dot-font: Industrial-Cool Type

The latest product catalog from House Industries, the Delaware-based digital type foundry with its heart in the early 1960s, makes its expansion of the House Gothic family seem stylish, poised, and inevitable. These guys (as far as I know, they’re all men) are masters of presentation.

Figure 1: House Industries’ House Gothic 23

Cool, Calm, Resurrected
The catalog (“House Industries Product Catalog No. 28“) is largely a promotional piece and type specimen for House Gothic 23 (see figure 1), the once-nuclear type family, originally released in 1996, that has now grown into a 23-member extended family so big that the kids are spilling out of the house. A square, 20-page brochure, printed in coordinated shades of tan and brown, this catalog has only four pages that aren’t directly devoted to House Gothic 23 (and one of those is a page extolling “House Textiles,” an upcoming line of fabrics, which kicks off with a throw pillow printed in a pattern based on House Gothic’s egg-cup-like letter “x,” see figure 2).

Figure 2: A swatch from House Textiles

House Industries’ graphic style is derived almost entirely from the “modern” graphic styles of America in the late ’50s and early ’60s: sleek, streamlined, forward-looking, the sort of look celebrated in the “Century 21” graphics of the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. (They also have fun with other retro ’60s styles, in type families like the Las Vegas Font Collection, the Rat Fink Fonts, the Tiki Type Collection, and Typography of Coop. Their love affair with the early ’60s reached its apotheosis in the Chalet Font Family, ostensibly based on the designs of the mythical clothing designer RenĂ© Albert Chalet.) The phrases they use to describe various styles of House Gothic are telling: “stylish yet functional,” “a sense of sophistication and elegance,” “at once forceful and suave,” “a debonair sense of style.” Hipsters, take note.

This modernistic style was still in use in the late ’60s, though by then it had been absorbed into the mainstream and looked a little old-hat. I recently dug out a reduced-size Rand McNally Road Atlas from 1969, the kind that was given away as a freebie by companies who’d put their logo on it, in which the typographic style (see figure 3) is pure House Gothic — or rather, what House Gothic acknowledges and exaggerates.

Figure 3: Stylings like this 1969 example fuel the modern aesthetic of House fonts.

A Rising X-height Floats All Fonts
The House designers have taken their fashion statement, House Gothic, and turned it into what they hope is a complete typographic solution — one of those type families that can fulfill all your needs in a complex project. Within the limits of the squarish, stripped-down, bent-wire look that the typeface embodies, they may well have achieved it. I don’t have the fonts themselves — just the promotional brochure — but they look versatile. In any case, they’ve certainly been presented well, in a way that makes you want to buy them and use them. That’s what promotional materials are for, after all. It’s a pleasure to see them done well.

House Gothic is not only a sans-serif typeface design with squarish curves, in the style of Aldo Novarese’s Microgramma and Eurostile, but also a variation on the concept of a unicameral typeface: a typeface where capital and lowercase letter styles mix at the same x-height, with hardly any extenders. But House Gothic takes this concept a step farther. There are actually four different versions of each of the House Gothic styles (see figure 4); style 1 has a large x-height but normal forms to the lowercase letters, while the x-height increases progressively in styles 2 and 3, until with style 4 the x-height equals the cap height in all but a few of the letters. The effects are subtly different; this is a mode of variation that I haven’t seen before.

Figure 4: The four faces of House Gothic

To round out the family, the House designers added three text versions (light, italic, and bold), where the more extreme characteristics of the display styles have been toned down to be readable at text sizes. Although the loopy “x” and “w” might have benefited from more traditional alternate versions (which exist, oddly, for some of the display fonts), the body copy in this brochure is definitely readable. (It’s all set in 8pt House Gothic 23 Text Light, on 14pt leading. Because of the very large x-height, the type looks much bigger than its nominal point size.)

The Way the Future Was
Of course, the style that House Gothic is based on was futuristic in 1962; today it’s nostalgic. The only way we’ve come to that envisioned world of the future is by our fetish for the retro. But the urge to create clean, uncluttered designs is a constant one; it can produce graphic effects that look fresh while simultaneously alluding to older attempts at the same thing. Some of the details of the letter shapes in House Gothic, like the sharp corners and the straight stroke in the central curve of the “s,” (see figure 5) also bring to mind Neville Brody’s display typefaces for The Face in the 1980s.

Figure 5: House Gothic 23 freshens old font contours.

It would be interesting to see House Gothic 23 used in ways that run counter to its inspiration. What would happen if you combined the light weights with a few carefully chosen words or letters in a highly embellished Spencerian script? Or blackletter text with House Gothic headlines? (Maybe I’m getting carried away.) The retro-clean look is one way to use typefaces like these — one that House Industries has embodied with panache in this catalog — but sometimes it’s interesting to try mixing things up.

Posted on: February 15, 2002

1 Comment on dot-font: Industrial-Cool Type

  1. I would love to have something like or maybe have my house a renovation. These are fantastic and cool designs to apply.
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