Our Strandwolf series sets out to republish out of print and hard to find fiction from Africa in the 20th century. This is a long term project, so we needed a design that wouldn’t age, but that could also build a little brand recognition as a series. I was very attracted to the approach of Fitzcarraldo Editions, with their blue and white schema, but I didn’t want to be quite so minimal. Some of our titles may be a little obscure, and we needed to be a little friendlier. I settled on a charcoal and white colour scheme, and commissioned designer Carla Latsky to sketch out some illustrations. I instantly fell in love: they had the right balance between simplicity and accessibility.
The typeface for the body of the book took a little more research. Our major constraint for the series is to keep costs low, to keep the selling price low while ensuring it is a viable and sustainable project for us. I needed a typeface that could hold up on relatively cheap paper and that was legible and compact. To offset this, the typeface needed to have a little elegance. Finally, the aim of the series is to reintroduce African fiction from the 20th century, so I needed something bookish, but definitely not nostalgic. I took an immediate aversion to any ball terminals, they felt fussy and somehow colonial. This is a heavy weight for a terminal to bear, and almost certainly unfair. But many of the books we publish, and want to publish, have complex histories, and I wanted the design to allow the text to speak. My initial instinct was to use a mono-line slab serif, a modern Egyptian, that would break the mould of this type of book. As much as I enjoyed this approach in a recent project, it felt like I would be strangling the text from the other direction.
While poking around, I came across Financier by the Klim Type Foundry. It felt like a strange choice: the font was designed for the Financial Times, and I wasn’t sure that it could shake off the newsiness in a new context. But I loved the simplicity of the terminal on the ‘r’, the crisp slash of the ‘y’ descender and the straight slabby serifs. The contrast and the slightly tall ascender lent the font an elegance, without being pretty, while the narrow width allowed a certain amount of efficiency. I also loved the italics, which tend towards a slopy roman rather than a true italic. This seemed to really work with the contemporary feel I wanted to emphasize.
After typesetting our first two books, and beginning work on the next, I feel like it was an effective choice. You can read more about the process behind Financier here. As always, I’m blown away by the scholarship, meticulousness and inventiveness of type designers, and this is worth a read.