Telefon, a Nordic geometric

Sindre's picture

The best gift I got for Christmas was a book about the design of the Norwegian telephone box (1933). So I got inspired, and drew some glyphs, and all of a sudden I had a whole alphabet. I didn't look at the telephone box lettering while I drew, I wanted to make letters resembling the Art Deco style there still were a lot of traces left of in Norway until the 80s (now, there's only a few phone boxes and some street signs left), without making a derivative of anything.

I've made some deliberately naïve old-school choices, this is not a polished, modern take on a geometric sans serif.

I have a bold (or rather an extra bold) weight half-drawn as well, and I think that's going to be the whole type family. I need to get something finished. All my former attempts have grown too large too soon, this is going to be my first finished project. But I need your help. Any kind of criticism is very, very welcome!

For extended character set, see the pdf.

tlf.pdf531.76 KB
tlf_black.pdf54.67 KB
telefon_080310.pdf220.94 KB
hrant's picture

This has a very nice degree of flavor.
And although I don't usually like filled-in corners, here it works!

I would say that:
- The "Q" needs modulation in the tail join.
- The "a" is too... continental. Try a Kabel form.
- The bottom half of the "s" is malformed.


Sindre's picture

Thank you, Hrant!

You're definitely right about the "a", it looks like the afterthought it is. Originally I had a one storey-"a", but that is boring (and illegible, and makes the "æ" impossible). It didn't feel right, but I didn't know what I was looking for. Thanks for telling me. The Q is stolen from Jakob Erbar's sadly forgotten geometric (much used in the 30s up here), and you're right, it doesn't work. I'll think of something else. Those s-es are the most difficult glyphs I've ever drawn. The simplest shapes are the hardest. I'll try and fix it.

Sindre's picture

This any better? New "a", reshaped "s", modulated "Q" (while maintaining the shape, I think I misunderstood your advice.)

eliason's picture

Cool project, and I'm right with you on feeling pressed to finish something a bit simpler.

In a way this is quite a difficult design to critique, since almost anything criticizable is equally likely an error or part of the deliberate naivete!

I definitely agree on the /a/.

I think sixes and nines may be *too* constructed looking, in their lack of tapering at the join and their sudden changeover from circle to line. Fours might need some more overshoot up top.

BDPR also have too hard of a break from straight to round on the outside contours.

Did you consider a counter on the R that was open at the bottom? That'd be another place where that acute angle could show up.

Did you consider a chevron-style structure for /K/ (and, I suppose, for /k/)? That might go with the /M/ well.

The diagonal of /N/ looks thin to me.

I wonder if the /G/ is a stylistic misfit in the way the /a/ is. Did you try any versions with crossbars? Euro also feels rather out of place.

That sliced off /t/ seems awfully arbitrary in a font where every other terminal hews to horizontal or vertical. Reminds me of Arial, too. :-(

The spacing seems way too tight in the text setting, given the boldness, lack of contrast, and small x-height. I'm sure you haven't done much work with spacing at this stage, but I think it would be good to be able to determine fairly soon how legitimate the hopes of making this a font for running text are - and to judge that it needs some breathing room.

This reminds me not only of Neutraface but even more of Tempo. Here's one of several interesting Typophile threads on the latter.

Bendy's picture

Seriously. Impressive.
Let me come back to this in a day or two.
And, BTW, I also long to finish something ;)

nina's picture

Very very cool. I was going to say it over in the other thread too. I don't really have enough time to give it a thorough look right now :-\ but just wanted to stop by and say that this is niiice.
Just 2 spontaneous things:
Is it intentional that the "D" is that narrow compared to "C" and "G"?
And the new "a" rocks! The old one was a bit Frutigerish.
I'll be back :-)

eliason's picture

Thumbs up on the new /a/ and /s/!

Sindre's picture

Thank you, everyone!

Nina, the narrow "D" was a subconscious decision, I think. I've widened it slightly, just for you. (Er, and because it looks better.) Thanks for good-mouthing the "a". I like it too. It gives the lower case a much stronger identity, I think. Now the "g" and "a" are better friends, too.

Craig, I've subtly softened "69", and made the "4" even taller. Darn, I love drawing spiky glyphs! And I've fought with the BDPR curves quite a bit. These shapes are always difficult for me, too tight, they get an undesirable diamond shape with ugly transitions from the lines, too soft, they look squarish. But I've finally learnt too use points at approximately 45 degrees in addition to extrema points, and that makes the transitions from the lines better, at least. Any better now?

Chevron kays I've tried twice, just can't make them work. Perhaps I'll try again.

I've strengthened the "N" diagonal slightly, and widened the letter half a hair. But this is one of the letters I really want a little "wrong".

Gee, I didn't know Tempo once was a proper typeface, I only knew those nondescript condensed bolds Adobe sell. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, it's great! I think Neutraface is but a parody, by the way. Some may say the same thing about my typeface. Well, at least it's parody that I like.

The "G", yes, that's a misfit. But I really like it. Georg Fredrik Fasting, the architect of the Norwegian telephone box, drew "G"s like that. On an ideological level, there's no other remnant* of the pen in this typeface, why use one here? But of course, it looks weird. I've thought a lot about it, too.

* Except for the slanted "t" top. That's an influence from the old Norwegian street signs, and I just dig it. It should remind you of Erbar, not Arial.

Sindre's picture

... did I just make the "B" top half and "R" too square?

eliason's picture

... did I just make the "B" top half and "R" too square?

I think maybe so.

I've strengthened the "N" diagonal slightly, and widened the letter half a hair. But this is one of the letters I really want a little "wrong".

I think you could go still further and not threaten its "wrongness"! ;-)

You may want to narrow /e/'s crossbar a touch.

eliason's picture

BTW this is roughly what I meant about the possibility for /R/:

wormwood's picture

Very nice. However, I would find it more useful if there were alternate E, F and H's available, with vertically centred crossbars, as well as the low slung ones. And maybe high crossbars too.

Sindre's picture

Thanks, guys!

Curves are difficult, and the simpler the shape, the more difficult they are. New BPRD here. And Craig, here's your conventional "G", too. And a wider N. There's now also quite a bit of optical tweaking in most of the glyphs shown here.

About your "R" suggestion: I actually tried this twice early in the process, and while I dig this shape, it reminds me very much of (the original) AvantGarde and Herb Lubalin and the 70s, and I discarded it because it felt out of place. Did that R shape exist earlier? I'd love to see an example of that.

Jonathan, you're right about that, but you see, I don't want to make another Futura. I want this to be quirky. The letters that started it were TELEFON (see photograph in the specimen). Maybe I'll make more conventional alternates later, but that'll have to wait.

About the spacing: Perhaps this is a display typeface, I really don't know yet. But if it is, the spacing is quite OK now (though crude) now, isn't it?

eliason's picture

Tempo had that kind of R! Or near it. With a little more intersection than my mockup, which steers it away from your legitimate Lubalin concern.

I gotta say, I like the crossbar G.

Curves looking better!

eliason's picture

The bolder weights of Dwiggins's Metro #2 also suggest that kind of R structure.

eliason's picture

Just saw this on our dining room table - do you know what font this sans is?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Looking great, Sindre. I'm looking forward to our next type&beer convention at Pers.


Might be choking the naïve spirit …

wormwood's picture

Satyagraha, I understand your concept and wasn't suggesting that you have vertically centred crossbars for the default glyphs.

I've only just seen the telefonkiosk photo in the PDF, and so, as you say ...

"I want this to be quirky."

... you should include that splendid O, with the three stencil splits, as an alternate glyph. Maybe even create a stenciled version of the typeface and name it Telefon Kiosk / Kiosker / Kiosken.

Or you could just include alternate stencil glyphs within the standard OTFont, but only for the characters that would need a stencil form for kiosk application.

Sindre's picture

I've done some more work on the "R", here are three candidates. The first one is wider, as per Frode's suggestion, the middle one is a slightly reworked version of the old one, the third one is an interpretation of Craig's suggested R (it took me quite a while to understand that shape, thanks for helping enlighten me), which I think probably is my favourite at the moment. What do you think?

Strange how defining the upper case R is! These three settings makes the word look like set in different typefaces, almost.

I've no idea what the typeface of that Vogue cover is (I almost thought it was a mock-up, by the way, as all the headlines are so stereotypically women's magazine that it is laughable. "Love, sex and what to wear", isn't that the essence of all women's magazine headlines?). This is a very good illustration of what Jan Tschichold called "a thicket of letters", by the way. Thanks for scanning and uploading.

I've been wondering about the crossbar "G" (I now think that one has to be the definite version ...), is the crossbar's length and height right? Is it a problem that it is only slightly higher than the "E" and "F" crossbar? Should I raise and/or lengthen it? (Am I getting type blind already?)

Thanks, Frode, and so do I. Type and craft beer are amongst the nicest of man's inventions, and they should indeed be combined.

Jonathan, that is a splendid idea, in fact, I thought of it when I started drawing, and then forgot. I'll go for a full stencil font instead of alternate glyphs, I think, but, as you suggest, only make cuts in the letters that needs them to stay together. This is going to be fun!

eliason's picture

There's no question in my mind #3 is the best fit for the face.
I was too lazy to scan - I found that cover with a web search. (A scan would've come out clearer!) I've submitted it to the Type ID board.
I'm not sure about your questions on the G - I'd have to see how those options look.
I like the stencil idea too!

Sindre's picture

Revised upper case. New "K", as suggested by Craig (does it work?), slightly fatter horizontals on EFLT, a little tweaking on "R", a little wider "N". Does the "G" crossbar look to thick compared to EFH's?

Bendy's picture

Bear with me, I'm not having much time currently. This is looking really great and I'm struggling to find anything to crit! Well done on making it work so well. Those curves are hard.

I think the latest D is still a bit narrow, or perhaps just the curve is light at 2 and 5 o'clock?

Crossbar of G: to me it looks a smidge too low, like it's trying to be the same as EFH but realised it can't quite get there.

2 looks like the bottom has slid left and the top right, slightly.

5 looks a little heavy on the left stem.

Elias's picture

Nice work, Sindre. Is it just me, or does the lower bar in F and the middle bar in E extend just slightly too much to the right?

Randy's picture

When extending the leg of the R, be careful to test all combinations to balance spacing with pleasing forms (I'm the first to admire a wide legged R). However, try CRAWDAD STRAW RANDY CRAYON as well as words like TROUBLE CURVY (RIVERDAN) etc. RO RY RA are hard to consistently space with a wide leg, unless you there is a lot of letterspacing.

From memory, I think the Vogue is James Montalbano's work but I might be confusing with Vanity Fair. Anyways, he's done a custom geometric fashion sans somewhat similar to this.


1985's picture

What is your method for filing the corners? Lately I have found this effect very pleasing, perhaps too much time looking at vector perfect corners cuts into the eyes.

I'd be careful not to lose the dimensional quirks through iteration.
S is a bit depressed at the base IMHO and the outlines seem shaky compared to the otherwise smooth alphabet.
I keep rotating S as I am drawing, otherwise I tend to run out of space constructing the lower curve.
(This sounds like a contradiction – what I mean is keep the proportional quirks, but execute smoothly. Also, please take my comments lightly as I am very pleased by this design and I don't wish to detract or patronise.)

hrant's picture

I assume you mean filling and not filing. In fact I don't have a method for the former because I tend to do the latter! :-) And for that I actually do have a method:


1985's picture

Hrant, you got me. I actually meant filing, though I did misread your post. By 'filing corners' I meant beveling, for example P22 Johnston. The corners appear soft to me, 1px short of a corner, is this just antialiasing/artefact?
I'm probably going blind. Sorry for misleading anyone.

The trapping flower is amazing, I don't suppose you have any other secrets you would like to disclose? Thanks.

hrant's picture

Oh, OK. Yes, it does have rounded corners. BTW, the Flower can be used for making those too, as well as shearing corners. And making thorns (really pointy corners).

I'm often fast and loose with my secrets, although I tend to guard other people's secrets like an Anatolian Mastiff.


Sindre's picture

Thank you for all your comments and suggestions! I haven't had time for type drawing this weekend, so I'll just comment now and upload images and stuff later.

Thanks for your kind words, Ben. You're probably right about the "D". It needs to be narrow, I think, but a few more units of width and some more meat in the curves will make it right. Your comment on the "G" confirms my own concerns about that glyph. Consider "2" and "5" fixed.

Thanks, Elias, and no, it's not just you, the middle bars of E and especially F are too long, but I think they really have to be. Their eccentricity sort of defines the whole typeface. Then again, someone good once said "kill your favourite glyph" or something like that. I'll have to think about it.

Thanks for your advice, Randy. I've decided on the "R" now, and your spacing words will come in handy.

Andrew, the corners are both filled and filed, and my method is quite straightforward. For this typeface, I made 10x10 bevels, and then I convert the sharp points to curved ones. I probably could use some script, but I prefer doing it by hand. Quite a lot of work (and lots of copy and paste), but that's okay with me. I like fiddling.

You're right about the "S", it will be fixed. And thanks for your "S"-making advice.

Sindre's picture

Here's a closeup showing the inside and outside smoothing.

eliason's picture

(Just to second elias (no relation!)) I think you could move the middle E crossbar in just a touch more and maintain its "too long" eccentricity.

Sindre's picture

"E" and "F" crossbars shorter, "F" a little narrowed. "S" reworked", "D" slightly wider and changed curves.

"2" and "5" changed

Taller "G" crossbar.

Chevron kays.

hrant's picture

Try making the top of the "a" much shorter.


Sindre's picture

Much shorter "a" top. That made it necessary to do something to the "g" as well. Better?

eliason's picture

I think the Kake /a/ fits the character of the font better. Maybe I see the "too long" hood as akin to the "too long" /E/ crossbar. And I'd keep the longer /g/ tail, too. But I can see the new ones working, too; they're nice letters.
I like the chevron /K/k/!

Sindre's picture

Thanks, Yorel. Yes, that's the Norwegian telephone box, outside the traditional Freia chocolate factory in Oslo. But those are the second generation letters, the original ones were more like mine, with a spiky and narrow "N" and more extreme "E"s and "F". I'll upload a scan from the book later, as there seems to be none of the original letter phone boxes left in the wild.

Thanks, Craig. I'm very unsure about the "a" and the "g" at the moment, I think I like both versions. Perhaps a compromise is the solution. Can't draw now, will upload later.

Sindre's picture

Complete lower case. "a" and "g" almost at old length, but not quite. New "r", "j" and "f", (curved finials ... is that the right word?), slightly more weight on the "z" diagonal. Slightly shallower descenders.

eliason's picture

Looking great. IKEA should've waited on their rebranding font choice! :-)

/v/ looks both light and insufficiently overshot on the baseline to me.

Tell me what's guiding your extender length decisions. I'm surprised you're pulling up the descenders with such (appealingly) high ascenders.

I especially like the /n/, the /i/, the /f/, and the /z/. That question mark strikes me as too close to Futura (Telefon's got its own quirks, it doesn't need to copy Renner's!).

The /y/ feels like it's falling rightward, and the intersection seems high relative to the baseline to my eyes. Perhaps just shifting the long stroke's bottom points rightward while retaining the angle of the short stroke would solve both issues.

I wonder if all of your vertical strokes should be thinned the tiniest bit. Looking at "squaw," the /q/'s stem seems darker than the rest; and the vertical-dominated "litt" is the darkest word of all. (Some of this could be rasterization...)

Frode Bo Helland's picture

My biggest issue with this design, is the one letter devoted the most attention here: “a”. It might fit historically, but I think it would keep me from using Telefon in any serious context. The echoed short curve from “a” in “g” might work.

Can we see the “R” in context? I didn’t like it at first, but it’s growing on me.

Btw, Sindre: I think “c” might need a few units nudging to the left on the outer curve (top and bottom left).

1985's picture

I agree about 'a', I think with this design it is OK to embrace anachronisms.

Tomi from Suomi's picture

Hello again, Sindre-

I went through your posts, and 'a' does need some work still (you decided to go with two-storey after all [heh]), and '?' is pretty lopsided. The stresses seem to be going the wrong way. Also some of the smooth corners on counters seem softer than outside, like in 'A'. That seems odd to me. Try to keep them is scale. And 'S' and 's' have bumps.

Overall look of the font is really good.

Sindre's picture

Craig, you're right about the vertical weight. I've now sliced a little off each stem, both cases, and I think that procedure have made for a better overall balance. I shortened the descenders because of that blasted "g", I couldn't make it deep enough without making a too large aperture. But perhaps it works now, the descenders are at their original depth again. I've tried to repair the "y", and I've fattened and tweaked the "v" a bit.

Frode, what kind of "a" would you prefer? I'm going to have a one-storey one as one of few alternate characters. Personally, I dig the current "a". You were right about the "c", I've fixed it.

Tomi, those S-es are difficult. I'm a beginner at vector drawing, you see (hadn't drawn a serious Bezier curve till october 2008), and I honestly can't see those bumps, but I've tried to make the curves as smooth as I can now. Is it better? I would be grateful if you could point out the faults, if they're still there.

New question mark. This is still unpolished, do you think this shape could work?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I think the bowl might be to big. Compared with “e”, the whitespace balance is very differently distributed. The joins—bowl to stem—are much thinner than those of, for example, “b”, especially the lower join. The horizontal counter in the bowl lacks a clear connection the the other letters.

I’m not quite sure what other kind of “a”-options I would prefer.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

* horizontal OVAL counter

eliason's picture

Your tweaks look good.

On the question mark, try making the top shape not come down as far, and enlarging the period.

hrant's picture

What, no Koch "g"? :-)

The "r" and "?" have the same problem the "a" used to have.

Try giving the "S" a smaller head.


Sindre's picture

New "S", "r", "a" and "?", as per suggestions. I'm not leaving that "a" shape. No Koch "g", though. Now or ever. I'm not quite sure I understand your criticism of "r" and "?", Hrant. Too continental?

hrant's picture

Good improvements.

The "r" was too mannered before; the new one
is better, but I might taper the join even less.


eliason's picture

FWIW, I think I prefer the previous /S/, and that elephant-trunky question mark still doesn't do it for me. Did you try a horizontal shear to the main stroke at the bottom?
I think that /a/ looks great.

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