Custom Type Family

September 21, 2018

Some of the things we value most as a boutique studio are our range of creative specialties and our personalized, super-customized approach to each project. We were thrilled to have a chance to flex some of our typographic muscles for this massive, custom type family that we designed and created exclusively for NBC.

Over the years, we’ve helped so many of our partners discover and implement some really amazing typefaces created by super talented type designers around the world. We absolutely love hunting through all the different type foundries, like an old prospector panning for gold. There’s something so satisfying about discovering a beautiful new typeface, ideally before it becomes too popular, especially when it perfectly fits the tone and persona of the brand with whom we’re collaborating.

We’ve also had the chance to design some fonts of our own — usually on a smaller scale, but it’s in our blood and it’s a major passion of ours. Our most notable custom typeface of recent history is NFLTA, an all uppercase, single weight font designed for NFL Network / Total Access, which you can check out in action here.

With NBC, the process started out much the same way as previous branding / consulting projects, where we identified the tonal and functional goals and set out to identify some strong existing typographic contenders to carry the load. After several rounds of discussing and refining our options, we presented them directly to Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, as part of a much larger presentation, and he politely waited until we finished running through our selections before asking, “Why can’t we just make our own?”

“We can!” was our enthusiastic response. Thankfully, and somewhat miraculously, they entrusted the task to us, and we jumped head first into what would end up becoming NBC Tinker, a custom type family of 32 styles: 8 weights, 2 widths, and matching italics.

The design brief was deceptively simple. We knew it needed to have a broad, almost expanded stance on the primary width. It also needed to feel sophisticated yet approachable and classic in its forms, to pair with the brand persona of NBC.

We brought our own design sensibilities and preferences to it too of course, especially our love of letterforms that exhibit a visually uniform line weight, as if created from a single stroke width. Of course, it’s mostly an illusion as curved strokes need to taper as they join vertical strokes, for example, but finding the right balance and maintaining a clean, uniform feel is something we really enjoy.

As a contrast to the uniformity of the strokes, we tried to infuse some endearing personality into the letterforms, which is most apparent in the lowercase. We love when you can tell that a typeface was made by humans, so sneaking in slight “imperfections” and some subtle flourishes (in the italic versions) helped make it even more approachable, while still maintaining an established / classy feel. 

From a technical standpoint, NBC Tinker had to work out of the box for most uses, meaning that the kerning pairs and overall letterspacing needed to be optimized for title cards and tune-in information, with little to no subjective tweaks required when setting most type. It also had to work seamlessly in all digital formats, so both hinting and readability at various scales were really important, as well as the accessibility of the entire family as webfonts, for obvious reasons.

It probably would have been understandable if we simply designed a couple of alphanumeric character sets and handed it off to a more established type foundry to make it actually work. The truth is that we genuinely love all aspects of the process beyond the design phase — setting up kerning pairs, hinting, even the super detailed techy stuff — so we decided to handle it all internally. Quick shoutout to Georg Seifert, the mastermind behind the smart and intuitive Glyphs app, who kindly answered some early questions that helped solidify the belief in our ability to handle everything ourselves. Also worth mentioning that Glyphs is one of two reasons we still keep any Macs around these days, the second being Pro Res conversion. ; )

In addition to all of the basic functionalities, we also wanted to include some fun special features to personalize it even more for NBC. For example, the colon dynamically centers when between two numbers to create a more aesthetically pleasing time display. We also embedded positive and negative versions of the peacock logo, as well as a single feather pointing left or right, all of which can be accessed through key commands or a sequence of inputs.

NBC Tinker also includes European language support, despite the reality that it’ll be primarily used in English-speaking media, specifically to be able to accommodate the names of those around the international entertainment community.

Now, our little 32-style typographic baby is released into the wild. We sincerely look forward to our next opportunity to create a custom type family for one of our partners, and we may or may not already have another special project like this in the works. ; )

This project was so rewarding. The team at NBC was fantastic as always, and we’re really happy with how everything turned out. Many thanks to everyone involved!