Back Story: Setting type on curves presents today’s designers with a unique set of challenges— correcting the awkwardness of letter spacing on a vector curve can feel like arm wrestling with a giant. Yet curving text is natural in handwriting and lettering, seen across many cultures and scripts, and numerous examples of beautifully-curved type exist on coins and stamps that predate the invention of commercial typefaces. Łukasiewicz decided to address the challenge by creating an uppercase-only variable typeface that allows progressive adjustment in the anatomy of the characters, depending on the radius of the circle of the type’s curved path. The results are surprising, experimental, and not traditionally beautiful letterforms that nevertheless sit on curved paths much better than characters designed to live on ruler-straight baselines.
Why’s it called Radius? The short, memorable name (marketing!) relies upon a reference to the geometric properties of a circle and, as the designer says, to the “rubbery” nature of the letterforms.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Paradoxically, the letter shapes are composed of straight segments with no curves at all. Manipulating the angles of stem outlines can create a great number of kinks (broken shapes around the control points). As it was impossible to control this, the designer’s pragmatic solution was to avoid curves at all. The user can adjust the variable letterforms until they become ungainly and even kind of clunky, distorting them into odd shapes. “Radius is designed to give users as much flexibility and adjustment as possible, with the ability to control letters’ top and bottom weight independently, creating characteristic tapering and bulging in width. This feature defines the design, which follows its own mechanism rather than a convention. As a result, there are many unexpected shapes,” says Łukasiewicz.
What should I use it for? “Definitely for typesetting anything on curves!,” Łukasiewicz says. “We hope we proved that it works as both a title and body font by publishing a pocket English-French-Polish dictionary of circle-related proverbs.”
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? It pairs well with calmer sans serifs, both humanist and grotesk—try Brando or Norbert. “It’s exciting to see what designers will come up with, especially nowadays where tension, motion, and responsiveness build the visual expression. I can imagine it used for titles in lifestyle or sports magazines. We hope that Radius will build its own surprising story because of its freedom of distortion,” says Łukasiewicz. His line of thinking about variable fonts—technology still in its early days—paves the way for the development of more typefaces that will free designers, finally, from chasing their tails around type on curved paths.