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? I know, I couldn’t think of anything either.
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.