Type with Pride: A typeface in honor of the creator of the iconic Rainbow Flag

For Pride Month, TypeThursday talks to Robyn and Justin from the Ogilvy team behind the design of Gilbert; a typeface as colorful as the communities it celebrates.

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Ulrik Hogrebe: Welcome Robyn and Justin! Super pleased that you could find time to chat with us today. I am a huge fan of the Gilbert project, so this is quite an honor. Maybe you could just start with giving us a run-down of the project?

Robyn: Ok, so we were initially looking to do a typography project based around the rainbow flag for a while. We knew pride month (June) was approaching and we saw it as an opportunity to make a positive impact with our design. The project got put on the back burner a little, but then we heard the unfortunate news that the creator of the flag; Gilbert Baker, had passed. So we then made it our top priority to do something in his memory. From that point it was just Go! Go! Go!

Justin: We sat with Chris Rowson, our Creative Director and concepted this project from the simple idea that we could turn the rainbow flag, such a powerful symbol, in to a typeface that everyone could use. Robyn handled most of the type design, while Chris and I built the platform, animation, website, and artwork to launch the project. But the “colored font” didn’t exactly exist yet, so we called these French guys and their company Fontself to help. They created tools in Photoshop & other CC apps that helped make the rainbow font a reality.

Gilbert Baker

Ulrik Hogrebe: For those unfamiliar with Gilbert Baker, can you tell us a bit about how you tried to channel him in the construction of the glyphs?

Gilbert himself wanted to represent the LGBTQ community which is really an incredibly diverse community with a simple and beautiful design.

Robyn: Our main aim was to keep it simple. Gilbert himself wanted to represent the LGBTQ community which is really an incredibly diverse community with a simple and beautiful design. He saw the rainbow flag as a medium in which to channel all these different aspects of sexuality/gender in a simple way. So we did the same. The shapes themselves are kept basic and geometric, not just representing the colors of the flag, but also the traditional shape of the rainbow ‘curved’ graphic. Also, the color overlay itself represents the intersectionality of all the diverse communities.

Justin: Robyn pretty much said it all!

The Process for the Font

Ulrik Hogrebe: Tell me a bit about the process. Were there many iterations?

Robyn: I remember sitting down and creating a new document in which this typeface would be created and I started with the simplest dissection of the flag. I initially worked with the upper case and drew out 2 shapes: a line and a circle. From here I obviously went in further to create semi-circles, 90 degree corners etc. But I did not let myself stray away from these geometric shapes. From there the creation was actually very simple. The upper case came together very quickly. Then the lower case, and finally the numerals. I guess in terms of physical appearance it’s very bauhaus inspired. I just kept reiterating to myself: ‘keep it simple’.

Ulrik Hogrebe: And how long did it take from start to finish? Or until you handed off to Fontself?

Robyn: We heard Gilbert passed at the end of March, after that it took us a solid 10 days of design in order to be able to hand over assets to Fontself.

Justin: From then we worked with Fontself over about two weeks to make the typeface downloadable, and the we’ve gone on to release multiple versions of Gilbert. The lighter weight is about to be released soon, I believe.

Ulrik Hogrebe: That’s mind blowing that you could turn something around at that fidelity so quickly. But so are you still considering this a work in progress?

Justin: The way we see it, ‘Gilbert’ isn’t a typeface that symbolizes the entire LGBTQ+ movement / community, but a piece that celebrates it as a part of a larger narrative. We’re continuing to use Gilbert to raise awareness, such as the social campaign we literally just launched today, called “Gilbert A-Z”, where across 26 days we highlight different people, places and things that made the LGBTQ community what it is today, building up to NY Pride. Furthermore, we have an ongoing Design Contest where we want to feature artwork made by people all across the world using ‘Gilbert’. We joke that it would be amazing if some other talented designers came along and created another rainbow typeface.

“Pride” typed in Gilbert

Ulrik Hogrebe: So it’s more than a typeface in some regards? More like a platform from which to raise awareness — kind of open-source and community driven? Is that the idea?

Robyn: Yep, exactly.

Justin: Isn’t that what a typeface should be? Ha!

Ulrik Hogrebe: Ha! Yes, in some weird meta-way, I think that’s exactly what a typeface should be. So in terms of the social campaign, is it centered around the alphabet? So what was today? The letter A for…?

Robyn: A is for Awareness! We thought it was the perfect way to start the month.

Justin: We’ll be releasing a different letter everyday. Tune in at @typewithpride to see the rest!

Ulrik Hogrebe: Cool! What was the collaboration with Fontself like? I think I read somewhere that it was a challenge for them too?

Fontself is a tool that allows designers to turn any vector artwork into a typeface. And this includes color, gradients, and all other kinds of fun. It’s a real game changer.

Working with Fontself

Robyn: It was a great collaboration, they were super into the project from the get go. They wanted to help as much as possible and provide us with a fully functional font to distribute as quickly as they could. The time restraints and quick turnaround were the biggest challenges and of course working with ‘colored fonts’ which is such new idea in the design world.

The original illustrator artwork handed over to fontself. Image from Fontself

Justin: And of course, they were faced with all the tiny painstaking details that make a typeface work; such as kerning, leading etc. The whole process really showed how powerful the Fontself tool that they built actually is.

Ulrik Hogrebe: I’m glad you brought that up. So what exactly does Fontself do, for those who aren’t aware?

Justin: Fontself is a tool that allows designers to turn any vector artwork into a typeface. And this includes color, gradients, and all other kinds of fun. It’s a real game changer.

Ulrik Hogrebe: Amazing. Had you worked with it before? Or was this you guys trying to find a solution to the problem of turning Adobe Illustrator vectors around quickly?

Robyn: I personally hadn’t worked with the software before. So when creating the font I wasn’t working to any format or with any restrictions. Luckily the guys were super flexible and took what I had and made it work. It was less about turning vectors into a font at speed, and more about the ‘colored font’ aspect.

Justin: I think I experimented with Fontself when working on a previous project. We ended up not using it but kept it in the books for another experimental type project like this one.

We’ve been blessed with a ridiculous amount of outdoor signage, taxi tops, TVs around the city, etc. that are all going to feature Type with Pride.

Ulrik Hogrebe: So what have you got planned for Pride? Can you lift the curtain on that yet?

Justin: Are you based in New York? We’ve been blessed with a ridiculous amount of outdoor signage, taxi tops, TVs around the city, etc. that are all going to feature Type with Pride. But as for myself I will probably be hanging out with Robyn.

Robyn: I’m gonna get drunk.

Ulrik Hogrebe: Haha! This might be the best answer I’ve had in an interview yet — both of them!

Robyn: We’re super happy with the project. We all feel very honored to have created something so positive and uplifting that we hope will live on for a long time, all in the memory of a pioneer of the LGBTQ community.

Justin: Yup, we’re just happy people enjoy it.

Ulrik Hogrebe: OK, fantastic! I am going to look out for the signage and everything during Pride. And for my part, I am super honored to get to talk to you — I think it’s an important project, especially in these times. Thanks for taking the time! And hope to buy you both a drink sometime.

Robyn: Hahaha, I just make take you up on that offer! Thanks so much for the experience, it’s been great to talk about the project (especially in these times, you are very right about that). Happy Pride!!!

Justin: Thanks Ulrik! It was a pleasure.

Pre-order your copy before August 3rd and save 25% at typethursday.org

Gilbert was released in partnership with NewFest and NYC Pride. You can download it for free here: Type with Pride

Go have a look at Fontself and read more about their process: here and here.

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