Focus On FontStructors – Emilio Ignozza (Em42)

This is the third in our series of mini-​interviews with FontStruc­tors. In this instalment we talk to Emilio Ignozza, better known on FontStruct as Em42. Emilio Ignozza is a graphic and web designer based in Roma, Italy. He originally studied architecture, and geometry, grids and patterns still play a key role in his design work. Because of his daytime job as a software specialist he has worked on many software-related design projects, ranging from software GUI to packaging. Typography is one of his interests, as are photography, contemporary architecture, and design. His current main project which he shares with his friend Gi is the blog House42[friends], where they catalogue things they like, things they do, things they’ve seen, and places they’ve been to. On FontStruct Em42 is known for his “purist” approach, taking advantage of the modularity of the tool and using a minimum number of different brick shapes.

Emilio Ignozza (Em42)

Emilio Ignozza has a degree in architecture, yet never practised as an architect. His studies covered humanistic and technical topics which developed his interest in arts, design and visual communication. Although he has no formal background in graphic design, he soon discovered many fundamental rules that are valid for architecture and for communicating a project visually are easily applicable to graphic design as well. Indeed his approach to graphic design is heavily infused by the geometrical patterns, grids and modules he learned to apply when laying out architectural projects.

His first experience with type design was preparing lettering for project drawings. The personal computer wasn’t widely established yet in early 90s, and the pencil drawings on light cardboard required hand-made lettering that had to harmonise with the project content.

Presentation of an architectural analysis of La Casa delle Armi, a fencing hall designed by Luigi Moretti in 1936 with custom lettering by Em42

ONB by Em42

How did you come upon FontStruct?

I discovered FontStruct prior to its official launch through TypeNeu, a blog I regularly visited at the time. For some time I had been working on my first attempt at type design: ONB, a not-so-original modernist geometric display sans (check Mostra by Mark Simonson) based on the lettering used for inscriptions found on many buildings built during the Fascist years in Roma. The typeface originated from a set of characters I designed for the presentation of an architectural analysis of La Casa delle Armi, a fencing hall designed by Luigi Moretti in 1936. I was struggling with spacing, kerning, and optical correction issues. Then there it was – this tool that allowed you to generate modular fonts just by playing with bricks, without dealing with the complexities of professional font design. I was totally taken and quickly started my first simple experiments.

Invitation to the SUPER aperitivo for the opening of the Spring shopping season featuring Doodeka by Em42.

You are known in the FontStruct community as being some kind of a purist, because you never seem happy every time new brick shapes are added. What is the reasoning behind this?.

Even if I generally follow the less-is-more approach my designs are guided by the restraints that are either inherent to the job or self-imposed, for instance to comply with the project briefing.

What I like most about FontStruct is the idea to have only a limited amount of basic shapes to design a font with, with no control on spacing nor kerning (basic spacing controls were only added earlier this year). All this may seem severely limiting to what you can achieve, but the real challenge is to create a fully fledged type design within those limitations. I suppose that’s why the FontStruct fonts I appreciate the most are those that clearly reveal that they are based on “bricks”. Conversely I care less about those that tend to be too much bitmap graphics – any typeface could be rendered this way – or that try too hard to simulate bezier-based shapes.

Usually I tend to put into evidence the limitations of my designs instead of trying to hide them. As it was not possible to define smoothly rounded shapes, I decided to build a set of characters based on a dodecagon in Doodeka. And because by definition pixel-based font cannot have diagonal lines I emphasised the jagged “staircase effect” in Escaptionist.

Flyer announcing the sales season at the SUPER concept store featuring Les Bains by Em42, which is based on the lettering used for the signs in Les Bains des Docks by Jean Nouvel, one of the architects Emilio and Gi like the most.
With regards to the addition of new bricks to FontStruct, users sometimes ask for special bricks they think they need to complete a design they have in mind. In the beginning FontStruct only had 97 different brick shapes; now there are 167 – almost twice as many. Ironically we’ve come to the point that it has become so difficult to retrieve bricks in the toolbox that some users keep on asking for bricks that are already available.

The simplest analogy I can think of are Lego bricks. When I was a kid I used to play a lot with them. Yet when in the late 70s they started to add special bricks for the more complex designs in the Space series I started losing interest. Of course it became easier to build more complex models with those special components, but for me personally all the fun was had in constructing special designs with only those first basic bricks.

The Legorama series was inspired by Lego, the most famous construction set in the world. Legorama, Legorama Fill, Legorama Everywhere, Legorama Everywhere Fill by Em42.

When I was browsing through your FontStructions I noticed the similarities between Dioptical and OPTICA Normal, Manuel Guer­rero’s typeface that won a Certificate of Excellence in Type Design at the most recent TDC2 awards.

I know OPTICA and there is indeed a resemblance with Dioptical, even in the name. But I was not influenced by Manolo’s work, nor was he by mine. I started on Dioptical in September 23rd (as you can see in the font info) and only
became aware of Optica in the November 28 edition of The Week in Type on I Love Typography. I think we both were inspired by the same popular optical trick usually seen in the image library of optical illusions. Yet the two sets
seem quite different in my opinion. Surprisingly enough the comments on BlueTypo mention even more type creations similar to Optica and Dioptical. It seems that different people came out with a similar idea around the same period of time without being influenced by one another.

To be honest I did not show Dioptical any earlier because I thought it was not interesting enough to share – and quite hard to download because of the large amount of bricks involved. I left it in my private FontStruct lab, together with other unpublished fonts. After the critical success of Optica I decided to give it a try and released it. This shows how poorly I judged what would be of interest to the public, and what not.

Skineskin laser-engraved leather covers for Moleskine notebooks featuring Dioptical and Escaptionist by Em42.

Tell us more about those classy Skineskin laser-engraved leather covers for Moleskine notebooks you designed that are featured on your blog.

When Helmut Pfanner from Studio Lago asked us to create some artwork for the Skineskin covers, it seemed quite evident for us (me and my partner Gi from House42) to use fonts I created with FontStruct. On the one hand we were curious about using typography not in a mere graphic design project, but in product design where the text could generate a tactile sensation, as the artwork becomes coarse and slightly embossed when laser-engraved in leather. On the other hand the covers were for notebooks in which you usually write down notes, and the use of text to decorate them was so “meta” that we simply could not resist.

In two of the covers the text creates a pattern decorating the complete leather surface. There were some issues with engraving the Dioptical pattern, as the optical effect could be easily lost if the lines became too thick or too thin. Eventually we were very happy with the result: when seen from a distance the pattern seems uniform, and only when you take a closer look you can see letters spelling PER-SO-NAL-NO-TES. The Escaptionist pattern is twice “meta” – the text used to create the pattern is the filler text “Lorem Ipsum” created by an on-line generator.

Skineskin laser-engraved leather cover for Moleskine notebooks featuring Monkey Pizzaz by Em42.
The last cover (not shown on our blog but featured on the Skineskin site) uses the Monkey Pizzaz dingbat face, lining up small monkeys in columns and rows. The font consists of twenty-six monkeys with different expressions (A is for angry, B is for blind, C is for crazy, etc.). The upper case letters have front view and the lower case the rear, which made it the perfect choice to be used on the front and the back cover respectively.

Lamina by Em42 is a typeface composed by arranging side by side slim layers obtained by laminating fat letterforms.

Proclama by Em42 is a reverse italic constructivist sans with built-in banner elements featuring geometric fringes and swirls, for creating propaganda.

Magnetor by Em42

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  1. wow, really nice! congrats Em42!!!

    Posted by Simon Robertson on Jul. 18, 2009
  2. The Skineskin Moleskine covers are fantastic Em. A wonderful application of your inspired fontstructions.

    Posted by John Skelton on Jul. 18, 2009
  3. Wow… These leather covers are blowing me away! Shame their price is a bit beyond a student’s financial horizon.:) But so cool to see how fontstructions look applied in the real world… Looking at the b/w preview on the fontstruct site would just never let you imagine how much potential there is in these fonts.

    Anyway, congrats Em… A very well-deserved article! they’re doing a great job picking out top fontstructors so far.


    Posted by Tobias Sommer on Jul. 19, 2009
  4. They’re doing a great job pick­ing out top FontStruc­tors so far.

    Credit where credit’s due – upon my request FontShop’s Stephen Coles compiled a list, with input from FontStruct creator Rob Meek, and FontStruct’s Director of InfraStruction Gustavo Ferreira. But I’m the one having a blast interviewing these guys. :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 19, 2009
  5. Thanks to my fellow fontstructors Afrojet, Shasta and Simon: I’m glad you liked the interview content.

    And, of course, thanks to Yves for interviewing me!

    Posted by Em on Jul. 20, 2009
  6. congrats, em42.
    very interesting interview, fantastic work and intelligent concepts. it’s so cool to get to know more about some fontstructors. somehow we all spend a lot of time there “together”, i guess :)

    Posted by kix on Jul. 20, 2009
  7. While I completely understand where Emilio is coming from, I’m glad there are all those bricks! I’ve learned so much about typography because Fontstruct lets me do so many things. Whether it’s art or not is another matter!
    As for the problem of brick-infestation of the toybox: I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. I reckon the next iteration of Fontstruct could make the problem go away altogether, and yet retain the friendliness for newbies. Here’s how it would work.
    A new “transform” tool that appears to allow you to rotate, skew and scale bricks, but does no such thing. For instance the rotate function merely accesses an already-existing brick for that rotation. The scale function would appear to scale up — say — a quarter-round brick, but would actually access a group of bricks, each of which has been split up into individual tiles. Once they’d been accessed, the group would appear either in the “your bricks” palette or preferably a new pasteboard for storing copyable shapes; each tile that forms the shape could be used individually or together.

    The shapes are only limited by the amount of effort poor Mr Meek has to put in to create them. But the crucial thing is they wouldn’t appear in the box until they were called upon! And new extensions could be added as upgrades. For instance, to begin with, perhaps the transform function would only rotate the basic blocks, scale and skew a few objects at a time.
    It’s an access tool disguised as a transform tool, and it would make scaling (particularly) feasible without recourse to bezier controls or any other such notion which sins against the fundamental charm of Fontstruct.
    I’d love to hear what Mr Meek makes of my suggestion, after he’s finished cursing me for offering it.

    Posted by intaglio on Jul. 28, 2009
  8. I for one think your suggestion is brilliant. It’s a well thought out and deceptively simple interface idea. Great concept — I hope it can be implemented.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 29, 2009
  9. I do realise just what I’m asking of Rob with this suggestion. Applying a transform to just one brick would involve a huge amount of work behind the scenes. For instance, to scale the half-round brick once so it occupies two gridspaces height and depth involves drawing three new bricks (the brickspaces the shape traverses); rotating adds another nine; the other three rotations add another nine bricks each; and the number of bricks that have to be drawn to complete a set go up exponentially with just one upscaling to the next gridspace. And that’s just scaling and rotating of one brick. Quantuple it all for skew!

    Imagine the functionality it would add through, just that one brick. When the quarter-triangles were added, they facilitated the making of so much more than had been possible before. Merely being able to scale up a half-round to the next gridspace, with all its rotations, would have a huge impact on what could be done.

    Let me tell a little story. (A million) years ago I operated a Compugraphic typesetting machine. No way was it WYSIWYG. Not on the fly, anyway. Everything was achieved with codes. Codes for the dimensions of the page; codes for the x-y placement of compartments within the page for the type to go into; codes for the vertical and horizontal alignment of the type; codes for the font names, point-size, leading, kerning, tracking, uncle tom cobbly and all.

    It took months to learn everything there was to know about creating a page on a Compugraphic machine, but through great concentration and determined effort over a long period of time I got my head around it all. Including working in a base of 12 (picas and points) instead of decimal. Not bad for someone who’s hopelessly dyslexic with numbers.

    Then I was introduced to the wonders of Pagemaker. Look! If you wanted to put some type on the page you just dragged out a box shape and started typing! And – wonders will never cease – you didn’t have to alter any x-y co-ordinates to move stuff around. You just switched to the pointer tool and moved it!

    Already Fontstruct already has proven its potential by providing a different interface paradigm.

    Yes, I could create fonts in Illustrator or Fontlab, if I was to learn how, but I haven’t. While I admire the intuitiveness of Illustrator’s Bezier-tool, Illustrator presents you with a thicket of options that you need to know about before you can start. Open and closed paths, points on a path, ‘best practice’ (constraining the x-y drawing of a path, economy and best placement of points, corner points or curves? blah blah). Then there’s the difference between joined and grouped objects. It just goes on and on.

    Fontstruct ,on the other hand, burrows to a deeper level of intuitiveness that makes it easier for non-technical people to create stuff. One more layer of abstraction has been removed from the user; he or she need know nothing about it.

    When I first experienced Pagemaker, I realised the designers of the software had relieved me of the burden of a whole lot of stuff I didn’t really need to know. (And put the mechanics of execution upon their own shoulders!) Just so with Fontstruct. It all depends how much time and money and effort can be thrown at it. I consider the underlying idea of Fontstruct to be a major advance in interface design. I just want more!

    As you can see, I’m coming from a completely different angle. While I admire the ingenuity and inventiveness that using just a handful of bricks requires, I don’t think an exponential expansion of Fontstruct’s capabilities would obstruct that. A font that uses the fewest bricks in the most clever way is a thing of beauty for all time. Charlie Parker’s two-minute solos will never be surpassed or superseded.

    What’s important is extending the interface: not either-or, but both-and! Interface is to Software what a script is to a film. A ton of money isn’t going to improve a film that has a fundamentally flawed script.

    I love Fontstruct so much I want it to be more. It’s just a different sort of more than Emilio wants!

    Posted by intaglio on Jul. 29, 2009
  10. @Intaglio: I see your point, and of course I’m not against FontStruct improvements. I totally agree with what you suggest about having a brick editor, I suggested something like it months ago in the comment section of your Processor.

    What I don’t agree with are tool improvements that follow the “guts” of users — I want new bricks! — at the expense of the tool usability, like dozens of new bricks populating the toolbox. I realize that Rob Meek (that I consider a fantastic developer) has to mediate between what users request, and what can be implemented, and that adding some new bricks now and then is a reasonable compromise.

    In the interview I was just explaining the point of being considered (in Yves’ words) a purist. Even if hundreds of new bricks are available, it is very likely that I will stick on using a limited number of them — not always the same, but a limited selection. This does not mean that whenever I need a special shape to complete a design, I will renounce to it for the sake of purism.

    Posted by Em on Jul. 30, 2009
  11. This is similar to the 5 typefaces dogma by Massimo Vignelli and the 5,000 typefaces reply from Erik Spiekermann. You can indeed stick to 5 fonts for all your work, but one designer’s 5 typefaces don’t need to be the same as another designer’s 5 typefaces and so on.

    Nicely explained, Emilio.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 30, 2009
  12. Yes, em I agree that silting up the toolbox is a big problem. And my idea, to work really well, virtually demands a separate pasteboard. It’s certainly impractical to expect that all these wondrous new bricks would appear in the toolbox. Not only a new pasteboard, but a revised attitude to the rotated bricks. I’d get rid of all the rotation alternatives from the toolbox – only the meta-brick itself would remain. The rotations/scales/skews would go into the library which is in the background at all times. And they’d be accessed via a pasteboard rather than the toolbox. A pretty big ask. Maybe too much of an ask.

    (Rant:) The way my pipedream works is I use a transform tool to create all the rotations, scaling or skewing, and the result appears on a pasteboard not in the toolbox.(Maybe it would be accessible through an Fkey). When I want that shape I go to the pasteboard and copy it, then paste into whatever glyph page I’m working on. I pretty much do this anyway at the moment: cannibalising forms for other glyphs throughout the design. The only difference is this pasteboard would be visual, active, rather than in the background.

    And maybe that’s just too far away from Fontstruct as presently conceived.

    I’m so mad keen on the idea of bypassing beziers altogether (in the foreground, anyway) it makes me a little manic about its potential in Fontstruct. Sorry!
    I can’t help it. I amuse myself on the way home from work, trying to figure out how such a transform tool would work.

    Also, it’s rude of me to hijack a blog about you for my private hobbyhorse. Maybe the new Fontstruct Live page will become the place where I can reinvent the wheel…

    Posted by intaglio on Jul. 30, 2009

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