Tancrède Ottiger, Lausanne-based graphic designer.

— Hello Tancrède, how are you?

Very well, thank you.

— Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Tancrède Ottiger. I’m a young graphic and type designer who graduated from ECAL last year. I’m actually splitting my time between a job as an assistant at ECAL and multiple jobs as a graphic designer.

— Where does your interest in graphic design come from?

I grew up in a family very concerned about art. My father is a practicing and teaching artist and my mother studied history of art and philosophy at university. It has always been pretty much clear for me that I wanted to study in an art school. I just didn’t know exactly which domain I wanted to explore.
I was and still am very interested in cinema but ended up starting ECAL in product design to finally switch for graphic design…

Mainly, what I love about graphic design is that it combines many elements from all those domains. It lets you meet people from all areas of work, which is very rewarding because you discover a new context in each job. Sometime it’s a book, some other time a website and some other a typeface. All those mediums have their own systematics and approaches.

Apart from that I must say that I love the rigor implied by a methodical approach to graphic design, which doesn’t necessarily output a strict aesthetic but more of a consistency. Typography allowed me to renew with the passion I once had for drawing but amplified with the systematic and precision made possible by today’s digital drawing tools.

— Would you like to explain to us one of your projects?

The Scottish type family is a project which started during my graduation project at ECAL. Scottish is a character built on the classic models (from the Renaissance period) but with a radical language. The family is composed of 3 different but complementary cuts: light, regular & bold with their corresponding italics. The starting point of this project comes from an old Scottish specimen in which I found some letters (a, p) with some surprising drawing choices for that time, like geometric square serifs.

Therefore, the challenge of this design was to reconcile a baroque structure that includes various calligraphic angles with the stability of a simple digital look. I’ve been wondering for quite some time about how to present this typeface. The fact is that the link between printed and physical space, which I know to be a well-known subject, still appeals me a lot. For this reason, I found interesting to reverse this two mediums (traditional uses), by making the viewer read text pages on the wall and look at big letters in the book.

In order to do so, I split the wall in four spaces, designed like book pages (with margins, grid for the type sizes and folios). The book is the printed version of that wall, at the exact same scale, and almost the same format. The folios at the bottom indicate how many pages are printed to translate that portion of wall (the wall is split from left to right, top to bottom, for each pages, in the normal reading direction).

The wall being only a transitory installation, it was also a way to keep a track of it. After having spend a lot of time drawing, it was nice to let the system sequence the book (white pages) and most importantly cut the letters, randomly, which emphasized the most basic components of type: black and white surfaces (random layouts). The letters are printed with a special varnish layer in order to look like the letters stitched on the wall. At the end of the book, there is no more varnish because it contains a reproduction of the wall and the character set of each cut.

Finally, this subject allowed me to make a book-object that links whisky to printed matter. I managed to cut one of my specimens in order to hide a small bottle inside and thus, to renew with the tradition of hiding bottles into books.

I’ve had the great opportunity to pursue this project for the Dutch magazine FRAME who wished to use it for its re-design. I’ve actually just sent the very final files. Having the chance to work in this concrete context was totally new to me and I learned a lot about the time it takes to draw a family, about what a full character set represents and about font mastering.

Basically they wanted a sans-serif adaptation of the existing Scottish, which revealed itself to be very challenging. Then Black cuts (Black & Black Italics) had to be drawn in order to complete the family. We also had up a few alternates like the r or the quotation marks. Finally the family had to be ready for print and digital use.

The family now embeds 16 cuts in total, with a character set of more than 500 glyphs and many OpenType features.

— Do you have a favorite typeface to work with?

Not particularly. I think the idea is not to have a favorite typeface but to choose the best suited for the job. Most of the time, I prefer to work with custom made typefaces in order to create a dialog between the drawing of the letters and the way they’re used. It creates a reciprocity which enriches both areas of work at the same time. I try to do it as often as I can.

But then of course I love to discover new ones, in order to observe them and sometimes use them.

— Is there any designer you appreciate a lot?

Of course: NORM, Cornel Windlin, Gavillet & Cie, Aurèle Sack, Laurenz Brunner and many others.

— Is there a book or a manifesto which opened your eyes about design?

Not really manifestos but approaches.

NORM’s methodology:

The general approach of the well-known Zurich based studio NORM inspires me a lot, as much in the aesthetic than the systematic. Their way of working is extremely rational and leads to a very beautiful and consistent design.

Laurenz Brunner’s bridge between mediums:

I admire Laurenz Brunner’s work in many ways, as much in type design than editorial or web design. Maybe one of the things that really opened my eyes in the last years is his projects involving a bridge between mediums: space & print (The Title of the Show with Julia Born, Unfolded), print & digital (Your Land/My Land). I think he’s really great at feeling and finding new ways of seeing today’s communication mediums (tools), and therefore experiment with these modern, yet unusual approaches that open new fields of experimentation for the graphic designers.

— The last word…

Thank you and take care!

Pictures and projects by Tancrède Ottiger.

Interview: Dennis Moya + Tiffany Bähler, 04.16

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