Kansas Casual Design Information

April 17, 2017

It was 2013, and I was on the hunt for a headline font while doing a rebrand for Banzai. At that time they were using hand-written, ink textured and grungy, stuff. To appeal to their teenage demographic, I wanted to find something that felt youthful in that same way but just a little more contemporary. Those grungy hand written fonts came off just as friendly and inviting as they did outdated. And well, teens, teens prefer things that are in-dated.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 3.09.17 PMBanzai’s website, using the handwritten font.

After some testing, Eckhardt Poster Brush, Suti, and House Slant were all in the running as the replacement. They were all sign painter inspired fonts¹, which paired just as well with the brand messaging, and felt human in the same way a handwritten font might. Eventually we opted to create something custom for the brand. There were a few reasons we decided that:

  • The slant (on Suti and House) of about 15 degrees was too intense to be used regularly in headlines.
  • Eckhardt felt too juvenile, and was spaced a little too carelessly
  • Each lacked a variety of styles

Kansas-Casual-SpecsComparison of Suti (top), House Slant (middle), and Kansas Casual SemiBold (bottom).

Kansas Casual set out to solve or avoid some of those problems: slant at a more modest 10 degrees, more gothic proportions (like Eckhardt), and more weights for wider brand use in both print and web.

Early Versions and Tests

My experience with sign painting at that time was very superficial. A year before I had bought Colt Bowden’s zines and some Mack squirrel hair lettering quills and a couple cans of 1-shot. A few times a week I jabbed the brush and paint into white butcher paper—praying some magic beatific force would (in kindness) intervene. Even though I wasn’t very good, I tried to make the brush an essential part of the decisions I made with Kansas Casual. I also tried to sketch out ideas using a brush pen. But the broad splay of a quill or a Robert Simmons One Stroke and the narrow tip of a Japanese brush pen really don’t share that much in common.

sketchExample of early brush pen sketches.

The first cut of Kansas Casual was used in July 2013 in a variety of web applications.

Life-Scenarios-Test1Example of Kansas Casual’s early draft in Banzai’s web app.

That draft had some pretty elaborate node placement for displaying letters like /S/. I felt like that complicated vector design created the boxy, non geometric, look that I wanted. However, when scaled them down those complex drawings got pretty wonky. The final drawings had more subtle curves and fewer nodes.

Kansas-Casual-Specs-beziersExample of Kansas Casual’s early drawings (left) compared to final drawings (right).

Keeping the brush at the core of decisions meant taking the proofs out to the garage and putting paint to canvas to see if the vector forms felt as natural when painted. That process lead to more research on the one-stroke script, which improved my painting, and in turn improved the digital decisions. This push and pull lead to major revisions by the time it was first released for commercial licensing in 2014.

KansasTestExample of painted proofs for Kansas Casual.

Kansas-Casual-Specs-2Comparison of an initial test version (left) and the final drawings (right).

One of the changes that came thanks to that process was in the corners. Most sign painter’s casual style fonts have rounded corners to simulate the appearance of paint. That 2013 first draft had similar rounding, not for any reason in particular other than to mimic what I’d seen in existing type. Once I started painting more, I was surprised to find that paint, properly thinned, with each letter at about 2″ heights, rarely gave a rounded corner. I did find the rounded corner using my 1″ brush, with tempera instead of oil, but more often than not I found many sign painter’s work was sharp and had pointed ends². Drew Melton’s Sideshow, released that same year, similarly lacked rounded corners.

So, the final drawings had bowed terminals that felt true to how my brush behaved when the bristles spread or when a terminal had been touched up.

Kansas-Casual-Specs-Brush-SpreadComparison of an initial corners (left), final corners (middle), and the brush spread (right).

Since 2014

For the launch of Very Cool, I put in a little work cleaning up problems that hadn’t been obvious when Kansas Casual was released³. Most of it was pretty minor changes, focused on:

  • Reducing the width of the space character
  • Increasing the width of the characters in the lighter weights

I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing Kansas Casual continue to fulfill its original design brief. Banzai still uses Kansas Casual in printed material, and launched a site redesign that uses the Semibold and Black weights in headlines and graphics.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.38.02 AMExample of Kansas Casual Semibold paired with Fira Sans.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.38.38 AMExample of Kansas Casual Semibold paired with Fira Sans.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 9.39.29 AMExample of Kansas Casual Bold used as main headline text, overlaid on a photo.

  1. At that time there were very few painted fonts on the market. If I were to make a shortlist of good options now it would also include Cortado and Ahkio.
  2. I wasn’t aiming to create an authentic representation of the sign painter’s single stroke. The one stroke style is only 50-60 years old—which feels like such a narrow window for considering what is basic or average or authentic to an already less regimented genre. No sense in following loosely perceived conventions when they don’t make sense for your personal style or experience. This video of John Downer has some great stuff on Single Strokes.
  3. Study and time spent painting have made me rethink some of the stylistic decisions that I once felt were objective. I now see that it fits in a kind of mid ground between a gothic and a one-stroke: too tall and straight stemmed to pass as a one-stroke, too loose and italic to pass as a gothic. If I were to completely revisit it, I’d probably make changes to the proportions of some of the rounds, and draw a few variable alternates to make things feel a little more organic.
Return to Top