Trailblazers: Rich traditions at Grilli Type

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There's a strong Swiss-led tradition at the root of all of Grilli Type's typefaces, but it's the kind of tradition which silently and faithfully holds everything else up, rather than the sort which gets regurgitated over and over again. In fact, Grilli Type's designs are anything but predictable, and with the launch of GT Super on the horizon we caught up with founder, Thierry Blancpain, about the foundry's grounding design principles.

Hi Thierry! So first of all tell us, how is Grilli Type is different to other type foundries?

Hey! Well we strive to create typefaces that have a strong conceptual basis but a visually interesting result. Type is always strongly rooted in history – an ‘a’ has to look like an ‘a’ to the people reading it, otherwise it fails to do its job as a letter – but this seeming limitation actually allows for a lot of experimentation. We want to release typefaces that explore these rich traditions in interesting ways.

We also always create a visual world around each of our typefaces. We are graphic designers firstly and type designers second. This visual world manifests itself in printed matter, wooden toys, and of course in our mini sites (for example for GT Eesti, GT Cinetype, or GT America). We mostly design and build these websites by ourselves.


The foundry is specifically quite rooted in Swiss traditions. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Having grown up in Switzerland, the country’s visual traditions definitely had an effect on us. But this history is much more complicated than often perceived from the outside because whilst the classic Swiss-design style occured more than half a century ago, our teachers’ generation mostly worked against this design tradition and as a result we were taught to be more punk or to work against the status quo. This gave rise to illustration, xerox, riso copy machines and so on in the 80s.

Our generation has a more positive view of these traditions, and Swiss-design has also found its place in the general graphic design canon - we still use grids today and web design is even more restrictive in its stylistic expression than the Swiss-style layouts from back in the day.


Speaking of teaching, you also work as a lecturer. What are the main differences you've noticed in how the design students of today are taught compared to how you were?

Well I mainly teach about the business side of design: How can designers find a way to deal with the business world? How can they define their own personal understanding of entrepreneurship? That sort of thing!

I was on FFFFOUND as a student and then Tumblr. But nowadays students are on Twitter and Instagram so there’s definitely a difference in how they find work. What’s important to me, and what I try to teach students though, is that these inspirational sources shouldn’t be the only way they view the designs of today because inspiration from inside the graphic design world often leads to boring results - kind of like a centipede eating its own tail. That's been the same advice no matter what the generation though.


What's the most overused piece of advice you find yourself telling your students?

I try not to teach in cliches too much, but one thing I always try to stress to students is the need to communicate clearly and honestly with clients, customers, etc. ‘Marketing’ is a dirty word, but there are many ways to go about it without setting your soul on fire. Finding a way to interact with the world, whilst remaining true to your ethics and worldviews is important.


How about when you were a student, was there a moment when it suddenly clicked that you wanted to work as a type designer?

I started playing around with graphic design early on but I didn’t consider it as a career until I went to the design museum in Zurich a few years later. Seeing great design work made me realise it was something I truly loved and wanted to learn more about. Later I started playing around with creating simple geometric alphabets, and that made everything click.


What new projects do you have coming up that you can talk to us about?

Grilli Type’s next release will be GT Super by Noël Leu - a re-imagination of classic serif workhorse typefaces such as Times. It has a unique rhythm and an exuberant display subfamily, so it will be interesting to see how it’s used by other people. We’ve started work on the typeface’s minisite and it’s exciting to be able to use it ourselves.

I’m also working as a designer with my studio, Informal Inquiry, in New York and I just finished an illustrative project for the A/D/O space in Greenpoint; Brooklyn after being invited by my friends at Playlab. That was a lot of fun.


Name one typeface you wish you'd designed.

I’m really enjoying seeing Commercial Type’s Canela out in the world. It was designed by Miguel Reyes.

Where have you been proud to see your own typefaces in use?

There are lots of great, funny, and astounding uses of our typefaces in the world. I’m still particular to an eastern European ready-meal company which branded itself with our type a few years ago.

But I’ve also been really happy with our work for Pitchfork: first drawing their new wordmark; and then more recently drawing another custom wordmark for their music festivals.


And finally - if you could work anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

I work in New York City which is exactly where I want to be. The city’s energy is great and there are so many amazing people to meet every single day. Grilli Type will always be in Switzerland though, and I’m always happy to go back to my home country, especially to enjoy the beautiful nature there.



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