Danish Typographic Style
In 2001 I attended the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) conference in Copenhagen (København if you’re a Dane). Traveling to the conference was interesting as this was literally days after the World Trade Center attacks. Travel restrictions had left empty seats all around the plane so I had an entire exit row to myself. What could be better than flying to Copenhagen in an exit row with a good stack of books on type?
The second I stepped off the plane, Copenhagen blew my mind. Everyone knows the place is a Mecca for design: Georg Jensen’s cutlery, Hans Wegner’s chairs, Arne Jacobsen … I’ve stayed at the hotel he designed, the SAS Royal Hotel, and if you’re a designer, you should too. But what about Danish type design?
In 1923 Knud Valdemar Engelhardt (1882–1931) designed the street signs for the Copenhagen suburb of Gentofte. The type design was loosely based on the lettering of two Danish architects of the time: Thorvald Bindesbøll (designer of the Carlsberg logo) and Anton Rosen. The signs were so successful that they’re still in use today. Don’t miss that part: 90 years on, the signs are still in use. The type has a telltale glyph: a lowercase j dotted with a heart, telling exactly who made it (hint: Engel+HARDT). The j appears on most signs since vej means road. As they’ve been so influential, Engelhardt’s letters seem to now instill the very essence of Danish design culture. Engelhardt’s life’s work is listed in the Danish Cultural Canon.
Here are a few modern faces that are based on the Danish style that began with Engelhardt and his contemporaries:
Sofie Beier’s Ovink, released through Gestalten.
David Brezina’s Codan: caps only and incomplete but a great start nonetheless.
Kontrapunkt’s custom typeface for DSB (Scandinavia’s largest train operating company) is a perfect example of Danish graphic identity.
Skilt Gothic by Mårten Thavenius, released through Font Bureau.
Dane by Henrik Kubel, published through Playtype.
Some common forms you may see in these typefaces:
- a flat apex of the A
- the widening of diagonal terminals
- a double-storey g with its loop terminating before it forms the bottom most stroke (Erik Spiekermann coined this a Danish g)
- a single-story g with a stumpy tail
- a K with an almost laterally moved crotch, connected to the stem by an extra horizontal stroke
- widened diagonal connecting strokes forming flat apex or baseline strokes.
- bulging cross strokes
- tapered terminals on cross strokes
If I’ve missed any Engelhardt inspired types that you would like to see here, please let me know and we’ll add them to this post.
My attempt to find more on Engelhardt’s work or more generally this specific Danish style of lettering has come up somewhat dry, oddly. The search will inevitably turn to what’s in print, but if anyone reading this happens to know where more info on Engelhardt could be had, your efforts would certainly be appreciated by many.
where did that g cut came from?
The cut of the g, was made in order to minimize the area used for decenders on signs.
This was the case on the old streetcars of Copenhagen.
What book is that first screenshot from? It look gorgeous!
I did try to find what book that is but was unsuccessful…
“Knud V. Engelhardt, Arkitekt & Bogtrykker 1882 – 1931”
Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen, Arkitektens Forlag 1965
Thank you Tot! This goes to the top of my book list.
Great post! Is there a way to obtain the font Kontrapunkt used for DSB? I did some research and it looks like it is called “Via”, but I might be wrong.
Thanks Greg. I don’t think that face is available commercially.
Beautiful article! We produce Engelhardt Style Enamel signs ( https://ramsign.com/blogs/collections) on our own and fully agree that he was one of the most influencial designers in denmark!
Keep up the good work!
Great article 🙂
Just thought that maybe relevant to share a clip of old Norwegian newspaper back in 1930 that has Danish style typeface in its heading:
I was so surprised to see it this morning while browsing articles about Fridtjof Nansen 😀
That headline is Block from Berthold Berlin. Block has many styles, designed between the late 1800s and the 1920s. It was a staple for evey German printer because the rounded terminals and rugged outlines made it pretty indestructible.