Henrik Kubel for the agIdeas International Design Forum

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Published:  April 23, 2015

Danish type designer Henrik Kubel is best known for his work with partner Scott Williams and their London-based studio A2/SW/HK. In 2010, the studio launched the type foundry A2-TYPE in order to release and distribute over a decade’s worth of specially-crafted typefaces. Releasing their fonts to the public was the next logical step for a design agency who designs custom typefaces for each new client. “Type design is an integrated part of how we work as designers,” says Kubel. “It’s time-consuming, but rewarding.”

Typism’s Dominique Falla spoke to Kubel about his work at A2, ahead of his appearance at the agIdeas International Design Forum.

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A2′s D&AD Yellow Pencil winning work for The Independent, London.

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A2′s D&AD Yellow Pencil winning work for The Independent, London.

The Independent newspaper fonts

The Independent newspaper fonts

“Drawing custom fonts for all our work is similar to making the bricks and blending the mortar for the house that we have drawn — and then we build it,” says Kubel.

Whether it is a series of fonts for a magazine, a book, a newspaper or a signage system, Kubel and Williams always strive to deliver a comprehensive font system — an approach that sets their studio apart from the crowd. Working from the ground up with every client project means that A2 can craft precise messages for their clients, and tailor make unique design solutions. In an era of generic, digital and freely available fonts, clients such as the Moscow Department of Transport, The New York Times Magazine, Airbnb, Royal College of Art and Harvard University Press clearly value this approach.

Moscow Sans: a custom font + set of pictograms developed for the Moscow Department of Transport.

Moscow Sans: a custom font + set of pictograms developed for the Moscow Department of Transport.

Moscow Sans: a custom font + set of pictograms developed for the Moscow Department of Transport.

Moscow Sans: a custom font + set of pictograms developed for the Moscow Department of Transport.

Moscow Sans: a custom font + set of pictograms developed for the Moscow Department of Transport.

Moscow Sans: a custom font + set of pictograms developed for the Moscow Department of Transport.

Whilst in Australia, Kubel will conduct a workshop called The Imperfect Letter. “The aim is to explore letter drawing as a means for generating ideas and new shapes for future digital fonts by way of hand sketching.”

Kubel stresses the importance of getting back to basics and only using the hand and the eye. “It’s simple — no font program, no menus, no scripts to run. It’s right there in front of you as soon as you put your pen to paper. There is an honesty and directness about hand drawn letters. Handprinted signs and sign painting is thankfully having a renaissance,” says Kubel.

Not to be restricted by his love of the hand made however, Kubel has also recently embraced 3D Printing and rapid-prototyping techniques.

London-based letterpress printer New North Press commissioned A2 to create a typeface which could be part of, and used alongside their large collection of wood and metal type. The cornerstone of the project hinged on the idea that the font A2 created would be 3D printed.

Kubel explains, “It took a long time to get our heads around it. 3D printing is essentially a printer that builds up and prints layers of plastic material to create whatever object you program into it. In our case letters! Our approach was to create an alphabet that would: a) push the technology and b) look contemporary.”

A2 created a font in two dimensions and then 3D rendered it to a wire-frame design. This was then 3D printed as a physical object and finally printed using a traditional letterpress machine. It took several tests and failed attempts before arriving at the final design, but the results are stunning, paving the way for other designers to use a diverse collaboration of technologies.

To launch the font, A2 produced four specimen posters. Each has a large, lithograph-printed letter in the background, and then the letterpress font printed over the top in fluorescent ink. Creating a ‘futuristic looking’ alphabet to be printed using an analogue printing press was highly rewarding for Kubel, suggesting a definite use for this type of technology mash-up.

A23D, Letterpress alphabet, 3d printed for New North Press, London 2014.

A23D, Letterpress alphabet, 3d printed for New North Press, London 2014.

Henrik Kubel will be speaking at this year’s agIdeas International Design Forum. The forum will celebrate 25 years of design innovation and providing access to leading designers from across the globe in a one-day event to be held as part of world-renowned Design Matters Melbourne International Design Week, Thursday, 14 May 2015.

Held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the annual design forum will bring together 13 high-profile speakers, each handpicked by esteemed Australian designer, Ken Cato AO, to share their experiences, tips and insights behind their ideas and inspirations.

For more info on the event that Henrik Kubel will speak at including ticketing, follow this link.

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