Matthieu Salvaggio on Blaze Type's collaborative approach and commitment to flexible licensing

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Elliott Moody
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Matthieu Salvaggio on Blaze Type's collaborative approach and commitment to flexible licensing

Founded in 2016, Blaze Type is a type design foundry based in Lyon, France. Taking pride in a collaborative and organic approach to type design, they aim to produce typefaces that graphic designers will enjoy working with; and offer them through a fair and flexible licensing system. We had a chat with founder Matthieu Salvaggio to find out more.

EM Hi Matthieu. How are you?

MS Hello! I’m doing fine, considering the overall state of the world. It’s been a crazy start of the year but things are good thanks for asking.

EM What does your background before Blaze Type look like?

MS I come from a graphic design/art direction background. My studies were mainly focused on print, graphic design and of everything revolving around type as the main subject of my work. The idea of designing fonts and owning my own place to distribute them emerged pretty early in my studies so right after I graduated, I worked a bit as a freelancer and started Blaze Type in that same year, this is now my main occupation.

EM How did you get into type design?

MS Well, the day I realised it was people who designed fonts I felt so excited about this kind of work. I immediately wanted to be a type designer and started reading everything I could about that. Back then, there wasn’t as much content about type design as a practice (online I mean) as there are now and I couldn’t afford to go learn in a type design course in Paris or elsewhere in the world. So it took me quite some time before I ended up with a typeface I was happy with. It’s a long process, designing type, and in the end, we get better by practising. I think of it like a martial art sometimes.

Matthieu Salvaggio on Blaze Type's collaborative approach and commitment to flexible licensing

It’s a long process, designing type, and in the end, we get better by practising.

EM As a result of getting better with practice, do you finish typefaces quicker now than when you first started?

MS I mean, you do work faster after years of experience. But we don’t finish typefaces quicker, we just increase the challenge. That’s why we don’t release 50 typeface families per year.

You get more used to some technical details, know how to sort design issues and so on. But, I feel that the ‘better’ we get in this discipline, the harder is the next font in terms of challenge. If you take Sigurd for example, our latest release. This font family is so complex in terms of design: usually, you have variable version splitting roman/true italic axis into two different variable files, I won’t get into too much details about that, in Sigurd we worked the whole family to work from Roman to Semi Italic > True Italic. It has six different sets of styles, swashes characters are scripted so when activated, they can appear in text layout in the beginning or ending of a sentence, 1201 glyphs for 21 different fonts, complete variable font file and, what I truly believe is an amazing aesthethic job done with Léon Hugues.

EM You mentioned on your site that “We always ask ourselves: what is the font designers are craving for?” When starting the design process of a new typeface, how do you find the answer to that question?

MS Coming from a graphic design perspective, my goal has always been to design fonts graphic designers would enjoy working with. At first, when our catalogue was fairly new, it was a pretty straight forward process: what kind of type ‘era’ are we missing? And we would work on designing something that would fill that void. Now it’s a mix between what we can feel is missing in terms of typefaces on Blaze Type’s catalogue, suggestions from our customers, friends and an overall feeling of “damn, I want a font like that to design this.” We are really driven by our wish to design glyphs to design impactful messages with.

EM Do you think each typeface you design needs to feel original, or are you fine with creating your own interpretation of typefaces that already exist?

MS We try to come up with new, interesting, ways to design glyphs, font families. But all of our work takes a root into a type era. Some of the typefaces on Blaze Type are revivals (Massilia for example), but even in that case, we try to come up with new ideas in the whole design: figuring out other forms of glyphs, creating more axis/weights, etc. A mix of revival and interpretation you could say. That’s one of the part in the design process that I enjoy the most. A typeface designed from scratch, or an idea, is always thrilling: we process this kind of work like some sort of rational thinking: what should this letter look like if this letter is designed this way, what should be the h-height/x-height ratio, the weight distribution, etc. In the end, Blaze Type is an experimental ground for designers to express their intentions through typeface design.

Matthieu Salvaggio on Blaze Type's collaborative approach and commitment to flexible licensing

Blaze Type is an experimental ground for designers to express their intentions.

EM Why is it important to you to have a fair and flexible font licensing system?

MS Font licensing is a complex read for anyone who wants to have a go at it. I wanted to have something simple, no surprises, for our customers. One single price per font, full rights to use it on whatever you want for as long as you wish to. I know this is subject to discussion but I don’t feel it’s fair to have different prices depending on the use. I understand it’s not the same font-exposure if you use a font on a printed poster or on a multi-million users app but I don’t know, it still doesn’t seem right to me.

I know how difficult it can be for designers to have clients pay for fonts. It is, it’s a fact. What I wanted with these prices/licenses was for designers to have either great arguments to convince their clients to purchase the fonts or be able to pay for the fonts they wanted to use themselves. Because in the end, we try to deliver affordable, professionally designed fonts. Of course, what I consider fair can be thought as complete nonsense to others and it can be presumptuous of me to consider our way of distributing fairer than others. To answer your question then: it’s important to try to be fair to people, try to be a good person, try to be genuinely benevolent to others, because we live in a crazy world and we have to act different to one another, even with things such as typefaces.

EM What determines the price you charge for a typeface?

MS The price of our fonts remain consistent on our website, that’s one of the core ideas of the foundry. Latin covering typefaces will always cost 30€ per font (with a decreasing price if you purchase more than one of course). Extended languages coverage, such as Cyrillic for example, costs an extra 10€ per font. As for now, only the Apoc family contains Cyrillic, one of our goals is to partner with other foundries (like we did with Type Tomorrow for Apoc Cyrillic) to have more multi-script font families over the years.

The price of a custom font design depends on multiple factors: the kind of typefaces needed (custom from scratch or a custom version of one of our typefaces), weights, axis, languages covering, amount of users for the company, the exposure of the typeface, exclusivity, etc… In the end, we always try to find a solution based on our clients’ need and budget to find the best solution for them.

Matthieu Salvaggio on Blaze Type's collaborative approach and commitment to flexible licensing

I know how difficult it can be for designers to have clients pay for fonts.

EM What challenges do you face in running a type foundry?

MS Our main challenge these days is the design of our future website which will hopefully be released this year (2021)! For real, we have many challenges: designing new fonts, updating/improving the ones we already released, discovering new talents and helping them produce/distribute their first font family, working on highly stressing but awesome custom font project… I wouldn’t state these as challenges but as goals. We’ve been blessed with meeting awesome people to work with and I’m so excited when I think about all the projects we are going to release in the coming years.

EM What is your favourite typeface you’ve designed, and why?

MS That’s such a tough question, it’s like asking me what my favourite movie is. I don’t really have a favourite, I love them all for various reasons. Apoc for being this aggressive display family, Area for being so constructed, Arges for being so loud, Joly for being so cleverly designed, Sigurd for its mix of historical design and contemporary interpretation, Inferi for the challenge it was, Oroban for its sharp details, Surt for its steadiness… Although it would be true to say that my favourite typefaces are the ones we are working on right now with designers such as Alain Papazian, Léon Hugues, Siri Lindskrog, Valerio Monopoli, Tim Van Hill, Guillaume Sbalchiero, Laurène Girbal, Nathan Metzler, Jack Niblett…

Matthieu Salvaggio on Blaze Type's collaborative approach and commitment to flexible licensing

EM How does the process of collaborating on a typeface work? How do you split the responsibilities?

MS Depends on the project and what the designer wants to work on. When a custom project kicks in, for example, I present the work to the people I work with and simply ask if they are interested and which part interests them. Sometimes it’s more straightforward and there this or that to be done on a font family. I’ll give you an example: on a custom project we have these days, Alain Papazian and I are investigating a script family based on a person’s writing. After defining together the glyphs, we’ll both have a go on the design, correction, proofing. Léon Hugues will probably have a go on the mastering, OpenType scripting part as well. Another example: for the Area font family we distribute on Blaze Type, I worked on the overall design and Alain expanded some glyphs alternates and proofed the fonts. We try to have a very organic kind of way to deal with typeface design: based on the need and on what’s interesting the designers I work with in the said project. It’s work of course but it has to be fun and interesting or everyone.

EM Do you have a favourite project that’s used one of your typefaces?

MS To be completely honest here it’s so hard for me to have a favourite here because we see amazing projects designed with our fonts coming up every day. We try to post them all on either Instagram or fontsinuse.com/foundry/2298/blaze-type; some are on our website as well.

EM Do you have any advice for designers that would like to venture into type design?

MS Dedicate your very soul to this discipline, work and study like there’s no tomorrow, don’t be afraid to ask for guidance, be open-minded, be kind to yourself when you feel like you’re doing stupid nonsense, be tough to yourself when you feel you’ve done a good job, don’t be afraid to start over, be passionate and if you end up distributing your fonts somewhere: be fair to your users.

Type Design

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