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What really goes into a font? According to 80east Design, a design firm based in New York, a lot of color and experimentation. The firm was recognized in PRINT’s 2017 Regional Design Awards for its Blümenhaus font, and creative director Trevor Messersmith says that it all comes down to play.
“I have been making typefaces as a personal side project over the course of the last few years,” Messersmith says. “I started working on Blümenhaus on a whim—starting with the ‘A’ and ‘G’ characters.”
The font wasn’t designed for a client, but it did turn into its own branding project. According to Messersmith, he and his partner moved to the Hudson Valley a few years ago, and he used the typeface in materials he made (like notecards and pencils) for their house. “A friend who stayed with us for the weekend made fun of me and said ‘You know, not everything has to be a design project,’ but in my world, it sure does,” he says.
With the rise of the bespoke font in recent years, taking a D.I.Y. approach was essential. “I’ve always been interested in typography, but only recently started making my own typefaces,” Messersmith says. “It’s hard to outline a process for this work, because how ideas come to me is very random; I usually just start with one or two character forms and work out a system from there.”
The font, which starts with hues of purple, goes through the rainbow—from hues of reds, orange and yellow, through greens and blues—before returning to purple again, and dare I say, ends on a “millennial pink” color and then a peachy hue for the letter ‘Z.’
Messersmith began by working with contrasting weights and thicknesses, while trying to contain tension in a single alphabetical character. “I was hoping to create a typeface that was silly and serious at the same time,” Messersmith says. “Paula Scher is a big influence on me—her use of type as expression is unparalleled.
As for the rainbow range of colors in the font, it originates from the idea of contrast, according to Messersmtih. “It’s a spectrum, but using less saturated and more saturated tones in the range of colors,” he says.
Messersmith is an award-winning graphic designer and photographer who has worked with clients like The Princeton Review, Coca-Cola and Disney. Messersmith, who began 80east Design in 2002, wanted to fuse his interests in design, photography and digital media after graduating from Bard College, where he studied photography. (He also studied graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design.) Though his photo artwork has been exhibited in places like the California Museum of Photography, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, he is also recognized for his design and was a winner of PRINT’s Typography & Lettering Awards in 2016.
Though he doesn’t speak the German language, “Blümenhaus” translates from “Flower House” in German. “German can be hilarious and beautiful in its use of compound word, and in this case, the lyrical ‘blümen’ with the rougher sound of ‘haus’ echo,” Messersmith says. “I liked the idea of using a compound word for this typeface; the ‘U’ character especially looks like a tulip. But after I came up with the name, a native German speaker friend of mine called me out for misusing the umlaut over the ‘u,’ so now it’s strictly an affectation.”
Though this playful font was a passion project, the biggest challenge putting this type together was the element of play. It was used as an escape in today’s harsh world of business. “I worked on this project during a rough patch with certain client jobs where I was dealing with an excess of unconstructive criticism,” Messersmith says. “To combat that energy, I followed my own instincts to create this typeface. It really was a joy.”