LoveFrom Serif

Mark Wilson, in a profile back in April for Fast Company about the creation of LoveFrom Serif, a new font family designed by many of the designers behind Apple’s remarkable San Francisco family:

Serifs (think Times New Roman) became the focus instead, and after an exhaustive search, LoveFrom designer Antonio Cavedoni landed on Baskerville as a source of inspiration. The typeface is one everyone has seen, so it would be quietly familiar, even timeless. But it has enough expressive components that it could live in many contexts. Just as great of an appeal was the historical context of John Baskerville himself.

“John Baskerville as a person, as a craftsperson, was uncannily similar in his obsessiveness and his character to those of us at LoveFrom,” Ive says. “And that really, in a very natural way, became the starting point for developing our own typeface.”

Baskerville was indeed obsessive, Cavedoni explains. As we wrote in our story on the Terra Carta, Baskerville first made his money in “japanned” lacquerwork items. As he reached his 40s, he had the resources to go heads-down on his passion for word-making. As a trained calligrapher, he wanted to elevate the quality of book printing. He obsessed over not just the design of his typeface Baskerville but of the crafted execution of the individual metal “punches” that pressed each letter to ensure the printing was sharp. He even formulated an improved ink, and learned he could place woven paper into hot brass cylinders to give it a glossy finish.

A type designer who veered into innovations in ink formulation and paper finishing — yes, that sounds like a kindred spirit to Ive and his colleagues.

The entirety of Steve Jobs’s Make Something Wonderful — both on the web and in the limited print editions — is, unsurprisingly, typeset in LoveFrom. Before that, I’d only encountered LoveFrom Serif in small doses, and typically at display sizes (like the LoveFrom website’s home page). Turns out it’s quite good — traditional but distinctive — as a long-form text face. Broadly speaking, most people perceive serif fonts as more formal, sans serifs more casual. LoveFrom Serif feels like a friendly, emotionally warm serif, but which cedes no ground on formality and structure. British, for sure, but somehow with a welcome whiff of California. It’s clearly derived from Baskerville, but evokes a different feel, particularly at text sizes, than the eponymous Baskerville that ships on Apple platforms.

Cavedoni presented a lecture just this week entitled “Unexpected Baskerville: The Story of LoveFrom Serif”, at San Francisco’s Main Public Library. It pains me to have missed what appears to have been a remarkable presentation, with noteworthy guests and historic books, but a video recording is forthcoming “later this year”. (Update, November 2023: The video is now available, and it’s splendid.)

Postscript: I’ve been sitting on this link for a few weeks, partly because, well, I do that, but also because I wanted to let the experience of having read Make Something Wonderful settle in. That book, to me, is LoveFrom Serif’s true debut. If you want to exercise a typeface, set a book in it. It has occurred to me several times during this stretch how much I miss Dean Allen, and specifically, herewith, I crave his thoughts on both the typeface and the book. Re-reading for the umpteenth time Twenty Faces, Dean’s remarkably concise and compelling “survey of available text typefaces”, I was reminded that his entry on ITC Baskerville points also to Mrs Eaves, Zuzana Licko’s inspired 1996 revival (has it been that long? I will forever think of Mrs Eaves as a “new” typeface), which Dean described thus: “an interesting if mannered experiment in reviving Baskerville by aping the unpredictability of form found in letterpress text.”

Thursday, 29 June 2023