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baasic

baasic is our studio typeface. Developed in collaboration with Max Phillips from Signal Type Foundry. With thousands of typefaces available for us to use, what’s the point developing a new one? Well, to be honest finding out was partly why we did it.

Whats's the point?
Scott Burnett

If we’d designed a display typeface, something expressive and clearly different, then it would’ve easily differentiated us and defined our identity. However this wasn’t what we wanted. Our aim was something much less obvious and much more useful. A typeface that would underpin everything that we did, carry all the thinking and ideas that go into every project, and give us confidence in what we were saying.

We wanted a typeface that was a fundamental tool. Central to what we do, and how we work. Scaffolding that holds projects together as they’re being worked on. That provides cohesion across the team, our activities, projects and presentations.

We set Max a tough challenge. To make something that was neutral enough to not distract from what was being said, simple enough to highlight the sense in our ideas yet with enough warmth and idiosyncrasy to be clearly human and recognisably ours. The result isn’t just a typeface, it’s a voice for the studio. 

Making baasic
by Max Phillips

When Scott asked me to design a plain, hardworking, single-weight sans for aad’s own use, I thought of the great 19th century grotesques from Edinburgh’s Miller & Richard foundry. These were a collection of numbered jobbing faces, produced piecemeal as requests from customers came in, and meant for broadsides, labels, and other humble commercial uses. Because they were designed to be physically sturdy, with no serifs or fine joins to break off in printing, and to print legibly when worn, they had emphatic, slightly eccentric forms. They were clear and full of vigour, and I thought they’d do well for aad.

So my first sketches had a number of 19th century details. The letters had a fairly small aperture, the uppercase was slightly heavier than the lowercase, and I added a slight inward curl to the terminals of curved strokes, like the business end of a baling hook, that gave them a bit of extra energy. I even tried an eyeglass g. I showed these trials to Scott, very pleased with myself, and he made me take all that stuff right out again. He wanted a large aperture, open counters, a very big x-height, and a complete absence of fancy touches. He wanted something as plain as a hammer. He wanted a tool.

This clarified things considerably, and we went back and looked at some other models, especially the second generation of jobbing sanses. In the first decade of the 20th century, Morris Benton took the ragbag of wonky old numbered grotesques in the American Type Founders catalog, streamlined and regularized them, and called them News Gothic. It was one of the first superfamilies, with a single design available in an organized range of weights and widths, many with matching italics. They were rigorously drawn, with big counters and open forms, and very monoline. This seemed to be closer to what was wanted. We also looked at a typewriter face Josef Müller-Brockmann designed for Olivetti, which had even bigger counters, as well as very deep junctures that gave letters like m and n a springy look; something Scott calls “pep”. Once we’d adjusted our direction, the work moved quickly, and we completed the design in about eight weeks.

The face you’re reading now, Baasic, is not a revival or a period piece. While it draws on 19th century sources, it includes modern details, like the assymetric foot of the lowercase l, and is meant to function reliably today. We think these workmanlike forms, derived from metal type, will have a long, useful life on screen. I can’t wait to see what Scott and his team do with it.

Max runs Signal type foundry and drawing office.
See more of his work here →