The typeface

by Frode Konstantin Helland

Mu is a humanist-rational serif typeface for text sizes. From the earliest Renaissance printing types Mu borrows serifs, proportions, and – in part – the contrast between thick and thin parts. In Mu, however, the focus is shifted from shapes to lines: the edges of the pen stroke is disconnected from the writing tool and shaped as standalone, fluid, uninterrupted, lines. The typeface contrasts dynamic and static curves, blends the divide between inside and outside, and pulls the centre of gravity towards the horisontals. The result is a flowing, sparkling texture restisting direct calligraphic references.

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz Ææ Øø Åå & 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.

I have long wanted to design a text typeface, but it took a while before I recognized any potential in the letterforms I kept returning to in my sketchbooks – a juxtaposing of quick and slow curves and a focus shift from the shape to continous lines.

Work began at the opposite end of where one usually starts. The curves came first and only later developed into mature letterforms. The process felt like molding clay. Variables usually defined at the onset, such as rhythm, proportions, thickness and axis, rather grew organically from the detailing and curve dynamics. After having discarded many attempts, slowly, but surely, I began narrowing in on something that matched my inner vision.

Photo: Jon Gorospe

As for the title, “Times New Roman – only newer”, I remain convinced that any innovation in type design for reading must be slow and iterative. The big challenge in designing Mu was conforming the radical construction principles to traditional old-style letterforms. As Beatrice Warde put it in The crystal goblet, I wanted Mu to be a “transparent vessel” for the content. Any audio book listener knows what I’m talking about here: too much character in the narrators voice can amount to torture for the length of an entire novel.

With the basics of the text variant pinned down, I once again returned to the original sketches to explore a more “literal” interpretation for headlines. Though not readily apparent, type designed for large sizes has a wildly different function than body text, allowing for greater experimentation and deviations from the norm. Moreover, in the context of an exhibition, contrasting the literal interpretation of the idea with a functional text cut illustrates the difference between graphic and typographic quality.