FF Mark

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FF Mark

Ze new Germanetric sans by Hannes von Döhren,
Christoph Koeberlin and the FontFont Type Department.
Strong, simple, bold and created with utmost
consideration and precision. True to geometric
tradition, contemporary for today’s needs.

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Discretionary Ligatures

Discretionary Ligatures

This feature replaces a sequence of glyphs with a single glyph which is preferred for typographic purposes.

Historical Forms

Historical Forms

This feature replaces the default (current) forms with the historical alternates.

Historical Ligatures

Historical Ligatures

This feature replaces the default (current) forms with the historical alternates.

Small Capitals

Small Capitals

Turns lowercase characters into Small Capitals. Forms related to Small Capitals, such as Oldstyle Figures, may be included.

Small Capitals From Capitals

Small Capitals From Capitals

This feature turns capital characters into Small Capitals. It is generally used for words which would otherwise be set in all caps, such as acronyms, but which are desired in small-cap form to avoid disrupting the flow of text.

Case-Sensitive Forms

Case-Sensitive Forms

By default, glyphs in a text face are designed to work with lowercase characters. This feature shifts various punctuation marks up to a position that works better with all-capital sequences or sets of lining figures. This feature changes also automatically Oldstyle Figures to Lining Figures.

Capital Spacing

Capital Spacing

The Capital Spacing feature adjusts inter-glyph spacing for all-capital text. Most typefaces contain capitals and lowercase characters, and the capitals are positioned to work with the lowercase. When capitals are used for words, they need more space between them for legibility and aesthetics.

Oldstyle Figures

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Lining Figures

Lining Figures

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Proportional Figures

Proportional Figures

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Tabular Figures

Tabular Figures

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This feature replaces selected figures which precede a slash with numerator figures, and replaces the typographic slash with the fraction slash.



Replaces selected figures which follow a slash with denominator figures in order to build additional fractions.



This feature replaces default alphabetic glyphs with the corresponding ordinal forms for use after figures.

Scientific Inferiors

Scientific Inferiors

This feature replaces Lining or Oldstyle Figures with inferior figures (smaller glyphs which sit lower than the standard baseline, primarily for chemical or mathematical notation). May also replace lowercase characters with alphabetic inferiors.



Lining or oldstyle figures are replaced with superior figures (primarily for footnote indication), and lowercase letters are replaced with superior letters (primarily for abbreviated French titles).



This feature may replace a default glyph with a subscript glyph.

Slashed Zero

Slashed Zero

Some fonts contain both a default form of zero, and an alternative form which uses a diagonal slash through the counter. Especially in condensed designs, it can be difficult to distinguish between 0 and O (zero and capital O) in any situation where capitals and lining figures may be arbitrarily mixed. This feature allows the user to change from the default 0 to a slashed form.

Alternate Annotation Forms

Alternate Annotation Forms

Replaces default glyphs with various notational forms (e.g. glyphs placed in open or solid circles, squares, parentheses, diamonds or rounded boxes).

Stylistic Alternates

Stylistic Alternates

This feature replaces the default forms with stylistic alternates. Many fonts contain alternate glyph designs for a purely aesthetic effect; these don't always fit into a clear category like swash or historical.

Stylistic Set 1

Stylistic Set 1

Stylistic Set 2

Stylistic Set 2

Stylistic Set 3

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Stylistic Set 4

Stylistic Set 4

Stylistic Set 5

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Stylistic Set 6

Stylistic Set 6

Stylistic Set 7

Stylistic Set 7

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Mock Up with Mark

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The Elements of Arithmetic


Geometry is maths, the science of figured space. It questions shape, size, relative positioning, figures, and properties of space. Line, point, circle, square, geometry is everywhere! A line is one dimensional. Continues forever in two directions with infinite length without width. Connects two points via the shortest paths and continues in both directions. A point specifies only location and has no length, width or depth. It is usually represented by a dot, however, a dot has some dimension. A true point has zero dimension. A circle is the set of all points in a plane that are equidistant from a given point in the plane, the center of the circle. A square is a regular polygon with exactly four sides.



17.09.2013–08.10.2013 Berlin|Germany
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlinische Galerie, Hamburger Bahnhof, Kulturforum, KW Institute for Contemporary Art , Museum für Naturkunde, Neues Museum

I count all the time on resonance. I call on this you see.

— Oscar Wilde

Gold, Au, 79

Aurum #79

Category: transition metal
Group, period, block: 11, 6, d
Phase: solid
Atomic weight: 196.966569(4)
Discovery: Middle Easterns
Covalent radius: 136±6 pm
Electronegativity: 2.54

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Types of Their Time

Early traces of the geometric sans in Germany

Typefaces are an expression of their time. FF Mark is a new typeface and yet it clearly draws on historical examples from the past. Precisely, the mid-1920s, a period in German history with exceptional innovation in engineering, in the arts and in design. In particular, the years between 1925 and 1930 produced several ideas that were new to the world — among them a new concept in type design: the geometric sans serif.

In Berlin 1926, the Funkturm — a transmitting tower with an observation platform, first opened to the public enabling new perspectives on the metropolis. The same year Mart Stam designed a cubic chair construction made from tubes (possibly the first without back legs), while Ludwig Mies van der Rohe filed a patent application for his version of this so-called Freischwinger (cantilever chair). It was designed in semicircles instead and thus supported the ability to swing. The architect Bruno Taut and his colleagues began major housing estate projects in Berlin: Onkel Toms Hütte (named after the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin) in 1926 and the Hufeisensiedlung (literally horseshoe estate) a year earlier. Both are long and round building complexes equipped with many little square windows of different sizes — milestones in social housing. At the same time the students of the Bauhaus moved into their new school building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius. Not only is the building’s transparent “curtain wall” iconic, but so too the letters B-A-U-H-A-U-S running down the façade — geometric letters constructed from a simple grid. The basic shapes circle, square and triangle were omnipresent in the fields of industrial design, architecture, certainly in graphic design, as well as in lettering and type design.

In a special edition of the journal Typographische Mitteilungen titled Elementare Typographie it was Jan Tschichold who expressed his views on a new typographic style. Tschichold claimed it followed purpose and function; it rejected ornaments and instead used lines and basic shapes as graphic elements. In the fourth commandment of his manifesto it reads: “The elementary form of type shall be sans serif [Groteskschrift] in all its variants”. 1 Many foundries at the time were in search of a typeface that would not only serve these needs, but one that visually reflected the zeitgeist and thus letterforms originating from basic shapes.

In 1927 the Bauer type foundry released Futura, a geometric sans serif designed by Paul Renner. Not only did its name hold great demands, but even more so the Bauer advertising: “Die Schrift unserer Zeit” (the type of our time), which was initially an idea by the editor Jakob Hegener. 2 The claim that Futura was the type of its time, however, is excessive: type design at the time was as diverse as product design and architecture and there are numerous examples of geometric typefaces that represent similar thoughts and ideas.

The short intervals of designs released in the late 1920s and early 1930s suggest that there were instead many “types of their time”. The following introduces a precious few.

Universal-Schrift 1925

At the Bauhaus many ideas corresponded with the principles of the elementary typography. Among its followers was Herbert Bayer, a former Bauhaus student himself and later typographic director at the school in Dessau. It was he who designed the lettering on the new Bauhaus building and in 1925 he proceeded to design the concept for a “universal” alphabet. It was by far not a complete typeface, rather a set of characters, constructed using triangle and compass in a geometric system. At first the letter shapes were quite narrow, but a wider version was added in a 1927 revision. On the one hand, the letters are truly geometrical, however, on the other hand it is this characteristic that makes them illegible in smaller sizes. No optical corrections had been applied to the letterforms.

Some of Bayer’s Bauhaus colleagues had designed geometric alphabets of their own. Sketches of Josef Alber’s grid-based stencil type were published in 1926, but none of the Bauhaus type designs were ever cast in metal. Consequently they were hand-drawn for every respective application.

Comparison of Universalschrift by Herbert Bayer, Schablonenschrift by Josef Albers and Systemschrift by Kurt Schwitters with Paul Renner’s Futura in the critical article “Zweifel” (doubt) by Heinrich Jost in Klimschs Jahrbuch, vol. 21, Frankfurt/Main 1928.

Erbar-Grotesk 1926

The first German geometric sans to be released was Erbar-Grotesk with the Ludwig & Mayer type foundry in 1926. Its eponymous designer Jakob Erbar defined the circle as a basic element on which the typeface was built — note the almost perfectly circular capital ‘O’. In early type specimens, the foundry claimed that Erbar-Grotesk was free from antics following the aim to develop a “healthy” typeface, to one day replace the “old characterless grotesk typefaces” and to “establish itself in every well-equipped composing room in the long run”. 3 Between 1926 and 1930 Erbar-Grotesk was extended to a large family of weights and styles in exemplary manner: it ranged from light to bold and their italic counterparts as well as condensed versions plus a couple of rather playful outline styles for headlines and initials. Lucina, lichte fette Grotesk, Lumina and Lux were all relatives of the Erbar family. Strong characteristics of Erbar-Grotesk can be seen through its two-story lowercase ‘a’ as well as the significant ‘ß’, a ligature with both an ascender and a descender. The influence of Erbar-Grotesk can still be found on the street signs in the western part of Berlin.

Early type specimen by Ludwig & Mayer with showings of Erbar-Grotesk and its playful sisters Lucina, lichte fette Grotesk, Lumina and Lux.

Type specimen of Erbar-Grotesk (Ludwig & Mayer), Baustein-Grotesk and Lichte Koralle (both Schelter & Giesecke) in capital letters—note the capital ‘ß’—Futura (Bauer) and Grobe Kabel (Gebr. Klingspor) in Klimschs Jahrbuch, vol. 22, Frankfurt/Main 1929.

Futura 1927

The release of Futura the following year easily provokes the debate whether it was influenced by Erbar-Grotesk or whether it was possibly the other way around. In fact, Paul Renner had already presented his type design to an audience during a lecture at the Kölner Werbeschule in 1925, where Jakob Erbar happened to be teaching. 4 Erbar on the other hand claims to have begun his design several years earlier. Furthermore, Futura’s capital letters show a strong resemblance to a type design by Ferdinand Kramer, a colleague of Renner at the school of art in Frankfurt, who had initially designed the so-called Kramer-Grotesk for his family’s hat store. 5 Whatever the case may be, again this debate simply proves that more than one person sensed the spirit of the time.

In Renner’s view the ancient Roman capitalis monumentalis was based on the elemental shapes; circle, square, triangle, and thus they served to him as a starting point for Futura’s capital letters. The width of the capital letters changes heavily from character to character. While ‘O’ and ‘G’ are almost perfectly round, letters such as ‘E’, ‘F’ and ‘L’ have the width of only half a square. Later the geometric structure was applied to the lowercase letters as well, however, in comparison to the alphabets designed at the Bauhaus, they were not drawn with triangle and compass. Only some early letterforms were truly constructed, for example ‘a’, ‘g’, ‘m’, ‘n’ and ‘r’, but they were gradually left out of the font.

A general problem arising in the design of typefaces based on geometric shapes is the formation of dark spots whenever heavy bars meet. This meant that several optical corrections had to be applied to the final drawings in order to ensure the impression of Futura’s monolinearity. Especially in the bolder weights, many compromises were made: strokes that go into stems are heavily reduced, some of the capital characters lose their pointed apexes — a key feature in all the lighter weights — and the closing of the lowercase ‘e’ is quite unfortunate as it seems inconsistent and appears to be a misfit in the overall design.

Nevertheless, Futura remains to be the most popular geometric sans of that time. This can certainly also be attributed to the international position that Bauer held as opposed to its competitors. In 1928 Heinrich Jost, artistic advisor at Bauer, emphasizes the foundry’s self-confidence in an article: “Futura may contribute to the movement of the ‘elementary typography’ by steering it into a sophisticated direction”. 6

Early Bauer type specimen of Futura.

Specimen of Futura issued by the New York City sales office of the Bauer type foundry.
The back cover lists 16 other Bauer representatives across the Unites States to emphasize the foundry’s international position.

Kabel 1928

Soon after Erbar-Grotesk and Futura, another geometric sans hit the market. In 1928 the Offenbach-based type foundry Klingspor released Kabel by Rudolf Koch, a well-known German type designer. It is possible that it was named after the transatlantic telecommunications cable installed during this period. While Kabel captures the modern look of the 1920s it reveals features of Art Deco at the same time. This successful and friendly mix of two styles is just as characteristic of the typeface as its low x-height and some of its letterforms, for example ‘a’, ‘e’ and ‘g’, manage to maintain their qualities in bolder weights. Another strong feature distinguishing Kabel from its contemporaries is the slanted endings on some of the letters’ tails that make the typeface livelier. In a 1976 redesign of Kabel at the International Typeface Corporation, the x-height was dramatically increased. This resulted in the immediate loss of its geometric proportions and charm. Just like its predecessors, the Kabel family was extended by outline-style relatives. First came Zeppelin in 1929, followed by Prisma a year later.

Specimen of Erbar-Grotesk (1926), Futura (1927) and Kabel (1928) all on one spread in Klimschs Jahrbuch, vol. 21, Frankfurt/Main 1928.

Berthold Grotesk 1928

In a time when sans serif typefaces were gaining more and more popularity, the Berthold type foundry was well represented with its flagship Akzidenz-Grotesk. However, following the developments in the mid-twenties, Berthold wanted to be every bit up-to-date and released their Hausschnitt (in-house design) Berthold-Grotesk in 1928. Initially it came with regular and light weights and was quickly expanded to an extensive family in the following years. Like its contemporaries Berthold-Grotesk has a small x-height, long ascenders, but relatively short descenders. A significant feature is the capital ‘M’. Its crotch does not go all the way to the baseline, but it is not sitting on the x-height either. The figures are comparatively large and some of their shapes are reminiscent of those in Akzidenz-Grotesk — note the little serif on numeral seven.

A challenge that many faced in designing a geometric typeface was the placement of umlaut dots — diacritics significant to the German language. While they gently sit left and right of an ‘A’s’ apex, they would sometime drop into the ‘U’s’ bowl in the bolder weights. In Berthold-Grotesk bold the dots merge with the umlaut ‘O’, creating a head with teddy bear-like ears. Within the system of different weights Berthold-Grotesk did not lose its initial character and optical compromises were applied carefully. In 1940 a heavy weight followed.

Although Berthold-Grotesk is a fully developed sans serif, available in several weights, it is not so well known today. Perhaps because it was long overshadowed by its distant relative, the extremely popular Akzidenz-Grotesk.

Specimen No. 262 of the Berthold type foundry,
titled in English spelling of Berthold-Grotesk.

Neuzeit-Grotesk 1930

In 1930 the Stempel type foundry released their new version of a sans serif. Within two years Wilhelm Pischner had designed Neuzeit-Grotesk in light, regular, medium and bold weights before it was produced for both hand-setting and the Linotype system. Even though the concept of the geometric sans clearly underlies this design, it is not emphasized in the specimen texts. At first glance Neuzeit-Grotesk has one major distinction as opposed to its predecessors: a larger x-height. With reduced white space between the lines and equipped with shorter ascenders and descenders, text columns appear more compact.

Overall the shapes are quite wide which helps provide a homogeneous appearance on the page. Strangely, the letterforms are slightly compressed in light and medium. Similar to Berthold-Grotesk the umlaut-dots merge with the ‘O’, but a fine line is spared around the dots, preventing them from actually touching each other. In the original design two lowercase letters have alternative characters: a two-story ‘a’ and the ‘u’ with a stem.

Neuzeit-Grotesk seemed to have been forgotten until it was resurrected by the DIN (German Institute for Standardization) in 1970. Defined as DIN 30640 the regular weight as well as the medium condensed were redrawn for the purpose of “lettering for printing”. 7 All of the characters were made a little wider, descenders slightly longer, and the alternative lowercases ‘a’ and ‘u’ became part of the standard font. The switching of characters can change the perception of a typeface; nevertheless Neuzeit-Grotesk maintained much of its original character.

Cover and double spread of an early
Neuzeit-Grotesk specimen by Stempel.

FF Mark

Just as much as the original design of the Freischwinger could neither be fully attributed to Mart Stam nor to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (or even to Marcel Breuer, as some historians like to believe), no type designer can claim to have invented the geometric sans. Several designers and the respective foundries sensed the need to produce a type that would reflect the ideas and innovations of the 1920s — more or less at the same time. While these typefaces share the same core idea, they do have distinctions, special features and peculiarities.

ff Mark is not a revival of any of the typefaces mentioned above in particular. Evidently, it is based on a concept that is apparent in many examples from the past. What it is, is an original contemporary design that serves today’s needs. While some of these examples are charming and elegant they may appear quirky in single weights and are not consistent throughout the typographic system.

In the capital letters, ff Mark willfully avoids the capitalis monumentalis proportions and instead consistently represents wide letter shapes with the x-height in good balance. Overall, the typeface bears low contrast and even though very little stroke modulation has been applied to the letter shapes it maintains excellent legibility even in smaller type sizes.

It extends to ten weights with more than a thousand characters each, allowing for a wide range of possibilities in creating typographic hierarchy. Besides the more modern ff Mark regular, the typeface is equipped with a book weight to support rather traditional text appearances. This feature is on par with Neuzeit-Buchschrift, which was available in 6–12 pt. While the oblique fonts in some older examples of the geometric sans do not fully match the rest of the typeface (and thus can seem disturbing), the ff Mark italic weights are more harmonized and retain the geometric character just as much as their upright counterparts. What’s more, ff Mark has small capitals. Within this large system of weights, very little optical corrections or compromises have been made to keep the type as consistent as possible.

In some later digitizations of the typefaces mentioned above, certain glyphs were often added in the redesign process: for example currency signs, the @-symbol, etc. Unfortunately, these were often not drawn accurately and certainly not with the necessary dedication deserved and they therefore remain as alien elements in the digital versions. Obviously, ff Mark is equipped with all the necessary glyphs to provide a satisfying contemporary font for all eventualities.

Furthermore, the ligature provided for each of the weights, the historic letter combination ‘ft’, is a ligature reminiscent of Futura, and one that the editor Jakob Hegener apparently compared to the shape of a horseshoe magnet. 8 A stylistic set of particularly “German features” have also been added: ‘7’ with a crossbar and a long ‘s’. Additionally, the font contains several shapes and arrows following the sets of geometric shapes in the original Futura. Details such as the position of the tail in capital letters ‘K’ and ‘R’ and the ear-like umlaut-dots on the ‘O’, quote shapes from the past and personalize the typeface.

ff Mark takes on ideas that have worked well just as much as it learns from defects of its historical examples. What it does, is successfully perform how these challenges can be overcome. True to the geometric tradition, but better, ff Mark is a typeface of our time.

Ear-like umlaut-dots quote shapes from the past and personalize
the typeface.

Breaking tradition with ten weights and over a thousand characters
within each weight.

More consistent terminals (e, s, c).
FF Mark (top) v. Futura (bottom)

Willfully avoiding the capitalis monumentalis proportions.
FF Mark (top) v. Futura (bottom)

Wider proportions and a better-balanced and bigger x-height.
FF Mark (top) v. Futura (bottom)

Meet the FF Mark team

A special type project, FF Mark is a collaboration between Hannes von Döhren, FontFont’s very own Christoph Koeberlin and the entire FontFont Type Department with creative support and input from Erik Spiekermann.

About the FontFont Type Department

FontFont represents some of the most talented and interesting type designers in the world. Behind every FontFont and type designer is a small group of secretly working technicians, designers, and typographic experts, the Type Department.

Combining design with the technical, the team—consisting of Andreas Frohloff, Inka Strotmann, Christoph Koeberlin, and Jens Kutílek—work to craft and develop outstanding typeface ideas into high quality fonts. They work directly and openly with each and every FontFont designer, providing aesthetic feedback and technical support with the aim to get the best out of every design. These unsung heroes work passionately and effortlessly for each and every FontFont but also, of course, for the love of type.

About Christoph Koeberlin

Christoph Koeberlin works as a type designer and font developer at FontShop International and runs the independent typography website typefacts.com. He likes vinyl records, gingham-checkered shirts and a bit of chocolate after every meal.

About Hannes von Döhren

Hannes von Döhren was born in Berlin, Germany. After completing his studies in graphic design, he worked in an advertising agency in Hamburg. Since 2008 he runs his own type foundry HVD Fonts. He has released several type families like Livory, ITC Chino, FF Basic Gothic, Supria Sans, Reklame Script, Brix Slab, Pluto and Brandon Grotesque which was the most successful release at MyFonts in 2010. In 2011 he received the Certificate of Excellence in Type Design from the Type Directors Club NY.