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Interview with Verena Gerlach

November 20, 2017 by
FontShop Team
FontShop Team

“A lot of inspiration comes from the unknown and the naive approach to discover things.” We recently interviewed Berlin-based type and book designer Verena Gerlach to delve a bit deeper to find out more about the face behind the fonts, her influences, and her design process.

You witnessed the fall of the wall and reunification in Germany first hand and documented the visual language of the two sides of the wall. A number of your designs have been influenced by this FF Karbid, FF Cst Berlin East and FF Cst Berlin West and the recently released FF Sizmo, to name a few. Fast forward to Berlin today and gentrification and ‘hipsterization’ have become hot topics, does the visual landscape of Berlin of today continue to inspire you?

Verena In fact, I am not getting much inspiration from Berlin as the city anymore. But this has less to do with the ‘hipsterization’ that just does not interest me at all, or even bores me. It is more, the disappearance of traces of the economy of scarcity from East Berlin or the craziness of the Cold War in both parts. To me, Berlin is getting more and more like any other capital. The capitalisation and globalisation erase all kinds of vernacular identity. The new letterings are just following a mainstream pattern of pseudo individualisation. But maybe I am also just too familiar with my hometown these days. A lot of inspiration comes from the unknown and the naive approach to discover things.

Can you talk us through your design process? Does it change with each project?

Verena I mostly start with found shapes that inspire me. I am fascinated by vernacular typography and letterings (in this case not to mistake it for calligraphy) found on architecture. It is just important that their shapes were designed exactly for the letters’ purpose (in 3D/space): I just love industrial driven designs: like form follows tool/craft. From time to time, I fall in love with such found treasures and I keep pictures or drawings of them until I just have to do something with them. When you start with just a few letter shapes, you have to get to the essence of the characteristics of these shapes. You then have to build up a system that works for an entire typeface. You need to put all the found shapes into balance and harmony. A lot of visual ideas need to be deleted to reach this. To me, kicking out significant visual ideas is the hardest part of designing a typeface. Sometimes I only find uppercase shapes, so the challenge is (after creating an uppercase system) to also design a matching lowercase alphabet and figures, that come from quite a different visual background than capitals. When the general typeface works fine in its basic weight, I start to think about the other weights, alternates, and features.

You’ve had such a diverse career and have designed for a whole host of varied clients. What's been your proudest achievement so far?

Verena First of all, I don’t think that my career was diverse at all. All I have done has had to do with typography and letters. To me, it doesn’t matter if my work is in 2 or 3D. If the design is large or small. I even consider books as more related to the choreography of films (although the handling is ‘democratic’) than to posters. I need to know about the smallest design module in an overall typographic design. This smallest module is the glyph itself or even just parts of it. On the other hand, I need to know about the overall system of a typographic design (like a layout/book). I can really not take these different disciplines apart from each other. The possibility of working in all these different typographic fields makes me proud :)

Who would be a dream client to design for?

Verena I never thought of the possibility of a dream client. Some of my clients already suddenly have turned out to become my dream clients. I guess it is the combination of the project itself and the team that is together working on it. Plus the kind of production and the production budget. But even with a small production budget, if the team and the project are great, you can find your dream client. Not to forget about the money in general. The salary should fit too. Maybe the fashion industry would interest me. Because I never worked for it and I like adventures.

Outside of the world of type, letters and language what excites you?

Verena I am really into travelling and exploring places I have never been to. There is so much to discover in the world. And nature. Nature is so unpredictable and beautiful. It just fascinates me. And music. And art...

What would be your advice to someone starting out in the type design industry?

Verena You should figure out first if you have the patience to work for such a long time on only one typeface. If you are able to be consequent and strict with your own ideas. If you can deal with erasing nice visual ideas from a typeface to reach its balance and harmony. For quite a long time, there will be nothing to show off with.

You are the one who produces ‘the bricks for a house’. You are not the architect of the house. But if you like to send your type design to the world and let other people design with it (even you might not like the output or even the purpose): go for it. It is a wonderful world.

What’s next?

Verena I will dive deeper into the technology variable fonts and its design possibilities. After the first two years of just watching how this new font format was developing, I think that for me now is the time to get involved and explore its’ future.

Thank you, Verena!

LAST CHANCE Verena Gerlach’s newest design FF Sizmo is two typefaces in one. Comprising of a slightly condensed sans serif family with an industrial feel and a highly distinctive line display design that makes its mark in headlines with interconnecting horizontal baseline strokes. Get 75% off before the offer ends on November 22, 2017.