Mar 12 2002
Los Feliz – A typeface designed by Christian Schwartz. Licensed and distributed by Emigre Fonts.
In the early 1990s, typeface design went through a remarkable renaissance of sorts. Fuelled by the introduction of easy-to-use font design tools,
individual designers and schools like Cranbrook in Michigan and CalArts in California eagerly explored new design options and theories about the use of type, while type foundries sprouted like mushrooms. Emigre releases like Keedy Sans by Jeffery Keedy, Template Gothic by Barry Deck, and Dead History by the late Scott Makela, which all started as academic experiments, soon became icons representing this productive time period in typeface design. Emigre Fonts latest typeface release, Los Feliz by Christian Schwartz, seems to be a latecomer to this party, but stands out nonetheless.
Today, as in the 70s, designers again prefer Helvetica and other bland looking sans serif typefaces. These fonts impregnate print work with the veneer of professionalism by looking stylistically detached, which is now very cool. There’s also a fondness today for geometric and isometric constructed typefaces that are really difficult to read but look good when you put drop shadows behind them.
Los Feliz stands in direct opposition to these trends. Inspired by vernacular signage found in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, it revisits some of the ideas that occupied the experimenters of the early 90s, and does so brilliantly. Schwartz, who spent his formative years working under respected type designers such as Tobias Frere-Jones, Erik Spiekermann, and David Berlow, designed Los Feliz with the idea “…to take everything I’ve learned and turn it inside out to ask myself ‘If I didn’t know what I was doing, what would I do?,’ and to forgo tradition in favor of expressiveness.”
When looking at the individual characters of Los Feliz, all you see is irregularities, which point to the struggle of drawing a typeface. You become aware of the little details that make it so difficult to draw perfect letter shapes. But when you look at Los Feliz set in text, these irregularities largely disappear. Obviously this typeface was drawn by someone who knew what he was doing. Christian Schwartz knows exactly how to subvert notions of correct design by being in complete control while giving the impression he is not.
Los Feliz was too good a typeface to pass up simply because it wasn’t designed in 1990. Plus, no matter what you may have read in Emigre or other design magazines, design is largely driven by style, which is cyclical. We either follow styles or we rebel against them. Designers will tire of Helvetica and its offspring, like they did before, and will go in search of something different, like Los Feliz.