The Å in ÅBEN
Exploring ÅBEN's typographic detail
Our name is ÅBEN. It means ‘open’ in Danish. For us the word open has real meaning and we went through a lot of angst getting to just the right word. But once we got there, the graphic design work had just begun. Our branding is by a company called Everything In Between. Together we have travailed for many months, wordsmithing and twiddling font weights and typographic choices until we came out legible and lovely.
You will (we hope) notice our ÅBEN name and logo has a circle over the letter ‘a’. This is a classic Scandinavian letter sometimes called an ‘a with overring’. Or, if we are being cute, it’s an a with a hat on. The circle is not just an accent. In the Scandinavian alphabet these a’s appear at the end of the alphabet. They are considered letters in their own right and have their own pronunciation. The å actually represents two aa’s, so it’s a nice space-saving letter.
Our ÅBEN typeface of choice is Neue Haas Grotesk, designed by Max Meiniger in 1957-1958 (also a great period for Scandinavian design) for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. Neue Haas Grotesk was the precursor to Helvetica, a form and name it took when revised and recut for the limitations of machine composition, by Linotype in 1959. Neue Haas Grotesk was digitised in 2004 by Christian Schwartz, which was his opportunity to ‘restore’ it to match Miedinger’s original drawn forms. And now the two typefaces have their own separate histories.
Everything In Between explain why they chose Neue Haas Grotesk: ‘It’s a fitting typeface for ÅBEN because it’s about handcraft, it’s about nuance, it’s about the details that make a difference. It also has a punchiness and directness.’ The attitude of Neue Haas Grotesk - particularly in uppercase - was a trait David Harrigan, Director of ÅBEN had long admired in the graphic identities of fashion brands like Comme des Garçons, A.P.C. and furniture brand HAY. All of them have timeless branding that raised (and continues to raise) them above the ordinary.
Everything In Between have made a bespoke ‘cut’ of Neue Haas Grotesk that they affectionately call Neue HÅBEN. They made changes to the ‘a’ because: ‘The Å is ÅBEN.’ Normally the traditional cut of the ‘a’ with an overring has the circle separate above it. But that small distance felt like a bit of an afterthought to Everything In Between, so they joined the circle to the a, getting a customised, unique letter for us. They took their inspiration from a photograph of the tower on the department store Åhlėns in Stockholm which David Harrigan took on his travels. On Åhlėns’ logo the overring often appears to be joined up (loved up?) to its ‘a’.
Alongside our brand name ÅBEN, we have a strapline: ‘People, process, provenance’ and an amorphous form, an adaptive shape that represented a map of Scandinavia originally. In a bid to be inclusive to the whole of the Nordics, the shape morphed out a little. This form appears as a water droplet on the homepage of this website, on business cards where the shape appears in a transparent gloss, and look out for it elsewhere. In a manner that indicates the designers have got it right, our shape has started to reflect shapes in ÅBEN designers’ own work. And so a whole aesthetic starts to form. Everything In Between explain the end result is that these elements come together to form a sort of ÅBEN brand measuring stick: ‘We go deep with research, we’ve been immersed in this for almost a year. ÅBEN with the Å is the centrepiece of the identity now. It has set us on a course. You start to measure everything else you design against the name and ask: is it ÅBEN?’
Early on David Harrigan had some reservations about the unapologetic direction Everything In Between were taking his nascent brand. Was it too brave, too fashion, for a brand that would be making handcrafted furniture? Now we can’t imagine ÅBEN looking any other way, which is how you know a signoff point is coming and you are launch-ready. Because, what good branding does is hold together disparate strands of a business, forming them into a single entity in the public’s eye. And so we trust ÅBEN’s branding - strong and true in its design form - will futureproof ÅBEN as we grow and expand, becoming the instantly recognisable face of all we do. You can’t really ask for more than that from a four letter word.