April 23, 2013

Can a typeface make you hungry?


This month we’re celebrating the release of The Duke’s Table, a collection of more than 1,000 vegetarian recipes compiled in 1930 by an Italian nobleman named Enrico Alliata, the Duke of Salaparuta. And as a longtime vegetarian and voracious eater of Italian delectables, no one’s celebrating more than me. It’s not only a fascinating historical document of Mediterranean cuisine and vegetarian ideology, it’s also a useful cookbook, thoroughly updated for the modern kitchen and packed with mouth-watering recipes like “Gnocchi pie with pizzaiola sauce” and “Macaroni timballo with béchamel, ‘finanziata’ style.”

Like a pasta maker mixing his own dough, I started from scratch with the design, and the result is a cookbook that’s colorful (and not just green—we vegetarians won’t be patronized!), with a unique art deco-influenced pattern for every chapter and delightful drawings throughout by the Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli. It also marks the debut of a typeface inspired by Enrico Alliata and designed especially for this book: Salaparuta Script.

To create the typeface, I drew from Italian lettering of the interwar period as well as contemporary references to find a combination of legibility and playfulness. The font needed to be versatile, since it would be used for every chapter title and recipe name throughout the book, but it also needed to show how fun and delicious these vegetarian dishes are.

The design presented a number of challenges. In addition to a full set of uppercase and lowercase letters, the nature of this upright script required me to design a number of ligatures, or custom combinations of letterforms—three dozen in all—to make sure all the connections were graceful. And since the typeface uses tall ascenders (the rising parts of letters like b, h, and k) to convey an air of elegance, I had to make an alternate set of characters to avoid clashes when the type ran over several lines.

Throughout the process, I  constantly tested the font on recipes from the book to find any potential problems. In doing so I discovered I needed a ligature for the otherwise unusual “Kr” combination, for the recipes that refer to krapfen, a type of savory donut. And before the font was finished, I had to set the spacing between every pair of characters that might appear anywhere in the book—a laborious process requiring hundreds of tiny adjustments.

Now that the book has arrived, however, we couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out, and we can’t wait for everyone to see it. And more than that, we can’t wait to start eating!


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.