Creativity in constraint
This issue is about creativity within constraint. We hope it makes you think about your own struggle to stand out while fitting in.
When you read text in Pilowlava, the first thing you read is Pilowlava itself. Its bulbous strokes jut out with a haphazard and syncopated rhythm, and you've got to read it several times before you can tap your foot to it. Eventually you parse out its alphabet. There's a P, that's a W, what an interesting way to write an I. Only then do you actually read it.
And in that latency between perceiving it and engaging with it, Pilowlava's attempt to communicate is lost.
These days self-actualization is tense and high-stakes, which makes Pilowlava’s effortless ability to express itself all the more impressive. It's great for applications where establishing and explaining oneself is the only goal: a sour beer's label, an upscale headshop's logo, a Pratt student's endearingly overdone design portfolio. But once the sentence doesn't look like "I am ______", Pilowlava fumbles over its words. The letters don’t quite fit in the eye and don't string together in a sentence. When viewed as a large body of text, they may as well be hieroglyphics.
That’s the tradeoff inherent in Pilowlava, the unrealized potential at its core. Such a clear voice, but with so little to say.
You can download Pilowlava for free here. You should donate tho.
Averia Serif's designer had a vision - that's obvious. Under caving-in ceilings, in a used book store somehow dry and musty, among 2007 LSAT prep books and Kurt Vonnegut reprints, lies a library of pages at various stages of yellowing. The Averia Serif letters printed onto them are at a glance regular but ultimately imperfect. Any description other than "booky" feels partial and technocratic. Averia Serif is steeped in literary history: comfortable, human, personal.
But it's not. Averia Serif was generated by averaging all the glyphs on its creator's computer. It is an automated product: completely indifferent, lazily magnanimous, and the lack of intention in letter and spirit. It is brown, static noise, Switzerland in wartime.
That's the best part.
Typefaces promise that you can fit in and still be yourself. To have a life, they must conform to legibility. But to justify it, they must be unique. No typeface does this better than Averia Serif. It's defined entirely through its relationship with its peers, yet speaks with a particular, self-assured voice.
You can download Averia Serif here.
In my high school, hallways were wallpapered with edutaining posters about the uncanny numeric patterns of the natural world. Fibonacci, spiraling seashells, branching tree limbs. Like an English teacher rapping Shakespeare, these posters pled that math transcended #2 pencils and study hall. They promised that it was vital, exciting, and essential.
From what I've gathered, mid-century modern design is supposed to transcend in the same way. Chairs are not just chairs but tulips. Tables are lily pads. Lamps are the very concept of light itself. As an aesthetic argument it’s pretentious but reasonable.
Look around, though - mid-century modern has transcended beyond even the natural world to perhaps the purest realm known to man: social status. Design objects have become fetishes. Not a tulip-like chair, but a Saarinen Tulip Chair by Knoll. All that matters now is commercial and cultural context.
As Forma attests, this was always the case. In 1965, a major type foundry commissioned a team of 8 designers "to develop a more mature, humane interpretation of the Swiss sans serif trend." In other words, they wanted their Helvetica - the commercial runaway hit that defined the past decade's aesthetic - but updated to respond to a decade of complaints about Helvetica's legibility and uniformity. Starting with Helvetica as the base, Forma:
has strokes with a slight flare (check the F)
has lower case letters with taller bodies and shorter stems (more legible)
has impressively tight letter spacing - it feels like a freshly straightened desk
has some characters, like the lowercase "e", that are tweaked to be more distinct from other letters (again, more legible)
But to the non-nerds, what's important is how Forma fits into (say it with me) its commercial and cultural context. It's Helvetica enough to get on the shelf, and different enough to be bought off it (which you can do here).
This article is only possible becase of fontsinuse. You can find most of these fonts and images - and many more - listed there.