Interview with Playtype

Playtype is an independent type foundry based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The studio creates a wide variety of extraordinary commercial and bespoke typefaces (we’re huge fans). We sat down with Jeppe Pendrup and Daniél Andreasen and asked them a few questions. 

How’s 2023 so far, what have you been up to? 

’23 has been really good. We’ve been working on quite a lot of upcoming custom projects, while still trying to find time to expand our retail library. And maybe even catch a couple of hours of sleep every now and then.

For those who don’t know you; can you introduce Playtype and describe what you do?

We are an independent type foundry situated in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark. We’ve been in the type-bizz for more than twenty years, but set up shop as an independent foundry in 2010. We make retail and custom-made typefaces and have been lucky enough to work with both small and large clients from all over the world.

What does Playtype stand for? 

We’ve actually discussed this quite a bit. A huge driver when we first started Playtype was to introduce type design to a broader audience. Type design can easily become a bit targeted towards other type designers or graphic designers, and maybe even come to feel a bit elitist. But we are all consumers of type and just about everything we interact with on a daily basis include some kind of written communication. 

When we established the foundry back in 2010 we also opened up a concept store here in Copenhagen, selling type merch, posters and stationary and of course typefaces. The sole motivation was to introduce non-designers to the world of type. In many ways this is still a main goal of ours.

How does one become a typography designer? 

There’s no one way of becoming a type designer. There are a range of schools offering amazing type design specific programs and this is of course a great way to get introduced to the craft and acquire a lot of know-how. But as with everything I think skills within the field of type design are best obtained by having a genuine interest in the craft. 

Teachings, online courses and even tutorials are now widely available, so getting access to knowledge within the field is much easier than it used to be. When we receive job applications we rarely even consider what schools the applicants attended. First and foremost we look at the portfolio. 

What are some common mistakes that designers make when creating letters or fonts? 

Common mistakes can be anything from understanding contrast, optical compensation, stress angle and other crafty stuff that goes into type shaping. I think, as with a lot of other crafts, type design as a practice takes time to master. The eyes need to learn how to actually see and decipher the shapes of the type and understand the system of shapes that make up the typeface. If you’re not working with the actual shaping of type, my guess is that it can be hard to appreciate or take into account the nuances and intricacies of a typeface. 

But maybe the most common mistake I would say, is that creatives or designers don’t get around to actually doing type themselves – often on the notion that it is too complicated. I think there might have been an old guard being a bit protectionist of the craft, telling a tale that graphic designers shouldn’t do type, only type designers should do type. I think everyone working within the field of visual communication could benefit from doing a bit of type. At least as a way to better understand and see these creatures that play such a fundamental part  in our daily communication.

How would you describe your approach to creating typography? 

Curious, crafted, playful, relevant, interest driven. Even though we’ve been doing this for a long time, we are still driven by a genuine curiosity, interest and passion for type. Every new project is also an opportunity for us to get better at this stuff and learn something new. This is definitely a motivation that keeps us going and is fundamental in our approach to type.   

What factors do you consider when creating a font for branding purposes? 

When doing custom typefaces you get to be very precise when it comes to what the typeface should achieve and what storytelling and brand values it should communicate. We love engaging with clients and studios in the development of custom typefaces. Here we get to get a great insight in the client story, both past, present and future, and build something with the client that can help them accomplish a desired goal. 

Every custom project we do is different and the factors to consider really depend on what the client is looking to achieve. We always aim to adapt the process to the project and the better we get to know the client we are working with, the more we can tailor the solution and develop it in collaboration with the client. 

What is the future of typography design?

It seems that both trends and tech are evolving at a more rapid pace than ever, and this is of course something that comes to define the world of type. I think as a foundry it is important to have an insight and interest in the movement and progression that goes on in both of these overlapping segments, as this is in part what will influence and dictate the type of tomorrow.

With the evolution of software and digital tools we’ve seen that type design has become much more accessible. A lot more independent foundries have popped up, sometimes run by a single individual only. It is much easier now to set up a functional website allowing for distribution of your work, than it used to be. We really like this progression and we hope this tendency will continue, so we keep seeing new and interesting work from small independent setups within the type world.   

Do you think AI can help font builders? 

I think most people working within the field of design appreciate that we’re standing on the brink of something new. But we don’t really know what this new looks like. When we’re discussing AI I think we quickly get hit by the limit of our imagination, and our guesses as to how this will affect our everyday way of working end up as naive speculation. 

As of now I see AI as a helpful assistant when it comes to developing scripts and tools that could ease the workflow when designing type. But you still need a lot of insight to be able to navigate and decipher the AI output, and you often end up spending a lot of time debugging the generated code. 

Can you share any exciting upcoming projects or releases from Playtype? 

We have a couple of new retail families coming out in the next couple of months, and we will do our best to keep the kettle boiling and expand our catalogue steadily. So keep an eye out.  

We are also looking forward to showing some of the custom projects we’re working on, but at the moment we can’t reveal too much.