When William Addison Dwiggins drew the Electra® typeface for Mergenthaler Linotype in the early 1930s, he looked back to the 15th and 16th centuries for inspiration. His intent, however, was not to make a replica of these earlier designs but rather to create something new that evoked the vigor and vitality of the early 20th century. Dwiggins achieved his objective handsomely. When released, Electra was described as having “energy like metal shaving coming off a lathe.”
Parkinson Electra® History
The new Parkinson Electra typeface family is neither a remake of the original Linotype design nor a clone based on William Dwiggins’ original drawings of the typeface. Jim Parkinson immersed himself in early specimen books of Electra and various printed ephemera produced by Dwiggins. Parkinson Electra regular is slightly heavier than the Linotype original, and its serifs are more delicate. Parkinson’s design also has a softer quality and spaces somewhat tighter than the Linotype typefaces. Parkinson Electra still exudes the energetic aura of the original.
In the 75-plus years since Linotype first released Electra as a collection of fonts for machine-set metal type, it had been translated to phototype and digital technologies, and it is newly available as Web fonts. Along the way, Electra was even re-rendered for specific printing technologies – and this is when typeface designer Jim Parkinson first came into the story.
In the early 1990s, Parkinson worked part time as a type designer at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. The paper had used the Metro™ typeface, another Dwiggins design, for more than half a century, and Parkinson was brought in to refurbish the design. He recalls, “By the early 90s, the Metro fonts the Chronicle was using were badly digitized second or third cousins of Metro. I restored the fonts, making the designs much closer to the original. As I was working on them, something unusual happened. I was no longer just interpreting a typeface. I felt like I was beginning to understand Dwiggins’ thought process. It was almost as if I knew the man.”
About this same time, the owners of the Chronicle realized that the newspaper itself would benefit from a redesign. As part of the makeover, the project’s design director decided that Electra would make a good companion to Metro for text copy. His solution presented some problems,. “Electrawas far too light for subheads and impossibly light for text,” says Parkinson, “I ended up drawing a four-font series of the design that was beefy enough to hold its own next to Metro. As I was drawing these Electra relatives, I got that same feeling I had with Metro: I know this guy. I also came to appreciate the relationship between the Electra and Metro designs – and not just because they were both drawn by Dwiggins. An affinity exists between the two typefaces that makes them work especially well together.”
Shortly after the Chronicle was redesigned, the owners purchased new printing presses as part of the upgrade process. Printing with these presses, however, made the new Electra fonts look too heavy, and Parkinson was asked to rework them again. “The trouble was,” says Parkinson, “by the time the fonts looked good when printed on the new presses, they didn't look good anywhere else. I essentially designed an Electra that only looked like Dwiggins’ design in one narrow environment. Years later, when Monotype Imaging invited me to freshen up Linotype’s Electra, I jumped at the chance.”
Parkinson Electra® Usage
Parkinson Electra is available in three weights ranging from regular to heavy – each with complementary italics. The family is available as a suite of OpenType® Pro fonts, allowing for the automatic insertion of small caps, ligatures and old style figures. Pro fonts also offer an extended character set supporting most Central European and many Eastern European languages. Additionally, the entire Parkinson Electra family is available as Web fonts, from Fonts.com Web Fonts.