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DINosaur routs the template

Type-Ø-Toneslatest creation offers a warm, fluid alternative to the technical rigidity of typical grid-based sans serifs

Typefaces, like any other designed artifacts, are subject to trends and fashions—but some typographic models enjoy an enduring popularity. And that’s not just the case with historically important designs. Alphabets that are part of the vernacular, the everyday world that surrounds us, also become ingrained in our collective consciousness. They conjure up comforting feelings of familiarity, even nostalgia. Understandably, some type designers and foundries try to tap into such emotions. Many do so in unimaginative ways, creating slavish facsimiles. Others, though, manage to find a fresh approach, turning humdrum mainstays into exciting and useful contemporary fonts.

Take technical sans serifs, for example. These are letters drawn by engineers and architects, using only straight lines and simple circular arcs, often with the aid of grids or stencils. Their “undesigned” appearance exerts a strange attraction over designers fascinated by their modularity and strict geometry. Among others, this has resulted in a multitude of adaptations of the alphabets devised by the Deutsches Institut für Normung (the German Institute for Standardization), such as DIN 1451.

Image of the Instituto Nacional de Racionalización del Trabajo manual, which proposed a grid-based system to teach technical lettering.

The Instituto Nacional de Racionalización del Trabajo proposed a grid-based system to teach technical lettering.

Image showing the cover for the technical calligraphy manual José Manuel Urós found in his archives.

The cover for the technical calligraphy manual José Manuel Urós found in his archives.

DINosaur’s story got underway when José Manuel Urós stumbled upon a forgotten technical calligraphy book, the UNE manual, in his files. UNE stands for Una Norma Española, a set of norms and standards created by the Comités Técnicos de Normalización (CTN) arm of the Asociación Española de Normalización y Certificación (AENOR), the Spanish Association of Normalization and Certification. The manual described how to letter technical drawings according to the standards of the Instituto Nacional de Racionalización del Trabajo, the Spanish National Institute for Labor Rationalization. Technical lettering alphabets have always held a special place in Urós’ heart, and his high school assignments were replete with headlines in this style. Rediscovering the manual inspired him to create a digital typeface based on the upright version of the alphabet.

Even though DINosaur’s morphology and Urós’ approach to its digitization differed radically from everything he had drawn up to that point, its source of inspiration was conceptually in line with many of his previous typefaces. On one hand, Urós favors emotion over other considerations when selecting personal projects, an attitude that Type-Ø-Tones shares on a foundry level. Previous creations embody this stance. MeMimas is based on the Spanish system of teaching children how to read and write, while EbúScript emulates Urós’ personal handwriting. Ginebra, Optica, Reload, and Solida reflect the good old days of the designer’s early Macintosh computers; Matricia is a remnant of a decade spent using dot matrix printers. Arboria, Arbotek, and Joost stem from Urós’ interest in Art Deco aesthetics, minimalism, and the ligne claire style of comics. On the other hand, whenever the typeface calls for it, Type-Ø-Tones leans toward the analog and the gestural, with deliberate, well-considered “imperfections” evident in design details and general appearance.

Other typeface designs by José Manuel Urós
Image showing the original UNE alphabet.

The original UNE alphabet.

An image showing Urós’ early digitization of the UNE alphabet, which strictly adhered to the underlying grid.

A literal digitization, strictly adhering to the underlying grid, produced uninteresting letterforms.

Urós applied the modular rules of the UNE manual in his first sketches. This formally faithful way of working resulted in a mechanical, soulless, even boring set of characters. When evaluating this outcome, Urós recalled from his early experiences with hand-drawn technical lettering and perforated rules that the fluidity of the act of writing by hand was more important than the mechanical construction of the characters. The grid was supposed to guide the hand, rather than constrain its natural flow. This realization prompted Urós to set new goals for drawing DINosaur: he wanted to achieve the perfect balance between gestural movement and the mathematical structure it is applied to. Instead of rigidly staying true to its form, DINosaur had to respect the spirit of the UNE alphabet. It would also have an impact on the finish of the letterforms. Because it is virtually impossible to draw perfectly straight, angular corners when writing with a stencil ruler, the letters would only have rounded terminals and curved corners.

The evolution of DINosaur from its first formally faithful digitization to its final incarnation

The evolution of DINosaur from its first strict digitization to its final, warmer incarnation.

Image showing experiments with additional weights to expand DINosaur into a full-fledged type family

Additional weight trials led Uros to expand DINosaur into a full-fledged type family.

As with his other personal projects, Urós did not give himself a deadline for completing DINosaur. This allowed the typeface to evolve slowly and organically over a period of ten years, eventually arriving at a point that exceeded the designer’s initial expectations. The long gestation period also gave Type-Ø-Tones the opportunity to turn the design into a complete family. DINosaur was originally conceived as a single bold weight for display use, but with the first style fully fleshed out, they were able to test additional weights with the intention of expanding the typeface and increasing its usefulness throughout a greater number of applications and languages.

DINosaur specimen
DINosaur specimen

DINosaur occupies a playful middle ground between rationality and exuberance. Six weights with matching italics cover the entire expressive range, from a delicate Thin to a forceful Black. An alternate single-story a allows the user to further fine-tune the appearance of text. Self-assured and friendly in large sizes, DINosaur lends body copy a soft-spoken efficiency. It offers the best of both worlds—it looks cool and clean, but it feels warm and comforting. This elevates the family above the fray of technical sans serifs. Subconsciously, readers will notice this crucial difference, which adds humanity to the stylish letterforms.

  • Discover the many faces of DINosaur in this colorful gallery of postcard specimens by Óscar Germade and Josema Urós.

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

Bald Condensed, né Yves Peters, is a Belgian-based rock drummer known for his astute observations on the impact of letterforms in the contemporary culture-sphere. A prolific writer on typography, he has a singular knack for identifying the most obscure typefaces known to man.