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Tobias Frere-Jones Returns With His Most Personal Font Yet

After splitting from his longtime design partner, Frere-Jones is back with a font that is literally an exploration of his own identity.

Type genius Tobias Frere-Jones today released his first font since splitting with longtime creative partner Jonathan Hoefler. Mallory, an approachable sans serif designed to be used in different contexts from brand identities to packaging to body text, is Frere-Jones’s most personal font yet.

The font is nearly two years in the making. Following a nasty, litigious split from Hoefler, Frere-Jones underwent something of an identity crisis last February. He had been in business with Hoefler since the 1990s. The two were the Beatles of the type world, their partnership resulting in a corpus of some 800 fonts, including Gotham, the typeface of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. After they broke up Frere-Jones started wondering if he could design a typeface that was sort of like him. “My mother is English, and my father is American,” he says. “I was interested in creating a design with the same origins as I have. Something that had the austerity and seriousness that runs through a lot of British design, while still retaining the informal quality of American design.”

The typeface is called Mallory after one of the designer’s two middle names (the other is Edgar). It’s not just a nod to the ‘tweener nature of the typeface’s origins, but shows its personality off when cast in the font: the rigid geometric strokes of the “M,” the thick cuffs on the “l,” the tall, stout lowercase “o,” or the delicate neck joining the loop of the “a” to its ascender. “Ideally, the name of a typeface when set in that typeface should be an eloquent demonstration of what it’s about,” Frere-Jones says.

Mallory accomplishes its mixture of Frere-Jones’s English and American sides a couple ways. The austere British side is represented in the strict geometry of Mallory’s capital letters, while the American side is seen mostly in the more humanist lower case characters. Putting it more simply, Mallory almost looks like it was hand-written with a Sharpie using a square and compass for guidance. Its lines feel straight, mathematically precise, except around the edges, where Mallory’s personality comes into play.

This combination of forms has a practical benefit, too. “For a project of any complexity, it’s common for designers to assemble a palette of typefaces together,” Frere-Jones says. “Identities especially need this sort of nuance.” Mallory was designed to not just be the main typeface in such identities, but to nimbly support other fonts as backup. (He says Clarendon pairs with Mallory nicely.)

Mallory is one of Frere-Jones’s most ambitious typefaces to date. It’s made up of 1,200 unique glyphs, and 17 different weights. It also comes in a version called Mallory MicroPlus, a version of the typeface custom-tuned to meet the needs of designers working in low-resolution or small size environments. Think of a font that would look just as good on the Apple Watch as it would in a tiny print footnote: to be more readable, Mallory MicroPlus spreads out the spacing between the letters, widens apertures, and blows up the x-heights.

Ultimately, Frere-Jones says he sees Mallory as being a suitable typeface in almost any context, including identities, packaging, publishing, and more. It’s a good thing, too. As the first typeface available from his new company, Frere-Jones Type, Mallory is likely to account for a big portion of the business he drums up over the next year. It is available for license today here.

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco@gmail.com.