Mark Van Bronkhorst says he had parking lot signs in mind when he designed the ITC Conduit® font. “It’s the kind of lettering you might find on boilers, assembly diagrams, and desiccant packets,“ he explains. “It’s plain, grid-based, visually incompetent, yet legible and direct.“
The design was “a cut-and-paste job” constructed from a set of character parts, according to van Bronkhorst. As he developed the face, the 90 degree turns on the shapes reminded him of electrical conduits; hence the name.
“I deliberately broke every optical rule in making the italics and weights,” says van Bronkhorst. “The italic is merely a skewed version of the roman, with no visual adjustment. I did, however, create substitutions for the letters a, f, g, and E to give an ironic ‘italic’ feel to an otherwise obliqued face. The weights are a form of computer-generated swelling – think edema.”
After the ITC Conduit font's release in 1997, Fast Company magazine asked van Bronkhorst to develop additional, custom weights. With the launch of Extra Light, Regular, Extra Bold, and Black weights, plus new small caps and old style figures for all weights, the ITC Conduit font went from six fonts to 35 designs.
Taking the face to such extremes – particularly the Black weight – was both scary and fun for van Bronkhorst and Alan Greene, who also worked on the project. “Given the concept that the ITC Conduit font is stiff and naïve, we felt we could get away with murder on the shapes,” says van Bronkhorst. “Our friend Erik Spiekermann describes the Black as ‘wonderfully stupid.’ We quite agree.”