the three ??? and the mystery of the distorted font
every german child knows the ??? symbol - three question marks, in white, red and blue, on a black background. it‘s the trademark of the young detectives in the three investigators children‘s book series, which has been hugely successful in the german-speaking world. but nobody seemed to know which typeface it was set in. during the process of redesigning the brand, the strange but distinctive forms of the existing logo generated a mystery all of their own: could anyone identify these suspicious characters? did the font have a name? painstaking detective work by a sherlock-minded designer on our team revealed that the typeface is actually based on helvetica condensed black, although vertically distorted by 128.5%. so a typographical crime had clearly been committed: distorting typefaces makes their proportions look all wrong - the horizontal strokes become too thick in relation to the vertical ones. but what should we do about it? after all, the brand, with its robust, sturdy look was a well-known, familiar one. the case was looking complex but the strategy we opted for was simple: we chose to see the defiant wrongness of these distorted characters as something characterful and therefore beautiful, and made this the basis of a newlydesigned bespoke typeface. and this is how the brand is typeset now: finely spaced and left-justified, in a rectangle of one or three lines, making it easily transferable from the book covers to other applications. minor change, major impact: now everything has fallen into place, looking both refreshingly new and reassuringly familiar. case closed.
anna pfältzer (project manager)
own, rocky beach grotesk,
gabriel richter in collaboration
with büro uebele