By Sebastien Hayez. Published August 31, 2023
Custom type design
Hello Matthieu. Our readers are well acquainted with Blaze’s typefaces, yet among your activities, it's perhaps the work on customs that's the least known. Before getting to the heart of the matter, can you remind us what's behind the term custom font design?
On its website, BlazeType markets "retail" typefaces, i.e. those produced specifically for resale to any agency or advertiser. In contrast, "custom" is really an order for a specific typographic design, adapted to the needs of an advertiser. So, generally speaking, we work with a design agency, graphic designers and the advertiser's art directors (the client directly) to set up an artistic direction and define a visual identity through typography.
Communication on custom projects takes time before being unveiled. Can you at least give us some names of companies BlazeType has worked for in the past, and possibly the number of customs completed in 2022-2023?
So it's true that the development and communication time for customs is quite long. There are many reasons for this: this kind of project often involves several levels of hierarchy and therefore validation, but also because it's a good idea to wait for all the communication media to be released before being able to show off the fonts produced.
Over 2022-2023, we collaborated on many different projects. To name just a few, from memory... We worked with German soccer club Borussia Dortmund, but also on the typography for the new identity of Mont-Saint-Michel (with agency Graphéine). We also took part in the tender for the identity of the Palais Galliera, the fashion museum of the city of Paris... Then typography for Sunshine, a major clothing brand. Then Fix Studio, with a visual identity of its own, but I may come back to that later... Finally, we've also worked with H&M. We're actually starting to see campaigns coming out with Slussen and other fonts from our catalog.
On all these projects, do you work directly with the advertiser or with a communication agency? What is your preference in terms of exchanges with the client brand?
It varies a lot. Sometimes agencies contact us to design a font for an identity they are defining, sometimes it's the advertisers who contact us directly and send us a complete specification.
My preference is always to work with the main stakeholder. This is usually the case, even when we're working on behalf of an agency: the advertiser's interests come first. Once the art direction is done, we start talking directly with the advertiser, because he'll be the end user of the typography. The working process will be more efficient if he's involved from the very start of the project, not only to make sure of his needs, but also of his understanding of how fonts work and how to use them.
As we can see from your answers, working on a custom type design is extremely varied from one project to the next. Among your past projects, is there one you appreciate the most, and why?
So, of the latest custom typography projects, I think the font for Fix Studio is one of my favorites. Because there's work not on a complete alphabet, but on the lettering that makes up the Studio's logo. On this basis, we developed an optical design using the possibilities offered by Variable Fonts. Basically, the thickness of the logo's strokes can be adapted according to the size of use. And that just goes to show the technical nature of Variable Font technology in the service of the end use... A central element in typographic design.
The project for Fix Studio pushes the boundaries of OpenType and custom as an identity tool...
In any case, I think it's an excellent example of what to do when developing a custom font for the needs of a graphic identity. That is, think about the different sizes of logo use and how to adapt your design for different dimensions. Go through the development of a Variable Font and deliver typographic files for the needs of a logo. In all modesty, this project seems to me to be a textbook case for the future of Visual Identity Design. It's a rational proof that we no longer need to conceive the logotype in a static form delivered in image format (JPEG, PDF PNG, etc.), but to imagine it in a dynamic way through typographic files offering the flexibility of variables where optical adaptation and legibility are automatically ensured. I think that's what we should be aiming for when producing visual forms for screens.
Do you have in mind any other uses of VariableType features in future customs?
So, yes, for the Mont Saint-Michel identity we designed a custom typeface with customized variable axes, i.e. not part of the typographic norms of this standard. These axes enable the graphic designer using the typeface to vary the X-height of the characters, as well as the height of the capitals and ascenders of the letters, to create a graphic play on multiple levels, in the image of the Mont Saint-Michel identity.