Jean FRANCOIS PORCHEZ — un homme de caractère(s)
Jean François PORCHEZ (Photo © Catapult)
“Le créateur de caractères typographiques est comme le chef d'orchestre. Il crée toujours des variations sur un thème que d'autres ont utilisé avant lui. À cette différence près que le meilleur travail est celui qui ne se remarque pas.”
— Jean François PORCHEZ
Jean François Porchez (born 1964) studied graphic design and focused on type design | 1991-1994 Worked as a type director for the renowned design office Dragon Rouge in Paris | 1994 Designed a new typeface for the leading French daily Le Monde | 1995 Set up his own sales outlet for his letters: www.typofonderie.com | 1996 Designed new typefaces for the public transport in Paris (RATP) | Works for customers including Peugeot, Costa Crocerie, France Télécom, Baltimore Sun, Beyoncé Knowles and Renault
More than typefaces
Jean François Porchez is the President of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI). He teaches type design at the MA typefaces design at the Reading University (United Kingdom) as visiting lecturer and conducts regularly type design workshops all over the world. He also contributes regularly to conferences and international publications. He published Lettres Françaises, a book (in French & English) that shows all contemporary French, digital typefaces. Together with a number of colleagues, he launched a website on French typography: www.typographe.com (2003). In late 2001 he was the President of a jury set up by the Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale to select the new handwriting model and system for France and was a jury member of the 3rd Linotype Type design Contest.
1990 Morisawa Award for Angie | 1993 Morisawa Award for Apolline | 1998 Prix Charles Peignot | 2000 Certificate of Excellence in Type Design at TDC2, Type Directors Club’s Type Design Competition | 2001 Bukva:raz! international competition
Alpha Poste | Ambroise | Ambroise François | Ambroise Firmin | Angie | Angie Sans | Anisette | Anisette Petite | Apolline | Bienvenue | Charente | Costa | Costa PTF (open type) | Dereon | Le Monde | Le Monde Courrier | Le Monde Journal | Le Monde Journal Ipa | Le Monde Livre | Le Monde Livre classic | Le Monde Sans | Lion | Marianne | Mencken | Parisine | Parisine Office | Parisine Plus | Renault Identité | Sabon Next | Sitaline
Anisette was created in reference to the work of Cassandre and the Art Décoratif period. During the thirties, encouraged by Maximilien Vox, Deberny & Peignot created the Banjo initials in one weight. Anisette is an all caps face with narrow caps placed in lowercase positions and large caps placed in uppercase positions. Arranged in six weights with ligatures.
In answer to a number of requests, lowercase characers have now been added to the Anisette display series, which was created in 1996. The lowercase characers are based on capitals of an intermediate width, between the two original widths, to provide a wider diversity of use. The Anisette Petite lowercase shares the sobriety of geometrical typefaces and the dynamics of the tension in the curves. Subtle imperfections seen in the r, l, and the particular g, help to create an original typeface.
Ambroise is a contemporary interpretation of various typefaces belonging to Didot»s late style, conceived circa 1830, including the original forms of g, y, &, and to a lesser extent, k. These characters are found in Vibert‘s typefaces. Vibert was the appointed punch cutter of the Didot family during this period. It is the Black, of which sources were surest, which was the basis for the conception of the family. In the second half of the 19th century, it was normal to find fat Didots in several widths in the catalogues of French type foundries. These same typefaces continued to be offered until the demise of the big French foundries in the 1960s.
Every variation of the typeface carries a name in homage to a member of the illustrious Didot family of type founders and printers. The condensed variant is called Ambroise Firmin. The extra-condensed is called Ambroise François.
The objective was mainly to obtain a horizontal emphasis. The asymmetry of serifs reinforces the writing rhythm. The original drawings are very small. They began on tracing paper and were then digitized at larger sizes. ‘Roughness’ makes the face more lively. Small caps, old style figures, lining figures, many ligatures and ornaments were included then. Apolline received a Morisawa Award in 1993 (Japan).
Deréon family was created in 2005 for Beyoncé (& Tina) Knowles, a music celebrity who launched her fashion line House of Deréon for which Jean François Porchez created the lettering of the brand under the direction of Soohyen Park at AR Media. Initially the art director started to use Caledonia and naturally Porchez wanted to keep some links to this innovative typeface created by W. A. Dwiggins (1880—1956). Caledonia can be considered a lively and expressive version of the ‘Scottish Didone’ typefaces Bulmer and Martin created around 1790.
For Deréon Jean François Porchez expanded the initial concept by Dwiggins by designing a clear angle on some counters in order to make the letters more dynamic and sharp for display use, which is the main function of the family. Deréon is more than just an allusion to Dwiggins‘s work; the new family features triangular sharp serifs (not at all Didonesque), as well as many other distinctive elements to fit the House of Deréon branding concept.
During the development process, the music of Beyoncé was also very influential. Her music is a mixture of classic Soul and 70‘s R‘n‘B mixed with contemporary Hip Hop and Rap «effects». To transcribe this musical syle visually, Jean François Porchez combined round and romantic forms given by the bowls, swashes (in reference to classic Soul), and sharp, angular forms as previously described (in reference to Hip Hop and music created with the help of new technologies). The result is a multi-effect typeface at the fringe of various styles combined into one.
The Mencken family was created for The Baltimore Sun in 2005. The family»s name Mencken is a tribute to H.L. Mencken‘s journalistic contributions to The Sun. According to the London Daily Mail, Mencken ventured beyond the typewriter into the world of typography. Because he felt Americans did not recognise irony when they read it, he proposed the creation of a special typeface to be called Ironics, with the text slanting in the opposite direction from italic types, to indicate the author‘s humour.
Focus groups conducted during the redesign period liked the Mencken family; tests with online reader panels showed 75 percent preferred
Mencken over the previous Sun typefaces. The Mencken family includes various members, each of them specially designed for their own function.
Mencken Head (and various narrow widths) is a high contrast typeface designed in the style of the Didot (typical French typeface from the end of 18th century) not so common in North America today. The objective was to make more legible and simple headlines with a unique flavour.
Le Monde Journal
This family was designed in 1994 as custom font for the French newspaper Le Monde. Le Monde Journal is the typeface on which the entire Le Monde family is based. By definition, it is intended for newspaper use and at small sizes. Even though it has the same colour as Times, it appears more open. The reading flow has been made more fluent and less abrupt. The counters in the glyphs are bigger, as if they were ‘illuminating the interior.’ To accommodate any problems in newspaper printing, the bold sharply contrasts with the roman. The demi weight is better suited to titling or more careful printing.
Le Monde Livre
Before the arrival of photocomposition, each font size had a specific design. Le Monde Livre, along with Le Monde Journal, re-establishes this practice. In effect, the latter was developed specifically for use at small point sizes (below 10 points.) Le Monde Livre is better suited for everyday work (above 10 points), from books to posters. Additionally, in comparison to the italics in Le Monde Journal, Le Monde Livre»s italics are of a totally new design, closer to the models of the Renaissance.
Le Monde Livre Classic
This family is disinguished by its hisorical forms and by the numerous ligatures and variations. The italic includes two levels of ornamentation: sandard and swash. Le Monde Livre Classic includes roman, italic, small caps, bold and ornaments.
Le Monde Courrier
In our age, since the arrival of microcomputing, the majority of professional letters have been composed in quality typefaces. Typewriters and the typestyles they used have become antiques. A letter composed in Times or Helvetica and printed with a laser printer at 300 or 600 dpi is of such quality that one can no longer distinguish it with a document produced by offset printing. But letters composed in this way appear overly institutional. Le Monde Courrier attempts to re-establish a style halfway between writing and printing. It returns the informal character of ‘typewritten’ fonts to letters and suits well all bad conditions printings, such faxes and low printer resolutions.
Le Monde Sans
Le Monde Sans is a lineal type family —one which has been derived from serifed types—a practice that has now become commonplace. As applied before to italics, this type of variation expands typographic possibilities, differentiating the status of each text. This is fundamental to contemporary documents and the press, where comments and analyses must be distinguished subtly from news.
The design of Le Monde Sans continues the basic common structre found in the members of the Le Monde family: its proportions, a relatively narrow width, a fairly oblique axis, etc. The typographer can, at all times, switch between Sans and Journal or Courrier without any disruption in the composition.
Developed in two series, Parisine began as a custom typeface developed for the Paris Metro network (RATP) to improve signage legibility and space economy in 1996. In 1999, the family was improved and enlarged to extend its use and function. Parisine is separated into four distinct subfamilies (Clair, Standard, Caps, Sombre) to optimise menu compatibility between Mac/OS and Windows sysems.
This typographic variation of Parisine, the Plus version, intentionally offers stranger character forms. It includes tabular old style figures when the lining tabular figures are available in the Alternates fonts along with the alternates, ligatures and so on. On sandard fonts, you have access also to some alternates and ligatures, positioned to replace the mathematical signs of the basic Parisine fonts.
Sabon Next LT
The design of Linotype Sabon Next was a double challenge: to try to discern Jan Tschichold´s own wishes for the original Sabon, and to interpret the complexity of a design originally made in two versions for different systems. The first was designed for use on Linotype and Monotype systems. The second version of Sabon was designed for Stempel handsetting, and it seems closer to a pure interpretation of Garamond without many constraints. Naturally Porchez based Linotype Sabon Next on this second version and also referred to original Garamond models, carefully improving the proportions of the existing digital Sabon while matching its alignments.
Sabon Next, along with others, belongs to the fonts of the Linotype Platinum Collection. These fonts were carefully digitized and have the high quality demanded by professional typography. All fonts of the Platinum Collection were produced according to the Linotype tradition of quality.
Jean François PORCHEZ : “Continuing an oeuvre”
With a deep respect for his predecessors, Jean François Porchez creates letters that display to marvellous effect all the wealth of contemporary typography. What does he have to say about it?
In the spring of 2005, the Catapult gallery presented letters designed by Gerard Unger. How do you situate your work in comparison with your Dutch colleague? Are you working more on revivals?
But what are revivals exactly? When I entered a competition with the Ambroise typeface, I ticked the box marked “revival”. Then the jury said it was not a revival and that it was an interpretation…
What is certain is that Unger is in search of the absolute, of the ultimate creation. The more he advances in his work, the more his letters resemble one another. I believe this is because he is very close to perfection. I see in his letters a mountain of very hard and very pure granite. It is stone: it has been there for hundreds of years and it does not move.
Do your letters move more?
I would place Unger in the Frutiger archetype: they are both very recognisable: Unger is Unger and Frutiger is Frutiger. You know where you are: the tension of the curves, the shapes. I would place myself in the Matthew Carter archetype: both connected to history and pragmatic in terms of the response that must be provided to be able to adapt to very different situations.
You are sometimes labelled a frivolous typographer. Does the word frivolous bother you?
No, not at all. Provided frivolous is synonymous with play and pleasure. It is not the same as being lightweight. I do not do things lightly. I study my subjects in depth, even if they sometimes have a frivolous aspect, such as for the orders from Beyoncé Knowles for example.
What typeface gave you the greatest pleasure when designing it?
It is always the last one. So at present it is Mencken, which came out last October and was designed for The Baltimore Sun. As time passes you see the defects in a typeface but that does not mean you reject it. The older a typeface is, the less I like it. That’s because I am always evolving. It is like looking at old photos.
Is the creative process linked to the mother tongue of the typeface designer, in your case French?
Although I am a pragmatic designer who tries to highlight the subject, I remain a creator. My creations are the reflection of my culture and my culture is specifically French. I try to be myself as much as I can, and thus to be culturally honest. Of course I am influenced by my colleagues, but I try to build letters by basing myself primarily on French typographical sources. Sabon is a homage to Garamond, Anisette is a homage to Cassandre. It is important for me to continue to develop an oeuvre that has been started.
But does that mean the creation is linked to the language? You can use a typeface to compose in every language. In that sense typography is universal. But at the same time it is influenced by the language and person of its creator. When the great German typographer Herman Zapf designed Optima and Palatino he was dreaming in German, not in French or Spanish. When I dream of a typeface I do so in French. I make my first compositions of texts in French, I take French words, without even thinking about it. The letters I design are no doubt more in harmony with my mother tongue than with other languages. It is a harmony of colours. German, for example, is a language that has a lot of quite complex letters, such as the w and the double s. The way of combining the letters the one after the other means that one needs to design a typeface that is quite static and sober because the language itself is very rich in its complexity of form.
In terms of the written letters it is a “flatter” language. There are a lot of identical letters that follow one another. That creates a slightly bland grey. When creating typefaces in French you have the desire to do something very lively to bring life to the text. If you apply the same system in German it will be moving in all directions. But that does not mean that the letters I design cannot be used in Dutch or in English. It is a very sensitive matter, which is why I speak of harmony and not of adaptation. I received an e-mail from one of my users of Le Monde Livre, a Swede. He explained to me that in Swedish there are combinations of letters that are horrible, that do not work at all. I made tests with two letters side by side, but in Swedish there are compound words with the same letter repeated three times in succession. This proves that the creation of letters is cultural and linked to the language. It also proves that one dreams of letters in a certain language.
Is an Italian graphic artist going to choose Bodoni or Ambroise?
Bodoni is no doubt more Italian than Ambroise. But there is also another problem: there is only one version of Ambroise while there are dozens of versions of Bodoni. It is the same with Sabon. I have received Sabon designs created at different times and often by different people. You can see that one person has redrawn a letter but has not looked at all the letters at the same time, has not checked to ensure that the adaptation is in harmony with the others. The logic is simply a logic of transfer. The Sabon on which I worked is much closer to a French Garamond than the Garamond drawn by Robert Slimbach. For Jan Tschichold, the grey of the text is something fundamental. Slimbach, on the other hand, allows himself to be influenced by Italian typography, with a pronounced leaning to the horizontal.
In what way is a typeface designer comparable to an orchestra conductor?
Like a conductor, he is more of an interpreter than an artist. He must respect the past and the problems linked to the subject. Each project is a pragmatic response to a problem the client is facing. It is difficult to say that one feels more French or whatever. We all have very varied influences.
Is it your ambition to renew the major French tradition?
Do I have the ambition to renew? You will have to put that question to my children and my grandchildren when it is all over. It is not me that you should ask (laughs). Let us speak rather of the high points and the low points of this French tradition. Deberny and Peignot, the last French type foundry, shut up shop in the 1970s. That was a major loss because a local company brings jobs for typographers. Between the late 1960s and the arrival of computers very few typeface designers had work. It was in the 1970s that the split came between the letters and the design, that became a fully-fledged element, as is demonstrated by the ITC typefaces of Albert Boton and Jean-Renaud Cuaz. Mecanorma gave rise to a lot of creations in the years 1970-1980, which proves that when there is a local industry that helps a great deal.
In the 1980s, the French Government set up a working group. Fortunately, the emphasis was on training rather than information. In 1985 the project led to the founding of the ANCT (Atelier National de Création Typographique/National Workshop for Typographic Creation). This launch of the ANCT, with the Toulouse Scriptorium, triggered a renaissance among young designers. People such as Franck Jalleau and Jean-Renaud Cuaz demonstrated that some highly talented people were renewing the tradition.
In the 1990s, the first small individual typeface foundries were set up, such as those of Sumner Stone. This US typographer started doing things influenced by the computer. In a sense, the design is simply the expression of the technology, one senses a very direct influence of the tool on the creation. People such as Matthew Carter and Cherie Cone, on the other hand, have continued to create typefaces that are not directly influenced by the tool.
What are your references in terms of teaching?
For me there are three places of training in typeface design, places that train people with real ability: the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague in the Netherlands, the University of Reading in the U.K. and the École Supérieure Estienne in Paris. The Toulouse Scriptorium, that closed this year, also trained quite a lot of people. People like Xavier Dupré, for example, who was self-taught before attending the Scriptorium.
You are president of ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale). How does this organisation see the development of typefaces in terms of the vast increase in languages?
Next April one of the first conferences on the creation of Arab typefaces will be held in Dubai. In South America, where no typefaces had been created for decades, we are now seeing an explosion in typefaces that are very different to non-Hispanic fonts. In Russia we are seeing the creation of Cyrillic typefaces. These young designers are more creative, more open and less rigid in their approach than was the case a few years ago. This is all evidence that typography remains dynamic and is continuing to evolve. Also, non-Latin typefaces are no longer regarded as exotic. Today they all exist.
Interview by Luk Mestdagh at the design agency Catapult, October 13th, 2005 Written by Frederika Hostens and translated into English by Martin Clissold