FF Nexus | FontFont Focus

In the type specimen FF Nexus | FontFont Focus, published by FSI FontShop International in 2007, I wrote about the genesis of the FF Nexus family.

In the text I tried to explain my newly defined type design philosophy. Where in FF Scala and in FF Seria I had defined the principle as Two typefaces, one form principle, with FF Nexus I had changed this into Three typefaces, one form principle, because I had added the slab serif version FF Nexus Mix. 

Just like the other issues in the FontFont Focus series (FF Scala, FF Quadraat, FF Meta etc.), the concept and design was done by Wim Westerveld.

Some passages and images below have been added or changed.
Read the full text below or download the original type specimen (PDF ) at the bottom of this page.

FF Nexus: A three-way conversation in type

A three-way conversation in type, Threesome and The new Scala? are just three qualifications that were given to my type family FF Nexus, when it was released in 2004.

The fact that FF Nexus has three variants, a serif, a sanserif and a slabserif (a mix between serif and sans), makes it a highly versatile typeface. Its third extension, the slabserif, is a logical result of my type design philosophy which started with the release of FF Scala and FF Scala Sans some 15 years ago.

Press release of FF Nexus. FontShop International FSI, 2005  

First serif, then sans

Almost 20 years ago, during the time I started designing Scala, I almost intuitively developed a process in which the sans serif version was derived from the serif version: first the serif, then the sans. Later I called this theory  ‘2 typefaces, 1 form principle’, and the immediate succes of FF Scala and FF Scala Sans was a proof that I was on the right track.

It turned out that his ‘theory’ wasn’t new at all, but thanks to digital techniques I was able to bring it into practice in a way that had not been seen before in type design. Features like old style figures and small caps, in all weights, in serif and sans and in regular and italic, simply had not been possible in the time of hot metal type. But at the start of the digital type area, this versatility was something new. It was 1993 and I think I was the first type designer to design italic small caps for a sans serif typeface. In a way its versatility made Scala revolutionary.

In the years that followed I saw that it was not so difficult to expand my ‘theory’ with the design of a third member of the family, simply by taking the sans and add thick serifs to it.  It would become a slabserif that was not designed from scratch like Rockwell or Memphis. Instead it would be derived directly from a sanserif, that itself again was derived from a serif design. The connection of the three versions would automatically make it a coherent family. My initial type design philosophy of ‘2 typefaces, 1 form principle’ simply became ‘3 typefaces, 1 form principle’.

The three versions of FF Nexus (serif, sans and mix) share the same form principle  

The Nexus principle

From 2002 to 2004 I brought my extended theory into practice when I designed FF Nexus, a family of three ‘connected’ typefaces. Nexus is the Latin word for connection, and at this stage I changed my ‘3 typefaces, 1 form principle’-slogan simply into ‘The Nexus principle’.

FF Nexus started as an alternative to FF Seria, a typeface I had designed some 5 years earlier. FF Seria has some strong features like extremely long ascenders and descenders, and an upright italic. This had been a reaction to the rather straight Scala forms. I started working on an alternative version of FF Seria, with shorter ascenders and descenders. But soon this design developed into a new typeface, with numerous changes in proportions and in details, and with a redrawn italic. The result was a workhorse typeface like FF Scala, with all the features like small caps in all weights, nine different sorts of numbers and ligatures: FF Nexus Serif was born.

Logically, FF Nexus Sans resulted directly from FF Nexus Serif, with identical features. But I too developed a new family member: FF Nexus Mix, a slabserif or egyptienne that in its turn was based on FF Nexus Sans. The addition of the word ‘Mix’ in its name was a result of the idea that a slabserif is a real mixture between a sans and a serif. The three versions of Nexus are really close family members: the subtle differences in shape are revealed when they are superimposed upon each other.

Subtle differences in shape when the 3 versions of Nexus are superimposed upon each other  

Typographical notes to FF Nexus

The FF Nexus family is a complex typeface to use, with numerous version and possibilities. To sum up all possibilities would go too far, but below there are a few hidden features and also some hints for using FF Nexus properly.

FF Nexus Serif

FF Nexus Serif is a serious text face with features like small caps, standard and special ligatures, old style figures, fractions and miscellaneous characters.
The proportions of FF Nexus Serif are quite universal, which means the typeface can be used for a wide range of printed matter, from weekly magazines and scientific books to logotypes and posters. The italic has an ‘ideal’ slope of 9°, the bold distinguish itself enough from the regular version but at the same time is not too fat.

FF Nexus Sans

The sans serif version, FF Nexus Sans, is derived directly from the serif. A serifless counterpart like this already proved to be effective in typefaces like FF Scala and FF Seria. All the serious text face features that can be found in FF Nexus Serif are present in this sans version. This makes it an ideal partner so that the two can be combined intelligently. The italic in FF Nexus Sans is a ‘real’ italic, not a sloped roman.

FF Nexus Mix

The slabserif version, FF Nexus Mix, was derived directly from the sans version. It is a quite humanistic slabserif, designed in the same strain as PMN Ceacilia and TheSerif.  The fact that this slabserif can be combined effortlessly with the sans and with the serif, makes FF Nexus a versatile family.

Mixing Serif, Sans and Slab

A good example of using the three Nexus versions together is in a multi-langual text. For example English, German and French texts can be distinguished from each other quite easily, without losing coherence. Using serif, sans and slab versions together is much better than using a light, a regular and a bold, as seen too often in Swiss three-language books.

The three versions of FF Nexus. The text is from ‘A Morning at the Bookshop’ by Carl J. Burckhardt  


Cover design by Josef Müller-Brockmann (left), using Helvetica regular for all three languages.  

I designed a fake cover (right) to show how it could work with the three versions of Nexus.  

FF Nexus italic swash

One of the special sorts in the Nexus family is a series of Swash characters, inspired very much on the Italian scribes from the Renaissance, like Arrighi, Tagliente and Palatino. FF Nexus Italic Swash has two different swash versions for the 26 capitals. Moreover all 26 lowercase characters have an end swash, both in a short version and in a long version.

The written capitals of Arrighi (1521) are one of the main sources of inspiration for Nexus Swash (right)  

For some other signs in FF Nexus Italic Swash – like question mark, exclamation mark, ampersand and brackets – there are special ‘swash’-versions:

FF Nexus Typewriter

FF Nexus comes with a monospaced typewriter version in Regular, Italic, Bold and Bolditalic, and there is a choice between old style figures and lining figures. The whole typewriter version is designed  in a way that the colour looks more even than in other typewriter faces. Characters like ‘m’ and ‘w’ are often clotted because of the small space it has to be put in. In Nexus Typewriter the ‘m’ has a special design: the middle bar is shortened in order to get a lighter character (as shown in the example below, where Nexus Typewriter is compared with Letter Gothic). For the same reason the ‘i’ has long serifs to match its colour better with the other characters.

Small caps

Small caps are available for all versions and all weights (except for the typewriter version). There are some specially designed characters to fit with the small caps, like question mark, exclamation mark and ampersand:


There are 9 different sort of numbers and valuta signs for old style figures, lining figures, superscript, subscript, fractions, numerators and denominators:

There are special square and round boxes which can be combined with the denominator numbers to create ‘boxed’ numbers up to 99. The set width of the square and round boxes is zero, so when the number is typed it is automatically superimposed into the shapes.

Ligatures and special characters

There is an extensive range of special characters, available in all Nexus weights.

Standard ligatures:

Special ligatures and historical forms:

Squares, circles, stars and arrows, in both solid and outline:

Miscellaneous characters:

Superscript characters

There are specially drawn superscript characters. Their weight and width is slighly adjusted to fit perfectly with the normal characters. The best known superscript characters are the ª (ordinal feminine) and º (ordinal masculine). They are frequently used in abbrevations:

But other superscript characters are sometimes used too:

Case-sensitive forms

There are case-sensitive forms in all versions and weights of FF Nexus. This means that characters like hyphen, slash and parantheses are lifted slightly to get in line with capital characters.

FF Nexus OpenType

When the FF Nexus family (Serif, Swash, Sans, Mix, Typewriter) was released in 2004, it was one of FontShop’s first OpenType font families. There are two OpenType versions of FF Nexus: OpenType Standard and OpenType Pro.

The OpenType Standard version contains accented characters for Western, Southern and Northern European languages, like:

The OpenType Pro version also contains accented characters for Central and Eastern European languages like:

Supported languages in OpenType Standard:
Albanian, Breton, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Spanish, Swedisch.

Additional supported languages in OpenType Pro:
Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Kurdish, Latvian (Lettisch), Lithuanian, Moldavian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Sorbian Lower, Sorbian Upper, Turkish.

Both OpenType Standard and OpenType Pro support the following layout features
Standard ligatures, Discretionary ligatures, Historical forms, Small capitals, Small capitals from capitals, Case-sensitive forms, Capital spacing, Oldstyle figures, Lining figures, Proportional figures, Tabular figures, Fractions, Numerators, Denominators, Ordinals, Scientific inferiors, Superscript, Subscript, Mathematical Greek, Acces all alternates, Stylistic alternates, Ornaments.

Supported Unicode ranges in OpenType Pro:
Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, Latin Extended-A, Latin Extended-B, Spacing Modifier Letters, Greek and Coptic, Latin Extended Additional, General Punctuation, Superscripts and Subscripts, Currency Symbols, Letterlike Symbols, Number Forms, Arrows, Mathematical Operators, Geometric Shapes, Misclellaneous Symbols, Dingbats, Alphabetical Presentation Form.

Martin Majoor  

FF Nexus | FontFont Focus    
Download the specimen  (PDF  9,7 Mb)

©  Martin Majoor. First published in FontFont Focus, FSI FontShop International, 2007.