Backstory: Lukas Haider and Alexander Raffl met while working at the Viennese graphic design studio Great. It was during the initial concept phase for an unrelated project that they first sowed the seeds Unknown. “The final design for the pitch ultimately took a turn into another direction,” says the duo, but the idea stuck—and the pair decided to work independently to develop their new typeface.
Haider and Raffl created the first draft for the font in Adobe Illustrator, using Glyphs software for further developments. They’d initially thought that the project would take a few weeks. It ended up spanning five months. In the end, they’d created a font that bears three different typographic styles and 1,125 individual glyphs. You can now find Unknown Type across various pieces of merchandise—real and fictional—and on its own custom microsite, where the font is now available for people to download for free.
Where does the name Unknown Type come from? It comes from that prescient pitch where the idea began, which was for a project dealing, mysteriously, with the idea of “unknown territories.” The designers were exploring that concept across various visual forms, including a sample text design that ended up being a fragment of what later became Unknown.
What are its defining characteristics? As a striking display typeface, Unknown seems to merge the futuristic with the retro. Its bitmap-like forms make letters like the capital “K” look like a wonky staircase in one of its many possible iterations. Meanwhile, in more curved forms, letters seem to wiggle as though they are marshmallowy, worm-like entities. The beauty of this font is its mutability: Unknown consists of three styles—RND (Rounded), PX (Pixel), and MX (Mix)—and additional alternates can easily be substituted using upper or lowercase characters. “Although the roots of the typeface are derived from a linear grid-system, the overall appearance is still organic through the variation of the individual characters,” says Haider.
What should it be used for? Thanks to its marriage of boldness and variability, the font is a superb choice for applications like album cover art or other music and cultural projects, posters, magazine layout headlines or mastheads, and logotypes. The number of variations mean the font can be ownable and distinct, feeling subtly different depending on how its used against various color palettes or surfaces.
Haider and Raffl have seemingly delighted in showing off its various possibilities through creating a number of design experiments, from lighters to digital graphics to posters. They’ve also used it on a long-sleeved shirt for German record label TAU, where it appears in its beta version. As other designers tested the font, they too flexed it across multifarious uses—one of which includes debossed pills by David Gallo (fwiw, we don’t recommend that you make your own pills). Unknown was designed to work across both large-scale pieces and tiny digital applications, and the designers say that the vast set of additional characters makes for an enjoyable process while experimenting with typographic layouts.
What other fonts would be good to pair with it?
Since the typeface itself has three styles designed to complement each other, its creators reckon that “it doesn’t really depend on a secondary font for full effect.” But when using Unknown as a logotype or a part of editorial design, for example, where it would need pairing, we’d recommend simple fonts such as a classic Grotesk or Serif, which would work as interesting counterpoints to its striking appearance.