Courtesy Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes, Commercial Type.
Our weekly look at a favorite new typeface. Share yours with us on Twitter and Instagram @AIGAdesign with #TypeTuesday.

Name: Tanja
Designers: Paul Barnes and Christian Schwartz
Foundry: Commercial Type
Release Date: March 2016

Back story: Tanja, based on Commercial Type’s hairline Marian 1554, got its start from sketches for a corporate design project Barnes did for a German publisher in 2009. Like Marian, it owes a great deal to the Renaissance typefaces of Claude Garamond and Robert Granjon, but has its own contemporary aesthetic. According to Schwartz, Tanja “explores how something nuanced, complex, and beautiful can be made out of the simplest possible form: a circle. We were inspired, in part, by pearl necklaces,” he says.

“The typeface was developed with help from a proprietary tool built for the purpose by Frederik Berlaen, a brilliant designer and programmer living in Belgium. Frederik is responsible for Robofont, the main program we use to build our typefaces, but he’s also a genius at making little extensions that can speed up complicated and repetitive processes. With Tanja, we showed him an early sketch, and he made us an extension that allowed us to place dots on lines and curves. Even then, we had to manually tweak various dots to perfect the gentle variation of size.”

Why’s it called Tanja? It’s named for a friend of the designers, and it also works well with the name Marian upon which it’s based.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Tanja is made up of dots, not by necessity (many dot-based typefaces exist to fulfill technical requirements such those as for dot matrix printers, or the Jumbotron at sports stadiums), but by an aesthetic and conceptual choice. And while it’s based on a simple idea, Tanja is quite complex; the dots don’t rely on an underlying grid structure, lending the characters a calligraphic fluidity. The dots also vary gradually in size to reflect the thickening and thinning of strokes, giving the letterforms graceful tapered ends and a sophisticated overall look. 

What should I use it for? Designed as a display typeface for sizes above 30 point, where an element of surprise is needed, Tanja comes with a full complement of numeral styles, fractions, small capitals, swash letters, and ligatures. It has a lighthearted, delicate nature—handle with care.

Who’s it friends with? Marian 1554 (to state the obvious), but for fun try it with Narziss, with its ball terminals and options for swirly and swoopy ornamentation. If this starts to feel a bit much, retreat to the sanity of Bauer Bodoni.

Courtesy Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes, Commercial Type.
Courtesy Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes, Commercial Type.