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Designer Spotlight

An interview with Roxane Gataud

March 08, 2017 by
David Sudweeks
David Sudweeks

David Sudweeks interviews French type and graphic designer Roxane Gataud on the creative process of the award-winning typeface Bely as well as how graphic design and type design fit together in her life—and she reveals her first type crush. This interview took place during TypeCon 2016 in Seattle, where Roxane received the Society of Typographic Aficionados’ Catalyst Award.

I’m speaking with Roxane Gataud. Gataud, how do I say it?

Roxane: You don’t pronounce the D. It’s pronounced like gâteau, the French word for cake.

Ah. That’s sweet.

Roxane: I know!

Alright. Let’s get started. What was it like taking Bely from a student project to a finished typeface, and who helped you along the way?

Roxane: Before starting the Ésad type program in Amiens and before entering the program, I was a total beginner in type designand vector drawing ( I’d never drawn not even a circle in Illustrator). At least at school I learned how to draw and to put down some ideas. I was a bit naïve, so I experimented a lot. And that’s how Bely (the first batch) came. I graduated and only two months after I received this amazing scholarship from TypeTogether. At that time I had been doing typeface design for a year in school, so I basically didn’t know much about typeface development. I had everything to learn. At Ésad Type, I was focusing on defining the shapes, finding the right color and making my ideas work in the main character set. Developing a full character set was something I wasn’t aware of, and I learned that with TypeTogether. I went quite slowly at first because I had no professional experience with type design. I was mainly working as a graphic designer after school.

Around a year after school, I started to work in the type design field. At first when I combined the knowledge I had from TypeTogether and my work experience, it was still a slow process. I was learning so many new things from different people. I tried to condense everything, like taking this advice from here, and that advice from there, and my brain was like, ‘Okay I have so much to process.’ I wasn’t moving forward, and I was quite anxious about releasing a typeface, because I was working with different foundries, and it was a great experience with so many talented people, so [I thought] ‘My typeface has to be perfect.’

So much pressure.

Roxane: It was my first one. I felt like it was the only typeface I would ever design in my life. Therefore it had to be as perfect as can be. It took me quite some time to realize that it’s okay. It was my first family, and that obviously I was going to want to change bits of it all the time. Once I got this, I worked more efficiently and was more confident about the design decisions I made.

What did you learn from Veronika and José?

Roxane: From TypeTogether I learned so much. What was great with them was that they trusted me with the designs, and they gave me feedback in order to push things further. They were patient, and took the time to give me feedback regularly, to explain things to me in a really pedagogic way on all the aspects of the development—from reworking the diacritics to the kerning.

And they guided you though a bit more experimentation?

Roxane: Yeah, even still in the development. I remember how I struggled with the capital G for the display for instance.

I was also open about the number of weights. I didn’t work using interpolation. I know that commercially it can sound a bit silly to just have these five styles all done by hand, but that’s how I conceived this typeface family back then. It came from my graphic design experience where I liked to be quite minimal. Graphic design and typeface design always relate to each other. When I have a graphic design project, it helps me improve in typeface design, and my typeface design skills improved my graphic design projects as well.

from the original Bely specimen.
from the original Bely specimen.

Bely’s final design
Bely’s final design

What first got you interested in type design?

Roxane: I was first interested in graphic design, especially book design and editorial. And I always loved using type. For my master’s degree I couldn’t find the typeface I needed, but I could see clearly what I wanted to use. With this project I thought ‘Okay, I want to be able to draw a typeface for my own projects.’ That’s why I came to the type design field. So I entered, and learned a lot at Ésad Type.

Interior shots of Roxane’s digital revival of Jacques Devillers’ typefaces.
Interior shots of Roxane’s digital revival of Jacques Devillers’ typefaces.

I discovered the history part, and the contemporary scene that I didn’t know at the time. It was quite a lot to take in. I remember also being really struck by Dwiggins’ work in the beginning. The ‘M’ formula inspired me a lot. I could say it was one of my first type crushes. It (the ‘M’ formula) was a revelation to me at school, and it helped me to push my drawings. I was also really into minimal graphic design at this time, and “radical” drawings. Like instead of making a serif with smooth brackets, I would draw it with the minimum number of points, with straight lines in between. So Dwiggins felt like evidence for this, if I can say.

Bely’s minimal serifs
Bely’s minimal serifs

Where do you want your work to go from here?

Roxane: Right now most of my work commissions are font production, from development. Which is stuff I like to do, I don’t mind doing that. I don’t even mind doing kerning. But what I prefer is designing, of course. That’s why I have a good amount of side projects. I try to find enough time during the week to work on them. I hope that in the future I will have more time to focus on design. I would like to keep working with graphic designers. Speaking about typeface design with a graphic designer is super interesting, it’s another point of view that is really inspiring for me. I like doing font production too, so I hope I will keep working with other typeface designers I admire. And of course, the biggest goal we all have: finish new typefaces. Design more, draw more, keep learning. I want to do so many things so, we’ll see what happens!

Thanks Roxane for your time and I wish you ever so much success out there. And congrats by the way on Bely’s recent recognition by the TDC!

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