Back Story: Justin Sloane was at a family reunion in Oregon, pinned up inside due to a forest fire, when he first started drawing Simula. The development of the full typeface, released this month from Sharp Type, is a lesson in endurance—Sloane worked on it during early mornings for years, as a “meditative thing,” using it in posters and various design projects at different phases. He put it on a T-shirt for record label Ghostly, created different specimens, lent it out to friends. “I used it as a vehicle to start learning how to draw typefaces,” he says. “I’ve done custom type and have dealt with letterforms a lot, but in dealing with type as a system and optimizing it for other people to use—I had to figure all of that stuff out.”
Sloane is a graphic designer who designed, among many other things, the Sharp Type identity and website. When it comes to type design, he considers himself an outsider, but he got some early encouragement from the foundry’s co-founder Lucas Sharp to make Simula into a full typeface. Sharp got him to experiment with different weights and offered critiques as the font got closer to completion. “I’m interested in drawing,” Sloane says, “and putting those drawings into a set of software to output to other people is what’s interesting to me [about developing a typeface].”
After four years of drawing and redrawing, the result is described as a “mechanical re-interpretation of calligraphic form,” with a significant contrast between the Roman and Italic.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Simula started out as a slab serif—thick, geometrical, with monospaced proportions—but over the years Sloane slowly reversed course, molding it backwards into a traditional serif font. He began creating versions with more nuance, and incorporated calligraphy. “I kept returning to different fonts to figure out how to build those relationships,” says Sloane. He wanted Simula to have a sort of heaviness to it, to fill space—“I wanted to make something that’s more of a display, that’s workhorse oriented; what I was drawing was pretty big,” he says. “I also didn’t want it to seem too contemporary. I like the idea of it looking like it’s always been there.”
Simula has echoes of Plantin, a 1913 Monotype typeface designed by Christophe Plantin in 16th century Belgium for use in mechanical typesetting, and which would later become an influence for Times New Roman. On the other hand, Sloane also looked toward calligraphy, drawing influence from the rhythm of the letterforms. The Italic is made up of thick, precise, blocky strokes that looks like “calligraphy drawn with a fat marker,” to quote the Sharp Type description. The Roman and Italic are so distinct they almost don’t feel like the same font. “They sort of aggravate each other,” says Sloane. Because of this, the typeface is defined by tension and contrast, while somehow also giving off a sense of elegance and harmony.
Why’s it called Simula? It’s named for an obsolete programming language developed in the 1960s at the Norwegian Computing Center in Oslo. Sloane wanted it to feel like a dead language, and was looking into spoken and written languages before deciding to change course and look for a programming language no longer in use. “Adding a layer of technology to it felt right,” he says. “It’s a bit crude and simple, but I did it all digitally. I didn’t even print it out for few years.”
What should I use it for? Sloane says that so far a friend of his has used it in branding for a shoe company, but he’d like to see it used for all types of things, reflecting the variation within the typeface itself. “With most things, there’s an element of high and low with it,” he says. “You can use it in a way that’s kind of crude, but I’d also like seeing it used a hyper elegant context. It would be great if it could do both.”
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? “Big heavy sans serifs,” says Sloane, “Euro style, something that’s really blunt, extended.” Of course, you could also use the Roman and Italic of Simula together, for a seamless pairing.