Getting on Base

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“Base” is a face created to become a compositional element of Milan-based designer and publisher Franco Cervi’s “own artistic output,” which is shown as a very small preview in three screen prints that can be seen here. The face currently appears in a well-designed specimen book available through his 279 Editions (email I recently got him to talk more about typographic exploration:

What was your goal in designing BASE?A minor premise is needed to answer this question (linking back to our previous interview). In professional terms I have always thought of myself as being on the disciplinary borderline between graphic design and pure art. I have always appreciated the more intellectual, radical and experimental side of graphic design. I’m thinking about the Bauhaus, for starters, and then the art avant-gardes, Kinetic Art, Op Art, Minimal Art and Neo-Geo.

One crucial figure for me has been Wim Crouwel, in my view one of the few very great graphic artists of the 1900s. I have always loved abstract typographical forms, starting with his “New Alphabet” that literally blew me away when I was 20. The “New Alphabet” comes from experimentation on geometric matrices and mathematical ratios, the same kind of research that today more than ever catches my attention, packed with philosophical overtones.

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Tell me more about the face and its inspiration.My research is based on concepts of geometric rigor; I study the mathematical ratios between parts, between full and empty zones, subject and background; I apply rules of Pythagorean geometry, and in this context “Base” represents “the minimum compositional unit” (hence its name), because each letter is generated by the matrix that will then be extended to the whole composition.

It is a very eccentric face. Do you see long-term use?I cannot rule out the idea that “Base” might be used commercially, but at the moment I think of it only as a part of my artistic production (I use the term “artistic” because although my works use the skills and forms of graphic design, they are conceived to be disconnected from any concept of “applied art”). For me, formal rigor is an absolute value; if a form is geometrically pure and free of any aesthetic trends, it will tend not to age. This is a classic Zen concept that has been underlined over the last 20 years by Steve Jobs. In any case, “Base” is a niche face that could be used more to express the cultural references behind it than for real professional needs.

It is also a very fluid face.The fluidity comes from the continuous line that, developing on the matrix, never betrays its fundamental formal premises. This internal consistency sometimes goes against legibility, but based on the assumptions outlined in my first answer, perfect legibility was never one of the main objectives of the project. There is also a “Black” version, used at the moment only in a few of my works, and not yet encoded in a publication. (A complete book that illustrates my different sets of characters—”Base 1,” “Base 2,” “Base 3,” etc., each in its different weights—and their relationship with the overall composition is now being prepared; probably a preview will come first, in the form of a booklet.

I was undoubtedly influenced by the best Italian industrial design of the 1960s: the ‘lunar’ forms of Joe Colombo … but also those of Verner Panton and Naum Gabo …

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The Typographic Universe: Letterforms Found in Nature, the Built World and Human ImaginationIn this hardcover volume, Steven Heller and Gail Anderson feature more than 300 examples of nontraditional typography, complete with 500 color illustrations. If you’re looking for inspiration for your creations, it’s time to explore the world around you.

Posted inThe Daily Heller Typography