Macho, a synsemic writing system

Luciano Perondi talks about his modular typeface and its new features: moustaches, brackets and underlinings. Here come Macho Moustache and Macho Modular

Interview by Massimo Gonzato

Why Macho? Why this vaguely aggressive, overtly sexist name for a typeface?

Luciano Perondi — In fact it’s the opposite. This face was designed for the Museo d’Arte Provincia di Nuoro or MAN, and its name is ironically echoing the title of a song by Village People, Macho Man.

You designed this face in 2009 and it was already on the Cast website and MyFonts in the autumn of 2015. What’s new today?

LP — I have developed new features to make the underlinings and I have designed composable parentheses and written the features to use them. These and other solutions had already been conceived and developed in embryonic form in the original version we worked on with Sabina Era in 2008-2009 for MAN.

Recently, while I was finalising the commercial version, I read an advertisement: they were looking for a character that was not only all-singing and all-dancing, but especially one that had some whiskers. So I made it grow some and here is Macho Moustache ready for testing. I think it’s the foundry’s first grotesque with closed terminations.

What’s all this about moustaches and terminations?

I have always been a bit doubtful about grotesques, and not just because ‘grotesque’ also means ‘ridiculous’. I changed my mind somewhat following Augustina Cocco Canuda’s research on medical packaging (2016-2017). Thanks to some rather thorough experimental work, she was able to observe that there are no significant differences, in terms of recognisability of letters and reading accuracy, between a letter with open terminations and one with closed terminations. This was another reason I decided to let Macho Modular grow some whiskers.

You mentioned your collaboration with Sabina Era for MAN. How was Macho Modular conceived? Did you have reference models in mind when you designed it?

LP— Macho Modular was designed for the textual communication of an art museum. Its conception was based on an easily understandable consideration: a museum is an institution that has to engage with the subjects it deals with through its own image, but without losing sight of its own identity. The character has to have a set of features that make the communication both consistent every time, and a little different every time. The main feature identified was the underlining. Words are underlined differently each time, with thicker or thinner lines, but also with patterns, playing with overprinting etc., to give the image different nuances. Its modular spacing made it easy to develop modular underlinings that adapted to the letters.

These modular aspects were inspired by the Olivetti ‘Margherita’ system which did away with monospaced letters for typewriters. Alongside Olivetti Margherita, one reference point was definitely Matthew Carter’s typeface for the Walker Art Center and its subsequent developments of modularity and composability. Another important inspiration was certainly Stefan Themerson and his semantic typography: having a typeface that allows for easy internal alignments, with a set of modular underlinings and composable parentheses, makes ‘synsemic’ writing easier than with a conventional typeface.

You said one of the new features is a set of parentheses…

LP — I realised the need for a complete set of parentheses to be combined according to need when I was writing Sinsemie, my book on non-linear writing (Stampa Alternativa, 2012). I needed them to make sure the graphics didn’t get in the way of what I was arguing in the text. I found them very handy and useful and I thought of including them in the new commercial release of Macho Modular+Moustache. Now they can be activated via an OpenType feature. I think they will be appreciated, I myself can’t do without them now!

What are its main peculiarities?

LP — The first letters of Macho Modular were made by cutting into erasers with a scalpel and using them to make stamps. The marks made by stamping were then vectorised without interfering with the broken lines that emerged from the production process – you can see this in ‘a’, ‘r’, ‘n’ and ‘R’. But the whole has been toned down a bit because a more extreme design would have been too much.

Macho Moustache on the other hand was among the original options of the character: looking at it again after some years we thought it was a shame to leave it in the drawer. It is not only a variation on the Macho Modular theme, it is proof that it doesn’t take much to turn a roman into a grotesque.

Do you think it is a ‘self-sufficient’ typeface that can satisfy various forms of application, or not? What would you recommend it be used for? 

LP — I think it’s a face with a traditional structure to be used in an untypical way, ‘à la Froshaug’, say. You could say it works like a set of child’s building blocks. It’s up to the graphic designer to discover its potential. For example, now that I am writing the sequel to Sinsemie in collaboration with Davide Giorgetta and others, I am actually using Macho Moustache, which is excellent for going beyond the boring sequential design that plagues typography and cramps its power to communicate. It’s a face that works well either slanted or vertical, or with letters out of alignment or that follow a curve; it copes well with variations. Because of its flexibility it has a great potential for use in cartography, which certainly needs a synsemic approach.