Domaine design information

Domaine is a sharp, elegant serif that blends traditional French and British genres into a contemporary aesthetic. Curvaceous Latin detailing complements its distinctive hooked terminals.

1,278 words by Kris Sowersby
6 August 2013

The Domaine typeface family descends directly from the Hardys logotype and typeface, which I designed under direction from Adelaide-based design consultancy Parallax.

Historic typographic material from Hardys’ archives.

Parallax approached me in 2007 to draw a logotype and typeface for Hardys, one of Australia’s largest wine companies. Established in 1853, Hardys has a long history. Parallax noted the following on the Hardys identity: “Through years of discounting, the brand found itself a low-cost proposition, and Parallax was commissioned to reposition Hardys as a premium wine brand, in line with a comprehensive portfolio overhaul.” During their research, Parallax dug through the Hardys company archives and unearthed some fascinating typographic gems. We tried several directions, but in the end we derived the final Hardys logotype from the “Walter Reynell” lettering.

The design process for developing the logotype was refreshingly straightforward; however, things got trickier when we needed to make a matching typeface. At this point, the only concrete stylistic cues I had were a few capital letters with sharp, bracketed Latin serifs.

ATF Americana Extra Bold Roman, “set with Track 2”, Eltra Corp specimen booklet, (1976).

The Latin genre isn’t very popular. There are still — at best — only a fistful of good, contemporary Latin typefaces that are usable without looking twee, ugly or dated. At the time, I was quite unfamiliar with the genre, which to me was typified by the dreaded ATF Americana. With its ungainly proportions, shrill serifs and overly tight spacing, ATF Americana provided very little inspiration. This was not a typeface that said “premium wine brand”, so I dug a little deeper.

Reference specimens

Heavy Latin Series, H.W. Caslon Specimen of Printing Types and Catalogue of Materials, (1929).

Latin Compressed No. 2, 3, 4, H.W. Caslon Specimen of Printing Types and Catalogue of Materials, (1929).

Latin Expanded, Expanded No. 2, Compressed, H.W. Caslon Specimen of Printing Types and Catalogue of Materials, (1929).

Latines, Deuxième Serie, Spécimen Général, Deberny & Peignot, (1926).

Série No. 8 Italique, Spécimen Général, Deberny & Peignot, (1926).

Holsatia, Genzsch & Heyse specimen book, (ca. 1915).

Renaissance, Genzsch & Heyse specimen book, (ca. 1915).

Runic, Miller & Richard Specimens of Types [facsimile], (1974).

Antique No.8 Old Style, Miller & Richard Specimens of Types [facsimile], (1974).

Antique No. 12, Miller & Richard specimen book, (1912).

Further exploration yielded some fascinating finds — a veritable menagerie of typographic fauna. It seems like the old type founders really went to town with the Latin genre. They almost make the Antiques and Fat Faces of the same era look tame by comparison.

A selection of elegant and interesting details.

The Latin genre can be overwhelming, sharp and chaotic when considered en masse. To manage the visual overload I focussed on particular details: I retained parts I thought were beautiful, and edited out anything overly flowery or anachronistic. There are two dominant serif styles in the Latin genre: triangular wedges or brackets, both ending in sharp points. The bracketed serifs are particularly elegant; some of the hooked terminals are wonderfully bizarre. The process of taming those terminals, while retaining the sharp points, helped to harmonise the bracketing and to smooth the stem-to-branch connections — this brought the typeface design closer to the elegance required for Hardys, and would later inform the development of Domaine.

11 point Old Nº3 Series, Miller & Richard, 1912.

The horizontal head-serifs present in most Latins help create a calm, even texture on the page. The historical Latins provide little consensus, however, on proportion, width and spacing, so I looked towards the more serviceable Scotch Romans in consideration for Domaine. Tricky to classify, they sit near Moderns and Transitionals in most typographic taxonomy. They’re not as stiff and brittle as Moderns, but still have some necessary elegance. (Matthew Carter’s Miller typeface is one of the best digital Scotches available.)

Headline: Domaine Display Narrow Bold. Body copy: Domaine Text Regular. IL Nº 49.

Hardys only needed two styles: a Regular and a Bold. Because they had to work across various platforms, media and sizes, certain details were suppressed. When the exclusivity for Hardys lapsed, I reassessed all aspects of the design — the typeface was completely redrawn to create Domaine. To properly flourish, Domaine needed two optical sizes: Text and Display. For Domaine Text, the contrast was decreased, terminals were simplified and all details were made more robust. The Domaine Display styles, conversely, were made sharper, the spacing tighter, and the hook terminals were emphasised.

The range of proportional numerals in Domaine Text: Lining, Small Caps and “Three-Quarter Style”.

In running text, the default lining numerals for Domaine Text were serviceable but not particularly elegant. Proper Old-Style numerals were too showy, so the ¾ numeral style was adopted from the Scotch Romans.

Corps 10, Labeurs Ordinaire, Série No. 17, Deberny & Peignot, 1926.

Matching Italics were obviously also required for all Roman styles. There aren’t many viable historical precedents for Latin Italics; and Scotch Italics tend towards fussiness. Due to the amount of detail already present in the Domaine Romans, I didn’t want to go overboard. The Italics from Deberny & Peignot’s Labeurs Ordinaires Série Nº 17 provided the perfect starting point. I’ve long admired the practical Romans from this series, but unlike their Scotch cousins, they have plainer and more robust Italics. This is notable in such details as the descender of the f — it doesn’t have the usual sweeping tail of other Moderns.

Top: Domaine Display Italic. Bottom: Domaine Text Italic.

The Domaine Italic structure has been kept fairly plain. The 14° slope isn’t too zealous, head serifs remain horizontal, and the exit stroke is sharp, low and restrained. Like the Text Roman styles, Text Italics are normalised for service at smaller sizes, particularly the g v w and z. Inspired by the simplicity of the truncated f descender from Série Nº 17, the p and q descenders are serifless — somewhat unusual for a seriffed Italic. This all affirms the Italics as reliable, unobtrusive companions to the Romans. Peppered throughout the Display Italic charset are a few notable letterforms: k v w x and — my personal favourite — the z.

Top: No. 18 Italique, Deberny & Peignot, Paris, 1926. Bottom: Domaine Display Medium Italic with alternate "E".

The offbeat E and F alternates for the Display Italics were drawn on a whim; I simply couldn’t help myself. When I happened across these quirky details in No. 18 Italique (included in the same specimen as Série Nº 17), I laughed out loud! As the amusement subsided, I noticed that the swash terminals of the E were almost Latin; they were so beautifully unusual they simply had to be included in Domaine.

The complete 46-font range of the Domaine family.

Domaine is a large family, comprising 46 styles. I learned a great deal through the development of this typeface. I realised that it’s important never to dismiss a genre. If I had ignored what I was unfamiliar with, or considered not to my taste, I might have missed out on the hidden magic in those old Latin serifs. Experience has shown me that often there is much to draw from a typeface or style I don’t initially find endearing. With Domaine, I wanted to design outside of my usual style and comfort zone, and to create full and elegant curves. To sum up Domaine’s style: contemporary, curvaceous Latin detailing on a Scotch skeleton.

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