Typerepublic: Where Every Project Is a Journey

In many countries type design experienced a renaissance during the last two decades of the last century. In each place there was a small group of people who threw themselves into the adventure out of daring and curiosity, enthusiastic explorers who were not afraid to experiment. In Spain, one of those people was Andreu Balius. “At the end of the eighties there was no one designing digital typefaces in Spain,” he says. “It was a totally new and challenging practice.”

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At the end of the 1980s, Balius began to sketch shapes with blue pencil on couché paper and then ink them with Rotring, drawing his first alphabets under the influence of the constructivist artists. Long before that, he had taken two years of university courses in economics and sociology in Barcelona, and although he left those studies behind, the effervescence and vitality of the city’s design scene influenced his career as a designer.

Balius left the university with the firm intention of devoting himself to type design, a discipline that in the Spain of the 90s, “was almost unknown as a design speciality. […] The only things that interested me were abroad, in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany. Spain was a desert, but the feeling that everything was about to be done was both naive and exciting. There were no limits. Technology made everything possible. It was something new to be discovered.”

Carmen

Carmen Fine

Carmen Fiesta

From those first efforts came the García Fonts & Co. project, a platform to start “learning to create types from experimentation, to understand typography as the formalization of an idea, as the ‘voice’ of the message.” From there, the drive not only to create but also to distribute his own typefaces led to the founding of Typerepublic in 2003.

The name was carefully chosen: “Typerepublic is a statement of intent: typography as a cultural tool with clear social implications (not just as an instrument and/or tool for communication), understanding the process of designing types as a true commitment to what is generated. Not everything is fair. Designing typefaces must have meaning. Giving meaning to typography, through a particular functionality, historical research, the emotionality of a specific message, giving visibility to culture through type design, contributing to intercultural dialogue, encouraging the empowerment of written culture… all this is at the foundation of Typerepublic and of my way of understanding type design.”

But Balius is a restless soul with an infinite curiosity and an inexhaustible desire to learn. This curiosity, and in particular the general lack of knowledge about the history of Hispanic typography, led him to start on his own research on typography and type design in Spain. It took time. “Around 1998 I started visiting the Library of Catalonia (Biblioteca de Catalunya) in Barcelona, and later the National Library of Spain (Biblioteca Nacional de España) in Madrid looking for type specimens. I felt like I was looking for some lost treasure. The only clues I had were from the book Printing Types by Updike and a few articles, but there wasn’t much.” He discovered an 18th century Catalan punchcutter, Eudald Pradell, and started sketching the idea of designing a text typeface based his types. “The more I found out about his life and work as a punchcutter, the more he fascinated me. That was the starting point for Pradell, a project started in 1999 and completed between 2002 and 2003.”

Pradell

“Another important motivation that led me to design this font was to make Pradell’s work visible, to recover that historical memory in the field of typography; to make the past known and to claim it as part of our typographical legacy.” But his work with the types cut by Pradell was not to revive them, much less merely digitize them. Rather, the project is an interpretation, “a personal look at the past, but with one foot in the present.”

Also among the “lost treasures” were Arabic characters engraved by Jerónimo Gil. They awakened an interest that would lead Balius to study non-Latin typography at the University of Reading’s summer course (2009, 2010). He designed Al-Andalus, an Arabic companion to Pradell based on GIl’s types, completing it as his Ph.D. project at the University of Southampton in 2013. He also went on to study at the American University of Beirut’s Arabic Type Design program (2016).

Pradell Arabic

“Why Arabic? Because in Spain it’s a need. Our culture owes much to Arab traditions. It is a legacy that is implicit in our national identity. The Al-Andalus project, with the Pradell Arabic typeface as its first instance, aims to unite cultures by taking the samples of Spanish letters from the 18th century as an example. Thus, this journey through time also has contemporary motivations.”

His commitment and the constant questioning of his work have given him a clear idea of the role of type design in today’s globalized and multicultural context. “Typography is a powerful tool for intercultural dialogue. The visibility of a culture is revealed through the written word, its writing system. […] The availability of fonts in a particular writing system is a form of empowerment that helps specific communities to be able to express themselves in their own writing and, at the same time, to ensure the future and survival of a minority language. For example, the design of Tubqal, (a multi-script, Latin-Arabic-Tifinagh family), contributes to the spread and normalization of the Amazigh culture within the current cultural context of the Maghreb.”

Tubqal

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Observation, contemplation and travel, as well as exploration of other disciplines, are mechanisms that allow Balius to acquire training with “a humanistic view of design, in general.” Because he even understands learning as a journey, and traveling as “a form of learning, at the same time. I can’t stop learning and, therefore, traveling,” he says. “What we keep from our work is all we learn from it. We take away nothing but the satisfaction of that learning, the experience of that journey.” With his new traveling partner, Ricard Garcia, recent Type&Media graduate and codesigner of Patufet, he is certain to take us to many wonderful places.

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