Manuka Design Information

21 September 2014

Manuka is pretty straight forward: a compressed, flat-sided sanserif for big typography.

It’s hard to know exactly what Gray finds perverse: the mere concept of the reversed stress or the actual execution? She seems to dislike the Caslon Italian yet grudgingly accepts the French Antique. I suspect her attitude is typical of most typographers throughout the ages: oscillating between loathing and mirth.

Manuka-Design-Info-Specimen-Cover.jpg

These days I am rather partial towards a good reversed-stress typeface. I agree with Gray: they are perverse. But that is their beauty. It took a while to come to this conclusion; for years I felt ambivalent about them. My entire attitude changed while drinking a beer in the sun, reading American Wood Type: 1828-1900 by Rob Roy Kelly.¹ I saw the exact reproduction below.

Manuka-Design-Info-Overview.jpg

and was immediately smitten. The razor-thin side bearings and serif counters are striking—narrow strips of light sparkling through an angular mass of black. This was precisely the effect I wished to capture with Maelstrom. To really ramp up the contrast the hairlines needed to be just as thin, which would allow me to cram in as much fine detail as possible! ² I figured that no typographer in their right mind would ever use this style for small sizes.

Manuka-Design-Info-Bon-Nib-Dah.jpg

Due to the contrary nature of the reversed-stress form, I established a basic three-zone construction principle along the horizontal. This freed me up to concentrate on other particulars, like proportions and punctuation. I found that slight serif bracketing warmed the line work, softening the harsh contrast and lending heft to the overall impression.

Manuka-Design-Info-Mohn.jpg

And so, off I sketched.³ There is limited information in the historic specimens on how to flesh out a reversed-stress character set. In general, it’s a simple game of opposites. Take a Modern, make the thin strokes thick, and vice versa. When it comes down to specifics, however, this rule cannot be mindlessly applied to everything; liberties have to be taken. It’s like reading upside down or talking backwards—all the sense is there, just in exactly the opposite place. It takes some mental and visual adjusting.

Manuka-Design-Info-Hell-Dog-Nu.jpg

Take the ampersand, for example. This was tricky to figure out and relied on some optical sleight of hand. It’s essentially an “impossible” letterform with two strokes merging into the kick. Characters with a basic vertical and horizontal weight distribution are logical to reverse, but angled strokes and curves take much more work.

Manuka-Design-Info-Detail-Inspiration-03.png

Take the ampersand, for example. This was tricky to figure out and relied on some optical sleight of hand. It’s essentially an “impossible” letterform with two strokes merging into the kick. Characters with a basic vertical and horizontal weight distribution are logical to reverse, but angled strokes and curves take much more work.

Manuka-Ampersand.jpg

And so, off I sketched.³ There is limited information in the historic specimens on how to flesh out a reversed-stress character set. In general, it’s a simple game of opposites. Take a Modern, make the thin strokes thick, and vice versa. When it comes down to specifics, however, this rule cannot be mindlessly applied to everything; liberties have to be taken. It’s like reading upside down or talking backwards—all the sense is there, just in exactly the opposite place. It takes some mental and visual adjusting.

Manuka-Design-Info-Differences-1.png

And so, off I sketched.³ There is limited information in the historic specimens on how to flesh out a reversed-stress character set. In general, it’s a simple game of opposites. Take a Modern, make the thin strokes thick, and vice versa. When it comes down to specifics, however, this rule cannot be mindlessly applied to everything; liberties have to be taken. It’s like reading upside down or talking backwards—all the sense is there, just in exactly the opposite place. It takes some mental and visual adjusting.