FontLife

by | Jul 1, 2024

Beaufort is well informed by Times Roman, but not what one might call a revival.

Over the years, through successive waves of change, the Times typeface has been a persistent presence in my career—one way or another.

In my father’s father’s basement was a workshop where he could make or repair just about anything. There were ancient, arcane tools, and furniture glue which he boiled up from horse parts. In another room, under red light and the acrid smell of fixative, he magicked up enormous pictures of faraway places. Equally intriguing were a printing press and several cases of type. I inherited these in 1969, age 17.

Letterhead, 7 x 9”. Font: Times Roman, 10 and 8/12 pt. I printed this stationery for my uncle Mike in 1970, with foundry type letterspaced for effect (at this stage in my career, I had yet to encounter the old adage about stealing sheep).

The press was an Adana. Its chase was 6” x 4”, and it worked with moveable type, sticky black ink, and elbow grease, just as its forbears of Gutenburg’s day. Careful inking was required and subtle adjustments of pressure, to produce acceptable results. Grandfather had four typefaces, none above 18 pt size: Palace Script, Gill Sans, Bodoni Ultra and Times Roman. Each character was a tiny looking-glass sculpture of lead alloy. This was my introduction to typography, these faces the four pillars of its universe.

Artwork for a page from the book Your Ships in Being, 13” x 10”, which I designed and drew in 1974. Times type set by IBM Selectric, 11 pt.

The IBM Selectric electronic typewriter produced very affordable output. I renewed my acquaintance with Times, the letters this time molded on the surface of a “golf” ball. It wasn’t quite Typography, but it was close enough, and I preferred to pay for the service rather than wrestle with the Adana.

Fashion show program, 1979, 8½” x 11”. A heck of a lot of cut-and-paste-and-peel, photostats and Letrafilm texture, with type galleys set on a Quadritek phototypesetter. Fonts: Times, Helvetica, and Venus Bold Extended in the logo.

At my first job, with sales promotion company Mil-Mac in Toronto, we had a Quadritek photocomposing system, in-house. The fonts were film negatives sandwiched in plastic, and one could control size, leading, measure, kerning and tracking, all incrementally, on a small, non-WYSIWYG screen. Ed Benguiat’s art nouveau masterpieces Souvenir and Korinna were all the rage, but Helvetica was the workhorse, and Times.

Tear sheet of Wilfong trade advertisement, 1986, 10¼ x 7”. The publication is Machinery & Equipment MRO, 11” x 16”. The Times Bold headline was set in Letraset, in the titlecase style then in vogue. The text type is also Times, 11½/12½.

As an advertising agency art director during the 1980s, I purchased galleys from trade shops that used either Alphatype CRT or Berthold Diatronic systems. I rarely (see above) specified Times—it was too ordinary, and besides, every week Jerry Schoolenberg from Techni-Process would come by and drop off a new specimen booklet showing the latest typefaces from ITC and Berthold, and I just had to try them all. If one went with the flow, new faces like Tony Stan’s Garamond Light Condensed or Berkeley Oldstyle, set very tight with custom kerning tables, exploited the new technology to great effect.

Citizens for a Lakeshore Trail, direct mail leaflet, 8½” x 11”, 1991. Karey Shinn was one of the founding members of the trail (which inspired and was subsequently absorbed by the Trans Canada Trail), and I designed this leaflet and drew the map. Illustrations by Lisette Mallet (1960–2023). I tried to keep my pro bono design relatively “un-creative” and to the point, so Times was perfect for the job, especially the complex panel listing the meeting program. Desktop publishing was a godsend for activist work, as it meant I no longer had to bug suppliers for free typesetting for my favourite causes.

The Macintosh, or more specifically Adobe’s invention of ATM and the PostScript Type One font, changed the rules yet again. PostScript moved me even further from letterpress, yet Times persisted, included as one of the handful of resident fonts with every Apple LaserWriter. So again I renewed my acquaintance.

Holiday, January 1957. Art Director: Frank Zachary. Page size: 10¾” x 13¾”. Fonts: Bauer Bodoni Title capitals, 60 pt., and Times Roman body, 10/12.

I became ever more fascinated with type, if such a thing were possible. My father-in-law, a psychiatrist in Winnipeg, gave me his collection of 1950s Holiday magazines. Frank Zachary’s art direction combined Bauer Bodoni headlines with Times text in spectacular, spacious, asymmetric modernist layouts. The typography is understated and finely detailed. The letterpress Times is full of life, with tremendous cut and an almost imperceptible bounce.

Strategies, financial marketing newsletter, 1996. 8½” x 11”. The typefaces are Bauer Bodoni (deck) and Times (10/15)—a combination swiped from Holiday—plus Franklin Gothic Condensed and Trade Gothic Condensed.

In the 1990s I freelanced as a graphic designer and Ariad Custom Communications was my main client. With a background in advertising, experience as a typographer, and being an earlier adopter of desktop publishing, I was able to create sophisticated advertorial publications in Quark XPress. But my side gig as a type designer was growing.

Altsys Fontographer enabled me, someone outside the specialized type design industry, to design and execute fonts. Previously, I had drawn Shinn Sans in 1985 for Typsettra, but that company made the fonts—filmstrip for headlines and Berthold Diatronic for text. Now, in the mid-1990s, I used Fontographer to make a series of slightly wonky fonts for the FontFont brand—Fontesque, Merlin and Oneleigh; but I wanted to try my hand at a really basic text typeface.


Design magazine, cover by Tony Sutton, 1997, 8½” x 11”. Fonts: Beaufort Old Style (nameplate), Shinn Sans Extra Bold (border) and Impact for the illustration, which I rendered with Pixar Typestry.

When Tony Sutton suggested I produce a typeface for Design magazine (the Journal of the Society for News Design), I immediately thought of Times as a benchmark. It’s the classic news type of the 20th Century, but for many years it had rarely looked its best. Why?—and how could I incorporate its merits into a new design? The “why” was clear: photoset and printed offset, without sufficient ink density, Times’ hairlines and tiny, sharp serifs were merely delicate, not incisive as they were in metal. Nonetheless, its proportions and the baroque stress of its lower case were still admirable, distinct and peerless. I decided to build a face from scratch, with something of these characteristics, but addressing the shortcomings of the fine serifs and hairlines.

I made the hairlines of Beaufort substantial, but that wouldn’t work for the serifs, too clunky. Hence the flared serifs. These also allow a tighter fit, a preference of many art directors. Times was often seen scrunched up, with its serifs bumping into one other.

In Beaufort, the serifs are discreet. They are curved, mid-way between a bracket and a wedge—avoiding, on the one hand, the slightness, akin to minting, of the serifs in Friz Quadrata, Flange, Jaeger Daily News, or Symbol, and on the other hand, the larger, more mannered chisel-shapes of Albertus, Amerigo, or Matrix (those being my “similar to” references in 1997). Coming to a bezier point, the serifs are sharp at any size, acuity determined by the resolution of the rendering device—that was an innovation exploiting the new digital technology.

Child Psychotherapy Foundation of Canada, corporate fundraising brochure, 8¼” x 11½”, 1998. For such a serious subject, Beaufort Old Style had sufficient gravitas, with something of the quality of letterpress Times when printed on a heavy uncoated stock, which is what I specified here.

The major idea driving Beaufort was the impact of changing printing technologies at the threshold of the reader’s vision. The serif effect was the type’s raison d’être. Consequently there are few idiosyncrasies, because quirks aren’t necessary to impart character. In the past, I had been guilty of creating some rather unusual typefaces (and I love them dearly), but in this instance the words of Stanley Morison, who is generally credited with the design of Times, were an admonition I was willingly prepared to heed:
“The good type designer knows that for a new font to be successful, it has to be so good that only a few recognize its novelty.”

The Beaufort family of 30 fonts, published in 1999.

I decided to replace Beaufort Old Style in 1999 with a two-axis Multiple Master version of the concept, with the new Beaufort having slightly less contrast than the original. But the MM variable format was dropped by Adobe, so Beaufort was released as a mega-family of 30 fonts. Then in 2011 I upgraded the normal width to OpenType, as Beaufort Pro, and in 2023 the Roman was released as a variable font, with added Greek and Cyrillic.

The Beaufort design was in the right place at the right time to exploit the capabilties of the new technology, and became established at the turn of the millennium, when there were very few independent foundries. It has since become a minor classic, and continues to be Shinntype’s best seller. It’s my Times. ●

Beaufort today: a face for many places, such as this gaming site, and all the champions who play.