A post from Shady Characters

Pilcrows and poker chips: an interview with Jim Ford

A pilcrow, hedera, ampersand and @-symbol from Jim Ford's Quire Sans. (Quire Sans™ is a trademark of Monotype Imaging Inc. and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions.)
A pilcrow, hedera, ampersand and @-symbol from Jim Ford’s Quire Sans. (Quire Sans™ is a trademark of Monotype Imaging Inc. and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions.)

Last month, you may remember, I featured an image of two manicules drawn by Eric Gill for Gill Sans but which never made it into the finished typeface. I lamented the fact that some shady characters just don’t get the love they deserve, citing the fact that Gill’s manicules still don’t exist in Gill Sans, even in its most modern digital incarnations.

By way of compensation, Monotype’s PR team got in touch to ask if I’d like to get a type designer’s perspective on such things — the perspective, specifically, of Jim Ford, the designer behind Monotype’s new Quire Sans typeface. Quire Sans is unusual in that Monotype has deliberately talked up its credentials with regard to pilcrows, fleurons, and other unusual marks, and so I was eager to hear how Jim approaches these characters at the fringes of the virtual type case. Here, then, are my questions and Jim’s answers, along with a smattering of shady characters drawn from Jim’s typefaces. Enjoy!


KH: What was the inspiration for Quire Sans?
JF: Well, Quire Sans is more intuitive than inspired. Throughout my career as a designer, I’ve always struggled with making a personal [graphic] identity, one that lasts anyway. And so it becomes time to make business cards or forms and you have to pick a typeface that works and represents you well. Easier said than done…especially if you’re a creator of typefaces and things. You don’t have a favorite typeface. Anyhow, for these purposes and others, I needed a dependable family for general use, one with discerning esthetic qualities as well.
The press materials for Quire Sans mention the inclusion of “pilcrow and fleuron symbols, unique to Quire Sans.” Did you pay more than the usual amount of attention to designing these lesser-used marks?

No, I approached these like I would with any other typeface — try to make everything count, sensitively, harmoniously. The significance of the ‘pilcrow’ and such, in Quire Sans, is that it visually represented the former brand names for the typefaces, and so care was take to make these sit well with the type.

As with many symbols in Quire Sans, the shapes, fitting and alignment had to work universally with upper and lowercase as well as small caps and the default old style figures. I use all these settings relatively, and often, so it’s convenient to have a typeface that accommodates all these preferences, ideally.

Manicules and a poker chip from Pokerface, Jim's playing card-themed typeface. The chip is not a standard Unicode character; instead, it replaces Unicode character 263b, or "black smiling face" (☻). (Pokerface™ is a trademark of Ascender.)
Manicules and a poker chip from Pokerface, Jim’s playing card-themed typeface. The chip is not a standard Unicode character; instead, it replaces Unicode character 263b, or “black smiling face” (☻). (Pokerface™ is a trademark of Ascender.)
Are there any marks of lesser-used punctuation or printer’s ornaments that you’d like to see more often? Have you evangelized any of these in your work, via Quire Sans or otherwise?

Yes, there are a handful of non-standard symbols that I try to include [and promote] in all my designs. One thing I often design thematically is the ‘.notdef’ character — ‘not defined’ rather, is the box you get when a font doesn’t contain a certain character. I see it as a place for humor and symbolism in type design…it’s the font equivalent to The Price Is Right “losing” horn.

Numero is a fashionable alternative to # and is a nice touch in editioning, packaging and collectibles. ‘℗’ the ‘published’ symbol — very few fonts have this, but it’s needed for publishing and nearly all music packaging. I like a double bar ‘||’, or capitulum,* as an alternative to the ‘paragraph’ and bar, or just as an information/navigation separator. And of course, I’m a huge fan of artistic elements like manicules, decorative brackets, borders and ornaments. Unfortunately you don’t see people using these things much.

This year I’ve been infatuated with parens (parentheses — ed.) and brackets, among other things. They are one of the most difficult things to balance, so I’ve been consciously trying to strike that perfect balance. And explore their creative possibilities as well. My projects this year have been mostly serif typefaces, with an almost linear progression in concepts. A quest of sorts :)

Can we expect to see manicules or an interrobang in the next release?
Manicules, yes. I’ve included them in a handful of typefaces and have drawn them to compliment other people’s designs as well. I’ve drawn an interrobang or two, but I find it to be an impractical mark that doesn’t quite make a good-looking alternative to ‘?!’. I take care to see that these punctuation marks work together, standard. Like ct and st ligatures, I may have awed over these things as a young designer, but I’m more practical now. With most designs, I find it to be frivolous, making some of these things.
A pilcrow, skull and crossbones, and interrobang from Captain Quill. Jim explained that the skull & bones is mapped to Unicode's own skull-and-bones symbol (Unicode 2620, or ‘☠’), but that it is also encoded to the ‘notdefined’ character -- when a specified character is not available, a grinning skull will appear in its place. In addition, Jim said, "ALL CAPS setting was forbidden due to their swashbuckling nature. So if you tried to set all caps, the text would automatically be replaced with skull & bones. You’d have to turn off contextual alternates to get around this feature. I got away with this for a while, but I think that feature has been removed since then." (Captain Quill™ is a trademark of Ascender.)
A pilcrow, skull and crossbones, and interrobang from Captain Quill. Jim explained that the skull-and-bones is mapped directly to Unicode’s own skull-and-bones symbol (Unicode 2620, or ‘☠’), but that it is also used for the ‘notdefined’ character — when a specified character is not available, a ‘☠’ will appear in its place. In addition, Jim said, “in Captain Quill, ALL CAPS setting was forbidden due to their swashbuckling nature. So if you tried to set all caps, the text would automatically be replaced with skull & bones. You’d have to turn off contextual alternates [whereby a font’s author can substitute characters in defined circumstances — ed.] to get around this feature. I got away with this for a while, but I think that feature has been removed since then.” A shame! (Captain Quill™ is a trademark of Ascender.)

I must thank Jim for answering my questions and Monotype for facilitating our chat. If you’re interested in Quire Sans or any of Jim’s other typefaces, take a look at his portfolio on Fonts.com. And while you’re out and about on the web, why not help us save Facebook from itself and promote the irony mark at the same time? All signatures are gratefully received!

*
Jim’s use of “capitulum” to mean the double bar, or ‘||’, is an unusual one. It is more usually employed to mean the pilcrow↩︎
See Ralf Hermann’s article on “Typographic Myth Busting: What’s a Ligature, Anyway?” for more on the concept of ligatures. ↩︎

6 comments on “Pilcrows and poker chips: an interview with Jim Ford

  1. Comment posted by John Cowan on

    ℗ is in fact the equivalent of © for sound recordings: it stands for “phonorecord”.

  2. Comment posted by Graham Moss on

    I checked the previous comments as well Keith, and am a little surprised that no-one seems to have let you know that the Gill manicules, and printers call them ‘fists’, were made in metal and are available for letterpress printing, but only in one size and only pointing one way; we metal type users take pleasure in the limitations of our trade!

    And I’m not sure they were designed specifically to go with Gill Sans; I pretty much use them as I think appropriate.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Hi Graham — that is quite a surprise! I knew about the naming (10% of all words in Shady Characters are dedicated to listing alternative names for the manicule, or at least it feels that way), but I had no idea that the Gill manicules had ever been made available in metal. I wonder why Gill drew them on a sheet with Gill Sans glyphs?

      Thanks for the comment!

      (Incidentally, I just took a look at the website for Incline Press — there are some fantastic looking books there. Steel Horizons especially caught my eye. Can I ask who binds your books?)

  3. Comment posted by Graham Moss on

    If you go to my website, ‘about the press’ on the menu, through to the last of the photos of the workshop, you’ll find a photo of my sign board with a Gill fist, painted by a sign painter from my letterpress printed ‘copy’.

    Binding – I do it myself at the moment: this is almost a medieval publishing house with most work done on the premises; except I use a printing press purchased new at the founding of Hague & Gill, printers of High Wycombe circa 1933 ’til Gill died.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      Dear me! At least one Gill manicule lives on, then.

      I’m impressed that you do all the binding yourself — I’m writing about it as we speak and it’s a much more involved process than I think many people realise.

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