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Portland, Maine

207 200 3470

Neil Patel is the designer behind Tetradtype, an independent digital type foundry that crafts custom and retail fonts for creatives. Before founding Tetradtype in 2009, Neil spent a decade working as a semiconductor process engineer specializing in sub-micron printing—an experience that compels him to balance the aesthetic with the technical. 

design

An assortment of Greyletter's Work

 

Rising Tide Logo Improvements

Neil Patel

Before and after image of Rising Tide logo

Before and after image of Rising Tide logo

Since 2010, local craft brewery Rising Tide has been producing artisanal small-batch beer which has been widely available in New England on tap and in 22oz. bottles. In 2014 they made the move to have there more popular varieties available in 12oz. 4-packs. To pull it off they hired Might & Main to design the new labels and carriers.

Seeing this as a good opportunity to refine the existing brand Might & Main asked me to fine-tune the logotype. The original logo is set in Poplar, which is also used elsewhere in the brand, primarily for the names of the beer. Poplar is a digital revival of a wood cut typeface designed by William Leavenworth in the early 1800's. Most of the wood type of that time was designed to be used at large sizes and to be eye-catching. There were also the mechanical limitations that prevent from any part of one letter overlapping into the space occupied by another. With all of this often comes some eccentricities that in large bodies of text translate into texture but when setting only one or two words looks awkward. This is due to the lack of repetition in the eccentric features.

In the original logo the most awkward letters are the g and the e. The lower part of the g is dwarfed by the upper making it have bobble-head-like proportions. The e opens up into a large aperture that makes it have a large mouth that clashes with the neighboring letters. If these two letters happened to be in middle of the word it my not be as noticeable but in this case they both occur at the end of the word which makes them stand out more.

Improvements to the letterforms focused primarily on redrawing the g and e to achieve better balance with the rest of the logo. In addition, to those changes stem-widths, counter heights and overshoots were standardized to achieve better harmony.

Comparison of old and new outlines

Comparison of old and new outlines

New 4-packs on store shelves

New 4-packs on store shelves

NCR Custom Font

Neil Patel

Custom digital font designed to match printed in-store receipts

Custom digital font designed to match printed in-store receipts

Brief

NCR, well known for the their cash register and POS systems, approached me to create a custom digital font for a client's POS system. This client needed to generate digital receipts for their retail customers, and the digital versions needed to exactly match the appearance of printed receipts that customers would receive in retail locations. Matching the appearance of the printed and digital receipts adds continuity to the customer's experience.

POS systems use thermal printers to generate receipts. A thermal printer works by locally heating thermally sensitive paper to darken it. This method is similar to a dot matrix printer but without the ink and the noise. The typeface that is built into the printer firmware is a simple mono-width bitmap font. Typographic differentiation is performed by scaling the letterforms (double-height, double-width, or both).  The typographic quality of printed receipts certainly is not what one would consider elegant, but the thermal printer is a simple and robust device that can keep up with the demands of a retail environment. 

 

Design

The challenge in developing a digital equivalent of the printer typeface is that the original is effectively made up of pixels. The only way to see the letterforms is to print it out. This meant that a fair amount of interpretation is required to determine the "design intent," particularly while working from scanned copied of receipts as the source. 

On the printed receipt the rendering of the characters is blurry. However, on a crisp digital version vagueness would be distracting. Part of the design process was to create rules for some features of the letterforms, while still retaining the thermal-printed, pixelated aesthetic. Amongst the things to consider were adding overshoots to the rounded letter and standardizing how the strokes terminate. All designs then had to be scaled and tested to see if their form resembled the scaled versions of the original.

Original printed character set from the thermal printer.

Original printed character set from the thermal printer.

Digital character set

Digital character set

Blue Smoke OpenType Enhancement

Neil Patel

Brief

Blue Smoke, a BBQ restaurant in NYC, was working with their designer to develop a new menu format.  To identify whether certain menu items were gluten free, nut free or vegetarian, their designer, Eric Baker, created a set of icons to be inserted next to those menu items. I was initially requested to simply add the icons to their font so they could be inserted via the glyphs palette. After some discussion I realized it was the restaurant staff that was going to update the menus on a semi-regular basis using Microsoft Word. It would be a time consuming process for them to insert and precisely place the extra text boxes in Word. To make things simpler I suggested that we used an OpenType feature, which could be enabled in the template styles, to automatically substitute in the correct icon if the letters "GF" "NF" or "V" were typed into the menu.

 

Design

Adding the icons to the font was relatively straightforward, and then the OpenType feature was coded to allow the user to easily sub in either of the two versions of the icons, using stylistic sets.

BlueSmoke3.png

Error Proofing

With the substitution feature turned on, it would have been possible for the icons to show up in unwanted locations—every time the letters "GF," "NF," and "V" appeared. The example below shows a few words that would cause the icons to show up in these unwanted places. 

Illustration of the how intelligent substitution prevents errors

Illustration of the how intelligent substitution prevents errors

To account for this I modified the substitution program to prevent substitution of the icons if letters were present on either side of the key input characters. The project could have been wrapped up with the simple substitution but the goal was to have the OpenType feature be easy to use; it should work without errors, even for non-designers. 

L.L.Bean OpenType Fractions

Neil Patel

OTCustomization.png

Brief

Producing an array of product catalogs every quarter is a labor-intensive task that involves managing and coordinating a lot of copy and images. Spending man hours on repetitive tasks is not only inefficient but opens up the window for errors. This is just the issue that L.L.Bean was dealing with. Their catalogs are filled with dimensional information for a variety of products.Their style guide required use of fractions for describing details of product sizes and shapes. The fonts being used however, did not come with a fractions feature. The workaround was a macro that placed all the figures, sized them and shifted them into the numerator or denominator position. The drawbacks to this approach are that a fraction made this way is visually lighter and proportionally narrower than the rest of the type (because it uses scaled versions of the full-size numbers) and it requires a repetitive, error-prone manual process.

Solution

To remedy this situation, L.L.Bean asked me to implement an OpenType Arbitrary Fraction feature into their fonts. This included extending the character set to include missing numerator and denominator figures and writing the necessary code to substitute them when they occur in the presence of a slash (/). I wrote the feature such that it can be enabled all the time to simplify the implementation.

OT fraction implemented in catalog

OT fraction implemented in catalog

IDEXX Custom Font

Neil Patel

Print ad using custom typeface

Print ad using custom typeface

Brief

IDEXX Laboratories was kicking off a new ad campaign to promote some of their pet health diagnostic products. The creative team at IDEXX developed a campaign that spoke to the emotional bonds between people and their pets. Visually, this was achieved with full spread photographs capturing a touching moment between people and their pets, with a headline representing the thoughts of the pet owner. To fit in with the visual language, the typeface had to feel human as well. Originally, the team at IDEXX chose a retail typeface that was hand-drawn and had a hatched 3-D effect. While this typeface had the right feel it was difficult to read and was missing necessary punctuation.

 

Design

To resolve these issues IDEXX approached me to create a custom typeface. The goal was to retain the human, light-hearted, bouncy nature of the original typeface but improve the legibility. The primary reason the placeholder typeface was difficult to read was that it used high contrast letterforms with hairline serifs. The density of the 3-D effect overwhelmed the thin strokes of the letter. To solve this I suggested using a san-serif design with medium stroke contrast. This would reduce the clutter between letters and create a better balance between the 3-D effect and negative space inside the letter outlines.

Full alphabet and figures in custom font (Inside Voice)

Full alphabet and figures in custom font (Inside Voice)

Detailed view

Detailed view

Pushing the Concept

Commissioning a typeface with hand-drawn letters makes much more sense than illustrating each individual headline over a period of years. The drawback, however, is that a typeface of hand-drawn letters doesn't do enough to give off the organic human feel that was desired. This is because the letters repeat. To remedy this, I proposed that we add a variety of alternates for the most commonly occurring letters and pseudo-randomly substitute them in using the contextual alternate OpenType feature. The feature was coded to prevent the same alternate from appearing in close proximity to itself thus adding the variation needed to feel more hand produced.

Illustration of how alternate letters are substituted

Illustration of how alternate letters are substituted