Facetime 4: Type Designer Chester Jenkins on Galaxie Polaris

Thanks to the simplicity of the alphabet, thousands of Western fonts are released every year, each with its own cultural and historical nuances.

For Japanese designers, the subtleties can be obscure and difficult to identify, making choosing a good font a daunting task. As a result, many Japanese designers stick with familiar favorites like Helvetica or Garamond, or grasp at decorative fonts that lose their flavor after a few bites.

This series introduces practical, versatile, well-crafted Western fonts by contemporary type designers from around the world. We encourage you to try a few, and learn about the people and thinking behind them.

The weights of Galaxie Polaris

Galaxie Polaris

photo of Chester Jenkins

Galaxie Polaris (2004, 2005)

Chester Jenkins & Tracy Jenkins
New York

What was your inspiration for this typeface?

Tracy was in the MFA Design program at Yale, and wanted a typeface to use in her thesis. Her work was in the Modernist tradition, formally very clean, with focus on the language and imagery. Instead of working with the usual suspects, like Univers, Helvetica, or Akzidenz-Grotesk, she wanted a type family which was formally neutral, but not completely free of personality. Tracy guided me in making the face, acting as the editor and director.

San Fransisco Ballet logo in Didot and Galaxie Polaris

Identity for the San Fransisco Ballet (MetaDesign)

Do you think that Helvetica, Univers or Akzidenz-Grotesk are relatively personality-free?

I actually think that Akzidenz-Grotesk is pretty funky, in a very good way; there are some unexpected proportions and details which come from the 19th century. Helvetica, and especially Univers, are knowingly and purposefully Modernist in their intent, so are very neutral. Akzidenz-Grotesk was born at the same time as Modernism, half a century before the International Style became the face of Modernism.

I am happy for Galaxie Polaris to be neutral and low in personality.

Galaxie Polaris in Use

Glenn Ligon — Some Changes Artist Monograph (2x4)

Do you think that a 21st century typeface like Galaxie is more likely a better candidate for 21st century design problems than a 20th century font like Helvetica? How are these older fonts doing, for example, on the screen, a medium the original designers had no way of imagining?

I can’t claim that Polaris is optimised for screen display; software and hardware do a fine job of making fonts look good on screen.

As far as Polaris being a 21st century typeface… That’s a really good way to think about it. As many people have said, new typography requires new typefaces. Since Polaris was designed in the 21st century to be used with 21st century technology, and the designer has 21st century concerns and interests… It might be fair to say that it is a more appropriate choice today than some older typefaces. (But I hate to claim such things myself.)

Klavika in Use

According to your website, Galaxie Polaris is the starting point for a large family of typefaces you plan to release in the future, yet the second installment, Galaxie Cassiopeia has a much different feel, at least on the surface. What kind of story are you planning to tell with Galaxie? How will they all tie together?

Instead of making a series of stylistically-related typefaces — something we are doing with the Apex types — the idea behind Galaxie is to make a set of typefaces which are designed to work together technically. The Galaxie fonts will continue to share the same x-height and weights. The Polaris typeface was the “pole star”, the reference for all Galaxie fonts which follow.

The first (bold) weight of Cassiopeia was released solo; the development process was so long that I wanted to release it and then get back to other projects, knowing that I would return to it in the future, and finish the other weights.

Initial work has been done on an extended slab serif and a serif text face.

What are some of the ideal uses for Galaxie Polaris?

Wow! Ummm… This might seem grandiose, but the type is best used to deliver information. The face has been used for extended text setting, wayfinding, and logotypes. We use it at Village for our stationery, order forms, etc. because it doesn’t get in the way.

Interrobang in Galaxie Polaris

The Interrobang

Which single character do you love the most in Galaxie Polaris?

The interrobang. Not for any good reason, though. It’s an arcane, non-standard piece of punctuation, but it does have a Unicode index. Like the smiley face, the interrobang was created by an advertising man in the 1960s. The mark is a combination of the question mark and the exclamation point, and is meant to be used where both of those punctuation marks might be used together to express surprise.

Since Polaris is meant to be a serious and “style-less” typeface, it was a little silly to include such a trivial glyph. But it is exactly that glyph which was the final selling point to a well-known designer who uses the font quite a bit.

Do you have a favorite typeface?

More than favorite typefaces, I have favorite designers, and favorite bodies for work. I really admire Gerard Unger, and love the way that his types function; the way that Swift’s triangular serif structure locks together in running text. I also really admire Gerard’s Argo, Capitolum, and Gulliver types, amongst others. I like the cohesiveness of the body of work, how Gerard’s conceptual and formal approaches are evident in all of his work.

Among the designers whose work I admire: Matthew Carter, Letterror, Zuzana Licko, and my colleagues at Village.

Other Articles in this series

August 13, 2007