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The Google Font Improvement Project

An Interview with Jacques Le Bailly

Stacey Sundar
Jan 28, 2017 · 6 min read

Ever wondered what it would be like to collaborate with the team at Google by enhancing their existing font collection? Type designer Jacques Le Bailly takes us behind the scenes and offers us a glimpse at how this is done.

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Stacey Sundar: Hi Jacques, thanks for being here for TypeThursday!

Jacques Le Bailly: Hi Stacey, thank you very much for the invitation!

SS: It’s such a pleasure to have you with us. Tell me, how did you get interested in type design?

JB: Originally I studied Graphic and Typographic Design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. At the time, type design was an important part of the standard curriculum; during four years it was one of the classes. That is when I started to get very interested.

SS: I see, and how did you move beyond the student type designer to working in the professional arena?

JB: During my study I did an exchange semester in Germany and because I had to work to fund my studies, I asked the head of my department if he knew of an agency that might need an apprentice or an extra help. He got me connected with the German office of Linotype, where I worked several months. This was my first venture into professional type design.

In my spare time I continued working on personal type projects.

After finishing my studies I went to live in Berlin to work as a graphic designer. In my spare time I continued working on personal type projects. Since then I have done small projects for other people. In 2002, I came back to the Netherlands where I worked part time for The Enschedé Font Foundry. In 2009 I became an independent designer with the focus on type design. Now I only do type design.

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Jacques’ Macula Typeface

… do honest and good work and people will notice. Telling people how great you are etc. is nonsense.

SS: What an inspiring career trajectory! Is this decision to only focus on type design what started your collaboration with Google’s Font Improvement Project?

JB: I think it is a result of some of the projects I have worked on and the chance I had to work with some inspiring people. I find it very important to let my work speak for itself. To put it differently, do honest and good work and people will notice. Telling people how great you are etc. is nonsense.

SS: Yes, that’s great advice indeed! In my opinion, this is certainly evident in the caliber of your work. I am wondering, can you tell me more about your work with the Google Font Improvement Project?

JB: I was invited among other international talented designers to come to NY to the first meeting of the project. In that first week we were briefed and we started right away. We had to define different standards and decide what fonts we were going to work on in the next months. To make it workable we defined basically two levels of improvement. The first was to improve existing designs to the new standards. The second was to improve a design to a very high level. Not only by technical standards, but especially on the design and usability.

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Jacques starts by redrawing basic shapes by using brushes in Illustrator. The new blue paths (brushes) that will we transferred, cleaned and enhanced in Glyphs afterwards.

I did a few simple improvement projects and some larger ones. The first large was Pacifico Then I worked on Nunito, a rounded Sans Serif typeface. I added a straight version to Nunito and Obliques to make it more versatile.

SS: To clarify, when you say “the second was to improve a design to a very high level”, are you speaking of the designs that you worked on, like Pacifico?

JB: Yes. I worked also on SigmarOne for example. I expanded the font layout to the new font encoding. Checked kerning, spacing and some technical stuff. That was it.

For Nunito and Pacifico, I completely drew/reworked the design.

SS: Can you tell me a bit about the more challenging aspects of reworking a design?

The main challenge was to stay as true as possible to the original design.

JB: First we had to make a small presentation on what we thought needed to be done and what more improvements we could add to the design. We discussed it in the group and started to work. We were given about three weeks to complete the design.

The main challenge was to stay as true as possible to the original design. Some of the typefaces had an interesting concept, but never had the chance to be developed to a serious level. A lot of design decisions were yet not taken or were not “mature” enough. Now we had the chance to take the time and optimize them.

At the other end, some of the typefaces we worked on were kind of ambassadors to certain styles. The Google Fonts library has several rounded Sans Serif typefaces. We chose Nunito for it’s potential to be a good and widely improved ambassador of that style.

SS: This is fascinating, am I correct in thinking that your decision to focus on improving a font is based on two main considerations: strength of concept and overall usefulness?

JB: Well, you should also consider the number of users. Some typefaces are very popular, some are not. Some styles are more popular than others. During the first week in NY we had a long discussion on what we (designers) thought was needed and what Google thought was needed.

Some popular designs were “just” improved by technical standards. Some lesser designs were chosen to be improved to become the main family within a style. Or vice versa.

The main goal was to enhance the existing library.

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The original Pacifico by the late Vernon Adams
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Numerous designs are created by Jacques and evaluated by the Google team, including this more “rugged” version. The objective is to stay true to the integrity of the original design
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Final Pacifico after being reworked by Jacques Le Bailly

SS: It sounds like you and the team had to be very strategic in selecting what fonts to improve. Can you tell me what was your favorite aspect of working on the project?

The Google team was very professional and positively challenging.

JB: I think meeting all those great and nice people. The Google team was very professional and positively challenging. The external designers (like me) all brought their own experience and views.

And the trust they gave me.

SS: Well, thank you Jacques for giving us some insight into the process of the Google Font Improvement Project. It was a pleasure having you with us here at Type Thursday!

JB: Thank you very much for the invitation! It was all my pleasure!

Curious about the Google Font Improvement Project? Learn more at the Google Font Blog.

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