Axel Pelletanche-Thévenart is a French graphic and type designer currently based in London.

Hello Axel how are you?

Hello everybody. I moved to London for a few months and I feel very excited. It will be crazy busy but all indicators are on green so I’m great. Thank you Ligature for having me and for your interest in my work!

Can you introduce yourself?

Well, I am a 23 years old graphic and type designer based in Paris. I graduated last June from Ecole Estienne with a MA in type design after I studied at Ecole Boulle and then graphic design at Ecole Duperré. Studies are over for now, and I’m now taking the time to travel a bit and learn new experiences while interning here and there: I am currently at John Morgan studio. I also started to work freelance. Lucky me, there is many things on the table.

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

While I grew up in Paris suburbs (s/o to 94 district), I wasn’t so much into graffiti and tag culture like many graphic designers do or say — that’s a pity. In my case, I rather drew interest in sports where material, logos, equipment or outfit are offering a wealth of material and content. I used to buy many specialized magazines and even run a stamp collection for a few months! I used to row a lot while younger and I found the sport’s image to be very graphically pleasing; it actually became (with literature) one of my main research focuses for my diploma project at Ecole Duperré. For the rest, my mum is a French teacher and my father is working in the paper industry. It is funny how they are both related to books but relatively unaware of their design. I do not know if that plays a role but I can definitely see a kind of link now.

Can you tell us more about one of your project?

Last year (Summer 2015), I’ve designed a typeface part of my internship at Building Paris. The brief sounded simple: Guillaume & Benoît needed a bespoke monospaced font to develop a publication but they didn’t come up with any kind of formal or historical references. Then, most of the design choices had to be decided by the time remaining: two weeks left. We started analyzing some contemporary fonts and came to the conclusion that the supply of serif mono was very poor. As a test, I have distorted a Garamond into a mono… Profane! But it helped me to define rules to facilitate the design: rectangular/parallel stem and the simplest possible serifs, geometric, triangular. “Pas le temps de niaiser”. Then, these serifs became an adjustment value for the width of my glyphs: some are so narrow and crude and some are very wide then very acute. Much of the identity of the font comes from that: the sparkle of serifs. There are obviously very rationalized humanistic references and some shapes come from blades and knives to follow this sharpness. Finally the font had been use for different projects, like a book published by Spector. Several months ago, Émilie Rigaud who handles « A is for… » type foundry offered us to distribute it. Best team! I was pretty scared by the fact that a longer development time could end up with a loss of the original spirit but Knif mono is about to be available and the family is going to be completed. Stay tuned!

Do you have a favorite typeface?

Obviously not, I am for sure too curious and insatiable for that. But I can say that I have a strong duality of tastes, shared between the graphic and type designer I am. There are so many tasty and attractive shapes in typefaces that I love for their virtuosity but I might not use it as a graphic designer. On the other hand, I am sometimes surprised by some choices I do as a graphic designer… For instance, some fonts I find more functional but a bit boring sometimes. During the last two years at Ecole Estienne, I had to use almost exclusively my fonts to design specimens or posters and that’s what drove me to always elaborate letters able of this ambivalence. I try to aim for fonts adequately designed for (short) text purpose but greedy and expressive enough!

A designer that you admire?

I am very young so I am for sure still under some influences but actually not focus on any movement, style or period. As a French type designer, I am a huge fan of Roger Excoffon, it is obvious: he is always wherever I go. I am more and more attentive to the work of calligraphers. It seems like there is a new interest in Oscar Ogg work. On French side, Louis Jou pieces are very exciting! Then in the type design field, contemporary designer like Peter Bil’ak, Berton Hasebe, Alejandro Lo Celso or Frantisek Storm are a real source of inspiration for me. It can be both on the conceptual or the pure style approach. I was introduced to the typography with the work of Zuzana Licko and Emigre. Obviously the work of my teachers, including Franck Jalleau and Michel Derre, and how they share their knowledge was crucial. As part of my thesis, I took the opportunity to study the work of Wim Crouwel and it represented a major turning point in my practice: recently, my work has become more systematic. I also realized that I felt very close to the work of Herb Lubalin; I admire the right balance between ease and poetry in his work. Same for designer as Willy Fleckhaus. Then, I feel the young contemporary Paris scene very strong and impressive: the competition is strong but healthy. It is sad we recently lost Frédéric Teschner. I met him a few months ago and he was as joyful and refreshing than his work.

Is there a book which opened your eyes about design?

Too many and not enough! Last year was very dense in terms of reading. I also went back to read more literature, mainly Philip K. Dick for my degree for which Michel Foucault was also decisive. Nevertheless in terms of design, I found the recent work of Baldinger–Vu-huu on Aby Warburg texts (published by L’écarquillé) terribly smart and clever. Everything is astute and the result is impressive. For all of his work, Philippe Millot (Cent Pages, ADPF…) is in my opinion an impressive book designer. He is playing a lot with content, design… and maybe with us too. His work is highly referenced and cultivated, sometimes difficult to tame but with a little practice… very exciting to read!

The last word…


Pictures & projects by Axel Pelletanche-Thévenart.

Interview: Dennis Moya and Tiffany Bähler, 09.16