Rare Goods

In this week's Letterform, Lucas Sharp of Sharp Type celebrates the pioneering spirit of Joshua Darden's Freight, and highlights a startling state of affairs within the world of type design...

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The brainchild of designer Joshua Darden, Freight was an early and monumental accomplishment of true genius. It revolutionised the way in which we in the field of type design think about optical size in the digital era, and the possibilities that lie therein. Instead of the gradual gradation of contrast and proportion common to the various point sizes of metal type, Darden momentously used this axis as a stylistic device, and in doing so pushed the boundaries of its utility in the digital age. This italic “n” of the largest optical size, Freight Big, is exemplary of the strange perfection of Darden’s work. Like much of his drawing, this letter is full of contradictions.

The outer contours imply a high contrast pen stroke, the interior of the serifs seem to have been cut with the rigid lines of an X-acto knife. Who would have guessed that the overall effect of these conflicting surface treatments would result in such a compelling form? It is an interesting exercise to examine this letter singularly. The genius of this design is of course not the individual forms of its letters, as compelling as they may be, but their cumulative effect. The italics of Freight are a sublime amalgamation of contradictory forms that through rhyme, repetition, and romance, find resounding harmonic resonance.

I often compare this strange perfection of Darden’s work to Jazz music, with all its unexpected syncopation, redaction, and improvisation. This comparison is all the more significant due to the fact that, as far as I know, Joshua Darden was the first, and is still to this day the only prominent black type designer in the world. Let's pause here for a moment and think about the strangeness of that fact. How can it be that no other black person has ever been brought into the culture and offered mentorship in this industry? There is no answer for this that doesn't point toward an ugly truth. It can’t be explained away or disregarded. What does it say about our industry, and the socio-economic and racial dynamics of our world? I wonder how many other Joshua Dardens are out there. What kind of new ideas, perspectives, and styles would they bring to this field if given the opportunity?

*EDITOR'S NOTE* Unfortunately, this work of prolific genius has been tainted by numerous unsanctioned additions that have nothing to do with the original masterpieces. If you are ever inclined to license this font, remember that only Freight Micro, Freight Text, Freight Display, Freight Big, and Freight Sans are Joshua Darden originals.