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Felix Braden’s Arpona replaces minimalism with character

The latest release from Floodfonts rejects common industry trends—designer Felix Braden tells us why.

The popularity of wedge serifs might have waned since chisels were made obsolete, but many designers still love them. According to some, the peculiar style of type might be on the cusp of a renaissance. Felix Braden’s Arpona is helping to make that true.

Lucas Czarnecki: You’ve written that Arpona was a movement away from the contemporary fascination with minimalism: What made you want to shun the popular styles?

Felix Braden: I don’t actually dislike minimalism, and “form follows function” is an important guideline for me. There has been a lot of research on user behavior in the context of UI & UX, and the group of Geometric Sans turned out to be a good choice in this area. This has resulted in an overwhelming trend of uniformity, which has also been extended to other sectors, e.g. corporate design.

In my opinion, corporate design is more about standing out from the crowd. Diversity is important! Therefore, I consider minimalism in this area to be counterproductive. Besides that, I feel personally that it is just boring and sad when everything looks the same. Other current trends like brutalism or art nouveau influences show that I’m not alone in this.

Arpona is meant to stand out—a natural choice for package design, according to Braden.

LC: You drew inspiration from inscriptions at the Roman Germanic Museum in Cologne and Johnston’s type for the London Underground. What other inspirations did you use and what overlaps did you find among them?

FB: Whenever I have an idea about how a font should look, I always research what similar fonts are available. At the moment Gareth Hague’s Harbour dominates the wedge serif market. It’s a typeface that I admire for its uncompromising and extravagant style. I have also looked at typefaces like Albertus, Friz Quadrata, and Alverata.

This leads to inspiration of course, but often I intentionally design fonts in a different direction: e.g. for Arpona I chose rather modern letter proportions because most stonecarving-inspired fonts have humanistic proportions. As a result, I started studying metal inscriptions and looked at typefaces like Copperplate.

There are also fonts that have inspired me only with certain letterforms. When I have a problem with a shape, I always look at how others have solved it. Luc de Groot’s Thesis is such a source of inspiration for me and the g of the TheSans has helped me a lot in finding a form.

LC: Though you’ve published a number of free fonts, Arpona is among your most expensive releases. What factors into that calculation?

FB: The free fonts have allowed me to share my experiments with a community of users and, as an unexperienced designer, get valuable feedback on my own work. I was also able to get in touch with other type designers and found my first label. I owe a lot to Peter Bruhn (RIP) from Fountain, for example, who approached me about my free fonts. As a professional type designer who wants to earn his living with type design, free fonts are of course no alternative. So, I have tried to establish a fixed price for single fonts, which is around $49. I think Arpona only looks more expensive than my other fonts, such as Pulpo or Capri, because the family has a total of 18 weights. But I also offer smaller subfamilies with 10 and 8 styles on Myfonts.

LC: Have you seen Arpona used in the wild yet? Where do you hope to see it?

FB: Arpona was just released at the beginning of May, so I haven’t seen any uses yet, but I would be very happy if someone would send me some examples. Recently I got a request for a slightly modified version for use in the sports sector. I find the sports industry very suitable because the typeface is meant to appear strong and powerful. Arpona also fits well for art, fashion, food, and lifestyle topics—in fact anywhere where nonconformism and a strong tendency to individualism are important.

Braden's Arpona sketches illustrate the natural stroke structure underneath.

LC: It has been said that naming is the most difficult part of type design: How did you name Arpona?

FB: Due to the large number of fonts that are published all the time, it is actually getting harder and harder to find good names, especially since I have limited myself thematically: All Floodfonts have a name related to water. Fortunately, I have an active Twitter and Instagram community that supports me in finding names. Because of the sharp edges, the idea to call the font “Harpoon” came up there, but the name was already taken. The German variant “Harpune” can hardly be pronounced in many languages, so I decided to use a variation of the Spanish “el arpón.”

LC: You designed Arpona with nine weights: Were you tempted at all to make it a variable font?

FB: With the type design software that I work with, Glyphs, I could have simply exported Arpona as a variable font, but I intentionally decided against it. First of all, I don’t think that the weight axis is the most reasonable use of variable fonts: Defining the stroke width for individual weights is not an easy task (even for type designers) and should not be done intuitively in my opinion. I think that fonts with an optical size axis are better suited for variable fonts.

Furthermore, many distributors have not yet developed a license model for variable fonts and it is not yet possible to offer variable fonts on all channels. But I am quite optimistic that this will change soon and of course I am also working on ideas for variable fonts.

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