Back Story: Fernhout is based on a modular geometric lettering system created in 1963 by the legendary Dutch designer Wim Crouwel for Amsterdam’s Van Abbemuseum Edgar Fernhout exhibition poster and catalog. The 2021 type revival was commissioned for the biggest design event in Northern Europe, the Dutch Design Week (DDW), held in Eindhoven.
Thonik approached The Foundry Types and asked them to create a typeface, expanding Crouwel’s character set to include a-z in lowercase, plus figures and punctuation glyphs. The assignment was challenging. Quay says, “Crouwel never envisaged his designs to go on to be used as complete typefaces, and would often be taken aback to know people would want to use them in their own design projects.”
Why’s it called Fernhout? Three guesses. First two don’t count.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? The alphabet consists of a simple rectangular block system, two columns wide and four oblongs tall, plus circular segments and angled indentations. A horizontal line introduced by Crouwel himself in the original letterforms runs through the center of all the letters as a direct reference to Fernhout’s landscape paintings. Crouwel’s grid allowed many glyphs to practically design themselves, but complex glyphs with diagonal strokes such as k, s, x, z, 2, 4, 5, and 7 needed to be stripped back and simplified.
The designers encountered a few dilemmas along the way. For example, what should the dots above ‘i and j’ look like? What shapes would work as readable punctuation? Junctions within the center section of the numerals 3 and 8 were also tricky to achieve. Quay and de Rozario added a square element along with a double quarter-circle to their toolkit of shapes, allowing all of these glyphs to be easily recognizable while staying true to Crouwel’s original concept.
Thomas Widdershoven, co-founder of Thonik, says, “Crouwel loved monospaced letters, so the fact that Edgar Fernhout’s name doesn’t contain w, m, l, or i must have appealed to him. We had to tackle those letters and tried to finish the game while playing by the same rules. We opted for all lowercase characters since they feel more democratic.”
What should I use it for? Fernhout is a special-occasion typeface—its elemental forms come in a single weight with a limited character set. Mainly intended for use as display, it can be deployed for branding or editorial design situations where its dramatic appearance can be allowed to overtake legibility. (It’s readable, but you have to give it a sec.)
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Fernhout functions as a graphic element almost more than as a typeface. Try a neutral, legible sans serif typeface such as Foundry Unie, to be launched in early 2022. (Need a sneak peek in the meantime? It’s currently the primary typeface on the Foundry Type’s website.) Graphik is another good choice, simple but never boring.