The Akko® typeface family is the first new design from Akira Kobayashi in a very long time - and it is well worth the wait.
Early in his career, Kobayashi drew original typefaces for the likes of Adobe, ITC, FontFont, Linotype and TypeBox. In the spring of 2001 he joined Linotype as type director and for the next several years collaborated with Adrian Frutiger and Hermann Zapf in the modernization and re-issuing of their earlier designs. Kobayashi's skill and design sensitivity contributed to the success of these typefaces and his creative prowess had a profound influence on the designs - but the end product was not totally his.
For the last several months, however, he has been working on a new and original typeface family. Picture an industrial strength typeface like the Isonorm™ design. Now blend this with an organic design like the Cooper Black™ typeface. It was the idea of the fusion of these two design concepts that inspired Kobayashi to draw Akko.
My initial idea was to create a sanserif type with a 'soft-focus' effect,"" says Kobayashi. "From here, the design evolved into two families, the robust and structured sanserif Akko and soft and friendly Akko Rounded."
The versions of Akko are available in six weights ranging from thin to black - 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 alternate characters. Pro fonts also offer an extended character set supporting most Central European and many Eastern European languages.
“Akko is a melding of several sans serif typefaces from the past,” reflects Akira Kobayashi, Akko’s designer. “ITC Woodland, which I drew in 1997, is built on my fondness for Cooper Black. When I designed TX Lithium, in 1999, I envisioned a new ‘techno’ look, drawing on the ‘industrial strength’ appearance of DIN, which I admired. I was thinking of these earlier designs when I began to sketch Akko.”
“I used a single design skeleton for the Akko series,” Kobayashi continues. “My initial concept was to create a sanserif typeface with rounded corners. The overall impression was to be a friendly design – although its structure has a hint of German Textura type.” As the design developed, however, Kobayashi began to realize that a second, “unrounded” typeface was a natural outgrowth of the basic letterforms.
Although he is deeply immersed in digital technology, Kobayashi still starts his design process with pencil and paper. “I always sketch on paper, normally drawing about ten to twenty characters by hand before I begin working on my computer. Then, I design the rest on screen.
Kobayashi began his career in letters at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, where he studied from 1979 to 1983. His first professional experience in type design was at Sha-Ken Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of phototypesetting machines. After several years at Sha-Ken, Kobayashi left the firm in the late 1980s and traveled to London to study English and calligraphy. A year later, he returned to Japan to design type for Jiyu-Kobo. He promptly produced a font for setting Japanese, with a six-weight Latin version as a complement. From Jiyu-Kobo, Kobayashi moved on to TypeBank. Among other projects, he created 17 Latin alphabets to accompany the foundry's Japanese fonts. From 1997 to 2001 Kobayashi worked as a freelance designer and won numerous international awards for his typefaces.
After completing the design of the Latin alphabet to accompany Type Project’s Axis Japanese fonts in 2000, Kobayashi moved to Germany in 2001 to assume the position as type director of Linotype (now Monotype). Since then, he has worked with Hermann Zapf and Adrian Frutiger in reinterpreting their classic types, including the Palatino®, Optima®, Avenir®, Frutiger® Serif and Frutiger® Next families.
Kobayashi’s Akko and Akko Rounded have simple, compact letterforms, making them economical in terms of layout space. The designer comments, "Sometimes it seems that I spend more time worrying about whitespace than I do designing the letterforms.”
Kobayashi also paid particular attention to the character counters and the places where strokes join. The subtly curved diagonal strokes of characters like the A,V, K, v and y ensure that no ‘dark spots’ distract from text copy. In addition, Kobayashi drew a suite of ligatures to accompany the standard characters. “I made c-t and s-t ligatures to add a historical context to the family. I also drew c-h, c-k and s-c-h ligatures for the setting of German.”
The Akko designs, which take their moniker from the first two letters in Akira and Kobayashi, will prove themselves to be exceptionally versatile. Akko projects authority, while Akko Rounded is amiable and inviting. The designs retain their legibility from small text to billboard size settings, have great appeal on screen and in print, and clearly stand apart from less distinctive sans serif typefaces.
The lighter weights are ideal for blocks of textual content, while the bold and black designs will create compelling headlines. This is a family with ‘design legs’ – it will perform in a variety of projects with grace and aplomb.