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Over the past sixteen years, The Foundry partners Freda Sack and David Quay have developed an enduring friendship with Wim Crouwel, through digitising his previous typefaces to new typeface development.
On a visit to Amsterdam in 1996, David Quay engineered a meeting with one of his longstanding graphic design heroes, Wim Crouwel. Although well-known among a certain group of designers, Crouwel 16 years ago was nothing like the revered figure that he is today. Quay asked Crouwel if he’d speak at one of the International Society of Typographic Designers events in London that he was organising with co-chair (and partner in their type studio The Foundry) Freda Sack. Crouwel agreed, and the lecture was a sell-out.
An enduring friendship between Crouwel and The Foundry was struck. Quay was fascinated by the typefaces Crouwel had designed while at Total Design and was amazed that none were available digitally. He proposed that The Foundry digitise and market them on Crouwel’s behalf.
Crouwel was surprised but flattered by the request. “In the nineties, my New Alphabet suddenly started appearing in English music magazines. It was always made a little more readable, and always used as hand-drawn headines. I was surprised, as nothing had really happened with the typeface since the uproar, which happened when it was first published in 1967. As pop music isn’t my cup of tea, I only saw Peter Saville’s famous record covers much later on. And then, to my surprise, The Foundry came with their request to digitise the font. It was completely unexpected and, of course, I was very enthusiastic about it.”
The first typefaces to be digitised were the three New Alphabet weights, alphabets for the Fodor Museum (part of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), and for the Vormgevers exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, and an alphabet originally designed for Olivetti, which later became Foundry Gridnik.
“We thought that Crouwel’s typeface work was of major importance,” explains Quay. “New Alphabet had great significance at a time when computer technology was in its infancy. Crouwel tried to define a new vision of how the new technology could be used. His New Alphabet was a revolutionary concept in designing new forms that fitted perfectly to the early computer screens, which at the time gave fairly crude resolution.”
The Foundry originally released all six alphabets as Architype 3, as one of its experimental Architype Collections. These collections also include typefaces created from letterforms by artists and designers (many of whom have associations with the Bauhaus) such as Theo Ballmer, Josef Albers and Jan Tschichold.
Foundry Gridnik (named for Crouwel’s wellknown nickname of Mr Gridnik) immediately became very popular, and this subsequently led to its development as a four-weight typeface family. Crouwel is always happy to see his typeface in use. “It is a great feeling to see Gridnik used all over the world of graphic design, in such different ways,” he says. “Even my wife Judith discovers examples in papers and magazines. In the beginning, I collected samples of everything, but eventually I had to stop, as there were just too many.”
Still utilising very much a collaborative process, Crouwel is involved at every stage of the journey from original drawing to digitisation. “The experimental nature, and the restrictions involved with Crouwel’s fonts require quite a different approach,” explains Sack. “Meticulous attention to detail and typographic judgment is required to develop them as well-crafted fonts, especially when creating all the characters that hitherto did not exist. At The Foundry, we are perfectionists with strong ideas about how things should look and so is Crouwel, which made for some interesting conversations.”
Two new Crouwel typefaces have been added to the Architype series recently. Architype Ingenieur (which is a new collection) and Architype Vierkant (which forms part of the revised Crouwel Collection, available for the first time as OpenType).
Architype Vierkant is a single weight font that has been developed from the letterforms that Crouwel created for a 1972 Drupa catalogue on the theme ‘typo vision international’. This references many of the experimental ideas that underpin both the New Alphabet and Fodor typefaces.
Architype Ingenieur was inspired by Crouwel’s simple geometrically constructed letterforms that appeared in exhibition catalogues and posters from the late 1950s. For the Dutch entry poster for the 1960 Venice Biennale, he made ‘Olanda’, a grid-based typeface with 45-degree angles, which was influenced by his boyhood fascination with the lettering he saw on battleships. A subtle variation appeared in the catalogue he designed for the exhibition by painter Jean Brusselmans at the Stedelijk Museum… and several dot matrix versions followed. The themes and systems in these early letterforms are encapsulated in a new four-weight family, which was named after Crouwel’s admission that he was “an engineer troubled by aesthetics.”
In a recent interview, David Quay suggested that while that might be true, with his boyhood love of boats, trains and all things mechanical, it could also be said that Crouwel was really an “an engineer troubled by romantics.”
“Each time we work with Crouwel on one of his typefaces, the experimental nature of the letterforms poses new challenges,” explains Sack. “Despite our so-called advanced technology, we sometimes have to find workarounds with the font development program to accommodate the nature of the letterforms that he created pre-digitally. Architype Vierkant, for example, with its triangular indentations in some of the letters and Crouwel’s insistence on adhering to his original grid and proportions (even when it meant ignoring the usual rules of optical adjustment) posed other considerations. Crouwel is always more interested in the ‘system’, and that’s often the challenge for us, as we work more intuitively and optically with typeface design.”
2012 sees the 45th anniversary of Crouwel’s New Alphabet, with plans by The Foundry to release it as a full multi-weight family. “Crouwel embraced the digital element of font technology – the pixel/bitmap – way before its time, and played with this unit system to his own ends. He even made it a lecture subject in 1969, Type Design for the Computer Age,” adds Sack.
When he originally designed it in 1967, did Crouwel ever imagine that it would have such a lasting appeal? “New Alphabet was never intended to be used; it was an experiment as a reaction to the first generation of digital typesetting machines. I never expected the reaction it provoked after it was first used on the cover of Italian graphic design magazine Línea Gráfica (courtesy of Franco Grignani). It’s thanks to The Foundry that it has gained such an enduring appeal. That gives me a great feeling.”