DSType: Substantial Style

Designing a typeface can mean devising extensive systems for specific media and contexts in which every component must play its part.

Dino Dos Santos, arguably one of today’s most prolific type designers, studied graphic design at ESAD (Escola Superior de Artes e Design, the Higher School of Arts and Design) in Matosinhos, Portugal, in the early 1990s. “I can’t say precisely when and how I became involved with type design, but during my studies, I felt the need to distinguish my work from my colleagues’, and type seemed to be the obvious way because almost no one really cared that much about it at the time. I started with a ‘not-so-legal’ version of Fontographer and I learned by making the most awful typefaces I possibly could. Fortunately, it was in 1992 or 1993, and the grunge was trendy, so the worse the fonts looked, the better they were! This allowed me to research and make many mistakes.”

Dos Santos founded DSType in 1994, the year that he graduated from ESAD, and although he spent the next ten years working as a graphic designer, he also developed a deepening interest in how typefaces should behave in every aspect of visual communication, so he continued to develop his own approach to type. In 2004 he decided to leave the studio where he was a partner to focus exclusively on type design, a move he has never regretted.


Operating in Matosinhos as a studio and a foundry, DSType employs two other designers, Pedro Leal and Antonieta Costa, and works for an impressive range of clients, especially in the publishing field. “I never thought about designing typefaces for newspapers or magazines,” says Dos Santos, “but during ATypI Lisbon in 2006 I attended a lecture that really inspired me to tackle it. It was Christian Schwartz and Mark Porter talking about the fonts for The Guardian, and I cannot explain how amazed I was by such a typographic project. I realized for the first time that I wanted to do that: design very extended type systems for editorial use. One year later Leitura, my first newspaper typeface, came out.”

Indeed, this epiphany birthed and defined the core of DSType’s activity. The studio has developed several “superfamilies” since then. The latest, Breve, released in 2014, masterfully demonstrates that such an elaborate project can feed with ease on versatility and ductility, comfortably navigating protean designs without compromising its acumen or painting itself into a stylistic corner thanks to the constant evolution of digital tools. Breve consists of a Text, a Sans and a Slab variant, each with its respective Title variation, as well as News and Display versions featuring more contrast and different proportions, all available in Roman and italic in many weights. Each font stands on its own without straying from its gene pool, channeling its quietly formal and historical features without stressing them.

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Like many foundries, DSType divides its time between original projects and commissioned jobs. “We usually design all our retail fonts the year before. Right now we just finished all the upcoming releases for next year. Currently we are working on several custom typefaces, and fortunately we’ve been working more and more on such projects. We’re lucky because I really enjoy this kind of involvement with the clients and the ‘real’ world. Most of the time when we’re concentrating on our own retail projects we tend to lose contact with what’s happening out there. I’m a bit of a workaholic, but I’m trying hard to change! Money is very important, not just for living but because it allows us to design what I usually call, in our studio, ‘some of the most unsuccessful typefaces around,’ typefaces that redraw the borders of our output like Diversa, Braga, or even Torio, all of which are designed to be somehow provocative and to allow us to broaden our technical capabilities.”

“I never design a typeface without a very specific purpose. We try to establish a series of problems and goals before starting a new design, and then we try to solve them. I always start with the same letter: ‘a’. If I can’t design a good ‘a’, I simply quit. I always apply this rule, except when developing a revival; in that case, the original is the rule and we don’t even try to improve it, we just bring it into our digital world with a new outfit.”


Torio (2014), jointly designed by Dos Santos and Leal, recreates an Italian hand model presented by the Spanish writing master Torcuato Torío de la Riva y Herrero in his Arte de escribir por las reglas y con muestras, published in 1798. More than a revival, Torio is a thorough digital adaptation, including (and updating when needed) all the alternative versions of the letters shown in the original plates of the book and including a series of calligraphic ornaments benefiting from careful contextual programing. Diversa (2013), another Dos Santos-Leal collaboration, is a manifold experiment on bold capital letterforms, from a sans serif tinged with a loose mid-nineteenth century flavor to a baroque Tuscan adorned with twists and spikes, definitely a playground for designers, hidden between vast typeyards.


When asked about his personal favorite, Dos Santos selected Ines (2013, named after his daughter), a book typeface that incorporates several of his signature design elements and which might be one of his most successful works. Comprising seven weights from Light to Heavy, its small x-height, well-balanced modulation and long ascenders and descenders bring a graceful complexion to large blocks of text. Furthermore, it can also be used as a display face; both its Roman and italic Heavy weights are eminently suited to powerful book covers or magazine headlines.


DSType font families available to rent on Fontstand for a fraction of their retail price.


Over the past decade DSType has gradually proved to be a force to be reckoned with, providing editorial designers with substantial tools in a time where type and trends disseminate at a staggering pace and volume.

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