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Name: Nordvest
Designer: Nina Stössinger
Foundry: Monokrom
Release Date: September 2016

Back story: We have Leonardo da Vinci to thank for Nordvest. It was his quote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” that prompted Stössinger to keep working on the typeface she first started in 2014 at the Type and Media Master’s program at the Royal Academy of Art the Hague. Nordvest derives from two distinct lineages: typefaces that literally reverse the stroke contrast, such as Caslon’s Italian (1821) and Peter Bil’ak’s Karloff (2012), and those that merely “inflate” horizontal parts, such as Monotype’s Figaro (1940), an example of the wider genre of French Antiques or French Clarendons popular in the US during the second part of the 19th century. “Nordvest stays closer to the latter,” Stössinger says. “My strategy was to strengthen horizontals rather than literally invert anything.” Looks like this grad student, now a senior typeface designer at  Frere-Jones Type, really did her homework.

Type specimen, 1821 Caslon Italian.
Type specimen, 1821 Caslon Italian.

Why’s it called Nordvest? Nordvest is the Norwegian spelling of “Northwest.” Since the typeface is published by a Norwegian foundry, Stössinger felt that a recognizable name with a local spelling was appropriate. “There are a few stories behind the name,” she says. “My favorite is that I like to think of the design as a Northern [European] interpretation of a genre, or rather a particular contrast pattern, that we’ve mostly known from Western movies.” 

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Nordvest is a relatively rare animal: a serif typeface suitable for text whose horizontals are just slightly heavier than its verticals, redistributing the conventional placement of thin and thick parts along letterforms. Many other reverse contrast typefaces do this in a loud, ostentatious, and even comical way, but Stössinger was “more interested in a subtle deployment of this effect, toning down its visual weirdness as much as possible and seeing what functional implications an uncommon weight distribution might have for the texture. Other writing systems, such as Hebrew, use this convention. Why not a Latin typeface, too?” 

What should I use it for? The heaviest styles pack quite a punch in larger point sizes, making them ideal for branding or packaging, while the lighter weights work well as text. “Nordvest offers a fresh voice for publishing and editorial design, since it doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into any particular stylistic drawer,” Stössinger says.

“I’m hoping to see some unexpected uses too; I’d love for people to play with this and experiment with all the things it can do.”

Who’s it friends with? Pairing Nordvest with dense sans serifs really makes its uncommon weight distribution pop out. Try Antique Olive Compact. Monoline bold grotesques or geometric sans serif faces work very well too, such as the heavier weights of Mallory