Lost & Foundry: Reviving Ghost Typography for a Good Cause

An Interview with Type Designers Stuart de Rozario and Pedro Arilla

Find out how the typographic richness of London was revived to help support the homeless in this interview with Fontsmith type designers Stuart and Pedro.

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Thomas Jockin: Thank you Stuart and Pedro for chatting today. I’m excited to talk with you both about ghost typography and the charity Fontsmith launched to help the homeless. For those who may not know you two, could you share with us your background?

Left: Pedro Arilla, Right: Stuart de Rozario

Stuart de Rozario: Hello Thomas it’s a pleasure to be involved and thanks for asking us to participate. I am a type designer from London and have been at Fontsmtih for 6 years now (time flies). I’ve been working in the industry for 20 years this year.

Pedro Arilla: Hi, Thomas. It’s really nice to talk to you, thanks for having us! Well, I am a type designer and typographer from Spain proudly working at Fontsmith in London. I have been involved in type design since 2010 and I joined this team last year.

TJ: It’s great to have such experienced designers here on TypeThursday. Could you share what is ghost typography?

What is Ghost Typography?

SR+PA: It’s an interesting concept: it refers to fading signage from previous times and ages. The beauty of it is that they are everywhere and they tell stories. We think it’s crucial to preserve these ghost signs because they are visual history and show how life once was.

TJ: Fontsmith is located in London, is it fair to say fading signage can be found in particular neighborhoods? Could you provide a specific example?

SR+PA: It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific place because it’s everywhere: abandoned buildings, shops, old street signs, and so on. To be honest, for us as type designers, we are lucky to be in London where the street type is vast. For example, for the Lost & Foundry project we focused our attention on Soho — a well known district in central London with a rich history.

TJ: Tell me more about the Lost & Foundry project. I take it’s a project to preserve the ghost typography of Soho?

The Lost & Foundry Project

SR+PA: Actually, it wasn’t only about restoring ghost typography. Lost & Foundry is more than that and the key aspect was to raise awareness and money for a charity: The House of St Barnabas. It is a social enterprise that aims to break the cycle of homelessness through its Employment Academy, a programme that works with people who have been affected by homelessness and supports them into lasting work. It does this by operating as a member’s club, with all profits from the club going to the Employment Academy.

We got this idea of breaking the cycle of homelessness also for letters! So we collaborated with M&C Saatchi, and Simon Warden from Line, Form & Color to bring this idea to life. As we mentioned before, Soho has a rich history visually and we came across a whole host of beautiful lost lettering. It was actually difficult to pick only seven examples. Once we decided on them, we started the process of recovering the flavour of the original signs and designing missing characters.

TJ: Could you share your process in converting the source material into the final font designs? You already indicated not all the characters were represented in your source material.

Stuart and Pedro’s approach in converting a historical source into a functional font

The Process of Conversion from a Historical Source

SR+PA: It started by taking photos of a particular sign that was chosen. We would research similar types of the period or even other signs in the area that were obviously created by the same hand or company. Then, we started to sketch the missing characters trying to capture the spirit of what existed. It’s an interesting exercise for two reasons; first of all because we had to get into the heads of other designers and try to understand his/her background, style, motivations and influences. Secondly, we live in a digital world and our eyes are conditioned to see shapes differently — the original craftsman/woman would have a different understanding of letters in those days. It was crucial for us designers to preserve that spirit and not to intoxicate the design with our 21st century hands.

TJ: It would be useful to walkthrough one specific example of this process. Specifically the part about looking at sources from the same period or same area. That sounds very interesting.

FS Cattle and its historical source

SR+PA: Indeed it is! For example, for FS Cattle we looked at early grotesque examples. Now it’s a settled typeface style, but back in the time it was maybe a new thing so there are things going on: proportions, terminal endings, and other oddities. Moreover, the sign painter probably designed each project with what he/she had in terms of space. So it was necessary to adapt certain letters to fit the sign. Another nice example is FS Charity, that was a special one because we had to research across decorative typefaces, Tuscan designs and fish tale terminals, and you don’t see a lot of this style today.

TJ: That’s some great specifics. Was interpreting the particular sign painter’s intentions into the font the biggest challenge in working on Cattle? Or was there another aspect that was the biggest challenge?

Notice the upside down “S”

SR+PA: It wasn’t an especially difficult challenge because we found good source material for grotesques of that period. On the other hand, a bigger challenge was FS Berwick. We had many examples of letters (even an upside down “S”!) but the difficulty was choosing only one because they were all beautiful designs. And that brings another difficulty, we had to understand the mindset behind all those different designs and, at the same time, part of the same family and try to replicate it faithfully for the rest of the character set. In brief, the true challenge was to propagate the design across letters being respectful of the original author.

TJ: As you shared, it is very challenging to expand a design while honoring the original intention when it’s unusual. A upside down “S”! That’s crazy. It’s fantastic to hear this project will support the homeless in London. Where can readers find the projects and contribute?

SR+PA: Yeah, an upside down “S” in Berwick, disorganized characters in Charity, unrelated proportions in St. James… we have dozens of anecdotes for every single typeface! Anyway, the readers can buy any of the fonts (£15 each) or the seven typefaces as a collection (£70) at our website and find out more about the project. All the money goes to The House of St Barnabas charity, so no excuses!

TJ: Outstanding. Lastly, where can readers find out more about you two and your other projects?

Where to learn more about Stuart and Pedro

SR+PA: You can grab us at Fontsmith where we have new typefaces available regularly and some exciting fonts for brands. Also, we edit a magazine on type and graphic design called Typenotes, and the Fontsmith blog. Stuart’s latest release (together with Andy Lethbridge) is FS Koopman, a robust hardworking grotesque. Pedro’s first typeface with Fontsmith will be available soon and we are sure you will love it.


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