Fiction and philosophy drive Benjamin Dumond’s experimental type projects
Believing that for too long typography has existed “more as a matter of engineers than poets”, the Lyon-based graphic designer produces intricate fictional narratives to accompany his avant-garde typefaces.
- Olivia Hingley
- 6 July 2022
Benjamin Dumond is a type designer who seeks inspiration for his work in the written word. “I have always drawn little inspiration from the world of design,” he begins, “today, like yesterday, my main inspiration comes from authors.” Immersing himself in the works of Ursula Le Guin and Philip K. Dick, for their novels’ ability to challenge conventional modes of thinking and living, Benjamin also has a penchant for philosophy, particularly the works of Carl Jung, Gaston Bachelard and Gilles Deleuze. “What I like about fiction is that it allows you to think outside the box and it makes the imagination of a discipline grow to create new things that we would have been forbidden to think about if we stuck to realistic thinking,” Benjamin says.
The designer was introduced to such ways of perceiving his work while studying at Duperré in Paris by his teacher, Hervé Aracil, “who had a way of approaching type design through abstract thinking, and concepts from the Deuleuzian philosophy”. His teaching focused on ideas of typographic exegesis, which Benjamin describes as “interpreting the meaning and purpose of a typeface beyond what the designer himself could say about it”, a train of thought that ultimately had a “huge impact” on Benjamin. Later, Benjamin went on to do a master's at Beaux-arts de Valence, working on the question of ideas in typography, and exploring the possibility of thinking of typographic designers as authors. “It was on this occasion that I began to consider fiction as a method of opening up the typographic imagination as a way of breaking out of the rather strict frameworks of the discipline, free from commercial constraints and historical experiences,” Benjamin details. Now, Benjamin works for Bonjour Monde, a graphic design collective pushing alternative methods in its creative process.
Alongside his work with Bonjour Monde, Benjamin also runs the website grifi.fr, a personal project where he publishes articles, fiction about typography and as of recently, experimental typefaces. This is where Benjamin’s recent typographic series Jester found its home. A selection of jagged, unorthodox types that cleverly toe the line between function and art, the series is a typographic breath of fresh air. Created using Seam Carving algorithms, which analyse the pixels of an image, and subsequently create graphic aberrations, Benjamin found himself faced with numerous variations of the spiky font. Wanting to utilise the best of the variations, Benjamin made a family of 22, naming each of them after tarot cards, matching them to the feelings associated with the archetypes of each tarot, and in an effort to “come up with a new fictional way for the typography to be used”.
Alongside the 22 typefaces, Benjamin crafted a winding, intricate fictional narrative that depicted a world “with typographic paradigms extremely different from ours”. Trying his best not to simply produce a “weird” typeface for the sake of it, Benjamin sought to simultaneously produce a typographic thinking that made its readers question the history, or potential “life” of a type. In the end, the writing element became much more of a task than designing the physical fonts as Benjamin explains that “design school doesn’t really train us to write, and if the production of the font itself was quite simple, fun and fast, I spent several months before I managed to to produce a text to accompany if that I considered publishable.” Since launching griffi.fr a year ago and posting typography musings, Benjamin has noticed that on platforms like Twitter, such questions are becoming increasingly prevalent in design circles. “So, I’m going to keep on releasing new, free typefaces with crazy theories, as well as new texts and fictions to relativise what we take for granted in type,” Benjamin concludes.
Grifi: Jester (Copyright © Benjamin Dumond, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.