The body in movement has long inspired type designers. In 1926, the Czech dancer Milka Mayerová choreographed the alphabet as a modern ballet; each step of her dance was then cut and spliced together to form a typographic photomontage by the designer Karel Teige. In recent years, Peter Biľak has been collaborating with contemporary dancers to create a variety of what he’s dubbed “typo-choreographies.” While the connection between rhythm, sequence, shape, and contour has been explored by type designers for more than a century, what none of them have yet had at their disposal is variable font technology. Enter NM Type, a two-person type design studio split between Spain and Sweden which has taken variable tech by the reins to make type dance like it’s never danced before.
NM Type’s dance-inspired display variable font is fittingly named Movement, and is the result of a six-month intensive collaboration with Design Indaba and the Cape Town-based contemporary choreographer Andile Vellem. Each of the font’s letter shapes has been inspired by movements by Vellem, who choreographed each capital letter of the alphabet and documented his sequence for the design duo. The resulting typeface was launched just two weeks ago, and is currently available for free download via NM Type’s website. It consists of four extremes, representing a variety of weights and spaces: Direct Black, Direct Thin, Indirect Black, and Indirect Thin.
“Type is rooted in calligraphy, which is about the movement of the hand,” says the “M” of NM Type, María Ramos. “That was a major link for us.” Her studio partner, Noel Pretorius, emphasizes that they weren’t interested in looking at other typefaces when conceiving of this project, though. “We were looking at Pollock and gestural painting,” he says. “Then one thing lead to another, and our research took us to one of the pioneers of modern dance, Rudolf von Laban.”
In the early 20th Century, Laban coined a method for describing and visualizing human movement known as “Laban movement analysis,” which is divided into four categories: body, effort, shape, and space. Each category has two opposite polarities—for example weight can be strong or light, and space direct or indirect. “You can also make a typeface heavy or light,” says Ramos, “so we ended up translating Laban’s theory into a design system to create our font. Our typeface can represent direct movement with bound, straight strokes, or indirect movement with flexible curved shapes.” Toggle with the variable font on NM Type’s website, and it seems to wane and wax; it grows rigid then fluid, like a body in motion.
“It was a complete partnership with Vellem—he brought his own ideas to the typeface,” says Pretorius. “Many features come directly from him. The X for example joins on top, so it has a bar. That feature came from how he swung his arms to create the shape.”
NM Type is becoming known for its research intensive approach to type design, and for thinking outside of the box when it comes to design inspiration. Its first release, Kinetic, is informed by the art of Alexander Calder, specifically his moving sculptures designed in the 1930s. For NM Type’s custom typeface for Jägermeister, the designers similarly looked to history, and were informed by the geometry of the Bauhaus and the company’s German heritage.
“We don’t want to make typefaces that are similar to others,” says Pretorius. “So for us, it’s about being inspired by things outside of the tight type design community. In the case of Movement, we turned to dance.”