Designer: Jonathan Hoefler
Release Date: 2021
A few years ago, Jonathan Hoefler was working on Peristyle when he started noticing some unexpected stylistic quirks. “I kept getting this kind of vaguely sci-fi vibe from it, and I couldn’t figure out where it came from,” he says. There was something about the typeface’s art-deco influence and high contrast shapes. When he squinted, Peristyle’s hard edges became rounded, which made him recall the science fiction books he read in high school.
In his free time after releasing Peristyle, Hoefler kept toying with the typeface’s details, rounding off a corner here, eliminating a crossbar there. “I still wasn’t quite sure what kind of designer would choose this, and for what kind of project,” Hoefler says. “And then the ideal thing came along.”
Hoefler’s lexicographer friend Jesse Sheidlower was starting a website called the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction, a database of words and phrases from the sci-fi canon. Hoefler figured his new typeface could be a perfect fit. “I told him, ‘I’ve got this thing that I’m working on, which is a little kooky, but it’s not dumb,’” he says. Hoefler’s team rarely works on custom type, and most of their fonts have an intentional versatility to them. “I don’t do a lot of typefaces that are so manifestly fun,” he says. “I really try hard to work on things that don’t have this one set of baked-in associations. So I began thinking, is there a way to do a kind of science fiction version of this that can be good for other things as well?”
What are its distinguishing characteristics?
Sagittarius is a descendant of Peristyle, but it borrows liberally from classic sci-fi DNA. Hoefler wanted the typeface to evoke almost cliched technological styles, like the numbers on bank checks or magnetic ink typography from the 1950s. “We looked to styles that have been a placeholder for futurism for the last 50 years,” he says. “But it [Sagittarius] speaks that language in a distant way.”
The typefaces feature stylized details like stemmed-in hairlines, rounded gestures, and detached blobs. Hoefler widened the bottom of the “M” and capital “W” to get the long plateaus that give both their sine wave shape. Above the lowercase “G” Hoefler added a little island that draws inspiration from the markings on checks.
The designers were careful to give people the option to amp up the sci-fi look or tone it down with alternative characters. The “K”, for example, comes in both an attached and detached version. The “A”, too, comes in two styles—one with a crossbar and another without to evoke a more classic sci-fi look à la Richard Danny’s NASA logo. “It begins with a very neutral base and you have the option to turn things on and push the font in different directions,” he says.
Why is it called Sagittarius?
While designing, Hoefler was getting “70s vibes” from the typeface that felt distinct from its sci-fi leanings. It also had a broader galactic quality to it, which made it feel both scientific and mystical. “I thought that somewhere between space and astrology there is a name that could be evocative,” he says. The hardest part about naming a typeface, Hoefler adds, is that many of the good names are already taken. To get past that initial hurdle, he looks to the typeface itself to see what words could best represent the letters’ most compelling characteristics. In the case of Sagittarius, the lowercase “G” was one of his favorite letters. “I liked the idea that Sagittarius feels like it’s an astrological thing and an astronomical thing,” he says. “It’s also could be the name of a starship or something—the USS Sagittarius sounds plausible.”
What should I use it for?
Anything sci-fi related, obviously. But Hoefler made sure that the typeface felt appropriate for other use cases, too. Toggle off the alt characters, and Sagittarius feels at home for projects that span the beauty and health worlds, as well as music and entertainment. It’s a fun display typeface, so use your imagination.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with?
Hoefler recommends pairing Sagittarius, or any super evocative display type, with something more sober. He says his foundry’s Ringside and Gotham typefaces are good options. “The combination I liked a lot was Sagittarius and Operator,” he adds. “Operator is a monospaced typeface, designed for people doing things in programming and terminals, and it’s got a really marvelous attack.”