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It takes a certain kind of focus and discipline to design an original typeface, plus a tremendous amount of research—not to mention the patience needed to keep drawing and re-drawing the same letterforms over and over until they hold together as a unified family. These four student type designers demonstrate that being short on experience is no obstacle to producing a killer typeface, and that a fresh take on the subject is often a very good thing indeed.
Four Student Typeface Designers to Watch
1. Simoul Alva
Alva, a student at the National Institute of Design, India, designed Vixen as a solution to a classroom assignment during an exchange semester at the École Supérieure d’Art et de Design de Reims, France. The alphabet explores the play between black and white and challenges ambiguity of form through structures not typically found in Latin scripts. For instance, letters such as the lowercase ‘d,’ ‘h,’ and ‘b’ employ a horizontal stroke in their ascenders, a characteristic native to the Devanagari script for the Hindi language. “I was driven to create a typeface that didn’t shy away from being peculiar,” Alva says. “In this age of visual noise, creating something that has a voice of its own or that even seems remotely memorable is harder than ever.” Vixen won a 2018 Certificate of Typographic Excellence from the Type Director’s Club, guaranteeing that it will not be soon forgotten.
2. Zach Bokhour
Inform, Bokhour’s senior thesis project at Vassar College, is an experiment meant to explore how typefaces can support or contradict socially constructed gender norms. “Type is arguably the most ubiquitous form of media in the modern world—we encounter it countless times every single day—so it seemed important to take a close look at how it functions and how it influences the ways we think about our world,” Bokhour says. “If we use a ‘masculine’ typeface in designing for a tech company, are we contributing to a culture that discourages women from working in STEM fields? If we use a ‘feminine’ typeface for a childcare product, are we reinforcing the notion that men don’t have responsibilities as parents and caretakers?” This provocative type project forces a hard look at our subconscious first reactions to content based on the letterforms used to convey it, and questions our assumptions from the outset.
Zeit Grotesk is the newest offering from Fileccia, who designed two typefaces, Virginia and Norma, while still a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Virginia was meant specifically to accompany the novels of Virginia Wolff, while Norma was an experiment in creating a sans-serif out of strips of black paper. For Zeit Grotesk, Fileccia was inspired by a scan of a type specimen circa 1915 from the Bauersche Gießerei (Bauer Type Foundry) that he came across. “I was fascinated by the typography that was nearly a century old yet felt so new, and shocked to see sans-serif typefaces from the early 20th century that never quite made their way onto computers, Fileccia says. “Something about this old typography seemed to beat the test of time. Zeit Grotesk was my interpretation and a composite of features from many lost typefaces I discovered in my research.” By studying how small trends like the terminals of letter strokes evolved over time, he was inspired to create Zeit Grotesk as three typefaces in one: a core sans-serif with three options for terminal endings to provide that element of timelessness.
4. Wing-Sze Ho
Ho, a student at FIT, was captivated by the simple charm of Miffy, a beloved children’s book character created by Dick Bruna. When Ho noticed that there was no unified type style from one Miffy book to another, he decided to create a unique typeface, Nijintje, during a summer residency at the School of Visual Arts TypeLab. His research turned up influences from De Stijl to Matisse, but the most overwhelming realization came, as is often the case, during a point of great frustration. Ho was trying to use the hand-drawn quality of Bruna’s line to construct his typeface, but something critical was missing. Flipping through Kimberly Elam’s primer Geometry of Design, Ho found an example of the use of regulating lines in Le Corbusier’s architecture, specifically a diagram of the Facade of the Arsenal of the Piraes. “I traced the diagram to get a sense of the proportions, and overlaid my tracing with one of Bruna’s Miffy drawings and saw that the same geometric structure and mathematics were at work,” he says. Who would have thought that an artist would draw a little bunny (konijntje in Dutch) according to the principles of the Golden Mean? This application of geometry was just what the typeface needed, and from there it was smooth sailing to completion.”