Much of the client work I do is about making complex ideas accessible. To do this I rely heavily on friendly typographic form. The stuff that is easily read, robustly constructed and usually with something human or soft about it.
An exciting new addition to the typographic landscape that ticks all these boxes is Aglet Sans. "Closely related to its slab companion, this face has roundness at its core. But it has been thoroughly and sensitively redrawn to stand on its own, with 100% less serif. Because sometimes less is more."
Aglet Sans was released last month by independent type foundry XYZ Type. Designed by Jesse Ragan both Aglet Sans and Aglet Slab view roundness as a fundamental structural element rather than mere embellishment or afterthought.
Narrow and straight-sided, Aglet Sans playfully exploits a system of angles and corner radiuses to arrive at a vocabulary of shapes that becomes more diverse and intriguing as it grows more substantial in weight and provides a dynamism that offsets the strictures of other forms, urging the eye forward.
In creating the sans accompaniment, Ragan hasn’t simply lopped off serifs—he has thoroughly and sensitively redrawn the face. The unique entrance and exit strokes of i, j, and l play off the jaunty 45-degree-angled entry strokes of n, m, p, and r, creating fascinating interactions of form and counterform.
I particularly love the Kk forms and got in touch with Jesse to learn more about the development, his career-to-date, and the Aglet features he is most keen on!
What was your gateway drug when it came to the world of type? (What piqued your interest and led you towards what you do now?)
At age 14, I took a “commercial art” class—quite a fluke opportunity for a public school in mid-1990s North Carolina. We had an assignment to cut headlines out of magazines and organize them by type classification. That opened my eyes to the nuance and expression that can exist within a system of letterforms, and I was hooked.
Ten years later I met Shelley Gruendler (founder of Type Camp) and found out that she’d had the same teacher. So if that was my gateway drug, I guess Shelley and I are on the same trip.
It is becoming a recurring theme in these interviews - so we are keen to hear what your parents think of (or understand about?) your career as a type designer?
My career path was not a big surprise for my family, since I’ve been talking about fonts nonstop since I was a teenager. And after all my years pointing out interesting signs and grumbling about kerning, they have gotten a bit of an eye for typography too.
What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career so far?
Starting XYZ Type. My business partner Ben Kiel and I took a big leap of faith (and made a big investment of time and money) so that we could distribute our fonts on own terms. We’ve learned that it takes time to build a presence in this crowded market, but we’re enjoying the freedom it affords us and keeping our eyes on the long-term rewards.
How did your XYZ Type collaboration/partnership with Ben Kiel come about?
Back in 2008, while Ben was working full-time at House Industries, he hired me on as a freelancer to help adapt several typefaces from the Photo-Lettering archive. Eventually he struck out on his own. When I got a rush job designing a script typeface for Aldo Shoes, I remembered how well we had worked together, and I knew the project would benefit from his strengths. That was our first major collaboration.
We retained full ownership of the Aldo typeface, so we decided to release it publicly, under the new name Cortado. That experience became a dry run for operating our own type foundry. We found our skill sets to be complementary, so it made sense to pool our resources more formally. Two years ago this month we launched XYZ Type. Now we have a library of five type families, and we have more on the way soon. I feel like we’re really hitting our stride, both as a team (of two) and as a type foundry.
What were the biggest challenges to overcome translating the aesthetic philosophy of Aglet Slab into a sans serif?
A signature structural element of Aglet Slab is the 45° entry/exit stroke that appears on many lowercase characters. In developing Aglet Sans, I contrasted this repeated shape with horizontal pseudoserifs on i, j, and l. This combination made it very difficult to get the letterspacing rhythm right. Although I spent a lot of time drawing the glyphs, I probably spent even more fussing with the distances between them.
What are you favourite features or details in Aglet?
It’s all about roundness. I built Aglet (Slab and Sans) so that if its corners were squared off, the whole thing would fall apart. I like to make a distinction that Aglet’s philosophy is to be round rather than to be rounded. The latter—a more superficial embellishment—has its place, but I wanted to approach Aglet from a unique starting point.
How do you hope to see the typeface used?
Its most natural use would be for identity design. I designed Aglet in response to the briefs I kept receiving for branding lettering—to present the visual cues for “high-tech,” but with a gentler finish. And I’ve already seen Aglet Slab used for several identity systems. But I hope I’ll also see both slab and sans used in ways I would never have predicted. That’s one of the most exciting experiences a typeface designer can have.
What did you learn from this project that you are applying to your current work?
Although Aglet Sans appears very similar to Aglet Slab, while adapting the design I found myself completely rethinking some of the underlying systems. And during that process, I may have gotten roped into making a third Aglet subfamily—which means I’ll be rethinking it all over again.
Last year Ben was preparing a presentation for the Robothon conference, which included blocks of code. He messaged me that he wished there was an Aglet Mono, so two hours later I surprised him with a very, very rough prototype of it. He loved it. It seems a little ridiculous to have a monospace variant of what is essentially a display typeface, but Ben is pushing me to finish it. (If anyone thinks they would actually use Aglet Mono, I would love to send you a beta version to get feedback!)
Finally, which of your peers are you most inspired by?
I would be hard-pressed to give you a short list from the many immensely talented typeface designers working today. But I will say that I am greatly inspired by (and indebted to) my colleagues who develop the software tools that I use every day as well as the open source frameworks they’re built upon. Most of these people are full-time typeface designers who moonlight as software developers for little or no money, simply to benefit the industry as a whole. And Ben is one of them, so it’s pretty cool that I get to work with him.
Aglet Sans, a technical face with a human touch, exploring what it means to be round, and the ways in which a system can be implemented and strategically broken. It is now commercially available for desktop, web, and apps directly from xyztype.com, as well as through distributors Fontstand and Type Network. Use it solo or with its slab sibling.