Courtesy Prototypo.

Name: Antique Gothic
Designer: Jean-Baptiste Levée/Production Type
Foundry: Prototypo
Release Date: October 2017

Back Story: Antique Gothic is your typical condensed sans serif—except for its ability to morph into nearly infinite versions of itself. How’s that? It’s a parametric typeface—the latest from Prototypo, the Kickstarter-funded initiative launched in 2013 by art director Yannick Mathey and developer Louis-Rémi Babé.

To understand what a parametric typeface is, we should take a step back. The term parametric originates in mathematics, where it describes equations that use one or more independent parameters to express coordinates defining a curved geometric object or surface. Parametric type first appeared on the design horizon in 1977 when mathematician Donald Knuth introduced Metafont, a programming language reliant upon geometric equations to construct its letterforms.

Courtesy Prototypo.

For type systems, parametric coding allows a user to globally apply changes to each component of a letterform—such as its stem width or serif—based on algorithmic values defined by the type designer. They’re useful for designers creating responsive websites that need to function across all screen sizes and resolutions, from phones to cinema displays, as the coding allows designers to quickly tweak letterforms using sliders, and get instant previews of the end results. Wish there was a weight somewhere between Light and Thin for the font you’re working with? What if this sans-serif had serifs? Wouldn’t this work better if it was just a little more condensed? Now all users, not just typeface designers, have some say in the type’s final appearance.

Why’s it called Antique Gothic? This typeface, Prototypo’s fifth release, is a version of a multipurpose condensed sans serif (also called Antique Gothic) developed by Production Type and turned parametric with the assistance of Production’s Jean Baptiste Levée, who serves as Prototypo’s partner and associate type advisor for all of their parametric fonts. Production originally produced the face in 2014 for The Book, a glossy biannual magazine for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. Looking for inspiration, Louis Vuitton’s art director Yorgo Tloupas scoured the company archives seeking vintage sans serifs; meanwhile, Production Type’s team combed through their own library of type specimen books from French foundries.

The finished typeface is described by Production Type as  “A straightforward condensed sans featuring relatively open terminals, compact extenders, straight sides, and spacious counters—with a few details borrowed from belle-époque jobbing types to make it stand out.” With Prototypo’s template, you can now add your own two cents to the design by playing with its parametrics.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Antique Gothic’s baseline appearance speaks to the distinct tall/thin/squashed typographic language of a condensed face—a first for Prototypo—but can quickly move into other territory depending on how a user alters it. Like all of Prototypo’s web app templates, this new version of Antique Gothic contains more than 30 adjustable parameters, including thickness, width, x-height, slant, and curviness. So rather than address specific typeface attributes, it’s more appropriate to say that Antique Gothic is distinguished by its flexibility and customizable qualities. Experimenting with the curviness of this typeface, for instance, results in a calligraphic, faceted, almost blackletter quality that feels totally unexpected given the letterforms’ sleek, smooth origins.

Just for fun, the Prototypo website also offers a sound-responsive demo where a user selects one attribute of the face to adjust and watches it morph based on ambient sound. So it’s safe to say another of Antique Gothic’s distinguishing characteristics is its ability to create a very pleasant black hole for a designer to fall into while noodling around just to see what happens if…

What should I use it for? Creative minds can envision multiple cool uses for Antique Gothic beyond its obvious web-app functionality. Imagine digital billboards or store displays whose typefaces can react according to the movements of passers-by; data visualizations that respond in real time to shifting data sets; or websites with readability and accessibility enhanced for visually impaired people.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? This question has no answer until a user pins down the best combination of adjustments to the baseline type template, establishes a visual direction, and experiments with font pairings. In other words, you’re on your own. You can test drive Antique Gothic for free, then export your project with a subscription to a pro plan (starting from $1). Enjoy!