Alice Savoie started out with a foundation course in Applied Arts and then studied graphic design and typography for four years in Paris. She then set sail for the UK to follow the MA in Typeface Design at Reading University. Upon graduating in 2007 she relocated to London to work as a graphic designer. In March 2008 Alice joined Monotype Imaging as a full-time type designer.
I think at every stage of my studies I was taught by people who were very fond of type, so it turned out to be quite an obvious path. During my first years of graphic design studies in Paris I had a teacher who was absolutely passionate about letters. He was crazy about Zuzana Licko and forbid us to use Helvetica! He gave us a real eye and interest for type. From there, I decided that I had to learn more about letterforms. I had the opportunity to follow a course that combined both typography and typeface design, and again I was taught by passionate people. Among them was Franck Jalleau, a very skilled stone carver and type designer of the French Imprimerie Nationale. The course was a bit old-school with endless hours of calligraphy and hand-drawing on tracing paper. It was great. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to work as a type designer, but did not feel confident enough to get started professionally straight away. This is why I went to Reading. The approach there was quite different from the one I had experienced in France, but it was complementary.
All together I feel that I came to type design rather naturally. I started by using type in graphic design projects, until I realised that what I really wanted to do was to design the type itself!
You’ve already designed several typefaces. What do you like most and least about designing type?
The beginning of designing a typeface is always very exciting. At that stage it is impossible to know what the typeface will look like eventually. Experimenting with weights and italics is also a lot of fun. On the non-Latin side, I really enjoy drawing Greek.
And what I like least… I find kerning a bit tedious, although it’s always satisfying once you’ve done it well and your typeface is well spaced and kerned.
How do you usually start designing a typeface? Can you describe the process? Do you start from a specific letter?
When I sketch or start a design in FontLab I always start with the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’. I think they are nice letters to start with, through them you can express a lot about a design. Then I expand to letters such as b, e, h, o, s, d, r, p, and uppercase H and O. The next stage will be to write “Hamburgefontsiv”. I think it is better to keep a rather limited set of glyphs to start with, as the design will be changing a lot and it can be time-consuming to implement the changes in a wider character set.
Fairly quickly I will also experiment with weight and width variations to see how it could work as a family. I think it is important to do that, it can quickly give you an idea of the things that can and cannot survive in a design. Working on extreme weights can be very inspirational too.
How long does it take to create a typeface?
4 months, 3 days, 8 hours and 20 minutes! No, this is a difficult question; it can take a couple of days for a simple display face with a small character set, up to a few years in some other cases. In fact most type designers I know work on a few different projects at the same time — you rarely work full-time on one typeface. Type is a long, slow process, occasionally you need to take a bit of distance with what you produce and then come back to it with a fresh eye.
What are you working on now / future plans?
Recently I’ve been helping Robin Nicholas on a new addition to the Monotype library, a serif type family named Ysobel that should come out soon.
I worked more specifically on the display faces. I’m also working on custom font projects for Monotype Imaging that I can’t really develop here, and that are keeping me pretty busy. More personally, I am still working on finishing Capucine, the typeface I started developing when I was studying in Reading.
Your favourite type designers / typefaces?
It’s hard to choose! I really like the work of Cyrus Highsmith, my personal favorite is Prensa. In a different style, I think František Štorm produces great typefaces; I am always looking forward to his new releases. I am also very much attracted to script typefaces, and being French I can only admire some of the things that came out of France between the 1930s and 1960s: typefaces by Marcel Jacno, Roger Excoffon, Joan Trochut Blanchard… I’m a big fan. I also love the work of Alejandro Paul.