noordzij writes “There is no essential difference between typography and handwriting.” Fred Smeijers, on the other hand, states: ”Writing, lettering, and typography have in fact very little in common with each other, except that all three processes use the signs that we call letters.” Do you see Avance as an abstraction of an unusually written face, or as more of a drawn face, relatively unconnected with handwriting?

EB: I see it as relatively unconnected with handwriting. The shape and direction of the serifs goes beyond the actual origin of handwriting.

JC: There are some similarities between Avance and your earlier sans-serif face, Balance; for example, the ratio of cap height to x-height, the unique form of the roman s, which seems wider at the top than at the bottom, and the relatively large aperatures. Was Avance in any sense intended to serve as a serifed companion to Balance?

EB: No, this must be due to my “personal style”. The roman s of FF Avance is not really wider at the top as it is with Balance; it may look like it but that is just because our perception is very conditioned by conventions.

JC: Under whom did you train in type design, and where?

EB: Jan Vermeulen taught us some writing with the broad nib and Alexander Verberne inspired me although I did not participate in his lessons. All together I discovered most aspects of type design myself. I studied the Art Academy in Arnhem, The Netherlands, from 1976 to 1981.

JC: What tools do you use in type design?

EB: Fontographer.

JC: What are you working on now?

EB: Several special assignments concerning type design and one new idea for a display typeface; it looks quite commercial I must say; something I did not expect.

JC: What is your ideal project?

EB: To establish a whole new contemporary typographical expression leaving all conventions behind but still self-evident and “natural”; a freedom like the modernist architects created/discovered in the early 1900s.

On a related point, Bloemsma also has this to say: “Desktop publishing (DTP) has lifted type to the meta-level of digital media. Type is now cut off from its physical origins, the roots that determined its shapes: handwriting and letterpress. The return of features like ligatures and ‘old-style’ figures, the revival of monospaced fonts, and the use of ‘rough’ types like Interstate and Bell Gothic for text demonstrate our emotional desire for tradition, rooted in limitations and a certain characteristic imperfection. Paradoxically, DTP intended to liberate us from all this. These contradictions present a dilemma in which contemporary type design has to find its way.”

FF Avance is available in two weights (regular and bold), and comes equipped with small caps and both text and lining figures. Bloemsma has also designed the aforementioned FF Balance and has recently expanded his FF Cocon typeface.

25-September 2002