Hanzer Liccini on how type and graphic design inform both sides of their Berlin-based practice
Friends and collaborators Elias Hanzer and Lucas Liccini formed their Berlin-based studio Hanzer Liccini in 2018. The partnership, specialising in graphic design and typography, opts for a conceptual and type-driven approach, delivering striking and innovative results through custom typefaces, typographic experimentation and careful consideration of production and print-specific details. We spoke to the pair to learn more about their creative journeys, their retail typefaces and the evolution of their collaboration.
PT Hello Lucas and Elias! How are you both? How has your day been so far?
LL We are well, thank you for asking. Hopefully, you are as well. I’m preparing for a brief trip to Hamburg to attend the German premiere of Human Flowers of Flesh by Helena Wittmann, following the world premiere at this year’s Locarno film festival. It was the first feature-length film we designed the titles for.
EH After several weeks of travelling, I’m enjoying some downtime in the studio, working on HAL Twins, our next typeface release.
Sometimes it helps not to overthink the brief and just start sketching.
PT Having collaborated together since 2016, why did you choose to co-found Hanzer Liccini together in 2018?
LL During our time at university we experienced our early collaborations as productive and efficient. Upon graduation, it felt right to continue building and investing in the partnership. Although we officially launched the studio in 2018, it took several years for our joint practice to become a full-time endeavour. Whilst trying to make a name for ourselves, expanding our portfolio and broadening our clientele, we worked for other designers to gain valuable experience. I was part of Studio Manuel Raeder for several years, which was a great experience.
EH I was freelancing for Dinamo during this time and also finished my first large-scale release, ABC Arizona, the variable sans-to-serif superfamily. We are currently finishing the design of the Arizona type specimen, which will be the first title under the new ‘Dinamo Editions.’ More to come!
PT Why do you work well together?
EH I believe it’s simply a good and natural fit and a sensible combination of individual strengths and weaknesses, which combine to make a functional whole.
LL Yes, exactly. Like a healthy Venn diagram: plenty of overlaps in terms of inspiration and approach, and yet each of us brings our own qualities and flavours to the table. Besides that, it’s also very helpful in terms of overall decision-making and administrative matters.
PT Your website mentions that you often work with a heuristic approach, has this always been your approach or has it developed through experience?
EH From day one, we enjoyed producing lots of output, getting quick results and trying out rough ideas. Sometimes it helps not to overthink the brief and just start sketching and experimenting. Focusing on the final result is valid when also considering the things you learned, digested and scrapped along the way. The design process should not feel forced and the notion of ‘imperfection’ can be visually very appealing.
PT Are you both based in Berlin? If so, do you prefer to work together in a studio space or remotely?
LL Yes, we’re both based in Berlin and work together in the same room. We’ve had remote situations when travelling for instance, but direct communication and an analogue working environment are far more effective when bouncing ideas, drawings and files back and forth.
Primarily our self-initiated work results in our retail typefaces.
PT You both consider self-initiated projects to be important to your practice, right? How do you balance them with client work?
LL Primarily our self-initiated work results in our retail typefaces. These fonts initially spawned from our client work, when creating bespoke type, developed for and alongside specific graphic design projects, which offer a real-time playground for continuous testing and utilisation. Hence, these two sides of our practice are in constant correspondence and harmonious balance.
EH In addition to the typefaces, we also produce extra-long business cards, printed on the empty margins of offset sheets. When designing books or flyers for clients, we try to minimise the material waste at the printers, by utilising the unused space on the printing sheet.
PT What kind of projects have been the most rewarding for you both to work on?
LL This is a very difficult question to answer and it’s impossible to compare projects we have worked on this kind of superlative level. Generally, it’s very rewarding to work with partners, which are able to provide a sense of appreciation, value, respect and trust.
EH That said, when these conditions are met, the client is often more courageous and less hesitant. Hence, the work that develops from such a collaboration is likely to be visually more daring and fresh, resulting in a good feeling for us and the client simultaneously. The relationship with the client is crucial for creating interesting and non-generic results.
PT What does the idea generation process look like, for you?
EH There are different types of processes we consider when working on a design brief. One of them is to keep the method of reproduction in mind. What is the final medium and how can we attempt to utilise or influence it in order to land an interesting outcome?
Another way is to relate the design to historical references and conceptually sample them by means of current technology and accessible software. Take, for instance, our collaboration with the jewellery designer Miglė Kazlauskaitė. She approached us to design a font for custom necklaces, bracelets and earrings, allowing customers to wear the names of their loved ones. We came up with the illusion of a continuous chain writing itself and meticulously analysed the chain link, which become the building block for the letter design. In the end, a classical type tester was used to visualise and order the final piece. It was a very exciting project for us, linking many aspects of scale, dimension and materiality and ultimately combining the digital and the analogue.
LL Most often, we build visual identities (for campaigns, books, websites, etc.) around a typeface idea. Researching type specimens from the past ideally gives us rooted input for new typefaces, which can then ultimately lead to a new retail release. Besides being an independent type foundry – HAL Typefaces is like a design toolbox for us – the fonts grow, evolve and mature, informed by a vital, constructive and tangible practice.
PT When did you decide to launch HAL Typefaces? And why?
LL Since January we have been working on the website for HAL Typefaces. We believe it’s much easier for potential customers to deal with a more straightforward type shop, than looking at retail fonts next to our portfolio of graphic design work, as we had done at first. For us, it still feels like many pieces of the same puzzle, but the separate presentation of these two operations just makes more sense.
PT Which of your typefaces are you most proud of?
EH Our recent sans serif release HAL Four Grotesk. It has a typically international and universal appearance whilst also featuring distinct ‘flared’ details.
LL Definitely the one we haven’t thought of yet…
PT If you could collaborate with one creative person from history, who would it be?
LL A creator of ancient cave paintings.
PT What books, films, tv shows or podcasts have you enjoyed recently?
EH Not recently but very continuously (since the beginning of our studio practice) we listened to The NTS Breakfast Show with Charlie Bones, who has his own radio station now. He feels like a third studio member, we hear him nearly every day.