Name: Pangea Afrikan
Designer: Christoph Koeberlin
Distributor: Fontwerk
Release Date: December 20, 2021

Back Story: In 2016, designer Christoph Koeberlin began work on Pangea—an inclusive typeface designed to feature a treasure trove of writing systems. At the outset, Koeberlin asked himself: “Can a typeface do any good?” He knew the answer: a resounding yes. After all, he says, a typeface can build bridges across continents with language support. And not only that, since the Pangea typeface’s initial release in 2020, built for Cyrillic, Greek, Latin, and Vietnamese, its proceeds have had global impact. Koeberlin has donated 25% of Pangea’s royalties, helping to plant 75,000 trees, offsetting at least 2,600 tons of CO₂. 

Upon launch, Koeberlin and co. knew they had more work to do with Pangea—and plans were already in the works for Arabic, Hebrew, and other language extensions. With the launch of Pangea Afrikan, Koeberlin has now added Latin-based African to the superfamily, covering support for Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Lingala, Mende, and Umbundu—and the millions of people who speak and write them.

“In the course of colonization, the Latin writing system was forced on many African languages, but this often required additional characters,” says Koeberlin. “Most Latin fonts do not include these. They are poorly documented so far, and not recognized by the big foundries.” 

As Peter Biľak, the Typotheque founder who’s worked in the field for decades, notes, “There are very few—or perhaps no fonts—that support African languages for all the obvious reasons: [market considerations], extra work, lack of documentation, which means that any economically minded foundry will decide to focus on major languages only, which will further suppress the use of the minority languages. Pangea is an exception, and a worthwhile one, and I especially commend the documentation of the glyphs repertoire.”

Koeberlin wants to get Pangea Afrikan into the hands of as many designers as possible, which he is doing thanks to a free standard license for print, web, app, and e-book use. Development on the face dates back to 2019; designing it—and Pangea at large—required extensive research and consultation with native speakers, readers, and writers. When it comes to working outside comfort zones, beyond first languages and writing systems, getting it right is of the utmost importance—and Fontwerk’s Ivo Gabrowitsch says the designers and their teams “know their own limits.” 

Thus Paul Hanslow and Tapiwanashe Sebastian Garikayi provided support and resources for Pangea Afrikan. (Pangea Arabic, meanwhile, was designed by Azza Alameddine, and Greek and Cyrillic came about thanks to consultation with Irene Vlachou and Ilya Ruderman.) Koeberlin brought in Fungi Dube, who designed the graphics and promotional materials, noting, “Her opinion on the whole concept was essential to me.” For Dube, working on Pangea Afrikan was “a no-brainer,” and she’s inspired by Koeberlin’s willingness to challenge Eurocentric conventions. “My mandate as a designer is to elevate African narratives and cultivate more multi-diverse and Afro-positive sentiments, and this collaboration was an opportunity to do just that,” she says.

Why’s it called Pangea Afrikan? Pangea was the supercontinent of the earth’s crust, fused together in late Paleozoic and Mesozoic times, before it broke off into Gondwana (Arabia, Africa, South America, Antarctica, Australia, and the peninsula of India) and Laurasia (North America, Greenland, Europe, and most of Asia north of the Himalayas). Like the Mother Continent, the Pangea typeface is intended to be “the mothership,” soon to boast even more languages. “It will continue to grow, but never become more expensive,” says Koeberlin. 

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Overall, Pangea Afrikan’s tall x-height makes it stand out from more pedestrian—or overused (looking at you, Helvetica)—sans serifs. Pangea Afrikan is well-suited for body text, long paragraphs for books or magazines or websites, with contextual alternates, case-sensitive forms, and the option of lining numbers or non-lining (old style) figures. And thanks to its light, regular, medium, semibold, and bold with italics for each, it’s a versatile typeface. As an added (and big) bonus, Pangea also passes the “1-l-I test”—look at that lovely curved ‘l’—so readers won’t get glyphs confused. 

Courtesy of Fontwerk.

What should I use it for, and how? Use it for small or large text, print or digital media, book and text layouts—it’s an all-around workhorse. Think of it like the classic sans serifs Helvetica or Univers, but with a humanist touch, and the added bonus of underrepresented languages, including indigenous North American systems such as Lushootseed and Navajo. 

What other fonts should I pair it with? If you’re accustomed to the (usual) dynamic duo of Helvetica and Times New Roman, try something fresh: Pair the Pangea Afrikan superfamily and Romaine for a unique sans serif and serif flavor. Or, if you want to mix a super sans with a succulent casual script, pair it with Supermarker. This typeface can do anything—it works with anything, a super-sized standout with extended support for writing systems around the globe. (After all, it is named after a supercontinent…)

 

Pangea Afrikan was designed by Christoph Koeberlin, with contributions by Gabriel Richter (italics) and Paul Hanslow (consulting). Fungi Dube created the marketing graphic design and type specimens, Ivo Gabrowitsch provided copywriting and specimens, and Lucy Beckley provided English translations.