A Fresh New Look at Typeface Design
An Interview with Roxane Gataud, Bely Typeface Designer
Curious about the world of typeface design? Want to know how being a beginner can be an asset to your craft? Roxane shares the story of the creation of her first typeface, Bely.
Stacey Sundar: Hi Roxane, welcome to Type Thursday!
Roxane Gataud: Hello Stacey, thank you for having me!
SS: It’s a great pleasure to have you with us today. Tell me, did you always have an eye for type? How did you decide to become a type designer?
This was the first time I thought “Wait, I know what kind of typeface I would like to use, I should be able to design it myself.”
Roxane’s Introduction to Typeface Design
RG: I don’t know if I always has had an eye for type, but when I was in high school I did a “design” option. And, at 15, I spent more time drawing the titles and inventing some weird lettering instead of working on the design projects themselves. So, of course after high school, I studied graphic design for four years. I chose to design poetry books, bilingual editions confronting arabic and latin script. And I couldn’t find a satisfactory match between an arabic and latin typeface (at least, among the small type collection I had). This was the first time I thought “Wait, I know what kind of typeface I would like to use, I should be able to design it myself.” Yes, I was a bit green, I could have solved my problem simply by purchasing a good typeface from a quality foundry. But I had no clue about contemporary typeface design at the time, and thanks to my ignorance back then, I decided to apply to the post-graduate course in typeface design at the french school Esad Amiens. And here I am today.
SS: What a great story! Can I ask you, what do you like most about typeface design and what do you like the least?
There are so many answers on what I like most. It would be the process. Having a idea, sketching, and trying to make this idea work (or not, if it’s a bad idea)… comparing your first drawings to the final designs, and seeing the improvements and decisions you made all along.
Favorite Aspect of Typeface Design
RG: There are so many answers on what I like most. It would be the process. Having a idea, sketching, and trying to make this idea work (or not, if it’s a bad idea)… comparing your first drawings to the final designs, and seeing the improvements and decisions you made all along.
And gosh, there is also a good amount of things I enjoy the least! Maybe the fact that a typeface is never finished, you always want to change a tiny thing. You know when you see your typeface used by a great designer, and you focus on a tiny details of your typeface that no one sees and think “hum, maybe I should have changed that…” That feeling is probably the worst.
SS: I love your candid answers! Can you tell us about your experience with the TypeTogether Publishing Incentive?
TypeTogether Publishing Incentive
RG: This was a terrific experience. I feel extremely lucky. When I graduated from Esad Type, my typeface Bely was far from being ready to release. As I was a beginner before enrolling, I had to do A LOT of work on it: take some final design decisions, refine the drawings, add a weight, extend the character set, and of course do the kerning, etc. I worked on the development with José Scaglione and Veronika Burian, they were really supportive, open and patient with me. We worked methodically, I first reworked the Regular first and then the Italic, in order to push further the letter shapes and make final decisions.
I put a lot of pressure onto myself, I wanted it to be PERFECT, like it was the only typeface I would ever draw ...
I learned with them how to extend a character set, like finding the right proportions for small caps, superiors, inferiors, etc. (those things appear evident to me today, but 2 years ago I had never done it). Once Regular and Italic were ok, I started to rework the Bold and started the Bold Italic from scratch. Once the texts weights was done, I could have a bit more fun by reworking on the Display weight! During the year and half of the development, I would work and then we had skype meetings where they reviewed what I have done and gave me feedback. It felt like still being at school, which was great because I learned so much. It wasn’t easy every day though, as it was my first typeface, I put a lot of pressure onto myself, I wanted it to be PERFECT, like it was the only typeface I would ever draw (I know).
It took me some time to realize it was ok, it was my first typeface and it was good as it was, and more importantly, it was a typeface I designed at a special moment in my life, and that, no matter what, in 6 months I would like to change things.
I wanted to improve stuff on Bely, details here and there. And at the same time I was struggling with this feeling, “Is this change it too much, will it loose his essence?” It took me some time to realize it was ok, it was my first typeface and it was good as it was, and more importantly, it was a typeface I designed at a special moment in my life, and that, no matter what, in 6 months I would like to change things. Once I understood this, I was more efficient on the development and way more serene! The program also provide financial support, which allowed my to buy software and to dedicate time to the development.
SS: It sounds like the TypeTogether Publishing Incentive was a truly rewarding time. Congratulations on receiving the TDC Certificate for Typographic Excellence for Bely! I was wondering, you mentioned being a complete beginner before enrolling at Esad Type … do you think being new at type design helped you create some of the unexpected surprises in Bely?
RG: Thank you very much, I still can’t believe I got a TDC prize, I couldn’t be happier!
About the drawings, being a beginner made me draw very spontaneously, and I did a lot of experimentations.
Being a total beginner definitely influenced my decisions on the design. I really consider this typeface as the reflection of my learning in the type design field. First, the structure of this family came from my graphic design practice. I wanted to design a typeface I would use in my own projects, that’s why I chose to design only 4 texts weights and an expressive display. About the drawings, being a beginner made me draw very spontaneously, and I did a lot of experimentations. Every time I was learning something or documenting myself on a particular matter (proportions, italics etc), it has a huge impact on my project and helped it to grow.
SS: This is all very interesting to hear the details of your process. It sounds like documentation was an important part of your growth as a type designer. Can you share your thoughts on any other aspects of your process or suggestions that may help our readers with their own type designs?
Showing it to typeface designers but also to graphic designers gives you a new point of view on what you are doing, and make you project grow. Type crits are a real opportunity.
Roxane’s Recommendations to Improve Your Projects
RG: This may seems obvious but discussing your project with other people really helps. Showing it to typeface designers but also to graphic designers gives you a new point of view on what you are doing, and make you project grow. Type crits are a real opportunity. I would recommend to take some steps back here and there, it certainly helped me a lot when I was blocked on a shape or something. And also, as I am a way-too-stressed person, I would certainly recommend to RELAX, it’s just type, ahah!
SS: Thank you for all of that great advice, we really appreciate it. Tell us Roxane, what’s next for you?
RG: Right now, I am working in Paris as a freelance designer. I collaborate with different foundries. Right now I am working with TypeTogether and a new french foundry called 205TF.
Let’s hope I find more time this year for my personal production, I started some typefaces I’d like to push further.
SS: Well thank you Roxane for being here with TypeThursday. It was pure joy talking with you! Congratulations again on Bely and we look forward to enjoying much more of your work to come.
RG: Many thanks!
Want to see more of Roxane’s work? Click here.
Check out TypeThursday’s Fontribute review of Bely Click here.
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