The London-based design studio A2/SW/HK has recently launched its own type foundry called A2-Type. The 15 fonts in the initial specimen book are largely derived from design projects that partners Scott Williams and Henrik Kubel have done since they formed the studio a decade ago. (The exceptions are A2 Klampenborg, designed by Kubel in 1997, and A2 Battersea, which Kubel created in 1999.)
Alert readers might recognize A2 Zadie which began life as lettering for the book jacket of On Beauty by Zadie Smith (New York: Penguin Press, 2005) or A2 CWM which was originally made for the cover of the catalog that accompanied the 2008 exhibition “Cold War Modern, 1945–1970” at the V&A in London.
The 15 fonts cover a wide range of styles from 19th-century grots to delicate didones. There’s even a set of fleurons and a typewriter font named A2 Flowers and A2 Typewriter, respectively—what else are you going to call them? The former is an odd mix of decorative ornaments reminiscent of the asterisks and snowflakes of ITC Zapf Dingbats, Art Deco numerals, Bodoni numerals, pointing fists and calligraphic squiggles. The latter is based on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter face. The sans serifs include Grot 10, Klampenborg, Battersea, CWM, and Aveny-T, while the serif faces include CPH Tram (essentially a sans with tiny spur serifs as in Copperplate Gothic), A2 Impacto (a slab serif), FM (a chamfered slab serif), Monday (a transitional design in the English vernacular manner) and Vogue Floral (a slightly curly modern face).
After a few days of examining the specimen booklet, here are five of my favorites.
A2 Zadie, which comes in regular (open) and solid flavors, is a Bantjesque-inflected Didone. That is, A2 has essentially taken a basic neoclassical armature and added on some lovely Edwardian tendrils inspired by a wrought-iron railing surrounding the Royal Army Medical College in London. Some of the hairline strokes normally found in such a typeface have been deleted giving A2 Zadie, especially in the open version, the effect of a stencil design. Other nice touches include the pinched stems of the I and T and the “kissing” crossbar on the H. The T suggests a weightlifter showing off his pecs. This is a typeface made for display where its delicacy can truly be appreciated. The small size character set shown in the specimen book does not do it justice.
A2 Vogue Floral looks like Torino with curls sprinkled about here and there. For those who hate squiggles the alternate cut is more sober. Both are too light for text work, but would make good display companions to a Bodoni or Didot.
The boringly named A2 FM is designed for text. It is a humanist slab serif in the vein of Scala or Whitman with an italic that is neither a sloped roman nor, fortunately, a “true” italic with calligraphic features. Both the roman and the italic have a pleasantly smart crispness that is the key to their success at small sizes but which are also revealed at display sizes. A2 FM comes in five weights and has old style figures to boot. (See additional images below to view A2 FM in text settings.)
A2 Grot 10 is a redesign of a venerable grotesque from Stephenson & Blake with a more contemporary italic companion. I love the quirky 19th-century English grots but am less thrilled by this design as the italic is too calligraphic for my taste (see the f with its curling descender). The odd industrial quality of the old grots (like the r with its overly wide arm or the floppy ear on the g) is still evident in the roman, though. This is especially true of the bold weight where the subtle stroke contrast provides personality. Perhaps A2-Type will expand the family to include an extra bold or black weight.
The one font in the specimen book that has such a robust weight is A2 Impacto. This slab serif is decidedly contemporary in feeling with some distinctive characters that are beautiful rather than irritating. It’s a rare font whose numerals overshadow its letters, but A2 Impacto is one such instance. The 2, 3, 5 and 7 are especially strong and lovely. The typeface should harmonize well with A2 FM.
A2 Danmark grew out of a design for celebratory stamps for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. It is a stencil face with sharp slab serifs and well defined stroke contrast. Several characters have ball terminals that link it to neoclassical faces. The K with its ogee-curved leg, Q with its dagger-like tail, a with its flat top and g with an open-ended loop provide a spark of freshness. Although the specimen says the face is ideal for text, this is emphatically a display font.
Surely others will surely prefer some that I have ignored to those I have highlighted, but nonetheless, A2-Type has made a notable splash with their debut collection of fonts. The specimen itself is an understated gem as well. The white letterpress-printed cover may be a bit dull, but the pink-toned paper inside provides a delicious jolt and serves as a warm background for the reductive design sensibilities of Williams and Kubel.