Covik Sans started as Covik, my graduation project in TypeMedia, a one year bootcamp for type design in The Netherlands. I was hellbent on stretching my comfort zone. I wanted to create a serif for text that would be sober compared to my explorations in expressive display type and lettering. My instructor Paul van der Laan suggested I begin there, and move to companion display styles later. In classic student fashion, I floundered, pivoted, and restarted in an effort to create something interesting and original. I was very influenced by previous graduates of the program like Ondrej Jób and Maria Doreuli who managed to create unique and beautiful forms that were dazzling to read. Reading their work was like instantly connecting with a stranger. I immediately realized the common ground, and tried to figure out what was so appealing about their ideas. One day, an instructor brought in a Nebiolo specimen with a unique display face on the cover.
At the final critique, our beloved stone-carving teacher Françoise Berserik responded to my project. In a typically Dutch tone, she said, “This is nice, but maybe one day you’ll draw a real text face.” I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and mumbled “God damnit,” under my breath.
A few years earlier, I was getting a critique from the illustrious bad boy of type design, Jim Parkinson. The work in question was a high contrast, condensed, low-waisted serif, with a double inline and some dimensional effects. I remember his simple criticism clearly: “This might be a case of too many good ideas.” Like all great advice, it hurt good.
A little while after graduation, I started teaching, and hypocritically spoke those same words in many critiques. It’s easy to get trampled under the weight of lofty ambitions. The phrase “kill your darlings” rings true, but committing to just one darling can amplify success as well.
In 6th grade, Ricky Odbert was the best skateboarder I knew. He had sick style, amazing technical skill, but also went big. I vividly remember massive backside grabs off home made skateramps alongside his parents’ garage. He was fearless in the way little kid skateboarders can be—risk of injury and gravity didn’t register on his list of concerns.
Years later Ricky focussed his boundless energy into fine dining. After working in some of the best restaurants in Napa and San Francisco, he packed his bags, and opened an experimental test kitchen in the same garage he grew up skating next to. Still fearless, he indulges six eaters at a time in a dozen courses and as many opportunities to think they’ll never have anything better than what they just ate.
Ricky came to me for a logo and type system that was flexible enough for constantly changing menus. At the time, his self-designed menu had an interesting treatment: the type size would change depending on the size of the course. It was with that idea in mind that I created his custom typeface. I returned to my graduation project, removed the serifs, and expanded it into a family of five widths.
A little while later, I was working on a new site to distribute my typefaces, and serve as a portfolio. I knew I had nothing that would serve as a real text face, and had outgrown using slightly tracked out Hobeaux in paragraphs. That’s when I remembered Ricky’s custom sans, and further chiseled away at it’s brushy terminals, forming it into something sturdy enough for small sizes and screen rendering. I made efforts to get every terminal flat, except for accents and punctuation, so they could stand out, and sparkle more in the paragraphs. I was amazed how sympathetic it was to such a wide variety of companions. It felt equally at home next to Viktor Script as it did next to Vulf Mono.
The real work begins
For a while, I wasn’t sure if it should follow a humanist or grotesque model, so I explored both options. Typically, sans versions of serif designs follow a humanist model, but this isn’t always the case. Ultimately I decided in favor of a grotesque model, as the closed forms allowed for a more even distribution of weight, and provided ample opportunity for faceted interior shapes.
The plan was always to create a full family for a range of real life typesetting, so when most of the decisions in the roman had been made, I started broadening the designspace. First the bold presented its own set of challenges, particularly with the lowercase a.
For the italics, I decided on a very slight angle of just five degrees. My opinion on italic angles is extremely controversial, and gets me hot water at boring parties. I think a very slight slant is fine, because so many of the forms (notably a, e, k, g, and y) are different already. Throw in a descending f, and overall narrower width, and we have a complimentary set of italics that match well without resorting to any cheap attention grabbing tactics (see the rest of the Ohno catalog for that).
The result is a family of ten fonts that fully commits to one darling: shimmering negative spaces that emphasize the uniqueness of each glyph. It’s a distillation of the concepts I explored as a student, and it feels good to get it out of my system. I can’t say whether Françiose would consider this a “real text face,” but it’s useful and flexible. That’s real enough for me.