Back Story: THD Sentient was designed by Tim Hutchinson and developed in collaboration with London-based foundry MuirMcNeil. Hutchinson drew its prototype as a single weight to use in the signage for the London College of Communication exhibition Beyond 2001: New Horizons, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the school’s Stanley Kubrick archive.
Hutchinson based THD Sentient’s characters on the forms of numerals used to display telemetric data on the screen of the sentient computer, HAL 9000, in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The unfortunate astronauts onboard the Discovery One spacecraft bound for Jupiter learn that HAL, despite his higher artificial intelligence, is in fact all too human: error-prone, capable of lying to cover up his mistakes, and eventually even murderous.
Kubrick is famous for his meticulous research and attention to detail, which extends even to the minutiae of letterforms. Throughout 2001: A Space Odyssey, he used typefaces such as Gill Sans, Futura, Eurostile, and Albertus, often with subtle customizations. The way in which Kubrick uses type to seamlessly integrate with the visual narrative has served as a typographic blueprint for science-fiction moviemaking ever since. His design influence stretches far beyond the silver screen: rumor has it that when NASA sent the first man to the moon, it engraved the plaque on the lunar module with Futura because of its use in Kubrick’s film.
The characters used for HAL’s display are among the most nuanced and well-considered of the movie’s type choices. They were adapted for the movie from a little-used typewriter font cut for the IBM Selectric ‘Golfball’ system at two fixed sizes meant specifically for financial settings.
We don’t know whether Kubrick was directly involved in developing the details of HAL’s display, but it’s clear that its designer was inspired by the IBM numerals more for their evocation of a sophisticated computer language than for any technological accuracy. THD Sentient is an interpretation of these forms, rationalized by MuirMcNeil and extended into a fully-functional Latin character set.
Why’s it called THD Sentient? Sentient is an homage to HAL, (he meant well, at least at first), and THD stands for Tim Hutchinson Design, a nod to the collaboration between Hutchinson and MuirMcNeil to produce the font.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Glad you asked. THD Sentient is a monolinear, proportionally-spaced all-capitals type system in four weights with matching bodies that occupy precisely the same space across the range. A notable feature is the slight swellings at all letterform junctions to soften the austere, highly eccentric, non-geometric contours.
What should I use it for? “Whatever you like,” says McNeil. “It’s robust and remarkably readable for an all caps font.” Because all four weights sit on identical bodies, it’s also ideal for animation. The numbers are especially attractive.