Posted in Theory, Typeface

3/4 Exclusive interview with Fontsmith’s Emanuela Conidi


Continuing our series of exclusive interviews with London based Fontsmith, we bring you award winning, Italian, Football obsessed, supercharged type designer Emanuela Conidi.

Name: Emanuela Conidi
Time at Fontsmith: 3 Years
Role in the studio: Type Designer

Did you always want to design type and how did you get started?
Well, I was baptised by a typographer. Seriously. My godfather was the owner of the only typographic office in my small town in southern Italy which I like to think wasn’t a coincidence! Afterwards, I grew up happily unaware of type, and of the fact that there was such a career as typeface designer. I had a fascination for letters since an early age and when I was in high school I did spend a lot of time drawing letters on my school desk or on my friends school diaries. I would choose quotes from Latin authors, troubled musicians, philosophers or poets, in the way that teens do, and I would draw a piece. I was basically doing (bad) lettering, without knowing it. I found it relaxing, creative and expressive. Following these instincts I choose to study Graphic Design at the Politecnico in Milan. I got the bug for typography after meeting James Clough and Lucio Passerini in an evening course at the CFP Riccardo Bauer in Milan, where I also experienced metal type hand composition, bookbinding and letterpress printing. Their passion and absolute dedication to typography has been such an inspiration that I changed the subject for my final dissertation, embarking in a year long research on nineteenth-century Italian typefaces, typographers and founders (together with my former colleague and good friend Marta Bernstein). When I graduated in 2006 I was already a partner in a graphic design studio in Milan with four former University mates but with time I grew to understand that my real inclination was towards type itself. The year after I decided to move to Reading to attend the MA in Typeface Design, a choice that changed my career path. It was an amazing and challenging year spent discovering new passions and learning about types with great teachers. At the end of the course I moved to London, started working at Fontsmith and it’s been nearly 3 happy years since.

Which commercially available fonts from Fontsmith have you worked on?
Completing and expanding the established Fontsmith library fonts was one of my first jobs at Fontsmith. I started with Rufus, then Dillon and some small work for Albert Pro. I have also worked with the team on many custom fonts like Champions League, Lurpak, Zain, Telefonica and Movistar. My first solo font for the library is FS Blake. I decided to test myself, I wanted to explore a high contrast sans family. It was a very personal project, tricky but fun, and I think it fits quite well into the variety of what the Fontsmith library offers.

What are you working on right now?
Lately I have been involved in custom projects by working on Greek and Cyrillic character set extensions for some of our existing library fonts. My non-Latin script love lies in the Arabic script, but I do enjoy exploring other forms.

What is your greatest (type design) achievement to date and why?
I think you can never forget your first typeface. Mine was a font titled Nabil which was designed during the MA Type design course in Reading. It was a double achievement for me, because I did include an Arabic counterpart, which was as much challenging as rewarding. Nabil also represents the start of my career as a type designer, it won type design prizes in Europe and Japan, a highlight being the trip to celebrate the TDC Tokyo Award in 2009. FS Blake also holds a special place as it was my first published font. It represents the translation of my type views on a sans family. With this project I also experienced a new approach in the design, drawing the extremes first (display and text), which was very inspirational. This allowed me to play with weights at an early stage, in order to see how the whole thing could work as a family.

Can you give us an overview of the process you would usually take when creating a new typeface?
In the studio, I get to be involved in both custom and self-initiated projects. The practical process for the two can be very similar, it’s just the brief comes from someone else rather than yourself. This can be helpful or tricky. As a first step, it is important to isolate an idea to shape into curves, a problem to solve, a goal to achieve, an inspiration to explore and so on. We search and ask questions that will find solutions within the design. This will help not only the identity of the design, but also the creation process itself, making it more focused. Good visual research is also useful to set the tone of what best fits the project’s needs. When the sketching time comes, I like to draw random letters, playing with weight, proportions, details and shapes. As much as I love sketching, drawing on screen is the real test of an idea, as details on paper do not always have the same effect when digitised and vice-versa. Unfortunately, it is quite pointless to have a beautiful letter if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the design. It can be hard to give up a pretty looking shape. When I start digitising, I usually begin with the lowercase “n” and “o”.  The main decisions about the design are then taken working with a word (usually “hamburgefonstiv”), which contains a good mixture of letter shapes. Using a few other testing words is also useful in order to have an immediate feel of the design’s direction. The character set extension and the production side is a bit tedious, especially when you are working with big families, but it represents the closure of the design circle. Spacing and kerning are like refining a drawing, and it is really satisfying at the end to see everything coming together, and working nicely.

What is your favourite part of that process?
The beginning of designing a typeface is always very exciting, because you get to experiment without the idea of what the final product will look like. I love diving into images and books, mostly old material (but keeping an eye on what’s new around it is important as well). It’s like setting my ming in black and white shapes, I find it very helpful. And obviously the sketching stage is very important. Drawing a shape is a way to visualise a thought, narrow down ideas, and define what could potentially work.

Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from any particular era, culture or movement, and how does that impact on your work?
As generic as this could sound, I am a lover of beautiful, well thought and well executed stuff. That is why I like to pick my inspiration from different eras and movements – it depends what kind of project I am working on. I highly appreciate the pre-digital lettering works and experimentation on type, logos and graphics, when the slower execution imposed by the means was certainly beneficial to a more considerate thinking in the first place. Talking strictly about type, I do have a soft spot for the nineteenth century. This period is generally considered to be a backwards step in the evolution of type design, as a period devoid of good taste and full of typographic excesses, between the classic era of the eighteenth century and the new typography of the twentieth century. I just love it as a time of great spur to explore all routes of creativity with surprising, beautiful, funny, sometimes unconceivable or just ugly results. Talking about the history of typography, I cannot avoid to mention the Italian Rinascimento and the calligraphy masters of the time: Arrighi, Tagliente, Palatino, Cresci and Griffo. I always love to look at their beautiful work, even if it hardly finds space in my everyday work.

Outside of Fontsmith whose work and faces do you most admire?
I think when a type is good, its voice speaks louder without trying too hard. I have a long list of types I like for different reasons, probably because I have used many of them as graphic designer. So I will mention just few that have stuck with me because they relate to a special project or a place: Spectrum by Jan van Krimpen, Sabon by Jan Tschichold, Dante by Giovanni Mardersteig, Johanna by Eric Gill, Galliard by Mathhew Carter, Scala by Martin Majoor, Fedra by Peter Bil’ak, The Sans by Lucas de Groot, Mrs Eaves by Zuzana Licko, Swift by Gerard Unger. I have a great appreciation for the playful yet functional designs of Underware and Alejandro Paul. Moving to Arabic fonts, I cannot avoid to mention Tim Holloway, whose work I look up to and admire. And last but not least, Thomas Milo and Mirjam Somers, whose tireless and dedicated work with Deco Type has represented and still is an invaluable contribution to the Arabic script knowledge, design and technology.

Where is the coolest place you’ve seen your work applied?
So far, it has to be the Champions League font. It was my first main project when I started at Fontsmith, and it represented such a present for me, since I am a huge football fan and a supporter of AC Milan. As soon as I could talk about it I told all my friends. My dad was obviously impressed, even if I can’t say for sure that he actually noticed the font during matches. I remember feeling really proud of it, and slightly moved when I first saw it used on TV during a match of my favorite team.

If you weren’t a type designer what would you be?
That’s a seriously hard question! I could write a few options if I think about it for more than five minutes. So I will go for the two that are on top of the ranking, which both have to do with enjoying beautiful things. I would either make them, as an accomplished Arabic master calligrapher like Mir ‘Imad al-Hasani, Hashim al-Khattat and Hasan Celebi, or I would travel around the world to discover them, ideally as Sir David Attenborough right-hand (wo)man.

Thank you Manuela for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule. Best of luck with all your future creations and enjoy those Arabic curves.

Fontsmith is a leading London based type design studio founded in 1999 by Jason Smith. The studio consists of a team dedicated to designing and developing high quality typefaces for both independent release as well as bespoke fonts for international clients.


Great insight – thank you Emanuela.


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