Hello, and welcome to Design Basic’s new series Getting to Grips! Over the following six articles, we’ll chat with industry pros, revealing the inside scoop on their processes, practices and preferences.
We’re excited to welcome Little Troop, Office of Demande Spéciale, OlssønBarbieri, Porto Rocha and TwoMuch Studio to Getting to Grips who have offered their powerful words of wisdom for this series. In our maiden article, we’ve chatted with our resident experts about choosing typefaces and pairing fonts – the oh-no-what-on-earth-do-I-do-feeling of many a budding designer and a common challenge faced in any and all projects. Be it at the beginning of a project or a client’s last-minute amendment, the decision-making process is never straightforward.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just getting started, we’re sure that the wonderful words from these creative minds will leave you greater informed and more inspired.
Over to you, dream team!
WHERE DO YOU START WHEN CHOOSING A TYPEFACE, AND HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PAIRING FONTS?
LT: Over the years we’ve built up a collection of bookmarked type references that we love — everything from current foundries, to vintage type ephemera and old Flickr albums… a lot of the best stuff is from getting into those dark, deep corners of the internet that might not have been seen by many!
In terms of pairing fonts, it really depends on the brief and usage, but we often pair two typefaces with similar proportions, so that they feel visually connected. We also try to create balance if we’re working with contrasts — bold with light, feminine with masculine, etc.
TMS: With everything we work on, we start by establishing the vibe and feeling of the project. We’ll do this by unpacking the brief and just chatting with the client to see where they want the work to sit and how they want it to be perceived. That will give us a starting point of what kind of typefaces we are looking for and what we want to play with. Selecting the right typefaces has a big impact on the overall tone of a project so it’s best to have a clear idea from the start about what you are aiming for.
We almost always pair 2 separate fonts in our projects if possible, we think it allows us to bring a bit more character into projects. When finding pairings, we usually find it requires a bit of trial and error to find the perfect combo. We usually pick a page or layout and use that as a base for comparing different options, and then placing them side by side to make our final selection.
OODS: Usually, we start with the subject and the message we’re trying to communicate. It can guide if we feel it’s more a serif or a sans or whatever typeface direction we could end up exploring. But then we don’t limit ourselves to that first feeling either. Sometimes an unexpected font choice can really make the difference.
For font pairing, we also take into consideration what we are doing and for who, it can dictate if we want contrasting fonts or on the contrary, if we want to balance it out with something simpler.
PR: I’d say I start with considering the tone we want to convey, making sure to account for the target audience, cultural context and longevity of each project. I love typography as a starting point—especially when developing design systems. Typography is a foundational element for almost every brand, be it more expressive or utilitarian.
Pairing typefaces feels like a unique song where each instrument plays a role to create a nuanced tone. A colder typeface can be warmed up by a monospace or serif, a bold and expressive typeface can be paired with a more pragmatic and technical sans to express the other side of the brand as well. I try to make sure they all play choreographed and specific roles, and then it becomes quite fun to create compatible partners—a typographic team of sorts.
Resources like Fonts In Use and Typewolf are great tools to find fonts and pairings that might be a good fit, but besides that, I love dutifully looking through type foundries’ websites.
I should confess that I never felt very comfortable talking about typography since our experience is self-taught, due to our background as product designers. Our process at the beginning has been quite intuitive and I think, because of the kind of projects we mostly work with, we have been training to focus on details and how different fonts coexist together.
Even though we are still specialising in packaging for food and drinks, at the beginning we mostly worked exclusively with wine and spirit labels, and this meant making typography work in a limited space, at times as small as 80x60mm.
The kind of references we often collected were vintage labels, and we tried to capture their elegance, humbleness and flair in a contemporary way. At times we have been collaborating with typographers to recreate fonts from vintage references, being able to capture the “corniness” and “wrongness” that made those references so tasteful.
For this, we mostly thank Stefan Ellmer, a Viennese typographer living in Oslo. In the past years, the many new independent foundries have made the world of typography very exciting and in continuous development. I guess the “homogenization” created by sans serifs and neo-grotesque fonts has created a thirst for more experimental fonts in line with societal needs to express diversity.
“Appetizing” is often a quality we are looking for in a font, but also to communicate a sense of place.
It's rare that we start a project looking at fonts, but during the research and positioning we understand the components and mood that we want the brand to communicate and we take it from there.
For Château Picoron, a wine producer in Bordeaux owned by an Australian family, we wanted to maintain a strong connection to the origin of the wines so we chose to work with an independent french foundry. The concept is built around the idea of restrictions, natural and self-imposed, to be able to have the Bordeaux appellation, so Bourrasque from Bureau Brut is the only font we used in the identity.
When pairing typography that has strong historical references connecting with the storytelling of the brand, we try to be historically correct, but also to create a tension between a sense of heritage and a fresh and contemporary expression.