When working on the mytaxi brand launch we needed to give the brand a distinct look and feel, which also needed to speak to the brand’s new purpose, ‘move freely’. To establish the brand and give it personality we launched with high-impact copy led executions. This placed a huge importance on creating a look that was distinct from where we’d been with Hailo. In order to make something that would feel unique to mytaxi we created a bespoke font.
At the concept stage of the project we were exploring ‘city movement’. In doing so the importance of roads as cities main arteries became abundantly clear. Whether it’s a straight line, bridge, underpass or crossroad, road networks have had to get creative about how they transport people through cities. They’ve developed a seemingly endless number of curves, arcs and spaghetti junctions to transport people. These permutations gave us a wealth of shapes that would help us create letters. By finding something that provided us so much of what we needed, we decided early on that they’d provide the conceptual backbone of our typeface.
Once we’d landed the concept we got in touch with graphic designer and typographer Rob O’Reilly at Scale to help us develop our font. Rob’s enthusiasm for the project was constant, from initial concept to delivery of our typeface ‘Autosan’ he was the driving force behind its creation. Incidentally, ‘Autosan’ takes its name from the Autobahn motorway and mytaxi’s German roots as well as making a nod to the font’s sans serif characters. So, roads, the backbone of the transport system became the backbone of our typeface. To make these forms more visually interesting we wanted to take cues from the various underpasses and bridges and create points of interest at the letter’s junctions. While the type was to be used in 2D we wanted to create depth to the letters and make it seem like they were passing above and below each other.
To support the idea of a road disappearing below another we needed to create shadow to give us depth. We tried a number of different textures that all took their cues from roads but found that they were too abstract, and took the type to a different place. In trying to solve this problem we went back to basics. On our search, we found ourselves looking at imagery of tarmac. We discovered that by looking at it from an angle, the perspective creates a seemingly random collection of irregular shapes that decrease in size. We borrowed this texture to allow us create a pattern that began as a block colour and dissipated as the texture became finer and finer. This was perfect for creating the shadow of underpasses that help form our letters.
While this was a perfect solution to our problem it also presented a major challenge for Rob. When developing a typeface each form is created from a series of ‘points’. Usually a letter might have 8-16 points, each of which has to be built into the letter. Our texture meant that each letterform was going to have in the region of 400 points, or in the case of the ‘X’ and ‘8’ a figure closer to 750. Standard applications can only handle letters with 400 points so the letters had to be redrawn with fewer points, a painstaking process.
Another difficulty when creating a font with this level of detail is size. The shadow effect we created would have to maintain its integrity at sizes as small as a business card and as large as the side of an IMAX theatre. This was another area where Rob’s expertise was invaluable. He tested the type so that the concept was maintained (i.e. The underpass effect) at both very large and very small sizes. While it doesn’t sound like a huge amount of work, when you take into account the number of characters; letters, numbers and symbols, and subsequent design changes and rechecks on top of that, it becomes a mammoth task.
While developing a bespoke font isn’t without its challenges it gave us a distinct, ownable property to build the brand. When looking at different typefaces we realised their importance and the impact they have on copy. Whether your type is sharp and edgy, swooping and romantic, or rigid and clinical, it has a huge bearing on what you’re reading. It acts as intonation when words are not heard but read. It can give people permission to laugh, create empathy or sadness and should always be treated with care.