Typefaces collection

How did you get involved with typeface design? What led you to this practise?
After a Baccalaureate in Applied Arts followed by a degree in visual communication at the Ésaa Duperré in Paris, my initiation to typography really began at the École Estienne. There I learned the basics in calligraphy and typeface design with Franck Jalleau, Michel Derre, Margaret Gray... Previously I had been lucky enough to meet teachers who were passionate about typography, like Hervé Aracil at Duperré, who had already transmitted their enthusiasm for the subject to me.
I then continued my education in the UK, with a Master in Typeface Design at the University of Reading, graduating in 2007. I then worked as a Typeface Designer for Monotype for a number of years before starting my own practice in 2010. I also embarked on historical research with a PhD at the University of Reading, which I completed in 2014.

What influences you? Are there typeface designers whose work you appreciate in particular?
My influences are quite diverse. I like to draw on historical sources (with a sweet spot for type specimens from French foundries from the end of the 19th century). I am instinctively drawn to typefaces that tell a story, that create a unique vibration. Cyrus Highsmith, Laura Meseguer, Alejandro Lo Celso and Frantisek Storm are among the contemporary typeface designers that I admire for example. They have the common trait of developing a singular typographic style, each one in a very different tone but always with great mastery.

In your opinion, what is the point of creating a new typeface when so many already exist?
Typeface designers often use the analogy of the chair, or the garment, to justify the fact of designing new typefaces: there are already many type families in existence, some more classical, some more fashionable; some tend to be functional and others are more ornamental, archetypal or unique… But like for any design object, it is always necessary to renew existing forms in order to respond to the needs and the spirit of a time. Moving beyond this analogy, typefaces are fundamental tools for communication, and in that respect they have to respond to certain technical requirements and cultural needs, which are constantly evolving. It is therefore up to the type designer to identify these evolutions, in order to propose meaningful typographical tools to users.

How do you begin work on a new typeface? Do you have a particular process?
Generally the process depends on the nature of the project. My design process varies depending whether it is a third party commission or a self-initiated project. A lot of my personal work is inspired by historical forms, or find qn origin in handwriting. I generally have a need to appropriate these forms and to bring them to maturity through drawing by hand, although digitization does arrive very early on in my process. Both approaches nourish each other in parallel. I generally work on the development of “the DNA” of a typeface, by developing a restricted set of letters, this way I can explore different leads before settling on the most convincing one to then extend my set of letters.

What is your relationship with the history of typography? What is your relationship with technology?
Having embarked on a PhD in type history with a subject that takes a very close interest in the development of 20th century typesetting technologies, these two topics are definitely at the heart of my preoccupations. Understanding where letterforms, and the typographical tools that we manipulate, come from, is for me an essential element of my type design practice. This has allowed me to develop a critical point of view regarding the design processes that we put into place. It is not a matter of a logic of “recycling” of typographical forms, but rather to put different eras into perspective so as to better understand the context in which we practice typeface design today.

Do you think that typography can save the world?
Typography remains an essential tool for communication and the circulation of knowledge, and in this it seems that it has an important role to play in our societies. It may not save the world, but it can certainly allow the world to communicate more easily. Projects such as Noto, run by Google or “Missing Scripts” that we are developing at the ANRT in partnership with the Universities of Mainz and Berkeley are moving in that direction. This seems to me to be a good start.

You teach at Atelier national de recherche typographique and Écal in Lausanne. Why does this role of transmission seem important to you?
Art schools provide an extremely rich and stimulating environment. The students arrive with their personalities, their intuitions, their curiosity and their experiences, and it is extremely stimulating to work with them. I think that my idea of teaching becomes tangible more-so in the exchanges rather than in transmission as such, even though, of course, I do accompany the students, sometimes guiding them and sharing my experience and my skills with them, particularly in typeface design.
The ANRT is a particular case as we have been developing a number of research projects in typography in partnership with laboratories that operate in very different fields such as linguistics, computer sciences, egyptology… These projects have a prospective dimension and lead us to answering questions that we haven't necessarily been faced with before now, and to developing specific ways of working. This research dimension implies that we are all constantly learning, whether speaking of our students or the teaching staff. It is a privileged work environment for the researcher and typeface designer that I am.

What type design project are you currently working on?
I am working on a new typeface family loosely inspired by Linotype’s legibility group, a series of metal typefaces from the Twentieth century that was aimed at newspaper composition. But right now a significant part of my time is occupied by a research project entitled ‘Women in Type’, which is a historical study of women’s contribution to typographical drawing offices. This is a research project based at the University of Reading, and there are three of us in the team: Prof. Fiona Ross, Dr. Helena Lekka, and myself.

by Alice Savoie

Romain 20