Metro Nova: An Interview with a Type Designer

Courtesy of Monotype

Monotype recently announced the newest member of its Typeface family: Metro Nova, the modern rebirth of a once popular typeface that fell out of use in the 20th century. Type designer Toshi Omagari updated the design to expand its usefulness to meet a wide range of digital requirements. Metro Nova appeals to today’s design sensibilities without sacrificing the essence of the original.

Courtesy of Monotype

Metro Nova in use. Courtesy of Monotype

The new Metro Nova typeface honors the “duplexed” nature of the original design -  a pair of styles, such as roman and italic, drawn with matching individual character widths. The new typeface eliminates stylistic restrictions, yet maintains the design’s character with refined proportions.

Metro is heralded as one of the first humanist sans serif designs – American creator William A. Dwiggins’ counterpoint to European sans serif faces such as the Futura and Kabel families.

We sat down with Monotype designer Toshi Omagari to talk more about Metro Nova and its re-creation.

Toshi Omagari's 26-font Metro® Nova typeface family, newly available from Monotype, is the next-generation version of William Addison Dwiggins' classic Metro design. (Courtesy of Monotype)

Toshi Omagari’s 26-font Metro® Nova typeface family, newly available from Monotype, is the next-generation version of William Addison Dwiggins’ classic Metro design. (Courtesy of Monotype)

Q: Metro Nova is based on a once-popular typeface that fell out of use. Tell us more about the font, and what inspired you to bring it back?

A: William Addison Dwiggins designed the original Linotype Metro typeface. Dwiggins was a calligrapher, book designer, writer, type designer and marionette maker in the early part of the 20th century. He’s even credited with coining the term: “graphic designer.”  In one of his articles, he criticized Linotype for lacking good sans serif typefaces within its offering. The director of typeface development at Linotype saw the article and challenged Dwiggins to draw a good sans serif. This is how he started his career in typeface design. The Metro typeface, released in 1929, was Dwiggins’ first.

Courtesy of Monotype

Courtesy of Monotype

A few years later, in response to requests from printers of the day to make the face look like the Futura typeface (an important competitor to Metro), a few characters in the original design were altered. The altered version, Metro 2, had become the default set and the original characters became alternates, which could be obtained by special order. Since the early 1990s, however, only the Metro 2 characters were available – until I finally revived the originals in my design.

Doug Wilson, the director of “Linotype: the Film,” discovered the original Metro drawings in the archives of the Museum of Printing in Massachusetts. He wanted to use that typeface in the film and contacted me about making a digital font. This was the first time I had seen the original characters and drawings. I felt that they were so much better than Metro 2, and I agreed to make a new digital font with these characters. This small project led to the major revival of Metro.

Images from Linotype: The Film, which used the new digital typeface (Courtesy of Monotype)

Images from Linotype: The Film, which used the new digital typeface (Courtesy of Monotype)

Q: What was your process in recreating this typeface? Did you have any roadblocks or interesting moments while creating?

A: Although I love the original Metro typeface, after careful study I realized that it was not as good as I had imagined. It had all the mechanical restrictions that the Linotype drawing studio had to comply with. One is the duplexing of letters across other weights; for example, the letter “m” in Metro Lite was of the same width as the “m” in Metro Black. The darker weights of the original Metro were drawn narrower than I’m sure Dwiggins would have wanted. As a result, the bold designs had to be drawn more condensed than what would be their normal full-bodied proportions. Removing these compromises, while retaining the spirit of the design, was the most challenging part. I tried to think like Dwiggins, and tried to recreate what he would have done if he were alive today. It was like channeling the designer, which was the most interesting part of the revival project.

Metro Nova in use. Courtesy of Monotype

Metro Nova in use. Courtesy of Monotype

Q: What’s your favorite element of the typeface?

A: While Metro Nova contains the original and second designs, most of what I love about the new design is found in the former. There are calligraphic overtones in the original which you can especially see in the lowercase “a,” “g,” “e” and in the numerals.

Linotype Metro Nova typeface’s lowercase “e” (Courtesy of Monotype)

Linotype Metro Nova typeface’s lowercase “e” (Courtesy of Monotype)

The lowercase “e”, in particular, is the iconic letter of the typeface, in my opinion. It is said in typeface design that you get the shape of the “e” right when it looks like it’s smiling – and this “e” is filled with delight.

Admittedly that “e” can become distracting in a long text, but you can switch to the “e” of Metro 2, which is a more traditional and “stable” design. In Metro Nova, you can change the design between the two Metro designs, and even mix them. Being able to make your own combinations of Metro is another aspect of the typeface I love.

Courtesy of Monotype

Courtesy of Monotype

Molto Bene: The curly “a” and “e” make the words fun to look at. Note the stylistic alternate red “M,” which is different from the one below. This is a good example that shows how the Metro Nova typeface can do many things.

Q: How would you use this typeface yourself?

A: Because of its many weights, condensed variants and alternate characters, I think Metro Nova is a great “all-rounder.” It can be used on screen, in print, for display and text. In fact, the original Metro was designed as a book face. If I were a graphic designer, I would want to set a whole book with it.

Quin Cabry book cover set with Metro Nova typeface alternates. It is simpler, more geometric, and it can be a good alternate to traditional sans serif typefaces when you want more personality. (Courtesy of Monotype)

Quin Cabry book cover set with Metro Nova typeface alternates. It is simpler, more geometric, and it can be a good alternate to traditional sans serif typefaces when you want more personality. (Courtesy of Monotype)

Q: Any other last comments or thoughts?

A: There is a full suite of OpenType features in Metro Nova, especially the stylistic alternates and sets. I strongly encourage designers to learn how to use them in order to fully enjoy the complete family. Metro Nova is not just one typeface, but two, and anything in between. Explore the features and find your own combination of alternates! To see more images, visit the Monotype Metro Nova typeface Slideshare or www.fonts.com

Toshi Omagari is a typeface designer at Monotype. A graduate of Musashino Art University in Tokyo, Toshi also earned a master’s degree in typeface design from the University of Reading in England. Shortly after receiving his master’s, he began to design typefaces for Monotype. Clearly proficient in drawing letters for the Latin alphabet, he is also skilled at designing for several other alphabets, including Greek, Cyrillic and Mongolian. Toshi believes that designing type is an opportunity to maintain the visual aspects of a culture, as well as to bring it forward. He notes that “sensitivity to other languages and scripts is essential for a type designer.” In the case of Metro Nova, his goal was honor the original intent of Dwiggins.

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We’re giving away sets of 3 posters from the Monotype Pencil to Pixel show, printed on Mohawk Superfine, to celebrate this font release! Comment below on your favorite font from Monotype to be entered to win!

5 lucky readers will win a set of 3 of these posters. Contest ends 11/11 at 3pm EST.

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Comments (23)

  1. Posted by Tay Ham on 11.8.13 at 12:07 pm

    Yup, I’m pretty in love with the Metro Nova. I love the easy breezy lower case vowels. I primarily design greeting cards and it’s nice to have a clean, readable look but with a little bit of pizzazz to match the quirky humor of the card.

  2. Posted by barb on 11.8.13 at 12:51 pm

    Love that lower case e – swoop me right up and away. Fantastic rework! Luv from all corners.

  3. Posted by John Pastor on 11.8.13 at 12:52 pm

    Love the versatility of the Metro Nova family. Each weight adds a different character to your design.

  4. Posted by Erin Tice on 11.8.13 at 12:55 pm

    That Metro Nova on the Max & Olive bag is gorgeous! Brand owners are really looking for packaging and branding that will make their products stand out. The ease of the brand name in Metro Nova does just that. Love it!

  5. Posted by Nathan Lane on 11.8.13 at 12:56 pm

    I love the new font! Looks good up there done in letterpress, and you gotta love that happy, little “e.”

  6. Posted by Todd on 11.8.13 at 1:08 pm

    Love the playful attitude in Soho, especially the heavier weights. Can’t wait to try Metro Nova.

  7. Posted by Steve Ukena on 11.8.13 at 1:27 pm

    Aphasia

  8. Posted by Krystal Hinckley on 11.8.13 at 1:34 pm

    Soho will always be a favorite of mine. The variety really lends itself well to a cohesive design, and I find it appropriate to use in so many different situations. Metro Nova looks great!

  9. Posted by Abbey on 11.8.13 at 2:09 pm

    The use of Metro Nova on the Max & Olive bag is killer!

  10. Posted by Josh on 11.8.13 at 3:20 pm

    I like Braggadocio. Just something different, extreme thick and thin.

    although the new metro nova looks like a nice addition.

  11. Posted by Dylan on 11.8.13 at 3:38 pm

    Personally love Rockwell. I guess I just have a fetish for Slab Serifs.

  12. Posted by Danelle on 11.8.13 at 6:15 pm

    Really lovely revival! Cheers.

    I must say, though.. if I’m being completely honest about my favorite font from Monotype, my heart belongs to Joanna. Its not that I don’t like Metro Nova–but we’re just getting to know each other. Joanna and I have made some great memories: snuggling together working on nice cozy booklets and talking intimately about hierarchal arrangements. Joanna is one of those slab-serifs that challenges all your preconceptions. She’s versatile and stunning. I often get lost in her graceful italics.

    Ahem.

  13. Posted by Kyle on 11.8.13 at 6:36 pm

    In my experience I’m not sure there is a better sheet than Mohawk to emboss or die-cut letters.

  14. Posted by Samantha on 11.9.13 at 9:58 am

    I do enjoy Harmonia Sans! No disrespect to Gill!

  15. Posted by Katherine on 11.9.13 at 1:18 pm

    I love me some Gill Sans. This does look very appealing, esp. in letterpress. Gotta love a font that works well on the web & in print.

  16. Posted by Jason on 11.9.13 at 3:29 pm

    Wow metro nova is such a great font. It could become the new go to choice. It has such a crisp look and feel.

  17. Posted by Abbey Hlista on 11.9.13 at 4:02 pm

    In love with Metro Nova! the Max & Olive bag is great, that ampersand is gorgeous. probably a new go to typeface!

  18. Posted by Kayla on 11.10.13 at 12:11 pm

    Metro Nova is sleek and gorgeous. Love that simple ampersand. :)

  19. Posted by Alexander on 11.11.13 at 6:53 am

    I love Avenir Next!

  20. Posted by Kari on 11.11.13 at 9:20 am

    I am swooning over metro nova in use on the max and olive bags. To die for!!

  21. Posted by vk on 11.11.13 at 11:36 am

    It’s great that a wonderful new font was born through the imagination to bring a little typesetting (and font) history into this digital world — the film linotype…and who should choose just a favorite font or two, when each typeface design has been labored over; a type foundry is a museum of art to enjoy…

  22. Posted by Gina Block on 11.11.13 at 12:59 pm

    I adore Amasis – industrial yet approachable and friendly.

  23. Posted by Natalie from MOhawk on 11.11.13 at 3:41 pm

    Thank you everyone for your entries! The contest is now closed, and winners are being notified.

    Thanks!

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