A long long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I designed a typeface called Platelet. Having been Internationally schooled (ie. how to be dexterous with just one or two of the classics, most notably Univers), it was my first experience of creating letterforms, and there’s no denying that it was a naïve effort in many ways. Notwithstanding that however, the nice people at Emigre took enough of an interest to put it on the market (in July 1994), and the rest, as they say, is history.
Yves Peters’ article about license plate fonts prompted me to resurrect some collected materials about the typeface, which follow here.
How it came to be
Platelet grew out of a 4-day workshop given to students—most with no type design experience—at CalArts in October 1992. The brief, from Phil Baines, asked for an original alphabet to be designed for a specific outdoor purpose, taking into consideration the context for usage, appropriateness and meaning, and traditional notions of good typography.
Consequently, Platelet is based directly on characters and figures found on the car license plates in California. Its original character set comprised only a single lowercase alphabet and non-lining figures, ostensibly to complement the existing all-caps characters on the plates. For its commercial release, however, the set was extended to include alternate, small capitals and other commonly used text characters – somewhat ironic considering the original brief had principally been to create specific display faces that weren’t just scaled text faces. (The irony comes full circle in fact, with this stonecut version of the font.)
The typeforms originally matched the character widths, stroke widths, and spacing of the existing California license plate characters. Within the short timeframe of the original project, research was limited to quite literally taking wax crayon rubbings from license plates around the parking lot and measuring them by hand. Forms were interpretations of what a lowercase for the license plate might be, based mostly on the existing numerals.
As the face(s) developed however, it became necessary to bolden the strokes and stray from the all-lowercase model that had been the conceptual framework to start with; some characters just looked forced. The final type family comprised three weights, each with a full set of 236 character outlines and four sizes of edited screen fonts.
What became of it
Since its release, Platelet has appeared on London storefronts and French stamps, been moulded into the soles of Spanish shoes, and been put through its paces in numerous American publications. Dubbed by observers as ‘tough and uncompromising’, ‘sparingly conceived’, and ‘perfectly postmodern’, it has also been used by PBS, and was added to London’s Conran Foundation Collection in 1996.
This limited edition Platelet brochure (Emigre, 2001) can also be viewed full screen.
And what others have made of it
There have been a few curiously similar faces appear on the market since 1994, and one can only guess at what their creators were thinking during their development. Imitation is, apparently, the sincerest form of flattery – although perhaps not when innocent buyers are paying for those imitations.
First, there was F Condition by Tom Hingston and Jon Wozencroft, one of the fonts released as part of FontShop’s experimental typography publication FUSE. Included in issue 16, entitled Genetics, the font enabled the user to key precomposed words instead of individual letters. Somewhat bizarrely for something as innovative as FUSE initially was, I’ve been unable to unearth any decent online repository of the series, so I have no idea of what the concept for this font was about. But it’s easy to see from these examples just what the genesis of those words was.
Then there was Alex Kaczun’s Extreme Sans, released in 2002 by Galápagos Design Group with accompanying codswallop like “…edges are rounded like the high-tech routed parts of precise machinery. The overall look says technology and innovation.”
Another font worthy of note here is VSV Melon, released by Vasava in Barcelona. The numerals and caps bear less resemblance to Platelet than the small letters, but regardless, these popular French book jackets demonstrate how similar the faces are.