In April this year a new Type Foundry launched which uses the initials TF to signify both Type Foundry and Typographie Française (French Typography). The 205TF independent foundry is a collective of French type designers (ranging from well-established to emerging talent) each designer contributes high-quality typefaces that sit outside of the “mass” and mainstream - 205TF makes the French spirit and aesthetic accessible worldwide.

205TF makes a choice of quality: a small number of creators (Matthieu Cortat, Roxane Gataud, Damien Gautier, Thomas Huot-Marchand, Yoann Minet, Alice Savoie), a precise (and standardised) selection of characters in each face which is available in standard, pro and special sets.

Since launch, the foundry 205TF has added 2 new families to the catalogue with 29 faces ranging from functional text faces (I have a crush on Henry by Matthieu Cortat) through to eye-popping display type (like Yoann Minet’s reverse contrast Clifton or the extreme angles and playful geometry in Thomas Huot-Marchand’ Minerale).

The easy to navigate website enables quick testing/demo, pdf specimen downloads and provides links to fonts in use to see how the typefaces perform in the wild!

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A Catalogue Fusing Language, Culture and History;

Matthieu Cortat explains “Thanks to my work in the museum of Print and Graphic Communication, most of my typefaces are anchored in history. This doesn’t make them revivals however, as I take a lot of liberties with regard to the models from which I begin my work. Let’s say that I try, for each creation, to bring a contemporary feel to an atmosphere, a style drawn from the history of Typography.” Going on to explain that the design of a letterform (by its very nature) can never be totally original and must reference exemplar from the past to be legible and read as a letter “The reader must then be in a position to recognise it. And to recognise it, it has to resemble something that already exists. So then, to create something completely new, one would have to create a new writing.”

Alice Savoie also draws inspiration for historical exemplar - (with a preference for type specimens from French foundries at the end of the 19th century). “I am instinctively attracted to typefaces that tell a story, that create a unique vibration and that don’t leave the reader indifferent.” Having recently completed her PhD in the history of typography (at Reading) Alice’s research paid charted the development of 20th-century typesetting technologies and this knowledge scaffolds her design work “Understanding where these forms and the typographical tools that we manipulate come from is for me an essential element in my type design practice. This has allowed me to develop a critical point of view regarding the design processes that we put into place. It is not a matter of a logic of “recycling” of typographical forms, but rather to put different eras into perspective so as to better understand the context in which we practice our trade today.”

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A diverse and experimental catalogue and collaborative culture;

Roxane Gataud became interested in Typography as the result of a practical graphic design need (not being able to find the correct typeface for a project, she was compelled to study type design). Roxane is both assisting other 205TF designers on their development and working on solo type design projects. Despite having huge success with her first typeface Bely and receiving SOTA’s Catalyst Award Roxane notes “I leave a lot of room for formal experimentation and experimentation. This is often the pretext for the development of a new project. In reality, I’ve only been designing typefaces for a short time and still consider myself a beginner. The multitude of styles that I haven’t explored yet are like new playgrounds to me. I still haven’t found one particular approach!”

Juggling many projects Roxane is trying to find time to focus on moving her experiments towards more defined families of characters (and soon to be released typefaces!) Roxane is developing her creative intuition and allowing that instinct to then led her practice. “I quickly draw my ideas on paper. Sketches are for me a way of quickly creating the basis for a new idea. Nevertheless, my sketches are not at all refined! It’s more a matter of structures and diagrams. I move on quickly from vectorial drawings and try to make all of this “work”. Then there is a lot of back and forth between screen and paper. The documenting stage comes before or after, depending on the projects.”

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Roxane credits collaboration as enriching her practice and influencing her own way of working. "As I am collaborating remotely, I really enjoy the trust relationship we built. We work together since last year, I was in charge of establishing the standards of the foundry, and to take care of the development and mastering of Damien Gautier’s collection of typefaces. It was intense work, I had to be methodic, rigorous, efficient and I did learn a lot on the technical sides. Damien’s typefaces are specifics and some of them are unusual. In terms of family schemes, concepts, and design we can feel his practice as a user of typefaces. His graphic design practice gives his families a special flavour, and his work is really inspiring for my own practice. 205TF is also a great initiative that was needed on the French contemporary scene, and I am glad to be part of it, even though my work is for now behind the scenes."

Innovation, Freedom and Expression;

Damien Gautier’s creative process varies, but often it begins with the discovery of a typographic sign that contains an interesting or intriguing character. Damien likes to take characters that have been drawn by amateurs as his inspiration. “I pay particular attention to vernacular typographic signs that we all come across daily but don’t  really take in on any conscious level. They are often awkward, but can sometimes display real ingenuity.”

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“This is a typical nameplate of French streets. The typography and the composition are gorgeous! Each line seems to have been set in a different typeface. We can notice similarities but if we look closer, we can see several specific details. This inspired me to design the typeface Plaak: a big family with 24 styles organised in a system but with particularities for each style. I'm really attentive to vernacular typography, not for its vintage or sympathetic appearance but because I often can find great shapes designed by non-professionals who seem to have more freedom when they draw letters.”

Plaak is a typeface composed of 24 styles, that display the typographic diversity of these French street signs. In the specimen Damien notes that people see these nameplate signs on a daily basis but never pay them attention. “Though we imagine that it is always a question of the same typeface, a closer study show that a number of alphabets co-exist.” Plaak is not a about unifying the styles and ironing out the kinks into a slick homogenous typeface, instead Damien celebrates the disparate styles.

Damien chose to distribute his fonts with 205TF because he wants his “typefaces be part of a thoughtful selection rather than finding themselves lost among thousands of other typefaces.”

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Yoann Minet notes “Typography is a game with rules and conventions. There is no absolute form, only canons established over time and the importance of their uses. As a designer I always try to position myself with regard to these conventions and these canons, to upset them, to go beyond them and to develop them.”

Design for Designers;

Thomas Huot-Marchand approach to typeface design is To never move too far away from Graphic Design and to never lose sight of the way that typefaces are used: my activity as a designer provides me with a lot of pretexts to create characters, whether I am requested to do so or not. It is a way for me to appropriate the commission, and to add an element of typographic investigation to it. As to the design itself, there are probably forms that we find from one character to  another: nonetheless, I enjoy trying a new ways of designing for each character: not  only another formal register, but testing another process. This is what stimulates me most.”

Thomas is continuously evolving his process and approach to developing typefaces “to avoid following the same recipe each time, and adapt my methodology to the character that I intend to develop.” which results in fresh and exciting typographic outcomes for the graphic design community.

Minérale is a brilliant example of how mixing up process and challenging conventions can result in innovation. “This design was originally imagined as a geometrical exaggeration of the structure on the serifs, where the central part of the vertical stems are thinned. Here this phenomenon is pushed to the extreme: rather than a flared rectangle, the stem becomes two triangles joined at the tips, creating a clear, almost luminous zone at the centre of the typeface. Quite sober in its thinnest versions, the typeface becomes more exuberant in its thicker versions”

Thomas goes on to say “I am nourished, like most of us, by historical forms, but I try not to dive too deeply into them as it can very quickly have a paralysing effect. To quote Carter, I try to look at history for what it can nourish in the present and not for nostalgic reasons. As for technology, I am very interested in it: excellent tools are available to us today, and we have a relatively unprecedented capacity to adapt those tools to our needs. I am not a beast when it comes to development, far from it, but the whole field interests me greatly. Here too, as with history, we have to be careful not to confuse the means with the ends.”

Speaking of exciting and exuberant outcomes – I am really excited to see what is next for 205TF I think it's a tremendous concept for a foundry and with so much talent collaborating on creating and curating high-quality fonts I think it is fair for us to be expecting Tres Magnifique things!

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