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Monokrom calls in with Telefon

A gift from his daughter led Sindre Bremnes to turn the interwar lettering on Norway’s phone booths into a retro-toned geometric sans family with a decidedly modern voice.

Sometimes a mere handful of capital letters can spark an idea for a typeface. Growing up in Norway, Monokrom’s Sindre Bremnes found himself steeped in the visual remnants of the interbellum, the period between the two World Wars. Its 1930s functionalism lingered in the most eclectic of places—ephemera, public lettering, mastheads—before finally fading away. Then, a Christmas present from Bremnes’ daughter, a book on Norway’s iconic original phone booths, brought back memories of the beautiful geometric capitals spelling out the word TELEFON. Looking at the pictures in the book and examining the idiosyncratic letters—the E and F, with their low, non-shortened crossbars; the narrow, spiky N; and the perfectly circular O, with its characteristic stencil bridges—made Bremnes realize how impoverished those letters had become on the few telephone booths (probably updated in the 1960s) that remained in the Norwegian landscape.

Overview of the weights in Telefon.
Overhauled in 2017, the new Telefon adds two lighter weights and a Medium between the Normal and the Bold, expanding the expressive range of the family.

The peculiar geometry of the original letters spurred Bremnes to try his hand at applying their logic to a fully developed typeface. He intentionally refrained from using any visual references, exploring what he remembered about the letters without looking at them. As is his wont, he started designing directly in a font editor, imagining what the other capitals should look like. He then moved on to invent a lowercase, figures, and more, gradually filling out the entire character set. Like a typographic archaeologist, Bremnes investigated sans serifs from the period of the original Norwegian phone booths to create a consistent and conceptually sound type family.

Different types of numerals in Telefon
Telefon offers several styles of numerals. Hanging figures have shapes that harmonize with the lowercase letters. The lining figures—tabular and proportional—are slightly shorter than the capitals, while an extra set of capital figures matches their height. In addition, the fonts feature precomposed fractions, as well as a full set of numerators and denominators for setting arbitrary fractions.

Bremnes also wanted Telefon to be readable. A common problem with geometric sans serifs is that they can be cumbersome to read over long swaths of text—their uncompromising geometry sometimes makes characters look overly similar, which can lead to confusion, particularly at smaller sizes. Thanks to its looser spacing and distinctive two-storey a, Telefon circumvents those issues. More than that, it performs admirably as a text face for immersive reading, while its roots in display capitals give it an advantage as a headline face.

Telefon capitals in Light and Black weight.
The unconventional proportions of Telefon’s capitals and the contrast between the lightest and darkest weights set it apart as a titling and display face.

Telefon was released in 2012 in three upright weights—Normal, Bold, and Black—to general acclaim. Since then, users have clamored for an expansion of the award-winning typeface, and in 2017, Monokrom delivered. Thanks to the addition of two lighter weights and a Medium, along with brand-new italics for all weights, Telefon has quadrupled in size to a twelve-style powerhouse. Far from being simply tilted upright cuts, Bremnes’ italics investigate how the spirit of the form can be summoned with the subtlest of cues, like a slanted crossbar on the lowercase e and an f that extends below the baseline. Within the crowded genre of geometric sans serifs, Telefon distinguishes itself as a confident and flexible type family that understands how geometry in type design truly works. It also brilliantly succeeds at being contemporary and multifunctional without downplaying its interwar roots, lending it a complex but sparkling personality that will enliven any design.

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Telefon’s 2017 makeover adds italics for all of the weights. The slanted crossbar on the e, the f extending below the baseline, and the spurless b inject subtle references to classic italic forms into the geometric design.

But there’s more to Telefon’s story. Monokrom has released a companion face, Riks, that pays homage to the original stencil O on the sides of the phone booths, designed in 1932 by architect Georg Fredrik Fasting. The stencil O is available as an alternate glyph in Telefon, but Bremnes decided to extend the logic of the stencil shape to the entire alphabet, creating a striking companion titling face in two styles: Riks Normal and Riks Negativ. The second style allows the letters to cross over into the material world, since they can serve as templates for producing actual stencils. Derived from Telefon, Riks can also be considered part of Norway’s national cultural heritage. For that reason, Monokrom is offering Riks complimentary for a limited time with the purchase of any Monokrom license on Type Network. You’ll receive an email with font files and the special Riks “gratis” license after your purchase of other Monokrom typefaces. Promotional offer expires August 1, 2018. Upgraded licensing for Riks is available by contacting us directly.

Like all Monokrom fonts, Telefon is available for desktop, web, app, and ePub licensing. Webfonts may be tested free for thirty days. To stay current on all things Monokrom, subscribe to Type Network News, our occasional email newsletter featuring font releases, foundry happenings, type and design events, and more.