Daytona Mess, Nautila

Name: Nautila
Designer: Daytona Mess
Foundry: Type Department
Release Date: September 2021

Back Story: French type designer Daytona Mess (Anne-Dauphine to the tax man) started working on the font that was to become Nautila in spring 2019, with two projects in mind: one was her own take on a record cover for Cardi B’s track “Bodak Yellow;” the other was to use in a zine she designed called Pussy.  Having “loved the experience of working on the font for Pussy,” she decided to continue exploring its potential in a fully fledged contemporary serif typeface. “One of my very favorite things to do in graphic and type design is to take inspirations that could appear contradictory at first glance, and mix them up,” says Daytona.

 

Daytona Mess, Bodak, Cardi B

As such, with the Cardi B design, she deliberately railed against the sort of typefaces you might expect to see on such a record and wanted to “challenge the roughness of the song with something sleek and elegant,” she says. “I’ve always had a strong fondness for extremely elegant serifs.”

When creating the type designs for Nautila, she looked to fonts like Cormorant Garamond by Christian Thalmann and studied the letterforms in order to “decipher what made it classical, contemporary, and fundamentally elegant.” Other type inspirations included Quattrocento by Impallari Type, and Athemys by Morgane Vantorre. “But really, my main and first inspiration was music — mostly female lead pop and hip hop, through artists like Cardi B, Lana Del Rey, and too many others to cite,” says Daytona. “Music is my first love and is always hiding somewhere in the background of my typography inspiration in one way or another.”

Whys it called Nautila?

The font was initially called DM Bodak: DM for Daytona Mess, and Bodak for Bodak Yellow. This was later changed it to DM Brame, “brâme” being the French word describing the calling noise of rutting stags. “I come from a very strong French culture of hunting, and my grandparents used to own a gigantic vision park, where deer and other forest animals can roam freely, and I wanted to pay homage to this beautiful wealth of inspiration,” says Daytona.

Still, Brame wasn’t meant to be. It was Nautila, the third idea, that finally stuck, all thanks to the designer stumbling on “a gorgeous vintage cover” of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, published by Édition J. Hetzel. In the book, the fictional submarine owned by Captain Nemo is called Nautilus, and thus Nautila was born.

The font specimen draws on the blue, gold and black colors of the book cover that instantly enchanted Daytona; and she also recognized some qualities shared by the font and the story. “There is a certain roundness in the font that evokes to me the shape of a chambered nautilus, with the animal’s tendrils reminiscent of the sharp serifs of the font,” she says. “Also, I really like how the name ‘Nautila Regular’ allows me to display the alternates of both the A and the R.”

What are its distinguishing characteristics? 

Evolved with assistance from Romain Oudin of French foundry Lift Type, Nautila is a distinctive, elegant low-contrast serif typeface that went through 14 iterations before arriving at the forms we see today. The main challenge was the usual numerical characters, which are set as Oldstyle figures—a distinctive and unusual touch in that they share the same x-height as lowercase characters, and the 6 and ‘8’ have ascenders; the 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 bearing descenders.

What’s striking about the font is its sense of balance. “Its serifs are sharp, yet subtly and consistently rounded,” Daytona says, adding that the biggest design struggle was in the kerning and spacing: “I tend to have ideas that are really not classical for someone who designs such classical typefaces!”

But it all seems to have worked out in the end: Nautila supports most European Latin languages, Pinyin (the standard system of romanized spelling for transliterating Chinese) and uppercase Greek. It also features alternates for the capital A and R. Standout glyphs include the capital R, with its unusual tail; and its symmetrical capital C. Nautila only has one weight for now, but Daytona says she plans to expand it in future.

What should I use it for?

The classical modernity of Nautila and its sense of balance make it versatile enough to be used across titles, sub titles, and body copy. It’s an obvious choice for a display titling typeface, as well as within magazine spreads or on book covers.  Daytona’s “dream,” however, is to see it used in designs for music—applications like festival graphics, artist wordmarks, or record covers for “any music genre, but something like metal or hip hop would be super fun,” she says. Really, you could use it for pretty much anything: serious texts; wild acid graphics-style pieces, mixed with outlandish display fonts; digital applications. “I have seen some marvelous usages of early versions of the font in some UI/UX projects, and I would be very interested to see how the font lives in product packaging,” she adds.

What other fonts should I pair it with?

Again, the fact that Nautila straddles classical type design and modern-leaning neutrality means that it can go with most things—aside, perhaps similarity classic/contemporary serifs. For all its potential formality, Nautila’s quirks mean it’s able to stand out against wilder fonts; and might work particularly well with geometric typefaces. In early specimens, Daytona paired Nautila with DM Sans and Moderat. “As Nautila is fairly low contrast, a font with a much more impactful contrast, or on the contrary a sans (so that Nautila’s serifs shine), could work particularly well,” she adds. “I, for one, would love to see it challenged against a mono font.”