Name: Metro Nova
Type: Retail typeface
Publisher: Linotype (Monotype)
Release year: 2013
Purchase links: MyFonts
Metro Nova is a revival of Metro, the classic sans serif typeface originally designed by William Addison Dwiggins and released by Linotype in 1929. It was also my first retail typeface from Monotype.
Starting the story with the original Metro, Dwiggins was already an accomplished calligrapher, typographer, illustrator, and graphic designer. In 1928, he published a book called Layout in advertising, in which he criticised that Linotype didn’t offer any sans serif that he could use for his book, such as Futura and Gill Sans that had been released a few years prior. Harry L. Gage, the design director of Linotype, invited Dwiggins and offered him a chance to make the face he wants. The result was Metro, his first typeface at 49 (it’s never too late to start your typeface career!). The typeface was available in four weights in two pairs of duplex widths; duplex is multiple styles of a typeface sharing the same metrics, meaning the R of Metro Light was as exactly as wide as that of Medium for example. Each weight contained the family name which is rather unusual: Metrothin, Metrolite, Metromedium, Metroblack.
The initial design was more of a humanistic sans, featuring double-storey a g and cursive e. The geometric alternates were added later to make the overall design feel more like Futura (including but not limited to A G J M N V W a e g v w 0123456789 & ,‘’ $ £). This alternate set, called Metro No. 2, eventually became the default offering and the humanistic ‘No. 1’ fell out of public consciousness. Metro remained highly regarded in the digital era while still called No. 2 and the original design was still absent.
In the late 2011, I had finished my MA at the University of Reading and started internship at Monotype. I was asked by Doug Wilson who was busy making Linotype: The Film if I could digitise the original Metroblack so that he could use it in the film. I was fascinated by the sight of the mysterious No. 1, and immediately started working on the project. The finished typeface was nigh identical to the Linotype metal version for the sake of authenticity down to the lack of kerning. This opened up the discussion of a proper Metro revival, and the rest is history.
Metro Nova is a restoration of the spirit of the original design, but not a straight copy. Like I mentioned, Metro’s letter width was rather compromised due to duplexing; Metrolite felt wider while Metromedium felt almost like a condensed.
No classic is not without faults, and revival is unworthy if you do not address them. In the case of Metro, the obvious start was the duplexing that made the two lighter weights rather loose and the other two more condensed. Metro Nova’s width now increases in proportion to weight, just as any well-planned modern typeface would. The second big thing, perhaps the most important on the conceptual level, is of course the restoration of the No. 1 set of alternates and having them as default. The family enjoys all the nice expansions that is expected in modern revivals such as small caps, oldstyle figures, and condensed family.
The alternate No. 2 designs are accessible through OpenType stylistic set features. Set 1 is a complete switchover, and 2–10 turn each letter individually. You can make e look more normal by activating set 6. If you want to make the italic look more cursive, you may want to call single-storey a and g (sets 5 and 7 respectively).