Edgy & Evocative: The Kairos Typeface

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The octagonal slab serif typeface Kairos has a hard-edged and industrial quality. But don’t let its rough looks fool you: it’s not just any slab serif, so don’t take Kairos at face value. The closer you look at the complete family, and the typeface’s origin, the more you’ll see.

Typographic Wordplay

Designed by Monotype Studio’s Terrance Weinzierl, the Kairos typeface takes its name from the Greek word for opportunity, which is fitting. “I saw an opportunity for designing a typeface that we needed, and that was in style,” said Weinzierl. “Kairos is more of a jersey than a suit or a cutting board instead of a whisk. Certain brands are looking for something more coarse but not dirty. Something that’s not so sleek. Kairos fits that look.”

Image source: typeterrance.com

Image source: typeterrance.com

Formally, the Kairos typeface resembles mid-19th century wood types which had octagonal slab serifs, also known as Egyptians. The wood type slab serifs from the 1800s that Kairos most resembles were called Grecians: often metal or wood type with dimensional properties such as bevels, shadows, or facets. Weinzierl is quick to point out that the Kairos name is a play on words. “The Greek-origin name Kairos is a wink at that ‘Grecian’ style name, and also the slab serif aka Egyptian city of Cairo.”

Image source: typeterrance.com

Image source: typeterrance.com

Weinzierl received his BFA from Grand Valley State University, and completed a type design short course at the University of Reading in 2013 with Gerry Leonidas. Weinzierl has always enjoyed designing typography, whether he’s creating it digitally, or experimenting with traditional, hands-on media such as brushes or letter press. His awareness and understanding of different tools was built up over a period of time, by attending various workshops and classes. Working with different media reminds him of other opportunities for creative exploration, and when using various tools, there is crossover according to Weinzierl, where one tool informs another and “patterns come through.” He suggests that the type designer will always be aware of visual elements and interplay, such as positive and negative space, and overall rhythms, no matter the tool or tools they use.

As a Monotype Studio designer, Weinzierl has built a strong portfolio of work, including custom fonts for Microsoft, Google, and Barnes & Noble. And you might have seen his Pizza Press typefaces for Domino’s too. So what lead to Kairos? “The opportunity was right,” Weinzierl said. “Kairos identifies with today’s resurgence of craftsmanship, along with the do it yourself attitude that’s in vogue.” Type creation, history, and application is something that Weinzierl is always thinking about, whether he’s creating a new typeface or out shopping. He’ll often stop to admire a package, considering how a typeface might work for a particular use.

Perfect for Pairing

The mechanical, and hard-edged qualities inherent in the Kairos typeface make it suitable for pairing with sans serif typefaces, such as Avenir or Futura, that have geometric properties. Award-winning designer Katt Phatt sees it “alongside sexy scripts like Lavandaria.” Weinzierl also sees it working well with scripts, and also typefaces such as ITC Machine, Linotype Clarendon, or Sackers Gothic.

Mitch Paone, the founder and creative director of New York City based brand consultancy DIA, appreciates the variety of widths and weights Kairos offers.

Mitch Paone, the founder and creative director of New York City based brand consultancy DIA, appreciates the variety of widths and weights Kairos offers.

When it comes to pairing, designer Katt Phatt sees Kairos being able to "play nice with a lot of typefaces."

When it comes to pairing, designer Katt Phatt sees Kairos being able to “play nice with a lot of typefaces.”

Pete Rossi, founder and creative director of RM&CO, calls Kairos a "robust typeface" that would work well for "bespoke branding and packaging."

Pete Rossi, founder and creative director of RM&CO, calls Kairos a “robust typeface” that would work well for “bespoke branding and packaging.”

Although it has old world charm, Kairos is not a revival of something from days gone by. “It’s not a faithful revival,” said Weinzierl, especially with “how it’s expanded.” But it is influenced by 19th century forms, so Weinzierl suggests it’s more of a hybrid. Kairos took a total of 18 months to create, from inception to final release, and the time put into it shows in the attention to detail and also its breadth. The Kairos typeface family has a total of 51 weights, available as a desktop font or web font from MyFonts, Fonts.com, and Linotype.com.

Weighty Applications

As a display face, Kairos would work well for titles, headlines, and any other applications requiring large, bold typography. And what’s more, it has a chromatic display of weights. “Chromatic simply means being able to use more than one color, as in being able to layer the fonts. Only the ‘Kairos Display’ weights are chromatic. It’s recommended to layer Highlight on top of Shadow for two colors. Or you can simply use the Shadow weight for one color applications.”

Layering Display Highlight on top of Display Solid is recommended for two-color applications. Or you can just use Shadow by itself. Image and caption: Monotype

Layering Display Highlight on top of Display Solid is recommended for two-color applications. Or you can just use Shadow by itself. Image and caption: Monotype

Weinzierl sees Kairos used in branding or packaging, where a hand-crafted quality is needed for an “unpolished look” as he put it. When asked about specific applications, he could see it used for branding a “cutting board, sold at a farmer’s market” or as part of “an app for hiking trails.” But Weinzierl confesses that using it to create a brand identity, such as a wordmark or lettermark for “marshmallows might not work.”

Since leaving his hands, Weinzierl has no control over where people use Kairos, but he does offer some suggestions. “It works great for headlines, sub heads, and short text, probably no more than a few paragraphs. If using for text, try the middle range like Light, Regular or Medium.” Weinzierl cautions people from using it for too much text, such as running copy, or body copy in a magazine, book, or website.

Kairos is $49 for a single font, or $499 for the full family. And although you shouldn’t use it for running copy, do run out and get your hands on it as soon as possible, especially since you can get the entire Kairos typeface family of desktop fonts, the Pro version, for $99 through Sept. 18, 2015, at MyFonts, Fonts.com, and Linotype.com.


 

T3614Inspire your type designs with the side-by-side travel photo comparisons in Culture+Typography by Nikki Villagomez. Each image features examples of typography in culture, along with cultural and historical commentary to go with the image. Explore how design choices can be informed by the language of the cultural surroundings, and learn more about type selection, color usage, and more with this inspiring book.

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