• Maheen Awan

3 Decades of Type Design

As a type enthusiast, the art of type design holds a distinct place in my heart. For this reason, it absolutely needed to shine through my Archive & Collections project. The journey started as any does - Going through a vast collection of archives University for the Creative Arts (UCA) had to offer, and finally coming across the NatWest Bank type concept. From there, I delved into a world of orgasmic type design and branding, falling into The Foundry, and getting mesmerized by the works of David Quay and Freda Sack.


This brief got me thinking a lot about how you can't talk about type without talking about the designer. Critiquing the typefaces with no background knowledge of where it originates from, the thought process of the designer and the purpose it’s supposed to serve doesn’t do justice to the whole process of creating a typeface. Type is taken for granted so much that we rarely realize we are constantly digesting written words. From books to shop fronts, type is all around us. We often reflect on the power of the written word, but rarely do we consider the designer’s role in emulating the tone of the word or sentence. Behind the scenes, a designer has taken the time to consider the look and feel of the text.


Typography is used to establish a strong visual hierarchy and sets the product’s overall tone. It is essential in creating an excellent user experience. Type is crucial in building brand recognition and influencing decisions. If it catches and holds the reader’s attention, only then is it doing its job.


David Quay and Freda Sack, co-founders of The Foundry, have made a successful career doing just that. The Foundry has worked on big brands, one of which includes NatWest Bank in the UK.


The Foundry:

At a conference (ATypI (Association Typographique International)) in Paris in 1989, David Quay discussed with Freda Sack the idea of setting up their own type foundry. The arrival of the Macintosh computer, and software programmes such as Ikarus for Mac gave them the novel chance of producing their own fonts. A quick conversation led to the making of The Foundry - UK’s first independent digital type foundry in Soho, London. The Foundry has accomplished to build up a library of fonts families of extremely high quality that are used by designers, advertising agencies, businesses and corporations around the globe. David and Freda went on to take Stuart de Rozario as a junior designer in 1998, due to the increasing workload. Since then, Stuart has also been instrumental in the works produced by The Foundry.


The Foundry was a ground breaking idea as the first independent type foundry, that led many others to follow lead and erect their own foundries. The Foundry has published 34 commercial typeface families. Works produced by The Foundry can be seen all around the world from Yellow Pages to British Rail and Lisbon Metro, Swiss International Airlines and Saudi Airlines to WWF.


David, Freda and Stuart constantly designed and updated the Foundry library with developing and rapidly changing font formats, system software, and multi-language sets. Their expertise, experience, and dedication shined through in the wide range of fonts and bespoke typefaces, which were all created and produced in-house using traditional drawing skills and then transferred to digital data.


Works by The Foundry:


First ever The Foundry typeface:

Fig. 1-3 The Foundry (1990)


The Architype Collections came about as The Foundry was asked to create headline typefaces:

Fig. 4-6 The Foundry Architype Collection


Work for Yellow Pages and British Rail:

Fig. 7-8 Yellow Pages and British Railway


NatWest Bank Concept:

One of the numerous projects Freda and David worked on was creating a custom type for the popular NatWest Bank. I was lucky to find their work on this as part of the special collections at the UCA Epsom. It includes eight concept designs that show various work in progress sketches, ideas and thought processes from initial conception to realization. There isn’t much I could find online on the process and inspiration behind the typeface. Though I did come across an interview of David Quay with Typeroom, where he was asked which of his works has been the most challenging, to which he answered:


“NatWest! We were heavily art directed by a client/designer that thought Emigré Magazine was a designer's Bible and Post Modernism an act of God. The end result was to me, a mish-mash of ideas. I never liked the typeface and found it difficult to work on. Five years after designing it we were asked by another client to revise NatWest in the light of online banking and the sans serif version of the typeface would become paramount, I was a lot happier at the result. What the NatWest typeface did do was to give them a very distinctive voice in a rather staid banking market.”

In my opinion, it’s unfortunate that even great type designers are at such mercy of clients. As much as I value the idea of co-design, it can sometimes prove to be problematic. The “Customer is always right” mantra is arguably where creative ideas go to die. Unfortunately, what most clients fail to see is that it’s referred to as a professional service for a reason. For the sake of debate, I strongly stand with the mindset that if the client is indeed always right, he would have then designed a typeface himself.


Anyway, coming back to the matter at hand. The NatWest Bank Concept was part of a touring exhibition called 'Matter in hand'. This exhibition displayed samples and ephemerals which traced the development of designers' ideas from conception to completion. This was originally held at the London institute Gallery but it has since toured many places, including New York. It now finally rests at UCA Epsom, along with many other treasures. The fact that UCA holds these archives is impressive.


Fig. 9-13 NatWest Bank Concept (2020)


The NatWest typeface takes its inspiration from Helvetica, ITC Garamond and Bembo. You can see how subtly these 3 typefaces have been incorporated into a completely new serif typeface. This was done pre 2001 and was used by NatWest until a custom font family designed by Monotype Design Studio in 2015 replaced it. This was done for exclusive use by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group (including its subsidiaries NatWest, Ulster Bank, etc.).


NatWest Rebrand:

NatWest went under a rebrand in 2016 as part of a larger rebrand of RBS, which is its parent company. The rebrand was done by the consultancy FutureBrand, who designed the colourful new branding for NatWest which we see all around us now. The new logo is based on the original logomark created in 1968 and uses the same logotype introduced in 2015. A “reinvention” they’ve called it instead of a redesign.


Dan Witchell, executive creative director at FutureBrand, has said “… we wanted to build on something that was always there rather than create something new.”


FutureBrand has incorporated many new graphic elements including a series of colourful illustrations and 3D typography. Bright colour palette of blue, purple, pink, yellow and white has been introduced along with a series of moving gifs and animations. These steps for branding have been taken primarily so that the bank could stand out on the high street and also attract the younger generation towards banking. NatWest has definitely been braver in their advertising and identity choices as compared to their more conservative competitors.


Fig. 14-15 NatWest Rebrand (2016)


Dismantling and Relaunching:

Freda Sack wanted to retire in 2012. She wanted to shut the studio and escape from the everyday business of licensing and distribution of fonts. Hence, all distribution was handed over to Monotype (formerly FontSmith), and in 2012 the company ultimately closed down.

David Quay went on to work solo after that and Stuart de Rozario moved on to Monotype.


After Freda’s death in 2019, David wanted to make sure Freda’s legacy continued. He approached Stuart about reviving the company and soon after, in 2020, brought back The Foundry, under the name The Foundry Types. They relaunched after an eight-year hiatus and with 23 new typeface families. Their library showcases an eclectic array of font styles including humanist, geometric sans, along with a more traditional old style and modern serif design.

Fig.16-20 Foundry Tiento (2020)


David Quay:

David was a Graphic Communication major at Ravensbourne College of Art & Design from 1963–67. After which he went onto work at various leading London design companies as a packaging and graphic designer.


From 1975 on, he worked as a freelance designer specializing in lettering and logotypes, until forming Quay & Gray with Paul Gray, in 1983. He started his own company David Quay Design in 1987, to concentrate on graphic and typographic design. He also began to design his first text typefaces which were subsequently released by the International Typeface Corporation (ITC) in New York and H Berthold AG in Germany. He then finally co-founded The Foundry in 1989, at which he went onto produce works for the next 23 years. Simultaneously, he became a professor in Germany for which he relocated to Amsterdam, and continued working for the company from there.


He also describes himself as a “Type Tourist”. He has visited and extensively photographed the type styles that characterize many cities across the world, using them as inspiration for his own projects especially for the City of Bath typeface he produced.


David now focuses on his revived company The Foundry Types, alongside Stuart.


Okay, now the next bit gets me very excited because I did not expect to find so many interesting connections with Freda Sack, but honestly, they were kind of mind blowing.


Freda Sack:

She studied typography at Maidstone College of Art and then went onto work at multiple font manufacturers including Stempel and Linotype throughout the 70’s and early and mid-80’s. Then, of course, The Foundry in 1989. Alongside The Foundry, she also set up Foundry Types Ltd in 2000 to further work on and develop the fonts of The Foundry.


Now, the interesting bit number one - Freda was awarded an Honorary Master of Arts by the University for the Creative Arts, and was also a governor on the UCA Board. What were the chances this was even a possibility? UCA represent!


Interesting fact number two – (Which, I read, she was particularly proud of) She participated in the first ever design conference in Karachi, Pakistan. My birth place!


Sadly, she died in her sleep in February 2019 after a short illness, but her memory lives on via her works which are all around us.


That’s all for the fact, figures and the mandatory 2000ish-word count review. Now I want to talk a bit about how I felt during the course of this project.

Fig. 21 David and Freda (2016)


End thoughts:

I absolutely loved working on this Archive project. I was exposed to some wonderful type, a few of which I’ve downloaded for future use obviously, and got to learn about 2 prodigious type designers integral to the type community. I also managed to pick up some tips and tricks for my own ongoing type project, which should hopefully be done in a few months *fingers crossed*.


I didn’t think a simple trip to the library to check out the NatWest archives would turn into this whole rabbit hole about something so much more than just NatWest. I’m glad it did though. Truthfully speaking, I wanted this project to solely focus on NatWest type, but I was met with multiple dead ends along the research. This forced me to expand my research area into more aspects. I let the research lead the way, and happily went wherever it took me.


My most important learning from this: Nothing beats a good ol’ pen and paper. Starting from the basics keeps the process simple and humble. Which was always the basis of all works produced by The Foundry, and something still continued by The Foundry Types, in this digital day and age.


A pencil is still one of the best tools in the studio! – David Quay


I also learned that it is okay not to produce anything 100% original, considering there are 1000’s of typefaces out there and so many more in production. Although, variations of already existing type have created a sort of blandness across different works, and with major corps entering the game it is becoming difficult for independent type designers to make a mark. Aaah! Gotta start somewhere though, right?

Bibliography:

Alagiah, M. (2020) The Foundry relaunches with a new name and 23 typeface families. [online] Itsnicethat.com. At: https://www.itsnicethat.com/news/foundry-types-typography-graphic-design-240920 (Accessed 19 December 2020).


Dawood, S. (2016) NatWest goes back to its roots with new branding. [online] Design Week. At: https://www.designweek.co.uk/issues/3-9-october-2016/natwest-goes-back-roots-new-branding/ (Accessed 29 December 2020).


Dixon, C. (2019) Freda Sack (1951–2019). [online] Alphabettes.org. At: https://www.alphabettes.org/freda-sack-1951-2019/ (Accessed 24 December 2020).


FutureBrand. (2016) NatWest. [online] At: https://www.futurebrand.com/our-work/natwest (Accessed 31 December 2020).


Linkedin.com. (2017) The Adventures of a Type Tourist, David Quay. [online] At: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sds-talk-4-april-adventures-type-tourist-david-quay-society/ (Accessed 31 December 2020).


Myfonts.com. (2016) MyFonts: Creative Characters The Foundry. [online] At: https://www.myfonts.com/newsletters/cc/201610.html (Accessed 30 December 2020).


Myfonts.com. (2019) Freda Sack « MyFonts. [online] At: https://www.myfonts.com/person/Freda_Sack/ (Accessed 3 January 2021).


Quay, D. (n.d) Foundry Sans | David Quay Design. [online] Davidquaydesign.com. At: http://davidquaydesign.com/foundry-sans/ (Accessed 22 December 2020).


Steven, R. (2016) New Natwest logo uses 1968 symbol for rebrand. [online] Creative Review. At: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/new-natwest-logo/ (Accessed 28 December 2020).


Typeroom.eu. (2020) The Foundry Types: David Quay on the rebirth of an iconic type design affair. [online] At: https://www.typeroom.eu/the-foundry-types-david-quay-on-the-rebirth-of-an-iconic-type-design-affair (Accessed 29 December 2020).

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