The Burlingame® typeface family from Carl Crossgrove is a sturdy typeface with open, clear shapes that offer high legibility, even in constrained digital settings, or in challenging print environments such as tiny pharmaceutical labels. The design performs with strength and grace at any size. It’s a multifaceted, multipurpose typeface family – and a perfect addition to the Monotype® library.
Linotype's classic series of ”legibility typefaces” for newspapers, first developed in the 1920s, are probably the earliest designs to have been created for high legibility in a specific environment. Decades later, faces like ITC Charter were designed for maximum legibility when printed by low-resolution printers. In the late 1990s, Verdana was designed to offer easy reading on computer screens.
The Burlingame® family from Carl Crossgrove follows in this tradition of environment-specific legibility.
Burlingame, named after a small town in Northern California, was initially proposed as a branding typeface for an electronic game series. But the client chose another design, consigning Burlingame to Crossgrove’s hard drive for many months – until Monotype began researching legibility factors for digital instrument panels. As part of the research, several typefaces (some already commercially available and others resting comfortably in the computers of Monotype designers) underwent testing for legibility on digital displays. It became readily apparent that Burlingame, despite not having suited everyone’s taste in the gaming industry, had an excellent design foundation for automotive displays. In fact, prior to Burlingame’s release as a suite of commercial fonts, a major automaker chose to implement the design for its navigation displays.
“The designs we developed for the automaker were meant to replace regular and bold weights of a typeface that was more appropriate in a display headline,” says Crossgrove. “We modified Burlingame from its original form, based on our automotive UI legibility research.”
Crossgrove reflects on his typefaces, “They tend to show a humanist, handcrafted quality. I think this sensibility comes from my background in the book arts: calligraphy, printmaking, drawing, and other handcrafts.”
In his youth, Crossgrove dabbled in display lettering, influenced by comic books, album covers and the Art Nouveau resurgence of the 1970s. As his typographic interests deepened, he discovered classical type and lettering. While still in high school, he practiced calligraphy and explored the book arts, ceramics, botanical illustration and painting. In college, he concentrated on fine arts – until his passions for language and printing took over.
Art degree in hand, Crossgrove chose to further his education at the Rochester Institute of Technology, earning a degree in printing with a concentration in typography in 1994. He then moved to San Francisco and worked in print production for a number of years, all the while freelancing on type design projects for Monotype. Crossgrove joined the Monotype design team in 2001 and is now part of Monotype Studio, where he creates custom typefaces.
“There is no single typeface that influenced Burlingame,” comments Crossgrove. “It’s a melding of traits: the flat terminals, sharp corners, and superelliptical bowls are found in a variety of diverse typefaces. The design’s generous spacing and general openness are a response to the needs of automotive displays.” The simple shapes and deep triangular cuts also help to ensure clarity and legibility at small sizes and on low-resolution screens.
“There is an almost standard set of letters whose legibility can be improved by designing them with unambiguous shapes,” Crossgrove points out. “These, like the footed ‘l,’ open ‘c’ and ‘s,’ etc., are identified in the DIN (German Institute for Standardization) 1450 initiative for barrier-free legibility. I included many of these traits in the Burlingame design, offering them as defaults.
A square sans, Burlingame also has a large x-height and open counters that reduce “glance time” in automotive displays. Letter spacing is also open to ensure character definition. These attributes, combined with Burlingame’s other traits, provide a design that is easy to read at small sizes – both on screen and in hardcopy.
In addition to automotive displays, Burlingame’s design characteristics make the family well suited for motion graphics, branding, packaging, broadcast, mobile and screen text. “There is some of the simplicity and indestructibility of Verdana in Burlingame,” says Crossgrove, “particularly the generous spacing and open apertures.”
Burlingame’s proportions are almost extended. Crossgrove took into account the many instances where economy of space – in addition to legibility – is essential. To broaden the family’s utility, a suite of condensed designs were developed for very small or narrow displays.. The retail versions of Burlingame Condensed were drawn only moderately narrow, making them useful in a variety of applications.
Barely a century ago, it was newspapers that enabled the broadest dissemination of knowledge, and Linotype’s legibility typefaces offered a significant typographic refinement. In their wildest dreams, the designers of those typefaces could not have imagined the technological requirements for subsequent iterations of legibility typefaces. Burlingame is a strong new addition to the lineage of typefaces designed to improve the reading process – and already performing in settings far beyond its original intended use.