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Behind the Font: Hackney, a Bold Hand Painted Sans Serif by Ellen Luff

Laura Busche September 2, 2021 · 5 min read

Talk to enough type designers and you’ll quickly realize something: there’s a story behind every letterform. In this Behind the Font series, we’re on a mission to reveal the creative process behind some of the most popular font families on Creative Market. This time around, we talked to Ellen Luff — the talented designer behind Hackney.

1. What inspired you to design Hackney? Where does your creative process usually start?

My normal creative process starts with travel and museums. I really like to soak up creativity and see type in the real world — it’s guaranteed to inspire me. I take a lot of photos of all sorts of type, building my own library of sources. From here some characters just stand out and get stuck in my head. I’ll let them simmer in my thoughts until I see a whole idea formed from that one character or key feature.


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Advances in technology can also sometimes kickstart the creative process or finally match up with an idea you’ve had for a while. This was definitely the case with Hackney.
Discovering the new SVG format felt like a brilliant opportunity to finally make a font with some real-world texture I’ve been loving. Looking around most other brush fonts had felt too freehand and flamboyant — I wanted something with a stronger form. Hackney’s starting feature was therefore to make an expressive brush font based on a traditionally structured typeface.

2. Why did you name it Hackney?

I am currently dividing my time between my home in London and living half the year nomadding abroad. This project was a long one, I started it whilst in England but only finished it many months later in a small apartment in Chile, while feeling slightly homesick. The name ‘Hackney’ is therefore a nod to my home in East London and the grassroot artistic scene there that I love: the raw, untapped, unfiltered creativity.

3. What’s your favorite feature in this font that may not be immediately apparent?

The best feature of the font is the crazy amount of detail. The SVG format was truly great and lived up to my expectations. If you want to see the best bits of this font, download the individual PNG letters and zoom in. You can see every move, of every hair of my paintbrush. For me, they show the dedication that went into this, and I’m damn chuffed with how it’s turned out.

The ampersand also holds a great deal of love for me, as that curvy character is one continuous brush, that’s a lot of corners! I must have painted 50 times till I got this one. The punctuation and numerous foreign accents held the same level of frustration/pride.

4. How has your style evolved since you first started your craft?

Honestly, the biggest change has been my confidence. Confidence to try the latest font developments and confidence to step into well-trodden competitive genres and know I can bring my own voice. At the start I thought to be unique you had to do something very unusual and I made what I thought would interest others.
Then I made Kiona and Bison, they were built entirely for me, in my own style and they both received great responses. So now I’m really diligent about making things that I personally love and trusting there will be an audience for that.

5. Some say that finding the perfect font feels like falling in love. Please describe a brand that would be a great match for Hackney in three words.

Hackney is raw, confident, and honest.

It’s all in those little details and how it shows everything, imperfections and all.

6. How would you define your typographic design style?

My typographic style aims to hit the sweet spot between the interesting and the simple. I love satisfying curves and beautiful shapes, that is where I hope to build my home in type. I’m a lifelong perfectionist and strongly believe that details matter. The detail is what makes type work stand the test of time and stand apart from the crowd. It’s also in the details that you’ll often find extra unexpected sprinkles of personality.

7. What advice do you have for aspiring typographers looking to build a brand? Any specific resources or tools?

Firstly, use your own voice, but don’t feel pressure to know what that is right away. Experiment and have fun, make work you enjoy and when you find it, it will just click. Secondly, don’t waste time copying bestsellers or trends, because you will always be behind the trend. Instead, soak up inspiration from all your real-life surroundings, mix in good design principles, and your own spice. This is my best recipe for creativity.
Finally, be OK if it fails. Most will, some won’t, but every time you will get a little better. In practical terms, learn to use Glyphs like the back of your hand.

You can learn more about Ellen’s fonts in her Creative Market shop and Instagram account.

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About the Author
Laura Busche

Brand strategist. Creating design tools to empower creative entrepreneurs. Author of the Lean Branding book. MA in Design Management from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

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