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043: Freight: An Incomplete History of Type

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Name: Freight

Release Date: 2005

Designers: Joshua Darden and GarageFont Design

Classification: Humanist

Owned By: Phil’s Fonts Inc.

Claim to Fame: A popular typeface designed by the first-known African American type designer.

This typeface is part of a huge extended family whose name implies that it's a workhorse of a typeface intended to work in a variety of contexts and large and small sizes, alike. It was named favourite typeface of the year in 2005 by typographica. Today is all about Freight.

The designer’s name is Joshua Darden, who Fonts in Use believes is the first known African-American type designer. He designed his first typeface at 15 years old. He spent nearly 10 years helping to create typefaces alongside other professionals in the industry before establishing his own studio. Darden joined the Hoefler&Co. type foundry in the year 2000 as a freelance designer and in 2001 became a full-time employee. If you haven’t watched the Netflix series, Abstract, about the art of design, check out season two where there’s an episode all about Hoefler&Co. type foundry in New York. Lead typographer, Jonathan Hoefler, is considered one of the most iconic type designers in the world.

In 2004, at the age of 25, Joshua established his Brooklyn-based design studio called Darden Studio. This studio was founded in the middle of an ugly court battle over, none other than, the typeface Freight. Joshua won the battle. The font was released through Phil’s Fonts (also known as GarageFonts). Since the typeface’s initial release, Phil’s Fonts has released additional families of Freight that were not designed by Joshua.

Phil’s Fonts describes Freight as follows: “Fresh yet at the same time projecting a familiar feeling, Freight Text Pro provides the stable foundation on which all other Freight Pro serif families were built. As its name implies it was designed to handle standard text sizes for large and small quantities of copy. Unique enough to catch the eyes but comfortable enough to keep them from bleeding, Freight Text Pro is a workhorse intended for magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, data-intensive technical documents and collateral. What more could you ask for from such a humble family?”

The Freight family tree is expansive. Freight, as it currently stands, has five families: text, sans, micro, display and big. Text has serifs and sans doesn’t; both designed for body text. Micro is designed to be used at very small sizes, display for headline type and big for signage and wayfinding (applications larger than headlines). It’s considered a font super family that contains 120 different styles (24 of each of the five families). Yes, 120 styles of characters, so basically 120 fonts! A ‘super family’ is a typeface that contains multiple classifications. Each of these five families within freight are all part of the super family. So imagine your last name is Freight. Let’s say that in your Dad’s family there are five brothers; your uncles Sans, Big, Micro, Display and your father, Serif. Each of the five brothers had, wait for it, 22 children so in each of the families there are 24 people (including each mom and dad) - unique styles in each, like light, italic, light italic, medium, bold, and so on with different widths weights and styles, each one with a bit of a unique personality. When the five families come together, they are considered one big Freight super family. That’s one family reunion!

Jan Middendorp described Freight this way, “Shaping Text” from 2012: “With the Freight suite, Joshua Darden took a radical approach to designing for optical size. Letterpress’ subtle difference between the various body sizes have been translated into boldly drawn, hugely different variants with pronounced size-related characteristics. Freight turns the traditional “natural” gradations of contrast and width into a conscious stylistic device.”

Freight is a humanist style typeface, which means the typeface looks like it’s been drawn by a human hand. There tends to be a natural expanding and contracting of the strokes. It’s as though they were drawn calligraphically with a pen nib. Humanist faces came after dark, gothic typefaces like Blackletter and they had a lighter, airier feel of the Italian humanist writers sometime in the middle of the 15th century.

In addition to his design work, Joshua has also been a guest at such mega events as TypeCon, as well as having taught at the Parsons School of Design and lectured at the University of California, Santa Barbara. And following in Hoefler’s footsteps for presidential typography (who had a hand in designing the typeface Gotham used in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign), Joshua designed the award-winning typeface, Jubilat, that was used in Bernie Sanders 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.

Thank you Mr. Darden, for your important contributions to an incomplete history of type. From the middle ages to the Middle East, from Futura to Freight, thanks for joining us on a journey across the type universe and going where no designer has gone before… next up: we’re crossing the ocean, travelling to the Middle East. Last, but certainly not least, Zapfino Arabic.

Music: Podington Bear - Squirrel Commotion

Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle

Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo byAlex onUnsplash

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