Margot Lévêque is an independent French designer with a penchant for serif typography and delicately crafted bespoke lettering. In addition to her typographic catalogue, she collaborates with a number of studios from around the world including &Walsh, Pentagram, Studio Nari. We caught up with her to find out more about her rise to the forefront of type design.
The Brand Identity: Hi Margot! How are you?
Margot Lévêque: Hi Elliott! I’m very well, thanks for asking! I am currently in the south of France, in the Luberon. I’m enjoying the sun from my terrace 🙂
TBI: Can you tell us about your journey into the graphic design industry?
ML: I’m 27 years old and I’m currently a freelance graphic designer and type designer. I studied for five years: I did a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a master’s degree in type design.
I started graphic design late, I was 22 years old. I had just finished a year in biology and marketing, I was lost. My mother sells clothes, my father is an oyster farmer, my sister has a restaurant… so if it can comfort some people, when I started graphic design, I knew nothing about it! I had never drawn in my life, I hated art classes, I also had very little graphic and artistic culture… I wanted to try design school as a last chance; I really didn’t know what to do with my life.
By chance, during my studies, a very strong thing happened in me: the desire to succeed, the desire to work more and more, to study (I think you understood that it was for the first time in my life). I became very scholastic, I stopped going out (well, I was 22 years old, so I had already taken advantage of going out after high school!).
The summer just before entering this design school in Paris, I met my friend Virgile Flores. He was already in his first year at Penninghen school in Paris. From that moment on, my whole life has been focused on what I can now call a passion: graphic design. After my studies, I went to NYC to work with Paula Scher for a few months at Pentagram. Since then, I’m a full-time freelancer.
“I wanted to try design school as a last chance.”
TBI: Of all the things you could have chosen to study after biology and marketing, what do you think drew you towards graphic design?
ML: I had the intuition when I was in school of communication and marketing. The only thing I liked to do during these classes was not market research, but mostly visuals. I remember we had a lot of group projects and presentations to do and I was always the one in the group that did all the visuals. I remember that we were often complimented by the teachers, which helped me to gain a little bit of self-confidence!
TBI: What did you take away from working with Paula Scher at Pentagram?
ML: That she is a wonderful, strong woman, extremely simple and humble. She is a woman who inspires me a lot: strong, hard-working, influential but above all humble and simple. Everything I love! This experience has literally changed everything in my life. Not really in terms of design, but more importantly in my perception of how to approach design. Also, all the teams are mixed in the agency, and all the partners (Michael Bierut, Eddie Opara, Paula Scher, Giorgia Lupi…) eat with their team, are with them all the time, everyone is very accessible, we don’t feel like we are ‘just interns’.
“I like to follow my instincts, my desires, my choices.”
TBI: What have you found to be the most difficult part of being a freelancer?
ML: When I started, I freaked out! I was already freelancing for a few years, but I was still in school, so it was easy because it wasn’t 100% in the centre of my life. On top of that, your friends keep telling you that being a freelancer is super hard, that it’s not stable… I felt lost, I hesitated to go into an agency, I even had a few job interviews! But, I still started as a freelancer.
Also, obviously, I was afraid of not making money! I was so scared that the first month I started, I earned €0 (haha)!! But now I am convinced that living in fear leads to loss. I decided to change my state of mind, to tell myself that no matter what happens, I have this chance to not end up on the street, because I am very well surrounded. But, I worked hard and today I am proud. I haven’t even asked my parents or anyone else for a single euro for years now. I paid for my visa to NYC, my apartment rent, my plane ticket… myself. I’m very proud of that because it was intense! I was preparing my diploma, my internship, my Visa; at the same time I was freelancing in three agencies including &Walsh and the cherry on the cake I was also moving out of my apartment in Paris. But… I did it!
TBI: Would you like to start your own studio?
ML: My whole family (my father, my mother, my uncles, my aunts, my sister, my grandparents…); all of them are business owners. I think it’s in my blood! I always knew I was going to do the same and start my own studio; I love it deeply. It’s not necessarily better than being an employee, it’s really different. I like to follow my instincts, my desires, my choices. By the way, I am not against joining an agency in the future. Very often I have requests to join agencies; I’m open to all opportunities.
“All my typefaces remind me of a moment in my life and I personify them.”
TBI: How did you become interested in type design, in particular?
ML: After my bachelor in graphic design, I decided to do a master’s in type design because I wasn’t very good at type! It was super hard for me to combine letters and design a logotype; I sucked! It was also very difficult for me to choose some great additional typefaces for my design projects, I felt I had a lot of gaps. That’s why I decided to do this master’s degree. By chance, (once again!) I discovered a passion for designing typefaces. It’s a different exercise than designing a logotype or a lettering, (much more time-consuming) but I loved it. Today I am delighted to have several ropes to my bow!
TBI: Why have you decided to publish only serif typefaces so far?
ML: I work on my typefaces as a personal project. I feel free in my choices, in my drawings, I decide everything from beginning to end… it’s my escape! I work a lot with my instinct. It’s true that for the moment, I haven’t felt the desire to start a sans serif. Maybe it will come later.
I design my typefaces as characters: that’s why all my typefaces have a first name. All my typefaces remind me of a moment in my life and I personify them. I love to imagine Marya, Romie, Kalice and Joseph around a table and talking to each other. Haha!
“I think it’s important to let the project rest for a few weeks.”
TBI: Where do you begin with a new typeface? What does your process typically look like?
ML: I always draw by hand before going to the computer. Then, I compose a few words with a few letters on the computer. Then, I forget. I think it’s important to let the project rest for a few weeks. I come back to it after; I improve it, or, I drop it! I have a lot of typefaces that I don’t show because I feel it won’t be interesting. I think type designers see what I’m talking about…
TBI: How did you come to collaborate with Dinamo on the design of Marya?
ML: By accident! I work regularly with Caterina Bianchini from Studio Nari. A few months ago when I was developing a typeface for a client ‘The Threads of Fate’ who sells spiritual stuff, I called the type ‘Oracle’. We hadn’t taken the time to think about the name because the font wasn’t going to be commercialised.
After releasing it on Instagram, Johannes Breyer, co-founder of Dinamo, kindly contacted me to tell me that he was developing a typeface also called Oracle; and asked me to change it. Of course, Caterina and I changed the name immediately, it was a mistake on our part. That’s how the conversation with Johannes continued; afterwards, he proposed to me to collaborate with them!
“He paid me a year before its release, he believed in me. I feel so grateful!”
TBI: Which projects using your typefaces are your favourite?
ML: I can’t choose! ALL OF THEM! But it’s true that I have more emotions when I think back to the first one: The New Black Vanguard. When Mark contacted me, I had only posted some drafts of Romie on Instagram, the type was at stage 0! He waited almost 12 months before I sent him the final version. He paid me a year before its release, he believed in me. I feel so grateful! Discovering The New Black Vanguard at Strand Book in New York City, while I was walking down the street, was one of the most important moments of my life! It’s one of the reasons why I continued to draw typefaces.
TBI: Aside from your graphic and type design, you also run self-initiated projects such as ‘Our Type Design Guide for Beginners’ and ‘In House’. What inspired you to start those projects?
ML: The Type Design guide is of course to help people! I get a lot of messages on Instagram and the questions are often the same. I know that teaching in France (and around the world) is either very elitist (you must have very good marks in your application to be accepted in public schools) or very expensive. Few courses remain accessible to learn typography. It was a way for us to make accessible a discipline that is meant to be inaccessible.
I also do this because social networks make us believe that drawing typefaces can be done in two weeks. But it’s not true. As Dinamo says “a typeface is like a good cheese.” Basically, even if there are no rules, designing a good typography takes between one and ten years!
In House – in 2019 (I don’t explain why that particular year) I answered a lot of interviews. The questions were… almost always the same! I noticed that whatever the medium, the same questions kept coming up over and over again. Likewise, when I read interviews with other designers, the questions were always the same, I wanted to know something else. I had the feeling that something else could be proposed.
The questions I ask in In House are the real questions I ask myself when I think about a designer. In addition, I’ve lived in several different Airbnb and apartments over the last couple of years and realised how much the environment influences my creativity. Sometimes in a positive way, and sometimes in a negative way. Also, my creativity differs depending on the time of day, the outside temperature and the month of the year. So it was all these thoughts that led me to create In House. I’m having a lot of fun editing these videos; it’s even more fun and fascinating than I imagined!
“Find something that is completely out of your line of work.”
TBI: How challenging is it to create each video?
ML: Everything is a real challenge! I’ve never edited a video in my life and I’m not a journalist… In short, I started from scratch. I formed a team that helped me a lot: Flavio animated the questions, Virgile helped me choose the music, Mallika and Marie helped me with the subtitles and translation. We are a real little team! Otherwise, I edit the videos. It’s always a challenge, no matter who the guest is. There are so many guests coming and I’m so excited! I invite my guests by instinct, when I feel they would be a great contribution. In House is not only going to interview graphic designers; but also artists, musicians, illustrators, students… I want diversity. I’m so happy to see that my idea appeals to a lot of people!
TBI: Would you encourage everyone to do side projects and to try new things in addition to their day job?
ML: I just think it’s important to do what you want to do. My second passion is yoga, I do at least one hour a day, it’s much more important for me than In House – even though I love the concept, it’s still part of my job.
I distinguish between things that come out of my practice – but that are part of my work (In House, drawing typefaces…) and doing things that are deeply important for my balance (walking outside, reading, doing yoga). I think if I had to advise one thing, it would be to find something that is completely out of your line of work. I realised that in Paris I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I was working all the time! I thought that I had to work hard to succeed… but I learned how wrong that is.
I’ve never felt as good as I do now: I’ve completely detached myself from the social networks; sometimes I only work three hours a day, I take care of my couple, myself, my wellbeing. And I’ve never had as much money and as many projects as I do now! I’m sure: it’s all about balance.