Lisez moi en français.

Arno Baudin, Base’s Design Director in New York, had the opportunity of interviewing Ian Party, passionate type designer and founder of the type foundry Swiss Typefaces.

Arno Baudin: What is your academic and professional career and how did you discover your passion for typography?

Ian Party: I started by doing graffiti when I was 13 years old; that is how I met the people I am collaborating with today, Maxime (Maxime Buechi) and our new partner Emmanuel Rey.

It is only later that I realized that I wanted to be a graphic designer, without knowing for sure what that meant. I only knew that I wanted to keep drawing. So I took a preparatory class in Vevey, which was general training, and allowed me to dabble in everything. I learned sketch techniques, letter drawing, sculpture etc.

At 19 I wanted to go to l’ECAL. My parents didn’t want me to start studying again. They wanted me to find a job. So I did an apprenticeship. I stayed there for 3 years. I learned sign painting. It was one day a week and the rest of the time I was working for a company. You receive a very low income, but that allows you to start your professional life.

Then, I applied to l’ECAL anyway. I didn’t pass the entrance exam but I got an exemption and was allowed in. I studied graphic design there for 4 years. After graduating, I was offered to teach there, which I did with Maxime for a year. Next, I did my Master at La Royale Academy of La Haye for a year. Once I had my diploma, Maxime and I opened the type foundry “BP” (today Swiss Typefaces). Today, I continue teaching type design at l’ESCAL with François Rappo, Chief of the Visual Communication Department.

Font Market in Zurich: Swiss Typefaces invites designer Thibault Brevet to collaborate and experiment with the open-source vector plotter that he developed as part of his recent ECAL graduation project Grand-Central.

AB: Between type designing, logo designing, art direction, both for clients and for personal projects, what different activities is the type foundry involved in today?

IP: When we created the type foundry with Maxime, the goal was to do as many personal projects as we could and create our own typography. We wanted to take care of the entire process, from beginning to end. I always find it more interesting than working with clients. But, we of course also work with clients. The creation of logos is a big part of it. This is something that I personally love. It’s probably the thing I enjoy the most. It has the same visual challenges as the creation of typefaces, but with a whole identity to synthesize. I regret not doing it more often. It is complicated for a type foundry to be directly hired by clients for a logo. Most companies are interested in a more global approach and hire branding agencies. I think that those agencies should collaborate more often with typographers and outsource, amongst others, the creation of logos. That would be a “big win” in terms of quality for both parties. I honestly believe that there is no one better than a type designer to create logos. And creating logos is something that I use a lot to teach type design as it gives great creation opportunities.

I can't breath – Euclid BP Bold and SangBleu BP Condensed used during the Onlab Summer School 2012

AB : You sometimes work directly with your clients and sometime with other agencies?

IP: For fashion clients, we mostly work with directly the client. We also do consulting. I like doing both.

AB: What is the proportion of personal projects versus projects for clients?

It’s a mix. The requests from clients are often just customizations of existing fonts. But if I had to estimate, I would say 40/60, with a little more work being done for clients. We also have faced in-between situations; for example, we have been working on a big project for 2 years, which is halfway between a private font and a request from a client. It is a common project with a designer and a Lebanese type foundry called 29 Letters. The designer, Pascal Zorbi, creates Arabic fonts and I do the Latin equivalent. Those are not really private fonts, they are fonts for someone else, based on an aesthetic that is not mine but that I enjoy making. As a part of this, we worked with a “lifestyle” magazine from Abu Dabi. It was pretty cool. The type, “Shawati”, that I created, is probably one of the jobs from last year that I was most proud of. I often try to experiment with ideas that I have, and sometimes requests also end up being personal projects. For example, the type Shawati is going to become the type Suissse Sérif Display which looks similar to Big Calson. It is amazing to collaborate with that team from Abu Dhabi. I recently received the magazine and it is funny because those people have a lot of money and did something great with the production; it looks like an overdose of print tricks. It is a funny object.

Private headline typeface designed for the Shawati magazine by Swiss Typefaces and Pascal Zoghbi from 29arabic letters

Bukra Arabic (designed by Pascal Zoghbi from 29arabic letters,) and Latin designed by Swiss Typefaces

AB: We can see that the aesthetic of the type foundry, the website and of the fonts are very coherent. With a more Franco-Latin touch than the idea we have of a Swiss aesthetic; more personal and sensitive than pure function.

IP: I would say that we consider ourselves first and foremost as graphic designers. For us, typography design is graphic design. We don’t create bricks so that designers can build the walls. I think that by designing a font, we influence the aesthetic of the final objects. We sometimes create strong visual trends by designing the font, just like a photographer does with his images. As a result, we conceive a global aesthetic through our projects. And its passed on through a website aesthetic, amongst others. We care a lot about coherency and the need to create a particular product with clear intentions. This approach is especially well illustrated in Sang Bleu, realized with Maxime. We created a strong aesthetic link between images and typography.

SangBleu 6 Cover, with SangBleu typeface

When we were working on Sang Bleu, we were designing the fonts at the same time, the Romain and the Suisse, when we didn’t want to use Helvetica anymore. You mentioned France, I think that the History of typography is French. The best typography from the last 500 years is French. The 16th century with Garamond, the Romain du Roi (from which we created the Romain font)… I think that aesthetic marks the beginning of Swiss modernism. For me, the Swiss modernism, the Style International, begins in 1650 in France. The beginning of modernism seeps through in our modern aesthetic. All our fonts are a sort of heritage of the history of French typography, reinterpreted in our own way.

3 new exclusive weights of SangBleu BP done for Gillette woman. Those weights will be available for retail early 2014.

AB: Calling your type foundry “Swiss Typeface” is in a way completely contradictory, isn’t it?

IP: The name Swiss Typefaces is, I don’t hide it. Pure business. Let’s face it, in the entire world, in the collective unconscious, people consider typography a Swiss creation. Although, for me, it never really existed. We went from the name BP to Swiss Typefaces to be more commercial. Same thing for the logo, in four languages, which is not an image but text and which is very easily found on search engines.

Base five minutes poster using Euclide Medium typeface by Swiss Typefaces

Stay alert. Part 2 coming next week!