“It’s time for something else”: Grilli Type releases GT Ua, which dances between serif and sans

In the fine version, explains the designer, these terminals “get more pointy and accentuated but they don’t turn into complex shapes like ball terminals that might be perceived as ornamental.” The more decorative elements of the serif genre have deliberately been avoided by Leu here in favour of “simple and clear solutions”. The finer the contrast gets, the more you see the flared terminals appear, he says. And these aren’t merely an aesthetic feature – rather, they help to balance the weight of the characters and the colour of the typeface, according to Leu. “Likewise, the italics do not use alternate shapes – like the single story ‘a’ – that are common amongst serif italics. The shapes are slanted versions of the roman style with the weight, contrast, terminals and width adjusted to match the italics of a serif typeface. So again: It’s somewhere in between.”
So, for the untrained eye – what really is the difference in design between a sans and a serif? “Arguably, a serif typeface has a higher contrast and more calligraphic influence than a sans,” Leu explains. “And of course there’s the most significant factor – the serifs themselves” (these are the bits at the end of letters which flick inwards and make words look rich and important). “But like most definitions of genres, the borders are quite blurry. GT Ultra has a lot of calligraphic influence in its shapes. The shapes with curves or circles always have a pointy terminal stroke on the top left and bottom right sides (e.g. the ‘a’) or a vertical cut where there would usually be serifs (e.g. the ‘s’).”
Beginning with calligraphic drawings and removing serifs and ornamental aspects such as ball terminals, Leu shaped out the design to get closer to his vision. “I realised that limiting the variety of horizontal proportions by infusing geometric construction principals results in the more rigorous expression that I was striving for. Likewise, compressing the vertical proportions made the design more compact and sturdy.”
The process for creating GT Ultra started in 2017, says Leu, and took close to half a decade to complete. “I was initially wondering how to create a humanist sans-serif typeface that would work in a modern and minimalist graphic design environment,” he tells us. “I felt that existing typefaces in that genre were either too flimsy or quirky for what I was looking for.” Leu combined calligraphy with geometry and plenty of sleekness, creating a typeface consisting of 33 styles and three subfamilies, and includes GT Ultra Ultra – a thick, funky and blocky font which seeks to place a contemporary spin on disco-era display text.
Grilli Type’s latest release is somewhat of a rebel or a non-conformist. Designed by co-founder Noël Leu, GT Ultra is informed by the decorative flare of serif typefaces of the 1970s (not to be confused with the flare jeans of the ‘70s) and ‘80s – whilst also functioning as a contemporary sans with true italics, dynamic weights and geometric construction. The foundry therefore hopes that the typeface challenges its own definition while questioning typographic expectations.

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