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Thierry Blancpain

Co-founder of the independant Swiss type foundry Grilli Type.

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Hello Thierry how are you?

I’m great, thanks. I just came back from a visit to New York, which is always fun.

Great! We would like to know more about you. Can you introduce yourself?

I’m one half of Grilli Type, an independent Swiss type foundry started in 2009. A friend once described me as an “internet person”, which fits me quite well. I love the intersection of design and technology and all the things made possible by that – like starting a small type foundry while still being students. I studied Visual Communication at the Bern University of the Arts from 2007 to 2010 and have been a freelance web and identity designer before, during and after studying. Now I work full time for Grilli Type. I met my co-founder Noël Leu when he joined our class from ECAL after the first semester. We quickly became friends after I saw him work on a typeface on his first day in school.

Can you tell us more about your approach of type design and why starting a type foundry was important for you?

All of our typefaces aim to be very precise expressions of specific concepts that one of our designers finds interesting. GT Walsheim was about bringing the hand-lettered poster type of Otto Baumberger into a digital, permanent shape, and through that dealt with the perfect but imperfect circular shapes in geometric type. GT Pressura on the other hand was about dealing with the very sharp reproduction of type in today’s printing processes, and how to bring back softness into digital type in a non-nostalgic way. It’s about finding an interesting visual and conceptual idea and following it to its logical conclusion – all while not forgetting about craftsmanship and production quality, which are very important in type design. After all we create tools.

We started the type foundry at the same time as we started our small publishing house, Edition Grilli, during a university project together with two other friends. As with the publishing house, we wanted to control everything from the idea to the finished product, even if that meant sending files to a risograph printer for days on end, binding books ourselves, and so on. Over the years the publishing house has stayed a mostly fun-oriented side-project, while the type foundry has slowly found a more professional footing, leading to Noël and myself now mainly working on the type foundry.

We stayed an independent type foundry, only selling through our own website, because we believe it is the best path for ourselves and our designers. We like having full control of the interaction with our customers – offering free trial fonts is one example for that.

Are you working on a typeface?

We are always working on new typefaces. All of our designers are first graphic and only second type designers, so it usually takes two years to complete a typeface family. Those hybrid designers are often seen disparagingly by full-time type designers, but we strongly believe that being the first users of our own typefaces leads to more interesting designs. We don’t create stylistic exercises but tools for ourselves, and the ones we deem the most interesting we then go on to build out to complete families ready for release.

You told me that you’re working on releasing a new website and typeface for Grilli Type. Can you tell us more?

We are working on releasing our first serif typeface, GT Sectra, which is also going to be the biggest family we have released yet. It will include three subfamilies of ten styles each. Sectra is the typeface drawn by the Zurich-based design studio Moiré, together with Noël, for their design of the Reportagen magazine. That design, including GT Sectra, was recently awarded the Design Prize Switzerland.

At the same time we are also working on our new website, which will support mobile phones and tablets much better. It’s a super interesting time to be a type foundry – finally technology allows for beautiful type on the web, and as a foundry it’s definitely important to show your own typefaces in the best light possible.

How does Grilli Type choose and select new typefaces to publish?

We only release typefaces that both Noël and I find interesting, we trust our instinct, and they have to add something to the world that doesn’t exist yet. Typefaces are a very gradual field, there’s nothing completely new – after all, typefaces have to be readable, so they have to more or less conform to the existing alphabet. So we operate in those few percents that are variable, that can change, and find a new space in there that’s still unexplored.

What do you think about the current flow of type design?

Type design is at a very interesting point in its development. Whenever the technology for print (and now screen) production changes, type production changes with it. The last century saw three distinct type reproduction technologies – metal, photo, and now digital type – and each time the changes brought with them new designs that were impossible before. The DTP revolution of the 80s and 90s brought with it a lot of really horrible digitalizations of classics, some of which are still really bad designs due to their hasty conversion to digital formats.

But we’re now at a point where the tools for both type production and type use are relatively mature. This also allows for more mature designs. Sometimes, that maturity shows in its design, sometimes in its feature set. In GT Sectra for example, we are including short descenders as an option, so that you can set very tight headlines without being constrained by long descenders in letters like the j and g. Of course the same technological possibilities are also abused for useless features, but that’s just the reality of what available technology leads to.

As you wrote on Twitter, you’re a friendly Internet person. Could you tell us your thought / ideas of the future of Internet?

I have no idea how exactly the Internet will look like in 15 years, but I’m excited to get to experience this period of change. A good way to go about this is to look back at the beginning of other media technologies. In 1946, Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, said “People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” He was obviously completely wrong. But back then, people had three black and white channels and had to get up each time they wanted to change the volume. In 1982 you could download the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper over the Internet, but it took two hours and cost $10, without any images, of course. If you look at our current technology as a black and white TV with three channels, I’m very positive about what the next 30 channels and the remote control will bring with them.

The last word.

It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me!

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>   thierryblancpain.com

>   grillitype.com

Interview : Dennis Moya & Tiffany Baehler – 03.14

Images ©Grilli Type – GT Walsheim designed by Noël Leu, GT Pressura designed by Moiré, GT Haptik designed by Grotesk.cc, GT Spectra designed by Moiré and Noël Leu.

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