THE SHELF — Interview

The Shelf, Colin Caradec and Morgane Rébulard, graphic and type designers.
Founders of The Shelf Journal and Company, Paris.

Hello Colin Caradec & Morgane Rébulard, how are you?

Hello, we’re fine. We’re happy to finally reply to your questions, a year after we met at Les Journées Romandes de la Typographie.

Can you introduce yourselves?

We are two graphic and type designers working in Paris. We met 8 years ago in class at the École Estienne were we studied typography. We also publish a bi-annual review about editorial and book design called The Shelf Journal.

Where does your interest in graphic design and type design come from?

We both liked drawing when we were kids. Then we thought there was some money to make in graphic design, we were wrong, but we still like drawing a lot so we deal with it.

How did you come to start up the Shelf Company?

We started the company with the idea of the journal. We wanted to publish the magazine ourselves so we created a proper structure in order to do it alongside our work for clients.

Can you tell us more about The Shelf Journal?

The Shelf Journal deals with editorial design, book design and what we call the “cult of the shelf” which is the inherent attraction of books toward their owners or readers.

In term of content, we created different sections, which allows us to deals with articles of different kinds and topics. As an example, the central section of the Journal is called Me, my shelf and I. It consists in a meeting with a graphic designer (to this day: Pierre Di Sciullo, Derek Birdsall, Massin & Vier5) via a selection of books extract from his personal library. This is a good way to understand and appreciate how books interact with a designer’s work. On another hand, Shelf Mark is a section where we deal with books or documents from libraries which keep some rare or amazing pieces of exception or with libraries which stand for themselves as very peculiar.

Dealing with its design, there are two pragmatic reasons which drove the layout of The Shelf where it is: The fact that French and English texts are always next to each other and the question about showing a book in a book. These two design problems are the core of the layout. They have been solved in a way some would say clever, others would say quirky… We often describe this work as functional-ornamentalism. We like to think ornaments as structural parts of the layout, not only as decoration. For instance, showing books in the Journal involved three types of photographs: frontal spread or cover shot, frontal single page shot, and close-up. In the first case, the photograph is put on a shelf, in the second case it’s hold by a “newspaper holding-clip” and finally in the third case we put the photograph in a frame. What drove us to make it this way is that it helps giving books their materiality back, and confers some space to pages. We like to design spreads as room where it would be pleasant to live and books like houses it would be fun to walk into. Each section of the Journal was also the occasion to draw esoteric vignettes, which evoke their different states of mind. What can be felt in our aesthetic is a will for mixing what’s good in tradition with what’s interesting in post-modernism.

What’s the idea behind the front covers?

We launched the magazine with the idea of a collection. The graphic design is quite the same from an issue to another. Each cover represents a shelf containing books. Each book corresponds to a book featured in The Shelf. The “under-cover” page displays the same shelves, but each book is represented there by its title. It is a sort of archive of every books that have been dealt with inside the review.

The variants between each cover are the amount of book in the shelf, increasing in order to represent new books featured in new issues, the type of paper, the color of the edges and the “fake binding” design of the back. This very strict policy about the cover gives a strong identity to the journal, yet it allows very different kinds of feelings with the choice of paper, and the printing process.

We would like to know more about the Mabel typeface.

It is an upright script inspired by letterings for title pages by William Addison Dwiggins and named after the name of his wife. It uses the typical gimmick of the thick and thin junction from Dwiggins’ handwriting but the whole aspect of the font is quite far from the original inspiration. It’s a good example of how we design typefaces, starting from calligraphic habits or defaults to find original forms. We created this typeface for the titles in the magazine. It gives a unique color to the layout and work quite well with our two text typefaces (Le Polyglotte and The Polyglot). We also designed an ornaments set, which go with the typeface and is displayed in the layout as well.

The typefaces you designed are only for your own use?

Our typefaces are always made for specific purposes, but we are not against their diffusion if there is a need or a proposition. We are not a foundry, it is a skill we don’t try to have. We like designing typefaces but we also like the freedom of creating them when we want to, away from constraints foundries can have.

What do you think about the fight between the paper and the digital?

We are often asked about that. It is pretty obvious that we prefer physical books but it doesn’t make us digital-phobics. We work in this field as well and quite enjoy it too. Digital publishing is interesting for spreading information, stories, images etc. in a larger scale, with cheaper costs, but if there is a real fight (which we think there’s not) the fact that paper doesn’t need batteries to be read makes it win. Paper fighting against digital is as dumb as rapper’s clashes, it’s good for sales but not very interesting when you get to the bottom of it.

Is there any designer you appreciate a lot?

There is lot of designers we find interesting, with some of their work we love. If we have to choose we’d say editorial design works from Philippe Millot, Mirko Borsche & William Addison Dwiggins, information design from Francesco Franchi, illustrations from Eric Gill and typefaces cutted by Richard Austin.

We are all book lovers. Which books are on your bedside table?

Morgane : Vernon Sullivan (B. Vian), Et on tuera tous les affreux.
Colin : Honoré de Balzac, Illusions perdues.

The last word…

Rock and roll !



Interview : Dennis Moya and Tiffany Baehler – 10.14

Images ©The Shelf.