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During university, I became interested in type design. In the summer of 2011 I attended workshop in Slovenia (it was my second time there), where each one of the participants was expected to develop his/her own typeface in one week! At this point, like most over-achieving design students, I wanted to come up with something unique. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I got the idea to play around with a strip of paper and fold it to get a letter shape. Folding it like origami was too boring and would lead to a very geometric result.
I was thinking about tools. Each tool leaves a specific mark on a paper, a predictable mark, which becomes part of the personality of that typeface. The tool can be a broad-nib pen, a brush, or a completely imaginary tool. I remember reading somewhere (unfortunately I have not been able to find the reference again) that if the designer manages to have a good understanding of the imaginary tool’s behavior, then they will be able to design a harmonious system of letters.
This is quite an abstract way to think about type design, but this was where the paper folding came into play. Fooling around with that paper, taking some pictures and tracing over them, I noticed a few details that were interesting. With my strip of paper I could not really build all the letters, but I was starting to put together an “imaginary” tool in my head that would make the shapes I wanted in a consistent way.
Can you tell us more about, how the folded paper-stripe principles was transferred into more clear hand-drawing sketches, which then finally evolved into basic digital letterforms? Did you face some hurdles during that process?
When I developed the basic letters, I was both folding papers and drawing almost 3D looking letters in order to see where the corners and the rounded areas were supposed to be.
The principle seemed to work for a lot of the lower case letters; these shapes seem to accept more “torture” and still be recognizable as what they are. I had more trouble with the upper case letters because we are used to follow either a sans-serif or a serif model. When you start making flared serifs or semi-serifs, the shapes start falling apart easily.
The italic weights were a fight of their own. I made them in the next workshop. These were even more difficult because I wanted the letters to consist, as much as possible, of only one stroke. I wanted the italic to have a different treatment than the roman weight. After all, the italic is used for different purposes. I made the imaginary strip of paper bend at the end of the strokes, building some sort of serifs. This gave the italic more character and more stability.
The one-stroke-letter approach was impossible with the italic upper case, and I had to come up with some other quirky solutions. I am happy that we only had one week for this, because it forced me to act quickly and make some intuitive decisions.
Was the paper folding just a beginning to find your first rough letterforms, or did you want keep the folding principle as very strict grid to follow for all weights?
The folded paper strip was one spark of an idea. Like I said, I created a sort of imaginary tool in my head, which helped me figure out how some curves and details should look like. When I was stuck, I went back to the real-world paper.
The key is to have consistency. It would be possible to make a literal alphabet following the folded paper principle, but this would look very amateur and would not be very usable.
I took much care to make the letters usable in text. There were a lot of optical corrections involved after drawing the basic shapes.
From a paper-cut display to a 6 weight text type family, what was your turn- ing point to expand your two display weights into an highly legible text font family of 6 weights?
When Gestalten approached me to possibly release my workshop typeface, I was just enrolling into the TypeMedia program. I knew the typeface was by far incomplete. After a total of only a couple of weeks of work, I knew it would need a lot more work. I decided to first complete my master in type design.
When I graduated from TypeMedia, I saw the typeface with completely new eyes. Everything was jumpy and irregular. Part of this naïve approach was great. I discovered that it was not so easy to come up with new ideas, so I embraced the quirkiness but decided to take it to the next level.
I changed the proportions to make it more suitable for text usage. I expanded the character set and decided to try out different weights. The Bold weight had so much character that I decided it should become a whole family. It would be an exercise in applying an “imaginary tool” to a range of weights. This is how everything expanded to a 6-style type family.
So there is a big difference in your design before and after TypeMedia. Can you expand on some more things that changed in your design?
TypeMedia taught me a lot about applying concepts, about creating systems. When I looked at the “first draft” of Paiper, I saw many things that were inconsistent, especially in terms of proportions and weight, and I tried to make those better. With this paper-fold system, there were some parts of the letters that were getting too thin so I had to make many optical corrections so that the letters would look more “normal.”
The italic weight saw the most dramatic change. From an angular, rather “literal” interpretation of the paper folding principle, the italic grew much more refined and subtle. It definitely lost some of the original quirkiness, but back then it was meant for display use. Now it works well at all sizes and it still retains enough of its original character, especially in the relatively unique approach to upper case letters. One of the things I almost regret having to “kill” was the original italic “k,” which was quite spectacular. But in a text context, it would not be realistically usable, unfortunately. There are some details that we designers fall in love with, but for the sake of function, we have to part with them sometimes. This is one of the most important lessons I learned during TypeMedia.
How important was the tipoRenesansa workshop for your personal enhancement in typography besides the TypeMedia study?
The tipoRenesansa (now called TypeClinic) workshops were great for rapid prototyping. There was only one week, in the middle of the mountains with no internet, to create at least a basic character set for a new typeface. Being there with other type-crazed people gave me a lot of motivation. Looking back, I realize these workshops really allowed me to explore my preconceived ideas of letter shapes and break free of them. I was naïve, and I did whatever I thought was right. I did not think much of references and type classification. It was great. The mentors were there to guide us and teach us the basics of proportion and contrast. I will never have those time back.
When I go to the workshops now, after TypeMedia, I am the most critical one in the room. I actually go back as a mentor now, not as a participant.
How did finalizing this type family change you as a designer?
This is my first type release! I learned so much while working on this family. I never came so far as to finish a typeface before. The last 5% (checking, re-checking, comparing, doubting, and asking others ) takes almost as long as the first 95%.
It feels great to have a family and then design with it, trusting that it will work just fine. A big part of type design is developing work flows to test and correct the typeface. I give a lot of attention to spacing and rhythm, for example. This creates a good texture on the page and it helps even quirkier designs look harmonious in longer texts.
Tips to other type designers?
Use your own typeface! Design with it from the beginning, don't use abc-tests, make nice layouts—you will be able to judge it in the right context. Give it to some friends to make something fun with it and see what they say, as users.
Be selective about the criticism that you accept from others. You can ask everybody for feedback, and this will be great, but remember that type-design is like music in a way, everyone has their own taste and schools of thought. Take advice of people you respect. But in the end, be your own judge and have your own philosophy; you will not be able to please everyone.
Is there anything you would do differently?
Many type designers start their typefaces but, in their perfectionism, never finish it. Part of design is to know when something is “good enough.” While I was reaching the finishing stages of this family (kerning and such), I had moments when I wanted to chop off all the quirks, to make all the lines straight. But I knew this would kill the whole personality of the family: it would just make it another sans serif typeface.
Nothing is perfect, and there will always be something to “correct” and “change,” but as one of my teachers once said “You cannot solve everything with one typeface.” I try to embrace this motto and be proud of the progress I have made.
What does the name mean for you?
The name Paiper is a fun name, reflecting the informality of the typeface. It’s a pun. Basically it sounds like “Paper” but it’s not. This is kind of what the type shapes ended up being. They are my own interpretation of what folded paper strips could look like in a text type, but they are not actually paper anymore.
Your future plans/projects?
You will laugh, but I can’t wait to work on a “normal” typeface again! I want to continue working on my graduation typeface from TypeMedia. I also want to get a bit more involved in the design world, from the font-user’s perspective and understand what the design industry is looking for at the moment.