Rotis

Is Rotis a type­face?
The truth about Rotis. Taken from an online dis­cus­sion on the AtypI web­site, www.atypi.org.



Robin Kin­ross writes: Isn’t the truth about Rotis, that the sans works quite well in very large sizes, as an archi­tec­tural and sign­ing let­ter (as Fos­ter Asso­ciates realised); but that it is just mediocre (the sans) or actu­ally incom­pe­tent (the ser­iffed fonts) as a typo­graphic let­ter; duc­tus is pretty impor­tant in the way let­ters work together. I can’t see that these ill-fitting, ill-suited let­ters are even an hon­ourable fail­ure, as has been sug­gested warm-heartedly, because it’s not clear that their designer had any coher­ent pur­pose in mind. Otl Aicher was a good graphic designer, a fine pho­tog­ra­pher, made some very nice posters, and did some pretty good mag­a­zine design work, but – despite what he liked to think – he wasn’t a good typog­ra­pher or book designer. His work in that sphere is very for­mal­ist: just dis­pos­ing areas of grey tex­ture around the page. He thought lines of text should form an even block of tone, with­out vis­i­ble line space (he told me this proudly when I inter­viewed him, and it is explained in his book “Typogra­phie”, as I remem­ber). I sup­pose Rotis was made with that view of text in mind.

Erik Spiek­er­mann responds: Isn’t the truth about Rotis, that it has some great let­ters, but they never come together in one type­face. It looks best on grave­stones and sim­i­lar large archi­tec­tural appli­ca­tions, as Robin sug­gests. We have a word for that in Ger­man: Rotis is a “Kopfge­burt”, it is born from (by?) the head. Aicher wrote a great the­ory about how one would have to make the most leg­i­ble type­face ever but then pro­ceeded to prove with Rotis that a the­ory makes a type­face not. He was a graphic designer, and the dif­fer­ence between us and them is that they start with an image of a page (prefer­ably with all type look­ing evenly grey) and assem­ble ele­ments – images, head­lines, text – until that men­tal image cor­re­sponds to the look of the page. We – the typo­graphic design­ers – read the text, think about who might read it and where, choose a size for the pub­li­ca­tion, a type­face, a col­umn width, mar­gins, etc. The result­ing page may never win prizes and cer­tainly won’t be art (in the “cre­ative” sense), but it’ll be leg­i­ble, even read­able and it should also be aes­thet­i­cally pleasing.

As many design­ers seem to lack crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties (present com­pany obvi­ously excepted), they judged Rotis by the the­ory clev­erly pro­vided and not by the evi­dence in front of their eyes. When­ever i speak out against Rotis, i am accused of jeal­ousy and not giv­ing credit to a fel­low type­designer. It is inter­est­ing to note that not one “real” type designer con­sid­ers Rotis a type­face. Aicher cer­tainly didn’t do him­self a favour by aim­ing so high with his first proper type design (he had pre­vi­ously adapted Univers for Bulthaupt and the Traf­fic type­face for Munich airport).