CAST: re-making history

Digital foundries have been appearing and thriving steadily throughout this decade. Cooperativa Anonima Servizi Tipografici (CAST, the Anonymous Cooperative of Typographic Services), created by Luciano Perondi and Riccardo Olocco, is currently revivifying the trade in Italy.

“In 2010,” recalls Perondi, “I was teaching and doing research at the Urbino campus of the Higher Institute for Artistic Industries. I bumped into Riccardo Olocco, whom I had met in Milan some years earlier at the Polytechnic University of Milan. He was teaching typography at the Free University of Bolzano, and he was also moving around Italy and abroad doing research on fifteenth-century Venetian type.”

“We quickly realized that we had much in common and decided to join forces to establish a new firm able to survive in a very difficult market,” says Olocco. “The next step was to look around to find others with similar ideas and the right frame of mind to share our project. One by one, Marta Bernstein, Erasmo Ciufo and Alessandro Tartaglia joined us. In 2013, we were ready to launch our type foundry, and in 2014 CAST started operating.”

“We believe in teamwork, both as designers and as researchers. Besides type designers, programmers and developers, our group now includes teachers, researchers and graphic designers. We work closely with Italian and international publishers, printing historians, typographers and calligraphers. This has enabled us to set up a network of contributors and to launch a series of articles that deal with type history and type culture, as well as scientific approaches to type, lettering and writing.” — Luciano Perondi
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Olocco has been quite exemplary of this versatile approach: he enrolled in 2013 in the Masters in Typeface Design program at the University of Reading and graduated with Zenon, a text typeface built on the study of Renaissance models. He’s currently completing a doctoral dissertation on 15th-century Venetian Roman types and has written several meticulous essays about Nicolas Jenson, all this in addition to his impressive design output, including Arzachel, Gramma and Parmigiano, this last designed with Jonathan Pierini and released by Typotheque.

When asked about the current state of type design in Italy and the connections between its rich history and CAST, Olocco shared this engaging summary:

“Italy has played a decisive role in the history of typography and Latin script, but typefaces of historical importance involved only a few key people and were produced during two distinct periods. The first was in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and even here, peaks of activity were limited to short periods. The second was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with Bodoni and his followers, the Amoretti brothers. Except for these periods, punchcutting was practically non-existent.

Gramma

So even though Italy has an important typographic history (not for nothing the terms “Latin,” “Roman” and “italics”), this history is very patchy; apart from the Renaissance, it is the work of isolated people in isolated situations. There has been no continuity, nor did the 20th century see a tradition develop. This is because in Italy, since the Second World War, if not before, there has been a gulf between typography and graphics which has not yet been fully investigated, and which persisted until the beginning of the digital age in the 1990s, with terrible results. Still today, much of the typographic design produced in Italy is done without the most elementary typographical considerations. The story of Aldo Novarese’s Forma is a good example and demonstrates how graphic designers and type designers have been unable to communicate.

During the 1990s some trained graphic designers began to design typefaces, (more or less pioneering, perhaps even daring), either to experiment with the new digital media or for specific commissions. At that time there was no specific training curriculum anywhere, but in other countries the new wave was accompanied by a move away from traditional media to digital, with a prevalence of traditional forms over experimental forms.

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CAST font families available to rent on Fontstand for a fraction of their retail price.

In Italy, people like Novarese and Umberto Fenocchio — the only Italian type designers in the latter half of the 20th century of international repute — failed to provide any continuity to our modest tradition in typeface design (Nebiolo, Simoncini and not many others) and eschewed digital design, primarily because they were at the end of their careers when digital type design was in its infancy. Among the designers of the old generation, only Piero De Macchi really made the transition to digital production.

On the other hand, cultural production and calligraphic activity were quite lively and rich, as evinced by Calligrafia magazine, Stampa Alternativa’s ‘Scritture’ series, the Italian Calligraphic Association’s pioneering work from 1990 onwards, and the popularizing work of Giovanni Lussu. This perhaps shows our recent production in its most culturally original phase, not yet overwhelmed by foreign typographic models. At the same time, however, the lack of commissions, an insignificant domestic market and the absence of any form of cooperation between professionals slowed down the development of local initiatives, if not of self-support.

In the early 2000s Italy saw an explosion of training in type design, which was never coordinated in any way, (each university just moving in its own direction), but which nonetheless attracted the keen attention of graphic designers. The clearest consequence of this was a major exodus of type designers: many of them completed their studies in other countries, and few returned. Almost all the type designers from our own generation onwards (i.e. those born after the end of the 1970s) have taken this road.

Unfortunately, this new though rather disorganized attention to training in typeface design has not been matched by similar attention to typography and typesetting, which are still marginal in the curriculum. Still, various type designers are now active in Italy and the majority of them, like our partner Andrea Amato (Tipiblu, who designed Sempione, released by CAST), are mainly graphic designers; they design typefaces for their own projects.”

Sempione

Needless to say, CAST has several irons in the fire: “We are stepping up our activities and collaborations”, says Olocco. “2018 was the year of the Sole family; we improved Sole Serif, (originally designed by Perondi in 2010 for Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy’s leading financial daily paper) for The Observer, and then we were commissioned to design a new custom grotesque for Il Sole 24 Ore, Sole Sans.

Sole Serif and Sans

Besides this we will soon be releasing other types such as the geometric Arkit and the rough and spiny Valnera, a seriffed family with a peculiar look. These two have been developing over some years and have already been put to work in several applications.

arkit

Arkit

valnera

Valnera

Also, together with Lazy Dog Press we are going to publish the first issue of a journal with a selection of contributions from articles.c-a-s-t.com. It should be printed and distributed in 2019.”

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