Context is critical in design. We see influences of culture and architecture in type design often. The most successful examples are grounded in time and place.
The London Type is an exciting new foundry releasing fonts “infused with creativity, innovation, heritage, tolerance, fun and cultural diversity” — and yes as the name suggests they all respond to, or are shaped by the city of LONDON in someway.
I spotted their bold new printed type specimen on instagram recently and reached out to learn more about the foundry, their fonts and the printed goodness they are sharing with our community.
How did your collaboration come about and what lead you to start The London Type in October 2017?
Paul Harpin started designing a new typeface (his first ever at the age of 58) called Laura, to sell to raise money for two cancer charities (his BuyFontsSavelLives campaign). His niece Laura had died at the age of 26, and he had seen her rapid decline and the terrible effect it had on her family and friends. He thought he'd better do something to help.
He had always commissioned Paul Hickson for type design for his many magazine designs and often asked Joe (when he was General Manager of Fontworks in London) to advise him about new typefaces to consider. So he turned to both Paul and Joe for help and advice with the design, metrics and commercial sales etc. It went well. Paul started designing more type for fun, and got hooked — to Paul Harpin's great surprise Joe and Paul H(2) approached him to start our new partnership, London Type Foundry.
What have been the biggest challenges and highlights since opening?
The general decline in new font sales doesn't help, with so many free fonts available, due to Google Fonts, designer giveaways on MyFonts etc. etc.
The highlight is that we ‘want to’ rather than ‘have to’ design new type as all three of us have had successful careers. We really admire young designers who have left college with up to £40,000 worth of debt and still had the energy and confidence to launch a start up.
For such a new foundry you already have an impressive and diverse catalogue of 15 typefaces on offer. So it is wonderful you have been able to curate these into your new printed specimen! How did the design and production for the brochure come about?
Paul Harpin also has a design consultancy partnership called Harpin & Waring, with Geoff Waring. Paul worked in design consultancy in his early career, so it was easy (and rather enjoyable) for him to design a type specimen brochure.
It is incredibly generous you have been giving the specimen away to your followers on social media - What has the feedback been like so far?
Pretty good — our Instagram has been growing, and one follower said he has just "given away 50 years of type specimen books, but wanted this one", which was very kind.
As it is becoming a bit of a reoccurring theme with type designers and typographers I profile on TypographHer.com - what do your parents think of (or understand about) your career choice?
My parents (Paul Harpin) have passed away, but my father really thought I should get a proper job rather that go to Art College. Our kids, who all work in the creative industries, find it odd that we know the names of most typefaces we see. Naming them has become a party trick.
I love your positioning statement of type with a London axis! I would love to hear more about how where you live informs your work?
Paul's eldest son Tom created a clothing brand at school, called The South East (— of London) — as he was so proud of our area's creativity. He sold many beanies and t-shirts and hoodies. It went well, but it only really worked in London, as the rest of Britain doesn't really like the South East (— of Britain). So Paul thought that London would work. London has an impressive, diverse range of cultures and (both now and in the past) they brought design diversity to the city.
Your London Clarendon is powerful and memorable. Its shifting weight is delightful & the ampersand in particular is a joy. Why did you select this face over the others in your catalogue to use in your identity and specimen cover? What does it convey about you as an organisation?
We like all our typefaces — its just that the Clarendon set width was the one that most easily filled a square (as logos need to be that square shape now, to make a strong favicon design for social media). Also it made sense that, as Paul Harpin was designing the logo, he should use one of Paul Hickson's new typefaces. Paul (Hi) is the experienced pro (he worked for Letraset, FACE, Quick Brown Fox — he just loves drawing all sorts of letters and has created many, many custom fonts over the years), Paul (Ha) is still a beginner, an ageing apprentice, who has purchased and used a lot of type over the years.
With my print biases the LDN Mammoth Woodblock is absolutely a stand out for me! I particularly love the 5 variants and how well they sit with one another. What are your favourite features in LDN Mammoth?
Paul (Harpin) loves the lack of overshoots in the LDN Mammoth Woodblock version. It was inspired by a woodblock typeface that he had seen and had hand drawn in the eighties for magazine covers. Woodblock letters would easily break on the press — the overshoots would snap off. But the lack of overshoots gives it a dynamism, especially when spaced C.N.T. — close not touching.
Design for social good is so important and LDN Grace Roman is incredibly elegant. So I was heartened to read that half of its sale proceeds are going to Cancer charities. Your website notes its forms have a more painterly soft approach than those Romans, that were chiseled in stone and I would love to know more about its development process… did you start analogue? With a brush? How was the concept realised?
Paul was fascinated by Roman Lettering as a teenager and had several books about how to draw them, but in actual fact all the curves were drawn in Illustrator (with this teen memory of drawing them with a brush in mind). The aim of Grace Roman was to be more refined than the best seller (a well known Roman that we do not need to name). Grace is Laura’s middle name.
Finally, What is next for London Type and how can people follow your work?
We have a typeface in development by Eiichi Kono, who designed New Johnston for London Transport — called London Kono. Paul worked with Eiichi early in his career at a design consultancy called Banks & Miles, when Eiichi was drawing the typeface by hand. He was in and out of the darkroom for about three years. London Kono is the culmination of Eiichi's many years of designing highly legible humanist typefaces — a direct line from Johnston via Gill via New Johnston to what he has created for us.
And also Paul's design partner Geoff Waring has designed a crazy new headline typeface called London Mental Block.
Eichi and Geoff are our second and third guest designers, following our first guest designer, Peter Grundy, who designed London Dingbats for us.
We'd love to get Matt Willey to design a typeface for us, as his two fonts for BuyFontsSaveLives are the campaign’s two best sellers. Matt's kind gift of Timmons NY and MFred to BuyFontsSaveLives have helped Paul & Joe to donate over £80,000 to the two cancer charities. See www.typespec.co.uk/buyfontssavelives.
Paul Harpin is working on a sister title to his London Hoxton Square (where each glyph fits in a square), a sans serif called London Golden Square.
Paul Hickson has LDN Garamond Royale in the pipeline based on a commission that Paul Harpin had given him for a customer magazine typeface. It was such a long time ago that Paul (Hi) cannot find the floppy disc. So he has redrawn it. He did research in the Bibliotech National de Paris, studying the original Garamond drawings. Where is the London connection there you may ask? Well do remember that our own royal family is connected not only with France & Germany, but with many other European countries and a Tsar! www.LondonType.co.uk