The Making of Prospectus
Prospectus grew from a personal challenge I gave myself: to create my largest type family yet with a very functional range of styles. Something that could be a go-to for typographers who often set text and headlines, or graphic designers that wanted something new and eye catching for a poster. Around the time that I started this project, I had become interested in the Imperial Roman letterforms (capitals often incised in stone) that had originated during the rise of the Roman Empire. Typography is a much older trade than Graphic Design, with so much history to draw from, and I liked the idea of drawing inspiration from some of the forms that started it all, as I started a new journey myself.
The Imperial Letter is typified by the inscription in Trajan’s column in Rome, and the proportions of those letterforms have been lauded by type designers and lettering artists for centuries. But the exact method of their design/construction has been the source of much contention. I was intrigued by the theories of Father Edward Catich, who after making rubbings of the inscription himself, suggested in the 1960s that these were actually brushed letterforms, using two strokes to holistically create the stem of the letters and their serifs.
I also admired an inscription of a C which had been carved to optically compensate for a very low viewing angle. The tall, condensed form had an upper terminal that had been extended into a long triangular form. I wanted to use that triangular wedge shape throughout my new typeface design—not only on serifs, but also shapes like the ear of a g and terminals of E. Versatile and full of potential, this triangular form would become a core piece of this new family.
I then researched the history of the lowercase, hoping to find a suitably early source of influence for a lowercase to pair with the inspiration I’d found in the caps-only Imperial Roman inscriptions. It seemed fitting to take some influence from the Carolingian minuscule, which was developed as a calligraphic standard in Europe and used by the Roman Empire between 800 and 1200 AD. It was not only some of the earliest latin calligraphy, but these letterforms carry similar proportions to the ones often admired on Trajan’s column.
In January of 2016 I began a year-long certificate program in typeface design (Type@Cooper West) at Letterform Archive in San Francisco. I started to plan the family structure, including figuring out how an italic might compliment my ideas for a roman (upright). During one of our weekly history classes at Type@Cooper, I asked Rob Saunders (a collector of lettering and type design ephemera for more than 40 years who founded Letterform Archive) about possible sources of italic influence which could play well off the juxtaposition of straights and rounds present in Prospectus Roman.
I was keen on creating a well thought out hybrid italic, and Rob’s extensive type knowledge combined with his background in calligraphy was timely help. He suggested I research the designs of Oldřich Menhart (1897-1962), a Czech calligrapher, lettering artist and type designer from the first half of the 20th century. Menhart’s work had a slight squareness to the round characters with a tendency for interrupted calligraphy (picking the pen up off the page while writing the strokes of a letterform), allowing his italic lettering to mirror the sense of tension I wanted for my roman type.
With the goal of true function in mind, and equipped with plenty of inspiration, I started thinking of how these ideas (often conceived for eye-catching, larger-size display uses) might be adapted for use in text. I was most interested in creating a new design for our contemporary digital world. I wanted to marry the aesthetics of the inspiration, and the function necessary today.
During Type@Cooper West program, I continued to think seriously about what the final scope of the Prospectus family should include, eventually completing a version which I submitted as my final project at Type@Cooper. The name Prospectus grew from the academic context the type had originated in, and it stuck. Even after graduating I was still thinking about ways to build this family to cover a larger set of contemporary typesetting situations.
Although largely forgotten in the digital age, historically type was often drawn to be size-specific. There were variations in design, for example, between 8pt Garamond metal type and 21pt Garamond metal type, to improve the legibility of the text between the two uses. As type designs were digitized, optical size compensation has sadly become uncommon. Prospectus would adhere to an attention to detail more common in the past, and more suitable for today’s typesetting.
I wanted Prospectus to be useful in a large variety of situations—from 6pt legal disclaimers to fashionable headline text. I wanted Prospectus to be markedly nimble—at once expressive yet balanced, with noticeable calligraphic influence and angular, crisp details that would be at home today in publications or brand identities.
I tested the extremes of both high contrast display variations (with large distinction between thick and thin strokes) and more traditional text drawings (with lower contrast and spacing suited for reading), and found a total of four optical sizes to be ideal. And I named them according to their future use: Prospectus Small, Medium, Large, and Xtra Large. And within each optical size, Prospectus provides a range of weights, with accompanying italics.
The unique triangular forms in Prospectus (inspired by those Roman inscriptions), offered a fresh texture that excited me. I saw that the Xtra Large drawings, with their intense angular details, would benefit from bracketing (swelled connections between stems and serifs) reminiscent of the two stroke construction Ed Catich had theorized in his writing. And I mirrored these more organic details in curvature I added to some of the almost geometric shapes present in the Prospectus Small drawings intended for text.
- Prospectus Small is built to be used from 6–14pt, perfect for setting large passages of text for comfortable reading, small captions, disclaimers, tables, charts, etc. The precision of Prospectus Small creates a fresh texture for reading, transposing the details I had loved from the inspiration into something new and functional.
- Prospectus Medium, the next largest optical size, is built to be used from 14–60pt. Perfect for page titles, headlines, deks, subheaders, and other pieces of text that need to be emphasized to contrast aesthetically against body text. All are well served by its crispness and slightly more fancy departures from Prospectus Small.
- Prospectus Large is built to be used between 60–100pt—it includes higher contrast for striking full-page headlines and type treatments, posters, mastheads, etc. Fresh enough to make an emotive statement in a fashion or literary context, it is built for the discerning typographer who wants to make a statement. The triangles and bracketed forms of Prospectus sing loudly in this Large optical size.
- Prospectus Xtra Large is built for uses above 100pt and is the most high-contrast style within the family—it has a daring tone and texture perfect for extremely large uses like banners, posters, window graphics, environmental installations, and skywriting at 12,000 feet. The entire character set becomes bold and expressive, with each detail of Prospectus pushed to its extreme of weight, contrast and density.
The character set supports over 200 latin-based languages, and a variety of OpenType features that span from the aesthetic (contextual and stylistic alternates) to the purely functional (superscript and subscript numbers, automatic arbitrary fractions and more).
The 48 styles of Prospectus are the results of a personal challenge I set out for myself, to make something for all of you. Something that won’t let you down when you tackle a challenge you haven’t tackled before; perhaps you will design the complicated typographic hierarchy of a magazine. Perhaps you’ll need to typeset an Icelandic name, or manage the endless measurement fractions of a cookbook layout. When the time comes, Prospectus will be there to enhance the balance and sophistication of your layouts. Thanks for reading! —Dave Bailey