(Photo: Kirstin McKee)
Come December, the renovated and expanded Cooper Hewitt will welcome back visitors with a bold new look. The tricky task of reimagining the graphic identity of the Smithsonian Design Museum was taken on by Pentagram’s Eddie Opara, who tapped Chester Jenkins to work his typographical magic. Jenkins, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Village, created a custom typeface—Cooper Hewitt—that the museum has released into the digital wild: the bold sans serif can be downloaded free of charge as installable fonts, Web font files, and open-source code. Having taken the recent press preview of the museum as an excuse to follow Jenkins around and ask him his views on the various typefaces that were revealed by the painstaking restoration of the Andrew Carnegie Mansion, we agreed to relent if he would answer just seven more questions. He graciously agreed.
What three words best describe the Cooper Hewitt typeface?
Objective. Accessible. Spirited.
How does Cooper Hewitt differ from your Polaris Condensed?
The width of Cooper Hewitt is based on the Semicondensed version of Polaris, which only exists as beta fonts on the computers at Pentagram and UFOs on my hard drive. When I drew the Cooper Hewitt types, I didn’t recycle the outlines of Polaris, but instead drew everything from scratch, referring to Polaris Semicondensed, not simply tweaking it.
The range of weights is greater in Cooper Hewitt; while a couple of the master weights were based on Polaris, the family of fonts has a different internal structure. A significant stylistic difference is in the hewing to horizontal and vertical stroke endings, as opposed to the angled terminal strokes which are a touchstone of Polaris. Then there are the “plateaus”—or “plateaux” for the linguistic sticklers—within most of the curves in round glyphs. You can’t really see them at anything less than a million points, but they separate the two designs. And the numerals and currency glyphs depart significantly from Polaris.
Village is a type co-op—what is that exactly and who are the members?
Village is a group of a dozen small foundries from around the world. While not technically organized as a co-operative, our model was the first of its kind in the digital era, as far as we are aware. We contact our members to discuss important decisions, such as adding new members to the group. The members sometimes collaborate with each other, and often pass along custom projects where one member is more suited than another. We also avoid stepping on each others’ toes; one member will not publish a design if it’s stylistically close to another member’s design. We distribute the work of our members: A2-Type, Blackletra, Feliciano Type Foundry, Klim, LuxTypo., MCKL, Schwartzco, Type Supply, and Urtd. We publish work through two foundries: Constellation and Incubator.