Back Story: Smoosh was born, appropriately, thanks to sex — more accurately, thanks to a lettering commission from Wired magazine for its sex issue back in 2015. The layout designer, Caleb Bennett, showed Tal Leming of Baltimore-based type studio Type Supply some letterpress-like type and asked if he could draw some headlines in the same style. He was given just two days to do so.
The sample he was shown was a hyper condensed typeface similar to Bodoni in style, “probably an old wood type from over a hundred years ago,” Leming says. “I told them that there was no way I could draw all of the headlines as unique lettering in that time, but I could make a font with just enough letters and numbers for them to typeset the headlines.”
Leming then drew a pretty faithful reinterpretation of their sample, but, as he puts it, “it was boring. Think Bodoni, but very condensed.” The designers at Wired tried it out, and felt it wasn’t working — they needed something weirder. So Leming went back to the drawing board and began work on a font with stroke weight contrasts that were “as extreme as possible.”
All parties were happy with the new version, but Leming says he hated the numbers. A few weeks later he added some new weights and optical sizes so that the hairlines would always be ridiculously thin. “I pretty much drew the first version in one day. I didn’t have time to second guess, revise or anything,” he says. “What you see is what popped into my head when I thought, ‘What would high-contrast, very condensed and weird font look like?’ It was a very visceral, almost athletic process.”
“This project changed the way I approach type design”
Since that Wired commission six years ago, Leming occasionally received requests to license the font. It decided to formally release it in early 2020, just before the pandemic broke out. As such, it was filed away for a bit and finally released in September this year. He’s already made a pixelated variation on Smoosh.
“This project changed the way I approach type design,” Leming says. “The result made me realize that I had reached a point in my career where I could trust my instincts. Caleb and I used the same process to make some typefaces for his work at Condé Nast Traveler. I have a bunch of typefaces I’ve designed using this process that I’ll be releasing through my retail collection over the next year or two. I love working this way.”
Why’s it called Smoosh?
Thanks to those intense contrasts. “Because it is smooshed,” says Leming. It’s as simple as that really. “I needed a name for it and that was the first thing that popped into my head,” he adds.
What are its distinguishing characteristics?
Smoosh is a hyper-compressed, aggressively high-contrast typeface with extremely pointy serifs that is billed as bearing “delicate, obnoxious forms.” Smoosh is all about making contrasts as extreme as possible. “There are a lot of things that don’t make sense, but look right, such as the nearly square curves and the ridiculously small bracketing at the serifs,” Leming explains. During the design process, the terminals in the figures presented a huge challenge. These are typically rounded in the style of modern typefaces like Didot and Bodoni; while “squished” rounds were transformed into serifs that take rounded rectangular forms. “In isolation those look like some kind of 1970s space font,” says Leming. “Smoosh is full of contradictions and things that should not work but somehow do.”
What should I use it for?
Since Smoosh has such unusual, distinctive forms, it’s very much the kind of font that would work well for applications where the text needs to stand out – think posters, billboards, record sleeves, and perhaps as a brand font for a particularly brave brand. “It should be used big. Very big. It should also be used sparingly. Very sparingly,” Leming advises.
What other fonts should I pair it with?
Since Smoosh is so unique, and marries very classical forms with out-there modern twists, it’s pretty adaptable and could work with fonts across the safe/weird spectrum. “think it could work with anything. You could use it with a pretty modern, a boring sans serif, a brush script or anything,” says Leming. “I’ve been thinking about this for five minutes and I can’t think of a single thing that Smoosh wouldn’t work with. Now that I think about it, this may be its strangest characteristic.”