Few weeks ago, we have received the printed specimens of the recently launched Anisette + Anisette Petite. For the relaunch of the two families, we decided to ask Mark de Winne, from Relay Room, a talented graphic designer, to design this new typeface specimen. It was during the Type@Cooper 2012 Condensed program that Jean François Porchez discovered Mark de Winne’s work. They stayed in touch. Since summer 2013, Mark is studying at KABK. We thought it would be a good thing to ask few questions to the first-time user of the new Anisette. Below are his answers…
Interview of Mark De Winne
What is your background as a graphic designer?
I was trained in Graphic Design in two design schools, Temasek Polytechnic (Diploma in Visual Communications) and Lasalle College of the Arts (B.A. Graphic Design), although I must say that education only counts for so much; my real interest in graphic design and typography was piqued when I was 15 – my father, who is a type geek and a bookworm, started pointing out differences in various typefaces to me in his immense library. That really attuned my focus in graphic design to have a strong typographic edge. After graduation, I taught for a while at my alma mater university, but felt that there was a niche for my approach to typography-led communication design.
Thus I founded Relay Room with my wife, Sarah Cheng-De Winne, to help fill this need in the Singapore design scene. We’re a typography-led creative studio focused on branding, editorial design and of course, lots of typographic solutions! Sarah plays a big part in the studio as well. She’s the generalist, and I’m the specialist. So while I get to focus on being the Creative Director, she helps to manage clients and apply her very broad experience in arts & culture to the projects we do (she is also a rising singer-songwriter in Singapore, and was previously a radio DJ and photographer, trained in Psychology and Theatre Studies!) I also have a heart for music, which is how we met, and have been designing for the music and youth ministries of various church organisations in Singapore as my way of giving back. I believe this mix of backgrounds and viewpoints gives us a unique perspective. We work for a variety of cultural and commercial projects in Singapore, so finding the nuances to work with is easier when you have to completely different approaches working towards the same goal.
Intersecting Histories: An exhibition identity and book design for an exhibition about contemporary South East Asian art. The optical corrections made to Freight Micro made it an ideal typeface to showcase the raw and unexpected directions found in the contemporary art.
Calendar: Hand drawn typographic calendar inspired by fancy printing from the USA in the 19th Century.
Patterns of Trade: Identity for an exhibition on Indian trade textiles at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore. While trying to find a typeface that expressed an exotic and “oriental” flavour without looking too cliché, we chanced upon Priori Sans and used some of the alternate characters to convey the material in the exhibition. The holding shape of the exhibition identity was inspired by shapes found on the fabrics in the exhibition.
These few months you’re back at school, why this change in your career?
I wouldn’t really see it as a change, per se, but rather I am becoming a specialist in the general field of visual communications. We’ve always been a “typography-led” studio – it’s a core part of our work; choosing and customising letterforms to suit the projects. However, I’ve always wanted to delve deeper into type design, to gain a more formal understanding. But there are no type designers in Singapore to learn from! Hungry to learn, I first applied to the Type@Cooper Condensed Program in New York City run by the Cooper Union, and was blessed to have part of the costs for the course covered by Design Singapore Council. Coincidently, Jean François Porchez was my instructor, and I was really humbled to be learning from him! It was an eye-opening 5 weeks, but I felt that there was so much more to learn. After a commission from a local curator to design a new typeface for an exhibition, I was more resolute than ever to learn more about type design. With much consideration, I applied to the Type & Media course at KABK in The Hague and by God’s grace I was accepted!
Furthermore, Sarah and I have also been very interested in exploring type design and graphic design education in Asia, and organised the first ever Crafting Type workshop in Asia, in partnership with Eben Sorkin and Octavio Pardo, which had an amazing response – we were at full capacity for the 3-day workshop with 42 people from all walks of life (though mostly graphic designers) attending.
Taking off work for a whole year was not an easy decision for me. But I really believe in professional development, and I think doing a Masters in Type & Media is a great opportunity (and a wonderful privilege) to learn from my fantastic teachers, my classmates, and an environment where you eat and breathe type design!
Arrow: The first typeface I worked on at Type@Cooper. It’s still unfinished, but not for long!
KABK typefaces: Showcasing the type typefaces I made in the first semester of KABK; on the left, a revival of Deberny’s Ancien Romain, named Perrin. On the right is Cirrus, a typeface based on the forms of the broad-nib pen.
Is there an evolution into your approach as a graphic designer dealing with typography because of the KABK courses?
I have always been very sensitive to type, but KABK is really taking my sensitivity to a deeper level. The school expands on the teachings of Gerrit Noordzij, and emphasises the importance of writing in understanding letterforms, and how that understanding guides your practice. The program is hectic, and you learn the craft through a variety of hands-on exercises in consultation with a group of teachers, who all have different opinions. In the first semester alone, there is calligraphy with the broad nib and pointed pens, together with a contrast typeface and a revival (see picture) over a period of 3 months. Added to this are modules on Python programming, and making a Greek accompaniment to an existing typeface. All these exercises grow you as a designer – you learn to observe, internalise and test how shapes work together. Coupled with my background as a typographically-informed graphic designer, I can now say it is easier to formally specify what I want to use as a typeface or customise in a typeface based on a project’s demands, because of my deepened understanding of how to express certain subtleties through type design.
What are the differences between designing a type specimen and your usual graphic design projects?
Félix Demargne (the designer of the Geneo specimen) has a memorable take on this: The tool becomes the star! It’s definitely a change, but ultimately, a type specimen also needs to communicate a message, and more importantly, a feeling, much like our other design projects. While we usually use typography to help with this, in this case, the typeface was already “specified,” so the challenge was to discover the ideal environment that showcases Anisette effectively.
What is the concept of your Anisette typeface specimen?
I wanted to pay homage to the original period and forms of Anisette Pro – the original Anisette, a display with two-width capitals – before Jean François Porchez expanded the family into a secondary usable text face, Anisette Petite. I wanted to put across the feel of the 1930s, while weaving in how the new typeface is relevant to contemporary graphic design and yet can be used alongside the original Anisette. So the concept of the type specimen combined two ideas into one: firstly, to create a facade of “period” stylisation that would function as a container to put Anisette in, and secondly to create a series of posters that would feature Anisette – posters that you might find on a wall in a cafe during the 1930s. I did this by substituting the original type in few 1930s posters I was referencing with Anisette, and created optimal opportunities to use Anisette and Anisette Petite families together. I also spent a great deal of time trying to divide the limited space of the type specimen into specific sections where I could showcase both sets of typefaces in the most pleasing way possible – showcasing the range of weights and stylistic alternates that the typefaces have, and how they could also work on their own.
What would be the ideal use of this typeface?
I believe the robust design opens it to many possibilities. The art-deco influence is a strength that can be used, for example, in a project that may require a sense of history with a dash of the contemporary. To illustrate, I could envision the Anisette typeface being used in a fashion-related project, as certain aspects fashion are very much about knowing where you come from, but also pushing the boundaries forward. Part of the excitement of being a type designer is to see how graphic designers can use your typeface. A robust and well-made typeface like Anisette will be an excellent tool in any graphic designer’s stable of typefaces – that could have endless possibilities for application in graphic, web, exhibition, publication and identity projects!