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The Eames Typographic Journey

In recent years the House Industries crew has bitten into projects that take on a life of their own until they start biting back, eventually consuming the entire studio (and anyone else who gets their hands too close to the mixing bowl when the beaters are going at full tilt). That’s what happened a few years ago when I mentioned to Dutch typemaster Erik van Blokland that we were working on a deal with the estate of Charles and Ray Eames to create a collection of fonts based on their work. Erik’s eyes lit up as much as his stoic Dutch heritage would allow and he told us that, in the unlikely event we could pull it off, he would like to be involved somehow. So after Andy and I finally broke bread with Eames Demetrios at his grandparents’ kitchen table, we set the hook that would define a spirited, three-year collaboration between House, the Eames family and Erik van Blokland.

Charles and Ray Eames did not design a typeface and this project was not about creating fonts that they would have drawn had they felt the need or inspiration to do so. It was about creating a tool that had the same universal appeal as the monuments to the Eames aesthetic, many of which have been so ingrained in our visual landscape that we barely notice them. Indeed it was the express wish of the Eames family to engineer a typeface that combined their mirthful personality with the timeless ubiquity of Eames designs.

If you’ve ever had the occasion to sit next to Erik van Blokland while he’s serial doodling a quirky synthesis of strokes, shapes, spaces, and counterspaces that bleed from drafting pen to cocktail napkin, you’d want to work with him too. Doodling is not an exclusive skill, but translating those random inked thoughts into a synthesis of control points, curves and corners that define filled and not-filled shapes of digital type is a rare talent. This crucial point is where mere mortals lose their way. This is where typography crosses the bridge from function back to form, and nobody makes that transition quite like Erik.

Like a candy-apple paint is just red until you step back and notice the little glimmer and sparkle of silver that bleeds through, Eames Century Modern will have to grow on you. There are details that don’t show themselves until the third or fourth look. So take your time, think about it, request a catalog, sniff some ink, feel the sting of a few paper cuts as you see how heat-dried lithographic inks bond to the dusty surface of 50# newsprint in a way that makes even the hidden shapes of Eames Century Modern show themselves. Play with Lettersetter and click around its deep stylistic options and extensive character sets. Then create a billboard or corporate annual report or movie title. It’ll be like waiting in a departure lounge on Eames system airport seating. You don’t know why you’re comfortable, you just are.

Posted by on April 14, 2010