Back Story: Signifier is a heady brew of a typeface informed by Kris Sowersby’s careful analysis of typographic history and its application to the present. This modern digital font incorporates Brutalism, machine logic, alchemy, and the work of 20th century artist Yves Klein, as it draws heavily upon the material-based past. A translation of the lead, antimony, and tin of the 17th-century Fell types into ones and zeros, it started out as a revival project before Sowersby had an epiphany of sorts that changed the course of his work. “I finally realized that searching for the essential materiality of digital fonts was misguided,” he says. “Their essential nature, like all things digital, is immaterial…Bézier curves aren’t anything physical, their raw quality isn’t material at all. Form is the void and void is the form.”
Klein’s signature color International Klein Blue, which he developed in 1960 for its dimensionless quality, is put to work in the typeface’s identity design as pure RGB screen blue—connecting it to ’80s computer graphic aesthetics, as well as early digital fonts like Matrix by Zuzana Licko and Charter by Matthew Carter, which also informed the development of Signifier.
Why’s it called Signifier? The terms “signifer” and “signified” come from the field of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? The typeface uses a language of details such as rectangular baseline serifs, triangular head serifs, and sharp terminals bound with connective tissue of refined Bézier curves. These differences, unnoticeable at text sizes, become obvious when set larger; they are part of Sowersby’s strategy to incorporate some of the irregularities of the physical world of type into the sterile, pristine digital environment. Signifier’s characters have the unexpected bonus of behaving like a set of optical masters: the details work at all sizes because the qualities of both text and display fonts are built into the same letterforms.
What should I use it for? Signifier’s unique ability to function as both a display and text face means you can use it pretty much anywhere, for anything. It would especially shine as the main font for a print publication or poster, doing double duty for headlines and text, and is a versatile option for use in branding, packaging, and websites as well.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? For a sans-serif partner, try Knockout or Akkurat. If you feel like experimenting with subtleties, mix it up with a 17th-Century Fell Type such as Garamond or Granjon. Or bring in Matrix or Charter, the contemporary typefaces that influenced Signifier.