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Thoughts on Rotis
Sentences and website synthesized by Kristoffer Sølling.

Rotis is a typeface superfamily, designed by Otl Aicher, his assistants and the computer Fritz in 1988. The typeface covers both serif and grotesque, and two intermediate states called semi-sans and semi-serif. Drawing on inspiration from the typefaces Times and Univers, Aicher designed Rotis as a particularly narrow typeface that he thought would be suitable for setting long manuscripts as those in the newspaper or the paperback. With the space he gained from making the letterforms narrow, he bulked up
the spacing between individual letters.

Rotis Sans-Serif
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ

Characteristic letterforms in the alphabet are foremost the minuscule e e e e and c c c c with their upper arch extending fairly far down, while the bottom arch flattens out with the baseline, invoking ideas of an extreme overbite. The balance of these letters also appear shifted compared to other letters, as a result of the lengthy bottom arch.

In both the minuscule h h h h and u u u u letterforms, the open counterforms seem as being pulled away from the stem in an aggressive fashion. In the uppercase sans-serif alphabet noticeable quirks are the leg of the R, distinctly loud in its unelegant arch, and the tail of the Q, similar to the lowercase e and c in the way it flattens out on the baseline. These kinks are ironed out in the serif version. R R R R, Q Q Q Q

Rotis Serif
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ

Rotis is a peculiar type family, as it seems unable to find a homogenous identity, even within the individual cuts, and much less over the four different ones. The primary differences in the variations of the typeface are the amount of contrast that the stroke carries, and the inclusion of serifs. One could argue that in Aicher’s attempt to create a rational blend of constructed and humanistic type, he stripped the typeface of what it requires to work as a “type” (used in the sense of typificiation), erring on the wrong side of the homogeneity that makes a typeface.

Rotis Semi-Sans
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ
As a whole, the semi-serif weight is perhaps the most characteristic and also least pleasing to look at, sporting letters with serifs here-and-there, in no seemingly ordered way – producing the typographic equivalent of a modified street car, complete with spoilers and fire decals.

Rotis Semi-Serif
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ

Rotis was Aicher’s only second endeavor into type design, yet he did not approach it with modest ambitions, with his objective to design a typeface of “universal”-esque ambitions. This typeface should marry the qualities of serif and grotesque, thereby combining the two streams of modern typography into a tool that could be used for almost anything.

This thought of universality in type design could also be ascribed to Adrian Frutigers typeface Univers and Paul Renners typeface Futura, with its idea of a “true” geometric construction. On this objective to discover universality through design, which can be traced to the HfG Ulm:

‘… it seems to constitute a sort of magnetic pole around which we circle unceasingly, as it permits no sure approaches.’

Andrea Branzi, Those Monks on The Hill

And concerning the Univers typeface;

‘Dreams must be dreamt, however boring they may be when told on waking; when will designers realize that dreams are necessary for survival, but not for publication unless they obey the complicated creative constraints which, reconciled, compose design?’

Anthony Froshaug, Univers - 1.11.63

Richard Hollis has perhaps said it best in his text on Univers, some typefaces constitute transitory facts, and others (an extreme few, in fact only one in the 20th century in his opinion: Univers) become constituent facts. Rotis is easily identified as a transitory fact (and face) despite its ambitions. This sheds new light on this quote by Aicher:

‘We are in the process of dispensing with sanserif scripts anyway. They are running out of steam.’

Otl Aicher, Typographie.

This suggests that Aicher’s type-sensitivity was perhaps just not correctly calibrated, resulting in Rotis being less timeless (or perhaps un-contemporary) than he would have liked it to be.

Aicher denied the rationale of a typeface constructed by geometry in his writings. He called for the pen, and the marks of handwriting to be present in the typeface, and felt the letterforms of geometrically constructed faces, round ones in particular, to be too uneconomical in their width:

‘To design a typeface with strokes of uniform thickness is to divest it of all contingency. This is an important criterion, though an aesthetic one.’

‘And where letters have been based on elementary geometry- the 0 on the circle, the H on the square and the A on the equilateral triangle - the result has been scripts that are all very well for ornamental purposes but not for reading. This is the path Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus, and constructivism took. The outcome was writing that was as useless as it was lovely to look at.’

Otl Aicher, Typographie.

One aspect Aicher failed to recognize was the need for contrast in character width to produce a sufficiently varied text-image, and Rotis became a typeface of cripplingly uniform glyph width.

In terms of type design, Aicher considers Rotis a forerunner in this new societal situation that computers and the televisions have created. The notions of information society and the “noise” created by it, are notions that designers at the HfG Ulm, and thereby also Aicher, were extremely preoccupied with. This sense of being outside of history, of being the level-headed counter-part to current “nonsense” has by some been seen as a theme of the designers associated with the Ulm school:

‘For twenty years everything concerning Ulm has been used in the most reactionary way possible, to inwardly reject the new and to draw attention to the mistakes of the current era, as if Ulm had existed outside history and could only be understood as the objective foundation of design.’

Andrea Branzi, Those Monks on the Hill

Aicher prescribed a social revolution for typography, in response to information society and the computer:

‘It now steps out onto a new field, beyond technology, the field of reading, of perception. As in many spheres these days, it is no longer a question of what is to be done but of how we should set about. Typography becomes a matter of human, of social, concern. The issue is no longer what but how. How readily legible, how user-friendly, how humane should modern civilization be making its.’

Otl Aicher, Typographie

This thought is reminiscent also of the HfG Ulm, where students were required to engage in studies of things outside of the realms of design, such as sociology, psychology and so on. This connection with the somewhat more quantifiable world of science is what drives Aicher in his quest for “improved reading and information” through type.

Aicher’s notion of the complete dissolution of typography and technology, and his corresponding reaction to this, is in stark contrast to the essence of Wim Crouwels experiments 20 years earlier with his New Alphabet. Both seek to theorise on the importance of technology in relation to design, and end up on completely different sides of the fence.

If a typeface is designed to declutter, to remove visual noise, or to cut through it – does it not still need to be a good typeface? Aicher directly calls for typeface austerity, but through the search for it in Rotis has created something malnourished and lifeless, completely devoid of any humanism he might have tried to invoke, the typeface becomes calculated and constructed in every sense. Knowing about his reasonings for the typeface makes the situation even more paradoxical.

Though the preoccupancy with information society and noise within it, born of modernism and preached at the HfG Ulm, is not in itself a stillborn concept, it seems to have provided a completely unsurmountable mountain in terms of challenge, not just for Aicher, but many other type designers as well.

Even acknowledging the problems that Aicher is occupied with, and recognizing that they are problems that might somehow be solved by design, some of Aicher’s rationale is hard to reconcile with the produced typeface. Claiming that his typeface is not driven by aesthetics, as he does by denouncing those who are concerned with aesthetics over function, is untrue. Rotis is a formalistic experiment in the way that it is Aicher’s direct attempt at blending two distinct forms to one, using misplaced rationale to justify it. Taking two forms and blending them to one, that is concern with pure form.

Thoughts on Rotis
Sentences and website synthesized by Kristoffer Sølling.

Rotis is a typeface superfamily, designed by Otl Aicher, his assistants and the computer Fritz in 1988. The typeface covers both serif and grotesque, and two intermediate states called semi-sans and semi-serif. Drawing on inspiration from the typefaces Times and Univers, Aicher designed Rotis as a particularly narrow typeface that he thought would be suitable for setting long manuscripts as those in the newspaper or the paperback. With the space he gained from making the letterforms narrow, he bulked up
the spacing between individual letters.

Rotis Sans-Serif
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ

Characteristic letterforms in the alphabet are foremost the minuscule e e e e and c c c c with their upper arch extending fairly far down, while the bottom arch flattens out with the baseline, invoking ideas of an extreme overbite. The balance of these letters also appear shifted compared to other letters, as a result of the lengthy bottom arch.

In both the minuscule h h h h and u u u u letterforms, the open counterforms seem as being pulled away from the stem in an aggressive fashion. In the uppercase sans-serif alphabet noticeable quirks are the leg of the R, distinctly loud in its unelegant arch, and the tail of the Q, similar to the lowercase e and c in the way it flattens out on the baseline. These kinks are ironed out in the serif version. R R R R, Q Q Q Q

Rotis Serif
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ

Rotis is a peculiar type family, as it seems unable to find a homogenous identity, even within the individual cuts, and much less over the four different ones. The primary differences in the variations of the typeface are the amount of contrast that the stroke carries, and the inclusion of serifs. One could argue that in Aicher’s attempt to create a rational blend of constructed and humanistic type, he stripped the typeface of what it requires to work as a “type” (used in the sense of typificiation), erring on the wrong side of the homogeneity that makes a typeface.

Rotis Semi-Sans
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ
As a whole, the semi-serif weight is perhaps the most characteristic and also least pleasing to look at, sporting letters with serifs here-and-there, in no seemingly ordered way – producing the typographic equivalent of a modified street car, complete with spoilers and fire decals.

Rotis Semi-Serif
aAbBcCdDeEfFgGhHiIjJkKlLmMnNoOpPqQrRsStTuUvVwWxXyYzZ

Rotis was Aicher’s only second endeavor into type design, yet he did not approach it with modest ambitions, with his objective to design a typeface of “universal”-esque ambitions. This typeface should marry the qualities of serif and grotesque, thereby combining the two streams of modern typography into a tool that could be used for almost anything.

This thought of universality in type design could also be ascribed to Adrian Frutigers typeface Univers and Paul Renners typeface Futura, with its idea of a “true” geometric construction. On this objective to discover universality through design, which can be traced to the HfG Ulm:

‘… it seems to constitute a sort of magnetic pole around which we circle unceasingly, as it permits no sure approaches.’

Andrea Branzi, Those Monks on The Hill

And concerning the Univers typeface;

‘Dreams must be dreamt, however boring they may be when told on waking; when will designers realize that dreams are necessary for survival, but not for publication unless they obey the complicated creative constraints which, reconciled, compose design?’

Anthony Froshaug, Univers - 1.11.63

Richard Hollis has perhaps said it best in his text on Univers, some typefaces constitute transitory facts, and others (an extreme few, in fact only one in the 20th century in his opinion: Univers) become constituent facts. Rotis is easily identified as a transitory fact (and face) despite its ambitions. This sheds new light on this quote by Aicher:

‘We are in the process of dispensing with sanserif scripts anyway. They are running out of steam.’

Otl Aicher, Typographie.

This suggests that Aicher’s type-sensitivity was perhaps just not correctly calibrated, resulting in Rotis being less timeless (or perhaps un-contemporary) than he would have liked it to be.

Aicher denied the rationale of a typeface constructed by geometry in his writings. He called for the pen, and the marks of handwriting to be present in the typeface, and felt the letterforms of geometrically constructed faces, round ones in particular, to be too uneconomical in their width:

‘To design a typeface with strokes of uniform thickness is to divest it of all contingency. This is an important criterion, though an aesthetic one.’

‘And where letters have been based on elementary geometry- the 0 on the circle, the H on the square and the A on the equilateral triangle - the result has been scripts that are all very well for ornamental purposes but not for reading. This is the path Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus, and constructivism took. The outcome was writing that was as useless as it was lovely to look at.’

Otl Aicher, Typographie.

One aspect Aicher failed to recognize was the need for contrast in character width to produce a sufficiently varied text-image, and Rotis became a typeface of cripplingly uniform glyph width.

In terms of type design, Aicher considers Rotis a forerunner in this new societal situation that computers and the televisions have created. The notions of information society and the “noise” created by it, are notions that designers at the HfG Ulm, and thereby also Aicher, were extremely preoccupied with. This sense of being outside of history, of being the level-headed counter-part to current “nonsense” has by some been seen as a theme of the designers associated with the Ulm school:

‘For twenty years everything concerning Ulm has been used in the most reactionary way possible, to inwardly reject the new and to draw attention to the mistakes of the current era, as if Ulm had existed outside history and could only be understood as the objective foundation of design.’

Andrea Branzi, Those Monks on the Hill

Aicher prescribed a social revolution for typography, in response to information society and the computer:

‘It now steps out onto a new field, beyond technology, the field of reading, of perception. As in many spheres these days, it is no longer a question of what is to be done but of how we should set about. Typography becomes a matter of human, of social, concern. The issue is no longer what but how. How readily legible, how user-friendly, how humane should modern civilization be making its.’

Otl Aicher, Typographie

This thought is reminiscent also of the HfG Ulm, where students were required to engage in studies of things outside of the realms of design, such as sociology, psychology and so on. This connection with the somewhat more quantifiable world of science is what drives Aicher in his quest for “improved reading and information” through type.

Aicher’s notion of the complete dissolution of typography and technology, and his corresponding reaction to this, is in stark contrast to the essence of Wim Crouwels experiments 20 years earlier with his New Alphabet. Both seek to theorise on the importance of technology in relation to design, and end up on completely different sides of the fence.

If a typeface is designed to declutter, to remove visual noise, or to cut through it – does it not still need to be a good typeface? Aicher directly calls for typeface austerity, but through the search for it in Rotis has created something malnourished and lifeless, completely devoid of any humanism he might have tried to invoke, the typeface becomes calculated and constructed in every sense. Knowing about his reasonings for the typeface makes the situation even more paradoxical.

Though the preoccupancy with information society and noise within it, born of modernism and preached at the HfG Ulm, is not in itself a stillborn concept, it seems to have provided a completely unsurmountable mountain in terms of challenge, not just for Aicher, but many other type designers as well.

Even acknowledging the problems that Aicher is occupied with, and recognizing that they are problems that might somehow be solved by design, some of Aicher’s rationale is hard to reconcile with the produced typeface. Claiming that his typeface is not driven by aesthetics, as he does by denouncing those who are concerned with aesthetics over function, is untrue. Rotis is a formalistic experiment in the way that it is Aicher’s direct attempt at blending two distinct forms to one, using misplaced rationale to justify it. Taking two forms and blending them to one, that is concern with pure form.