Back Story: Berlin-based digital type foundry PFA Typefaces started life in 2020 as a way for type designer Martin Aleith — cofounder of design collective Pfadfinderei – to distribute his own typefaces. That same year he was commissioned to create the visual identity for Berlin club Revier Südost (RSO); building a brand centred on a custom font called RSO-Script, an eccentric shapeshifting face formed of sprawling handwriting-like scrawls.
“Developing this typeface was so much fun that I really wanted to make it available again for everyone else,” said Aleith. “So I started a new one from scratch in 2021.” It’s this new typeface that became Pardon 4×4, and it was drawn in Illustrator using a mouse, rather than a pen. The idea was to experiment with giving up motor and sensory control, “which of course doesn’t work,” said Aleith. “I’ve learned to write with my hands, that’s why I get something trained out of writing with my hands. However, I find it more difficult to do the same with my feet. The outcome is unpredictable, which is good. The aim was to create letterforms that only remind one of certain letters instead of depicting them.”
While this might seem like a playful approach for a playful font, it wasn’t without its challenges: “Translation from hand to writing should have been extra complicated. Some characters were even drawn mirrored or upside down,” Aleith explained.
He whittled down around 50 different iterations to a selection of four characters that he took into Glyphs, but despite that monumental feat, the designer seemed to have had a blast. “Despite the hard work, it was a lot of fun,” he said. “I have never laughed so much during any other typeface developing progress.”
The final typeface is accompanied by a fun tool dubbed the Pardon 4×4 Generator, available for anyone to use online, which selects the stylistic set options randomly for each character and aims to help generate some unusual and unexpected letter combinations. “We liked that it stops you from overthinking and lets you explore the different stylistic set combinations in an easy and playful way,” said Aleith. Since Pardon 4×4 offers up such a vast amount of options for each letter, the idea of the generator is to mitigate choice paralysis. “That could be quite overwhelming, so we thought a little randomness could help to find a combination that suits you — in a way, every combination comes up unexpected,” Aleith said.
Why’s it called Pardon 4×4? Since the typeface is so strange — “an unconventional scrawl,” as PFA calls it — the name is ironic. “To apologize for being an aesthetic impertinence is actually totally absurd,” said Aleith. “I think it’s funny to have an apology in the title even though it’s not meant that way. Also, it’s short and sweet, memorable, has melody, and the letters look good.”
The 4×4 part of the name refers to the fact that each character has four different forms, meaning that a four letter word offers up a whopping 256 different possible combinations.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? While Pardon 4×4 is a single weight font, the obvious standout is the fact it has such a massive breadth of characters. There are four different alternates for each uppercase and lowercase letter (a Default set, and three other Stylistic sets of alternates), as well as a huge selection of numbers, arrows, icons, and special characters, “which are also freaks,” said Aleith in reference to their “nonconformist” appearance — “characteristics that have a hard time being accepted in an idealized world.”
Naturally, that was all deliberate: PFA’s aims was to create an aesthetic that treads a fine line between “childish doodles and aggressive mania,” as Aleith said. “Normally one grinds on letter shapes to achieve a certain ideal of beauty. I was tempted to do the exact opposite here. I really wanted to find flaws, injuries, and wrong proportions.”
The four different sets of letters vary according to width, meaning that should you wish to, you could create a homogenous text using a single set, or go wild and combine alternates with one another to create a more dynamic, playful approach.
What should I use it for? Since Pardon 4×4 is far from a shrinking violet of a font, it’s best suited to bolder, more creative-leaning applications. Aleith reckons it would work well as a movie font: “I see it on a poster, lettering colored in yellow, large text size and underneath the logos of individual film festivals presenting it,” he said. Along similar lines, Pardon would also be a good fit for stop motion films: if various alternate sets are used together, they’d almost animate themselves by their flickering as they shapeshift.
And of course, as RSO-Script proved, Pardon lends itself well even to more comprehensive branding projects, as with the RSO club identity. In short, it’s great for anything that deserves to look a little outside of the ordinary.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Clearly Pardon is striking in its own right, so it’s best off paired with more neutral fonts. Since it shares a similar x-height and cap-height as modern sans serif fonts, Aleith recommends trying it out alongside those sort of typefaces, creating a natural sense of tension through the contrasts. “I’ve already tried it with one of our typefaces such as the Haben-Grotesk, which will be released pretty soon,” the designer said.