Fontsmith

10 Years in type

The story of the Fontsmith library

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10 Years In Type is a celebration of a decade of work by Fontsmith, a window on the stories that have helped shape some of the world’s leading typefaces and brands.

Jason Smith

Jason studied Calligraphy, Lettering and Signwriting at Art College before working with David Quay drawing logo ideas. After learning as much as he could he went to work for Wagstaffs producing lettering styles for consumer brands.

Jason set up Fontsmith in 1999 and became much more involved with corporate identities. His true passion was graphic design and branding and Fontsmith gave him an opportunity to follow this passion.

Over the next few years he developed and designed a series of typefaces and in 2001 released them in his own library. Fontsmith has never looked back and now employs five staff with 23 typefaces, as well as a long list of cool clients.

Jason Smith

Phil Garnham

Phil's journey through art school began at the Colchester Institute, Essex and then through Middlesex University, London where he studied Visual Communication – Graphic Design. A deep love and appreciation of type - its tone, texture and placement, subsequently propelled Phil on a journey of typographic investigation and experimentation.

In the summer of 2003, Phil joined Fontsmith and has since created unique letterforms for a diverse global client list. He now co-leads the Fontsmith team creatively and works with Jason to help manage the company.

Phil Garnham

Fernando Mello

Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Fernando Mello came to the UK to study an MA in Type Design at the University of Reading in 2006-2007. He then moved to London and soon joined Fontsmith in the summer of 2008.

His background in multiple visual areas – namely architecture, typography, graphic design and illustration – guides his search for creating innovative and original, yet functional and well-constructed typefaces.

Fernando Mello

Emanuela Conidi

Emanuela joined Fontsmith soon after her MA, working on both library and custom font projects and although working as a full time professional, she always considers herself a student, following her own inclination and motivation to keep learning.

 

Emanuela Conidi

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FS Joey

The story of a
baby that wouldn’t
stay in it’s pouch
by Fernando Mello
and Jason Smith.

What was your vision for Joey?

Jason: ‘Project Kangaroo’ was the name for the joint Video On Demand service from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, today known as ‘SeeSaw’. We developed a typeface design with the clear intent that it would be used on-screen in menus and so on, but also in above and below the line advertising. This was an important factor because the font needed a feeling or vibe that allowed it to stand alone.

We worked with Rudd Studio and they created the brief for us while they developed the SeeSaw identity. We did three weights specifically designed for use on the Web. I wanted at least one identifiable letter that was a quirk. As always, I seem to go straight for the lowercase ‘g’. It was drawn so many times but I got the quirky one accepted by the client. We had finished two weights when the bloody Competition Commission rejected the entire venture! The project was shelved.

It was a great typeface design, so Fernando finished up and created more weights. We released the font later that year. By this time SeeSaw had gone live in a slightly different form; ITV had pulled out and Virgin Media and Channel 5 stepped in.

I thought that the name ‘Joey’ was a good idea as it hinted towards the original Kangaroo project. Straight away, people started to notice the typeface. I can take credit for getting the design idea right and pushing the art direction, but Fernando was key to pulling it all together and adding his own distinct flavour. It’s now one of my favourite designs in our library. That ‘g’ is great!

Where did the idea come from?

Fernando: FS Joey has its origins in the first big project I did together with Jason when I joined Fontsmith in 2008. We were working with Rudd Studio on the logotype for SeeSaw and like any designer, I was really excited about it, drawing and sketching lots of ideas.

Because we were dealing with an online video service, legibility on screen was one of the key elements we had to consider. And the typeface needed to have a distinct, strong and corporate feel.

What was the creative process?

Fernando: Initially we worked on designing the six letters for ‘SeeSaw’, while Rudd Studio was experimenting with an icon and how to place the letters together with it. Both studios were working closely together and Jason and I created almost a hundred different ideas for these letters.

We tried everything, from round and chubby to blocky, simple and industrial. We developed the best ones and placed them in dummy layouts to check the feel and legibility of the letters. The chosen concept was a mix of round, pleasant shapes and a modern, corporate feel. The logo kept changing but the concept and the feel had been defined.

Although its performance on screen was paramount, we weren’t afraid of experimenting and came up with some unusual ideas and features: The condensed character, the slightly curved diagonal stems, the unconventional lowercase ‘g’, the simple shape of the lowercase ‘r’, all proved to work well. We had created an exceptional corporate font that could stand strong with its distinct and unusual feel.

The project was then cancelled. We had completed a regular and a bold weight but the typeface was put on standby. We knew it was something special and kept it. We were able to release the font at the beginning of 2010, and the simplicity and familiarity of the name ‘Joey’ seemed appropriate. It soon made its way into our list of best sellers, and has a Pro version on the way soon.

Channel 4

The story of a
game-changer
by Jason Smith.

How did you get involved?

Back in 2004 I was in touch with my old mates Matthew Rudd and Brett Foraker who I’d worked with on the launch of E4 a few years earlier.

They were working on a top-secret pitch for the new Channel 4 (C4) identity. Brett was putting together a team of creatives to work together. This was to be a game-changer. C4 have a remit from the Government to push the boundaries and create dialogue visually, creatively, in its programme making and in its audience.

I was chosen to be part of that creative team after a pitching process. I involved myself with all aspects of the design from tone of voice, vision, music, moving image, ideas and craft. My job was to take that essence and design a typeface with a killer quirk to back up the on-air and off-air identities.

What were the challenges?

Should I design to complement the new logo or match it? How hard does the font work on it’s own? What are the technical restraints? One thing I discovered was that fonts on-air react very differently depending on the colour used for the background. It is the total opposite of print, for example white on black appears heavier on telly where as in print it fills in.

The idea was that the font would be able to stand-alone and be the identity of the channel without the need for a big C4 logo. Again... me and my ‘g’s, I created something that was quirky but well structured and visually unique for the Headline type.

What was the creative process?

The idea started with looking at and working on the new logo, which was edgy and abstract. Matt and Brett influenced the design as it evolved, along with their own developments of on-screen and off-air uses. These fonts had to work on serious news programming as well as the Ali G show, so it was bloody hard to get the balance right.

I developed a Text version along with the Headline type that had all the quirky bits chopped off so it became more legible and square. I then designed a Condensed version for the news and a special cut of the Headline for on-air menus that had shorter ascenders, so the leading could be tighter. After that, another version was made for C4 Learning. This had a primary ‘a’ and ‘g’ along with a couple of other changes to make it more accessible.

What effect did it have on Fontsmith?

This is one of the best things I’ve done, mostly because it changed the way TV brands addressed their audiences. It was a game-changer and for me personally, it put me on the map amongst the design community. The C4 identity and typeface has won several big awards including D&AD Gold and Creative Review Type awards. It was also the start of my love affair with broadcast design.

The C4 typeface was followed by: More 4, Film 4, ITV, BBC1, Kanal 5, Living TV, Sky 1, GOLD, Virgin Media, Sky News, and more...

This typeface has delivered a solid glue of personality to the C4 brand and is hugely successful. But whether it’s Channel 4, Big Brother, BBC News... it’s strange seeing your work feature so high-up in the public consciousness.

I love the fact that on election night every news channel in the country had a typeface designed by me somewhere: ITV, BBC, Channel 4, Sky News... everyone was looking at my designs that night!

FS Icon Collection

The story of our
great experiment
by Phil Garnham
and Jason Smith.

What was your vision for the process?

Jason: I knew Phil was chomping at the bit to do something that was more him, something a bit wilder, a bit more expressive and record sleeve cool. We both sat down and worked out that it was a good idea to do a modern version of the ‘Architype’ series by The Foundry. I knew in my mind what I wanted the series to be, a bit of variety and modernity. After a few weeks Phil came up with a varied range of designs.

We sat down together and chose what turned out to be Alvar, Kitty, Pele, and Sinclair. We really wanted to show to our work, the side that wasn’t afraid to experiment and tear up the rule book.

Of course Phil and I fought over the lowercase 'g’ again, also the ‘k’. I was quite annoyed going home one Friday, not sure how to handle things on Monday. I probably said something like, ‘I’m the boss, don’t do it like that’. Of course, Phil wasn’t happy, but within a few days he was eating his words and said I was right.

It’s very funny looking back, and sounds like we did nothing but argue. But it wasn’t like that at all. Phil was asserting that his creative opinion was right... mine was just more right! In the best possible way of course. It is sometimes like that.

What inspired you?

Phil: Following the release of Lola towards the end of 2006, I was consumed by a creative desire to push on and do something with the graphic shapes that I had spent years gathering and experimenting with. There was a collection of shapes that just had to be explored and brought to life in typography.

We debated long and hard about this. It was a big decision to shift away from the typefaces that people knew us for and we didn’t want to compromise our reputation. But it had to be done.

We wanted to show a new dimension to Fontsmith, a more creative and expressive side to our understanding of typeface design. And we’d had enough of seeing loosely thrown together free headline fonts. We wanted to take a stand as a foundry and offer headline fonts that were unique and of a high quality.

It soon dawned on us that our idea was an almost complete mirror of the Foundry’s ‘Architype’ collection but with one key difference: The majority of their designs were reproductions and developments of classic modernist fonts. Our aim was to create new, post-modern headline forms by exploring form for form’s sake.

How did the creative process develop?

Phil: We dived into the exploratory process by spending a few weeks, going through our library of shapes: copying, skewing, twisting overlaying and so on. I think we probably developed enough ideas to create twenty or thirty fonts. And this was the point where we realised we needed to release the final fonts as a collection. We printed out, analysed and grouped the ideas into our haphazard type classification system of: Bitmappy, Blocker, Curvy, Loopy, Folded, Modular, Stripe, Techy and Thinner.

We worked up a clear look and feel around the typographic mood board and we choose four to release.

Jason: Out of this set of fonts I actually love Kitty and Pele the best, I think Alvar is really under-used and will be discovered one day by someone. Great job all round Phil! There was a great sense of camaraderie doing this project, both of us had a vision and neither of us had to compromise, far from it we both added our expertise and Fontsmith is now in the proud position to offer fonts to all types of creative, for all sorts of projects.

FS Alvar

The forms of Alvar actually originated in 2001 whilst I was at Middlesex University. There was a D&AD Student Awards brief to create a typeface inspired by potato cutting. At the time this was my second attempt at doing type design. I cut some raggedy shapes, which printed poorly.

It didn’t look a bit like a potato print but then I thought who cares, it’s my process and I’m going to damn well celebrate it! I developed a poor typeface called something like ‘Potato Sans’ and put it in the ideas locker. I needed to revisit it. There was something nice about the proportions in that potato cut and now I could draw type properly! I worked it up but it still needed something to give it that edge. Jason stood up and supplied the missing link:

‘Why don’t we make it stencilled? Not in an obvious way but make the stencil an inherent part of the letterform. Like an architectural stencil’

It worked and the idea of using an architect’s name to describe the font felt perfect.

FS Kitty

Kitty had been living in my sketchbook for over a year. It was in the mix as a basic form when I started thinking about Lola. It was a twisted, bubbly beauty... quite squishable and huggable... the working file was called ‘Blubber’. I created the ‘a’ first, purely as a shape to play with, not as type. I flipped it for ‘v’, I copied it for a ‘w’. I flipped the ‘w’ for an ‘m’ and so on. I carried on and built the whole character set outside of any font software and then imported it. The trickiest characters were the ‘B’, ‘P’ and ‘R’.

When the regular weight had been designed, it just felt like a natural progression to go on and explore how far Kitty could go: Light, Solid, Headline and Shadow emerged.

We know people are using Kitty, in fact it was the first font that we sold from the whole collection on the day it was released but I still haven’t seen it out there in the wild... it’s going to be a exciting moment.

FS Pele

Pele began as a simple study into the levels of manipulation required to turn a square into an alphabet. The concept ties into my approach to logo making: The search for a solid, block-shaped mark that conveys authority, strength and stability.

Our firm, dogmatic approach was focussed on linking the forms through the grid, to keep letter relationships and widths constant without sacrificing legibility. I think at the time there were a lot of graphic designers creating their own versions of these fonts but we wanted to add more clarity to the process. I wanted to take the forms to the next step and create a more legible text without sacrificing the idea.

I’ve seen two fantastic uses of Pele, one by Vince Frost for the D&AD Ampersand magazine and the second by Peter and Paul in a logo for Jefferson Sheard Architects.

FS Sinclair

Sinclair is our techy font. It probably represents our inner computer geek. We had finished the Channel 4 typeface a year or two beforehand. We wanted to create something that took the same creative essence from that project but be more structurally informed, less flexible as a form and more aggressive. We didn’t want it to look retro but wanted to reference the past, and we also wanted to find a way for it to inform the future.

A lot of the original concepts were very jagged, mainly because we were conscious of getting too close to other fonts like Gridnik. Inevitably though, Sinclair did get developed into a more accessible, ‘grid’ based type design in order to deliver a readable and functional typeface that answered our brief.

UEFA
Champions League

The story of the
ultimate football fan
by Jason Smith and
Emanuela Conidi.

What was your vision for UEFA Champions League?

Jason: Emanuela had just joined. I was very busy and had been called by a couple of TV guys who used to run English & Pockett. I jumped on the train down to Richmond and met them. The Champions League! This is one of the world’s biggest sporting tournaments! …Wow!… Free tickets!!

I got Emanuela to put together some ideas and sketches that could work with the identity. I wanted something that hinted towards their starburst football logo and on-air ident. About four designs were shown, including something that I designed 23 years ago, as a student. It worked! Although the design was a bit spiky, it could be developed to suit UEFA Champions League.

Emanuela, worked very hard to get the idea to work and I have to say did a marvellous job for her first main project at Fontsmith. She really added strength and usability to the design. UEFA were very happy with the result and were excited about the new font.

When we presented the final design to the UEFA brand team showing the font on different applications and images, I snuck in one extra slide showing a frame from a Man U game, with the new typeface over the top in white reading 'If Man United get to the final, can I have some tickets?'

They loved it!

What inspired you about this project?

Emanuela: Let’s start with saying that I am a huge football fan and a supporter of AC Milan. Unfortunately, since I’ve been in the UK I haven’t had the chance to see much of them. But I had a great time in Milan for a few years with a season ticket standing in the middle of the AC Milan ultras supporter section. Ah, I miss it!

I started working at Fontsmith at the beginning of November 2008, after completing a Masters degree. Before that I had run my own studio in Milan as a graphic designer, so being an employee and a type designer was a double fresh start making me a bit apprehensive about my first job in the studio. Then I got an unexpected present: My first project would be for UEFA, a new typeface for the Champions League!

What was the creative process?

We got a brief from the client, describing what the whole Champions League brand is all about (nothing I didn’t know already!). The tournament is the world’s premier club football competition, with an annual television audience of 288 million. The typeface had to convey the same prestige.

To start with we did some research and put together a presentation as a visual and inspirational background. We added some sketches, picking details and features that would ideally develop into the typeface, building its unique personality. We then sent four proposals from the studio and the client picked two.

One of the two was my proposal, the other was one of Jason’s. We developed the two a bit further, but in the end they went for Jason’s. From there we developed the Regular weight, and then the Bold, managing to add in some characteristics from my original idea.

The design went back and forth between Jason and I, who made comments and corrected the curves. We spent a lot of time designing the lowercase 'g'. We wanted something quirky and dynamic. It’s always a fun letter to work with, but in this case it was also extremely important because it’s in the word ‘League’.

The pain was worth it though, it’s the best letter of the whole set. The project also had the additional challenge of needing a full set of letters from the Cyrillic alphabet. I enjoyed that opportunity, and it was a real test on several levels!

As soon as I could talk about it I told all my friends. My dad was obviously impressed, even if I can’t say for sure that he actually noticed the font during matches! But I’m really proud of it, I think it looks great and is a perfect fit for UEFA.

Fontsmith Logo
Design

The story of some
clever crafting
by Jason Smith
and Phil Garnham.

Jason: When I was 16, I marched off to Art College with my barely passed GCSE results. I wanted to do the Graphic Design course but all the spaces had been taken. So I did Calligraphy, Lettering and Signwriting instead. Obviously this wasn’t going to get me a job, so I concentrated on lettering and logotypes.

Having a calligraphic background was a great start. I splashed ink around with various utensils and got a good feel for making marks. But it was only when I started working with David Quay that I really drew logo ideas, built up from expressive calligraphy and redrawn into typographic solutions.

I started on book jackets for Penguin, advert headlines, company logos and lots of packaging. All sketched and inked and photographed, but it still wasn’t graphic design.

Some years later I became the in-house lettering artist for a company called Wagstaffs. My job was to come up with the lettering styles to match product or brand: Quavers, Jaffa Cakes, Flake, Hovis, Ready Brek… they were all mine. There were also loads of cheeses, crisps, pickles, cereal, chocolate and so on. I was dealing with questions like: ‘How do you make a word look fizzy for a fizzy drink?’ That was great fun. I remember walking around supermarkets only buying products I had done the lettering for!

Once Fontsmith started I became much more involved with corporate identities rather than consumer brands, dealing with questions like ‘How do you make a company name look technical, holiday-like, safe or industrial?’ I started to understand how brand values could be interpreted into type.

Every branding project needs a typographic route. They weren’t always used but it developed a different thought process and I was getting ever closer to being a designer working in graphics and branding.

Often we’ve been asked this very thing: ‘Give us a typographic route to show the client’ or ‘See if you can find some trick in the name and make a wordmark’. We always spend a day or so sketching out logo ideas, caps, lowercase, looking for that elusive trick.

The other side to this is that designers bring us a logo and say, ‘Draw this properly for us please, add that little bit of Fontsmith to it, but don’t change it too much because the client has already signed it off.’

Type, lettering and logos are all about clever ideas and having real crafting skills to make them work.

Phil: From time to time we like to indulge our creative and crafting energies in the world of typographic logo construction. I say construction, because essentially every good typographic logo should be constructed with the same attributes in order to serve its purpose. It should be confident and solid in the nature of the curves, the spacing of the letters, and overall visual harmony, in order to create a solid, authoritative, almost rubber stamp-like mark.

From a learning perspective, I really do think logo projects have given us an edge. Whilst still dealing with typographic matter, designing type logos requires a very different set of skills that don’t necessarily comply with standard typeface design thinking and process. Working on these projects has helped us as a foundry to view type design differently in terms of its wider implications in a brand context.

By working on this mix we have been able to feed in elements of each discipline, which has been superb in informing all of our work.

1. Artwork

Probably the most common brief that we receive is to artwork a typographic idea that an agency has been playing with but for one reason or other they want that finesse and craft that our typographic eyes can bring. In terms of creativity on our part, it is limited, we work to realise our clients’ ideas by finely crafting, adjusting and getting the spacing just right on the letterforms.

2. Speculative Exploration / Concepts

Often well-known brand names approach us to explore the creative possibilities for their logo. This is often an exciting time in the studio where anything goes in terms of creativity. We typeset stuff, look for those relationships in the letter combinations that open themselves up for a typographic trick, or think entirely in an abstract way and just play with shapes.

We come together at the end of the day, stick our prints up as typographic wallpaper, and shoot each other's ideas down... all in good fun. We each have our own processes but I tend to begin with a phased evolutionary approach as a warm-up, then get bored and jump in a totally different direction.

3. Brand Approach

Brief: ‘Our company is moving forward and needs a cohesive typographic approach, a new logo and a new typeface.’ From a Fontsmith perspective we understand the brand intentions, the values and the concept. We explore form, relationships, colour and context. Sometimes the type comes directly from the logo and sometimes the type complements the logo. Sometimes the client doesn’t even realise they want a typeface until we show them how great things can be! That’s what happened with BBC One.

There’s something very powerful about this level of typographic continuity. This is especially true when you have sub-brands that require the same voice but do not require the holding company logo: Words reflect meaning but type reflects feeling and emotion. When the two work together, type becomes a powerful and unique branding tool.

Jason: Typographic ideas for logos i.e. wordmarks are not explored enough. Fontsmith is certainly under used in this area by our clients. It has always been a goal of mine to have the time and opportunity and commissions to truly explore and visualise great typographic ideas, finding clever and engaging solutions for logos that will inspire and find their place in the consciousness of the consumer.

FS Clerkenwell

The story of a
bit of a geezer
by Phil Garnham
and Jason Smith.

What was your vision for Clerkenwell?

Jason: For quite a while I had the idea for a clunky, slabby serif with one side flat and one side curved, to lead your eye in and out of a word. Phil and I both started drafting early ideas. Phil’s stuff was a bit overcooked, sometimes burnt! My role in this case was to help Phil simplify things, focus on the best bits and try some new angles. Each time he came back, we got closer to something tangible. Phil was happy in the end and so was I. He compromised and respected my knowledge and I compromised and respected his ideas. Between us the typeface became traditional with modern twists – just like Clerkenwell itself.

My mate Ian had left Futurebrand and I commissioned him to do a booklet. We went for a walk around Clerkenwell, listening to conversations overheard on trains and in pubs. We looked at fancy restaurant menus and absorbed the community. He came back with a typographic walk through of Clerkenwell. It was fantastic and really rude in some places. Brilliant. Designers loved it.

Where did the idea come from?

Phil: In 2003/2004 I’d just finished designing my first formal type exercise, FS Ingrid Italics. I could hardly believe I was a professional typeface designer at the age of 23 – it felt really special and it inspired me to do the best I could.

We shared a small space in Northburgh Street, Clerkenwell. The studio space was cold and impersonal until we started putting stuff on the walls and disrupting things. We were on the up. We had momentum off the back of some prestigious custom types for the Post Office and E4. Slab Serifs were on the brink of another revival, we could feel it. All we wanted to do was have a play with these slabs and see what we could come up with. I pushed things further than what most people would consider as an acceptable, readable, slab design.

We were very influenced by our surroundings. Outside the studio space, Clerkenwell was our lunchtime, afternoon and evening playground. The post-modern Victorian mash-up of Clerkenwell was well in swing. We absorbed the essence and grime of where we were and this began to flow through our designs.

What was the creative process?

Phil: I began on-screen drawing ‘I’s or stems, vertical lines with slabs attached. Each one copied and sculpted to achieve a new flavour. My stems merged into ‘n’s, firstly square then moulded to a more organic shape. I admired the shapes of Rockwell and Clarendon. Rockwell seemed too robust and styled; Clarendon seemed too organic and playful.

I wanted my slab to sit somewhere between. For me the most important aspect of the font is the upward bend of the leading serif, the way it ramps up and plummets back down the stem, like it’s guiding you through each letter one at a time.

How did you promote it?

Phil: We both felt there was bit of a geezer in the face of Clerkenwell, he was rough around the edges and ready for a fight. We talked with a good designer friend of ours, Ian Whalley about doing an art-piece to promote the font.

We genuinely took the sights and sounds of Clerkenwell, set them in the font and laid them bare in the form of a small book. I think a part of the reason this font has been so successful is because it really does embody the spirit of the place.

What do you think will be Clerkenwell’s legacy?

Phil: Its arrival was a stake in the ground. It made us appear on the crest of the current trend, it diversified our library offering and put us firmly on the map. Personally for me, it felt like I had arrived as a designer, I could say to people ‘I did that’.

FS Lola

The story of
a mixed up
muddled up world
by Phil Garnham.

Jason: Phil had been with Fontsmith for two years. He had patience for drawing good crafted curves and a passion for type. Now was the time for Phil to create something for himself, without guidance from me. FS Lola was cared for and nurtured by Phil over about a year.

Giving my designers the opportunity to own and take credit for the work they do is very important to me. As designers of whatever discipline, we all need to be proud and ever so slightly egotistical about our work. FS Lola gave Phil that confidence, ownership and pride that we all seek.

Where did the idea come from?

Phil: I started thinking about Lola in the summer of 2005. Jason was going on a break and his parting words were: ‘You can steer the ship for the next few weeks – take a few phone calls, do a few logo jobs and oh, lets have a few typeface ideas to look over when I get back’.

In these earlier days we spent a lot of time perfecting our logo craft so the opportunity to take some time exploring pure type design was not one to miss. When I began the search for Lola I didn’t really know where the 2005 type canon was travelling. So I just drew on-screen: Shapes, curves, lines, blocks, triangles I really just pushed things around, trying to get a feeling or some spark.

What was the creative process?

Phil: At this point I was still naive in thinking that design could happen on a blank page without an objective. I thought my enthusiasm for shape and form was enough. I learned something; I needed to define a creative process for the marks I was making.

I wanted to create something that was beautifully crafted, that had a fast-paced energy in its form but retained a graphic impact. I picked up one of my rigid experimental designs and thought about the organic nature of the hand-lettering logos, trying to work out what the approach could bring to type design. I began chipping away, softening up.

FS Lola was my first one hundred per cent ‘Phil Garnham’ creatively-owned typeface. It definitely wasn’t the font Jason would have designed, but it did have something very Fontsmith about it: The feel of the curves and a certain cheekiness.

Why Lola?

Phil: The working name of Lola was ‘Rigsby’ due to my love of 70’s sitcom character names. But this wasn’t a good fit. Rigsby’s character is agitated, aggressive, and stressed, but the forms of Lola were bold, exaggerated and fluid.

I was a bit of a Mod revivalist back in my early twenties, so when it was suggested we name the font ‘Lola’ I was on-board. I love Ray Davies, and he happily approved our use of his lyrics in our advertising. I’m still not sure to this day whether Lola is male or female, which keeps it vital, energised and dancing.

What do you think will be Lola’s legacy?

Phil: I’m incredibly proud of what Lola has achieved. When I see it used well, I give it a quiet nod. When I see it used badly I love it even more! It’s an odd psychology, I hate to see badly applied type, but when I see it plastered all over posters in a garish way, I take a quiet satisfaction from it.

FS Conrad

The story of
a perplexing
journey into art
by Phil Garnham.

Where did the idea come from?

In 2008 a friend of ours, designer Jon Scott, approached us to investigate how a typeface could take on the aesthetic of one artist’s body of work. Jon runs a not-for-profit art organisation called ‘Measure’ and at the time he was organising a big event for the British artist Conrad Shawcross. Conrad was planning to create a giant mechanical installation entitled ‘Chord’, that explored questions about the human perception of time and I’ve always been incredibly keen to work on projects that broaden my horizons and push me in unexpected directions. Jason and I went to meet Conrad and Jon for a drink one night in the Wheatsheaf pub in Borough Market. Conrad got his sketchbook out and showed us his theories, it was a great evening of Guinness and philosophy.

Conrad is a well-respected artist. Put simply, he explores physics and philosophy and presents it to us in sculptural and mechanical form. His work is featured in the Saatchi Gallery as well as many others. The ‘Chord’ installation was created for the Kingsway Tram Subway in Holborn.

What was the creative process?

I headed over to Conrad’s studio to get a feel for his working environment. I got the impression that he saw type design as a fickle exercise that didn’t deal with the important questions. He struggled to see how typeface design could have any relevance to his art. This was going to be a challenge!

Conrad presented me with a pile of rope and a huge diagram of sketches and maths... I had to take a guess at what his sculpture was going to look like. This diagram was my brief: Design a typeface that represents ‘Chord’ and that encapsulates the philosophy of Conrad Shawcross the artist. Where was I going to start with trying to understand his ideas? I dropped straight into his sculptural, tessellated world to see how he viewed shape.

I put together 3 experimental concepts, but one stood out as being perfect for the ‘Chord’ structure. The fine linear nature of each typographic module coming together, overlapping and entwining was in complete harmony with the sculpture.

I planned my modules on my notebook, drew them on-screen and twisted and turned them to build the machine that is the FS Conrad typeface. This is not a simple headline typeface... it is not a rigid structure. It has varying character widths, it is informed by real typographic insight and proportions so that it actually works as a piece of functioning harmonious type.

How did you decide to promote it?

Jon wanted to open up the whole project. It was already getting a lot of attention from art critics in the national press and we wanted to add another level of awareness. We got in touch with Phil Baines at Central Saint Martin’s as the College was right next door to the Kingsway subway.

We gave him the fonts and set a project/competition for his students to design a poster for the exhibition. After some fierce debate, we picked a winner and Jon set about creating the Chord exhibition identity. The FS Conrad typeface took on a leading role, speaking in tune with both Conrad’s sculpture and philosophy.

FS Me

The story
of listening
and learning
by Jason Smith.

We developed this really closely with Mencap and essentially we had to pitch for this job. I went in and blew them away with my ideas. I was very adamant that I only wanted to take on the job if I could do it properly, do research and do a good job. I put together a focus group of people from Mencap with various learning difficulties

I chatted to them, tried to find out what they liked to look at, what colours they liked, what fonts they thought were good and why. What they thought was best out of various types of fonts. Horrifically for me, they all liked the friendliness of Comic Sans! Hardly an accessible typeface, but hey, that gave me a clue about needing something friendly and approachable, not cold and voiceless.

They were a great group of people to talk to. Some were autistic, some had Down's Syndrome, some were deaf and some were partially blind. A varied bunch. We got them to look at each version to pinpoint difficult words and letters, whilst we made small tweaks to get a balance between what’s more recognisable as a letterform and what’s easier to read.

We wanted them to make instinctive responses to width, weight and spacing, whilst we paid attention to details such as the length of ascenders and descenders and customised each letter to make it stand out and improve recognition. As usual, the contentious character was the lowercase ‘g’, I seem to remember someone saying: ‘That ‘g’ makes me feel sick!’ It was brilliant and straight to the point!

We also took a lot of care with the positive/negative space of the letterforms and how much leading was used in text. We looked at larger, more open letter forms as well as denser, more fitted designs to achieve something clean, clear and distinct.

After the typeface was launched. There was a party at the Proud Gallery where members of Mencap with learning disabilities showed photos of their lives at the gallery and cocktails and canapés were abundant. The new identity had just launched and there was a buzz about the typeface.

Fontsmith was getting calls every day asking for the new typeface. I was explaining this to people at the gallery that night but complained that everyone thought it was a font for dyslexic people... anyway, long story short, I’m not always the most politically correct in these situations!

I’m extremely proud of FS Me, it isn’t quirky or odd looking, doesn’t resemble the childlike design of fridge magnets or early learning tools and is certainly nothing like Comic Sans.

It is a first of its kind and stands out as a benchmark in accessibility. I think what’s important here is that accessible design doesn’t have to be cold and characterless, it should be accessible to absolutely everyone. I like to think that FS Me shows that accessible fonts can be nice too.

FS Albert

The story of
a chunky kid
by Jason Smith.

I’d designed fonts before, but always for corporate jobs. I wanted to create a typeface that was perfect in each letter. I was inspired by the success of my friends Jeremy Tankard with Bliss and Eric Spiekermann with Meta. I wanted to do my one. I always felt that the real heavyweight of fonts had the most personality. Inspired by my young son – who was a bit of a chunky kid – I designed the extra bold weight of Albert. I recently told my son Albert this story, he thought it was funny, though a little offended that I thought he was a fat baby!

What is so unique about FS Albert? Well I tried to question every character but all you need is a few that have that X factor. Lowercase ‘a’&’g’, uppercase ‘I’&’J’.

I remember a friend saying, ‘Jason why on earth have you designed the ‘a’ like that, isn’t it a bit primary?’ Well my thinking was that lots of the big brands and blue chip companies at the time really needed to show a warmer more human side to their identity.

Creating a typeface that was a good solid corporate design, but warmed up a bit with softer corners and then a ‘primary’ lowercase ‘a’ would make the significant difference in the font being memorable and identifiable to the general public, the designers working on corporate identities, the Managing Director and Marketing Departments of blue chip companies. The sell was a robust and strong font, with a human, friendly face. Everything was covered.

As the font became more popular, I had the opportunity to add further languages and have the Pro version developed.

During this time of growth in Fontsmith’s popularity and the realisation that I seemed to have created a modern classic typeface design, I started to employ a few more people. The opportunity to creatively direct the development of FS Albert Pro meant that my time was still available for other projects whilst I got the best out of the expansion of FS Albert for a global market.

The whole development and expansion including a narrow set took about four months, what with all the OpenType features, language scripts, and various number sets and Small Caps. There are now around 800 glyphs in Albert. It is still my little baby!

Designing type for a living is a bit like recording a song. You can promote it, but you never ever really know if it will be a hit. It is always up to your fans or your audience to decide if it is to be popular, classic, a hit or whatever. FS Albert has been my hit.