Justin Penner

Rufous Grotesque: journal of a typeface work-in-progress

Documenting my work on a multi-year typeface project.


Rufous Grotesque has grown with me over recent years, as I develop my skills in type design. It remains a work in progress and has not been released or used, outside of here, on my personal website.

It’s now August of 2020, and I thought I might go back and publicly document some of the work. I always find it fascinating to peek into the work process of other type designers, so perhaps someone will find this interesting.

The initial drawings

In mid-2018, I began drawing a grotesque alphabet, and established the style quickly. Some geometric influence, closed apertures, generous width proportions, and some quirky bits that have remained through to the present version, like the descending stroke of the f, the 180° shoulder of the r, and the monkey-tailed q.

Design brief

After sketching out the ideas I had in mind, I needed to define some parameters to keep the project focused.

Style— New, sharp, avant-garde. Referencing traditions while breaking them. Hybrid of styles, mashed together with rhythm. Daring. Flexible, usable, but with a distinct character.

A recklessly naïve brief, in hindsight. But, more on that later. In case you’re writing a typeface design brief, here are some resources I found at the time.

Basic character set drawn

The earliest recorded working files I have date back to September 21, 2018, but I already had uppercase, lowercase, figures and punctuation drawn in a single weight at that point. Style-wise, most of the characters looked as they do now, but unrefined.

Christening of Rufous

In October of 2018, I began to think about naming the project, or at least giving it a working name. I don’t recall the whole process, but I know I wanted the name to show off a few particularly quirky characters.

Letters to include— G, R, C, S, Q, g, r, c, s, q, f. Names— Trade Sans, Antiquarian, Esoteric, Arcane, Archaic, Workmanship, Draft, Expert, Miscreant, Malignant, Black Sans, Ego Sans, Freestyle Grotesque, Boogie Sans, Folk Sans, Solo Sans, Oddity Sans, Anti Sans, Future Grotesque, Modern Grotesque, Beat Grotesque, Conform, Conformant Grotesque, Defect Grotesque, Rufous Grotesque.

The “Grotesque” suffix was a given, as I had already named my working file Grotesque.glyphs, and it showed off the G, r and q. I wanted the descending f to be front-and-centre, and the straight-legged R with a curved joint was another defining feature of the typeface. So, after a session of brainstorming, Rufous Grotesque was born.

Learning to interpolate

On Christmas Eve, 2018, I treated myself to the full edition of Glyphs, which enables multiple font styles to be designed and interpolated together (I was working on the limited Glyphs Mini edition up to this point). I began designing a hairline weight and a bold weight of Rufous over the following weeks.

First publication

On March 28, 2019, I was (overly?) confident enough to make Rufous the main typeface, here on my personal portfolio site.

Revisits and refinements

The thing about designing typefaces is there’s never really an endpoint. The more you study letterforms, the more you can go back to your designs, again and again, and notice newly-obvious improvements to be made.

Comparison of the original glyph drawings to the current character set

I stuck with my reckless design brief, and after literally years of learning and refining and redesigning, I have a typeface that’s brimming with personality quirks when you set large headlines, but has an uncanny ability to sit calm and quiet in running text.