Our catalyst was that we believed we wouldn’t be able to get jobs. It was 2009, so the crash had just begun. Therefore we started out on our own.
The emergence of the digital world has seen typography gain a new lease of life. Not only gracing the wallpaper of everyday life, in print and signage, type now rules the digital interfaces we interact with. Informing us if a brand would like you to think of it as amiable, forward-thinking and youthful (think the sans serif rebranding of Airbnb, Spotify or Google, or conversely, a serif style a la Budweiser), to represent a sense of heritage.
This contemporary ‘need’ has ushered in new players over the last decade, introducing us to new visual landscapes whilst creating opportunities for new font foundries to flourish. In step Colophon Foundry: a London / Los Angeles studio, setup in 2009 by Anthony Sheret and Edd Harrington. The pair came to prominence for their Aperçu design released in 2010, achieving cult status in its use by institutions such as MOMA. Keeping things moving, the studio have recently released an updated version — Aperçu Arabic.
Colophon’s custom designs have also earned them an impressive client list such as Fanta, Virgin, Rapha, Nasty Gal and rebranding of King’s Cross‘ real estate development area in north London.
Colophon’s Anthony gives us a brief peek into the world of type creation, setting yourself apart from competitors, and the benefits of diverse skill-sets in a team.
Q) How would you describe Colophon [your brand] in five words?
Colourful, dynamic, detailed, bold, confident.
Q) What was the catalyst to start your own foundry and launch into business?
We begun a design studio, The Entente in 2009 and launched Colophon Foundry three months later. Our catalyst was that we believed we wouldn’t be able to get jobs. It was 2009, so the crash had just begun. Therefore we started out on our own.
Q) Why typography? What appealed to you the most about this specific discipline of graphic design?
Edd and myself had both drawn typography for university projects, mostly a few letters for a poster. When we started the studio ten years ago we had little work, and needed something to occupy our time. It steadily became a larger part of our practice, and over the years we built up our catalogue of typefaces.
Q) How do you approach the creative process of designing a new font family for the catalogue? Is it an organic process of working off a random node of inspiration or is it more methodical e.g. self initiated brief led?
A lot of work has a catalyst from design work. We work on photography books for a publisher, STANLEY / BARKER, and quite often we will draw type. They normally only appear in a small essay, the cover and colophon, so it makes a great playground to develop ideas and experiment. Most of these ideas never see the light of day, but some are developed into full commercial releases.
As we have grown this way of working has changed, and for the last year and a half we have been expanding and re-mastering our whole catalogue (including extensions into a variety of other languages such as Cyrillic + Arabic). New type releases are also on the way, but we have worked hard to develop a very high standard to what we are doing.
We see our typefaces as software that should be continually evolved and developed.
Q) IP is the core of your business — how have you gone about establishing the value of your product in a competitive market?
We have heavily invested in our products over the years, extending into a variety of scripts, creating multiple Opentype features; allowing the user dynamic control over the tool. We see our typefaces as software that should be continually evolved and developed.
Q) Since setting up, how has the foundry industry changed? And were there areas you felt were ripe for disruption?
I think the market was looking at the smaller more curated output, and our custom work approach is quite different to any of our competitors — we truly try and immerse ourselves to make a bespoke solution rather than just applying typography to a brand — this is reflected through our process-based approach. Some of our projects prove this, where the type is a completely integral part to the brand expression.
Q) The business started off as a partnership, with you both having design as a core skillset. Outside of design – do you have set roles / responsibilities in the businesses now? How does that work?
Yes, we actually made a very conscious decision to have different skill sets that would allow us to diversify and take on a variety of types of work. Although the business has grown (at our last count we are 6), the principles of this diversifying skill set still apply. I think this approach to having a minimal crossover, allows for a richer and more varied output — by not working on some parts of projects we can spread our net wider, and also specialise in each of our skills.
Q) You’ve worked on a wide range of projects – what has been your most exciting accomplishment so far and the most challenging?
We really enjoy multi-faceted projects where we work on multiple type families (for example TESCO), or there is an inherent and specific solution to solve (for example Lafayette Anticipations). These projects required true collaboration and sometimes even creating software to help us solve problems.
Q) What current trends / culture, do you think will impact our ideas of typography?
Current trends lean towards variable fonts, but without a real application. Our view is that you require a high level of skill to be able to apply this.
Q) What advice would you give other creatives wanting to start their own independent ventures?
Patience. It took us a good five or six years to really gather pace and get going, it’s a long investment of energy and time to develop something. Also, I think trying not to repeat what is already happening in the market. I don’t see much value in recreating another competitor.
Q) What was the last book that you read?
Anthony — probably a book on plants!
Edd — The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
Q) What’s on your current playlist (music / podcasts)?
Studio playlist differs enormously! Some War on Drugs or Tycho probably!
Q) What’s next?
Bigger typography projects. More new releases. Further language extensions. More books.