By Xavier Dupré
This text was first published in 2005 in the type specimen booklet for Vista.
The concept for Vista began in July of 2002, when I sketched a few characters in a notebook while staying in Sumatra on a one month holiday. (See illustration below: left.) Most of the shop signs in Sumatra feature idiosyncratically decorative lettering, such as extreme slab serifs and triangular serifs (inspired from the Far West of America), and other unusual shapes.
In reaction to this, I intended to design a semi-serif typeface for text and display, that would retain some of these characteristics, while being serious enough to be useful for general application. I was inspired by Erik Spiekerman's FF Meta, which is very successful at combining the humanist appeal of calligraphic forms with the pragmatic simplicity of the sans.
When I returned home, I developed these initial ideas into a family named "Bagus," but the result was disappointing. So I was stuck; I needed to find a way to improve the design. (See illustration below: right.)
Then, two years later, in May of 2004, I revisited this unfinished family and redesigned all the characters. I threw out the serif companion to make the family simpler, narrower, and more useful. I found the right proportions for a text font; not too condensed to preserve comfort in reading, and not too wide for economy of space. The text weights are loosely spaced while the bold and black are spaced tightly. This type of spacing emphasizes the lightness and blackness of the respective weights. It also makes the lighter weights more legible when setting long texts at small sizes, while the Black weight, which is more appropriate for titling, is given more impact with the tighter spacing.
The most difficult characters to design in Vista (and most other typefaces for that matter) were the lowercase "a" and "g". But these are also the most interesting characters to design, as they can set the tone for the typeface. In Vista, the "a" became the most characteristic letter. It's the soul of Vista. The "a" has a special appeal to me; when I was a student, I learned to recognize and identify fonts by observing this character.
The "a" in Vista is inspired by blackletter. I wanted to incorporate the rhythm of blackletters; big contrast, emphasis on the vertical, graphic and strong looking. I combined this with humanist shapes to make a well-working text font. So the form and the rhythm of Vista are a blend of blackletter and humanist writing.
There are many subtle details in Vista that become interesting at large sizes; for example, the elegant, slightly bulging edge on some of the stroke endings. When I learned type design at Scriptorium de Toulouse, I drew the characters calligraphically by hand on tracing paper without a ruler. So my type designs were always very curvy and smooth, probably too much so.
Today, I try to make more useful designs by simplifying the shapes, but I still like curved forms. It's not so easy to add subtle curves to a sans design because, without serifs, there are fewer areas where one can introduce curved details. So I experimented with adding the curves in slightly unusual places such as some of the stroke endings.
Other details include ink traps in some characters (x, v, w...) and squarely notched inside cusps in other characters (b, n, r...). Both of these treatments, while seemingly different approaches, add a square appearance to otherwise pointed areas, and unifies the characters.
When I finished the design of the regular weights, I found them very serious looking, so I added alternate forms to provide subtle variety for titling usage. To prevent over-usage of the alternates, which can easily result in unappealing typography, especially in the hands of a novice designer, only a select number of characters have alternate forms. Unlike traditional swash caps, the Vista alternates can easily be used for whole words or short sentences, striking a healthy balance between functionality and expressiveness.
Regular capitals (top), alternate capitals (bottom), and discarded alternate capital forms (right).
Each of the six weights includes alternate, small cap and italic variants for a total of 36 fonts in the family. They are available in a full volume of 36 fonts, or in four packages. The packages are grouped into two sets of contrasting weights, with the alternates and small caps divided into separate packages.
Vista Sans Main Page