NOUVELLE NOIRE — Interview
We are glad to present the Zurich-based type design and development studio
Nouvelle Noire. Founded by Clovis Vallois and Anton Studer, their typefaces won several awards (Type Directors Club New York, an ED Awards and a nomination for the German Design Award 2014). But the recent big thing was the release of the “Apeloig Type Library” which is a compilation of ten typefaces created by the French designer Philippe Apeloig (check out our – French speaking – interview with him) and developed into full working fonts by Nouvelle Noire.
Hello Clovis Vallois and Anton Studer, how are you?
We are fine, thank you.
Can you introduce yourselves?
We are two young enthusiasts and idealists accidentally working in the field of typography and type design. Both of us studied graphic design and somehow became addicted to black shapes on white background. Especially in designing them.
Clovis is a very careful person a real perfectionist. He is a quiet guy that has a very good hand for nice design but sometimes he is not aware of it. Anton likes to work fast he is like a workhorse. Sometimes he oversees some elementary details. He loves constructive critic and sometimes he is thinking too much about everything.
Tell us more about both of you and the Nouvelle Noire studio.
We are a small type design studio. Our interest is anything about reading in a bigger context. This means that on one hand we are focusing on the development of best readable text typefaces and on the other hand we are working on highly experimental typefaces. We like to explore the borders and conventions of readability with creating unexpected shapes.
Can you tell us more of how you work together?
When we founded Nouvelle Noire in the beginning of 2012, we were both living in Zürich, there was no physical distance between us, we even lived in the same building, which makes the collaboration easy.
Mid of 2012 Clovis went to Paris, to work on the signage system for the Louvre Abou Dhabi in collaboration with Philippe Apeloig for the Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Anton continued to work from Zurich. The distance was increased and we started to communicate a lot using Skype and Emails. We have a very open way of communicating, we tell each other what we are thinking and our decision processes are really quick. It is unbelievable but we pull in the same direction, we both share the same vision of what Nouvelle Noire is or where we would like to be in a few years and our common understanding just matches perfectly.
Where does your interest in type design come from? Why are you doing this profession?
Clovis — During my studies in Freiburg, south Germany I was confronted with the works of the Swiss Designers, Armin Hoffmann, Müller-Brockmann, Wolfgang Weingart, just to name a few, it was a revelation. The use of type was strong and the design approach was very different from the designs I was used to see. Today it belongs to the general graphic culture, but at this time for a student it was great. There is no special reason for doing this profession, life is a accumulation of things, and the right things are falling into place at the right time, I just follow what it feels right to do.
Anton — When I was studying graphic design in Zurich my interest was focused on illustration and comic drawing. While working out my diploma work I discovered my fascination for typography and type. Accidentally I went to the information event for the CAS Type Design at the Zurich University of the Arts with a colleague.
We both registered to the course. I soon realized that I had no idea of type design at that time but it has pulled me into its spell, so that I’m hardly doing anything else since then. I just fell in love with type. And the problem is the more I know about it the more I love it.
Can you talk to us about your huge collaboration with Philippe Apeloig and his studio? What was the idea?
Clovis — I met Philippe Apeloig in Paris when I was intern in his studio, this was in 2005. This time period opened my eyes to the design world and showed me the professional side of what it means to be a graphic designer. I remember of being submerged by design and art, always, all the time, it was a real confrontation. It helped me to get a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and what I didn’t want to do. I owe Philippe Apeloig a lot for this time. He was my mentor and he had a very important influence in my professional development.
Beside the studio work I was working on my diploma, which was related to type design. After my diploma I went to Zurich to study Type Design and later I became assistant of Prof. Rudolf Barmettler at the Zurich University of the Arts.
I knew the massive body of work Philippe has achieved in terms of type design in the past twenty years. The fact that he had designed typefaces for many of his projects seems to me like a natural process. This approach is probably the core element of his artistic work.
In 2007 Tino Grass started to work on the book project, which is now published under the name “Typorama: The Graphic Work of Philippe Apeloig “. Discussions about making an exhibition were going on and I thought that contributing with completing this piece of work was the right thing to do.
At this time, it was in the beginning of 2012 Anton and I just launched Nouvelle Noire. For me it was clear that neither a book nor exhibition could be without a special point on type design. We came to Philippe with this project idea of digitalizing, completing and developing a chosen number of typefaces. He was delighted with this idea and we started right away. First we had to look at the types, which were all designed for different projects, mainly for posters or visual identities. For many types there were only sketches and a few digital letters available, for other typefaces the alphabets were more completed and digitally available.
The type is the core of Philippe’s work, it is like the spine of a body. In his type designs you can see his approach, on concepts and shapes, there is almost a radical position, always in search of the most appropriate answer to the given question. There is a search for the form, a strong will to simplify forms and to go a step further. His types are challenging, on the edge between readability and appropriate expression.
Philippe had a big trust in us and he was confident in our ability to achieve this work. We are very thankful for this, because it is probably one of the most difficult steps to achieve to give his own work away into other peoples hand.
Through the fulfilment of this library, the types can enjoy a second life. They are not anymore restricted to Philippe’s creations, they are now available for everyone and we are thrilled to see how other designers will work with them.
You won several awards with typefaces like Medien and Rejka. Anton, can you tell us more about the process behind a project like Medien?
Anton — During my Master studies at the MAS Type Design and Typography at the Zurich University of the Arts I started to work on the “Medien” typeface as a semester project. The target was to develop a typeface for the use in digital media. The idea behind “Medien” is that it’s formal design fits with the square grid generated by the pixel. After the first sketches and basic character I developed the whole family as my diploma work.
Because I didn’t want to do any manual hinting work after designing the typeface, I developed the shape in a way that it matches well with the pixel grid. During the development I was checking out the shape in different sized platforms, browsers and applications until the shape was perfect. I did it that way for every single character and step-by-step the whole “Medien” family grew. In parallel I tested the font on printed matter, the target was to design a typeface which works on both screen and printed media. It shouldn’t become a typeface which is only made for screen media and is looking weird in printed matter as others do. The goal was to develop a typeface that serves the need of a typeface for cross media use.
Is there any designer or movement you appreciate a lot?
Clovis — I have no particular ideal. There are many very interesting designers and art movements in the past and contemporary times. I appreciate different approaches and visual languages.
Anton — If there is one particular it is constructivism. This doesn’t mean that I like all that geometric things but some how this art movement catches my attention from time to time and I discover similarities to what we do by designing typefaces. I really would love to explain it properly but I’m still thinking of the real relation.
Do you have any advice to give to students and future designers?
Clovis — Work hard, pursue your way, be confident.
Anton — Trust your eyes and forget about measuring.
Which books are on your bedside tables?
Anton — “The Naked Eye” by Charles Saatchi.
Clovis — (Thelonious) “Monk”, by Laurent de Wilde.
The last word…
See, listen, taste, touch, smell and love.
Interview : Dennis Moya & Tiffany Baehler – 12.13
Images ©Nouvelle Noire.