Back Story: Siri Lee Lindskrog — one half of Berlin-based studio Formal Settings — started work on Silvana about two-and-a-half years ago. It’s not unusual for Siri and Formal Settings cofounder Amanda-Li Kollberg to work on custom type projects, but around the beginning of the pandemic, with a few big client projects postponed, Lindskrog “found herself with the urge to dive deeper and work on bigger type families,” she said. In a way, the pandemic “presented a nice opportunity for me to kick off the creation of Silvana.”
Matthieu Salvaggio from the foundry Blaze Type offered “a lot of support and sparring” throughout the process of creating the typeface, and he had given Lindskrog access to a collection of old type specimen scans. It was among those that she found the samples that inspired her to get started.
“The most difficult part of the process has actually been to admit that it was finished,” said Lindskrog. “I tend towards perfectionism, but the nature of type design is that there will always be something you can add, improve, or adjust. At one point you need to let go. This has felt quite painful to me, knowing that there might be a kerning pair in there somewhere, which could have been nudged one more time.”
Now that it is finished, however, Silvana is launching with a bang: an exhibition focusing on the font will be on show at the Buchstabenmuseum (museum of letters) in Berlin from September 15 until October 2. “The exhibition explores how a type specimen can be experienced spatially, and in dialogue with its surrounding architecture,” Lindskrog explained. “This has led to a collaboration with the Berlin based design firm Paleworks, who will support the installation with their Modular Flow — a Bauhaus inspired structure made of tubular steel, blurring the line between art, architecture, and exhibition design.”
Why’s it called Silvana? Quite oblique, this one: it’s a “little nod to” Pennsylvania. That’s because Lindskrog drew heavily on a type specimen of a typeface called Pennsylvania published by Schelter & Giesecke during the 19th century, and as such, the letterforms are influenced by research into transitional typefaces from the era, “combining the Old Style spirit of preserving the pen’s influence with the sharper contrast and higher level of refinement introduced in modern style type design,” the designer saud. She was particularly taken with an unusual quirk of Pennsylvania: “there seems to be an unintended effect where excess ink has gathered on the right side of the lowercase ‘a’, creating a bumpy, dark spot,” she said — a “mistake is turned into a design detail.”
Lindskrog added, “In the design of Silvana this subtle printing error is transformed into a distinct design detail, adding a fine ink-like fluidity to several letters across the typeface, such as G, S, a, and n.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? As a contemporary display serif typeface, Silvana bears “sharp and dynamic strokes, strong contrast, and delicate pointed serifs.” The idea is that the font retains certain traditional, historical elements but with a contemporary twist. “It’s a graceful and confident typeface family,” says Lindskrog.
Among the elements that make Silvana so distinctive is the ink drop detail seen on several letters across the typeface, such as ‘G’, ‘S’, ‘a’, and ‘n’. There’s also a large set of alternates that offer a “more charming and expressive style,” in which the ink drop detail is applied more broadly. This can be found on the horizontal serifs of letters such as ‘E’, ‘T’, and ‘Z’, and on the diagonal crossing strokes found on ‘A’, ‘M’, ‘R’, and more.
“The fluid and dynamic quality of Silvana is fully pronounced in the italic weight palette, which features energetic end strokes, deep junctions and steep calligraphic turns,” says Lindskrog. “Stacked ligatures, like www and xxx, are a refreshing and playful addition to the designer’s tool kit.”
She adds, “I had fun drawing some more experimental and playful glyphs that have become a distinct and beloved part of the Silvana family.” The www ligature has since been embroidered on a cap produced by Blazetype.
What should I use it for? Lindskrog reckons that thanks to the extensive glyph set Silvana boasts, its versatility and personality mean it can work across a range of printed and digital applications. It might work to bring a little more character to a brand identity project, for instance, or as a logotype, and it would work equally well for things like book covers, editorial designs, posters, exhibition design, and websites. “Its sharp contrast makes it especially suited for display type purposes, but it also reads well in smaller point sizes,” the designer said.
What should I pair it with? While Lindskrog says she’s keen not to close off any possibilities for pairings since she’s “encountered designers with such a strong formal understanding that they make anything work,” she found that on a recent book project that “Silvana and ABC Diatype make a cute couple.” Acknowledging that “of course there are ‘rules’ such as ideally pairing typefaces that visually stand in contrast to each other, while having similar x-height and width,” with Silvana in particular the fact that it’s both quite unique and very versatile means that designers can probably go a bit nuts with pairings — anything from another display font to a more pared-back sans serif could probably do the job.