Caleb Vanden Boom adores and adorns Italian signage with his new typeface, Valori
With an eye that has done him great justice since his immersion into design, he shows us the wonders of intentional reference when creating a typeface.
On the first day of Caleb Vanden Boom’s computer arts program in high school, the teacher handed him and his classmates apples and asked them to paint it digitally in Photoshop over the next few weeks as it rotted. “I was instantly hooked,” he tells us. Those few weeks clearly developed a keen eye for his surroundings, as well as his ability to represent them on a digital canvas. Growing up in Wisconsin, attending college in Minnesota, and now living and working in Chicago, the designer is an aficionado of the American Midwest. But in his latest project he goes much further, tuning into the design culture throughout Italy, to conceptualise his new typeface Valori.
Last summer the designer visited Italy, on what wasn’t immediately a quest for design inspiration, and began noticing the “weird and wonderful” signage throughout its cities. “I started collecting pictures of my favourites, and by the end I had a folder of nearly 60 images,” he tells us. He details finding one of the signs inside a small bar and tobacco shop in Florence – “large black geometric letters in a lightbox read ‘Tabacchi Valori Bollati’”. The sign translates to ‘Stamped Tobacco Values’ which is commonplace throughout Italy and assures the customer that the appropriate taxes have been paid on the tobacco product. Caleb masterfully maintains the allure of reference as he reinterprets this sign in the assets for Valori and credits it at the bottom as “discovered in Florence”.
Having no idea that he would ever reference the imagery he took on his trip, the minute Caleb started designing the new typeface for Fuzzco’s Pretend Foundry, the signs immediately came back to mind. “I started researching to see if it already existed but kept coming up short,” he tells us. Many of us have had that feeling of becoming completely immersed in a niche, that we’re perplexed as to why nobody has ever pursued it before, or taken ownership of its origins. “I had to reach out to a friend with encyclopaedic knowledge of type to make sure, and they suggested it was likely part of a signmaker’s letter kit that was never digitised and so it was lost to time,” he adds. With its origins still remaining a mystery to the designer, he decided that Valori should be a revival and a “north star”. The typeface includes two opposing top and bottom styles, named Alto and Basso, and a lowercase alphabet, which usher in very different sentiments regarding the nature and style of products, emotions and expressions throughout the culture. Being that the typeface is inspired by pre-existing letterforms, the challenge came when trying to extend the style to the rest of the alphabet (particuarly K and ampersand). “The original characters were drawn in a blocky, simple and geometric fashion making them difficult to render. But, I had a great team of designers at Fuzzco to rely on for another set of eyes and advice.”
All in all, Caleb is part of a school of designers reminding us that the archive of design isn’t merely within books and by praised names, but that it is all around us, so long as we seek it out. Already sketching out ideas for his next typeface – “a funky curly script with lots of character” – that he hopes will be released in early 2024, we look forward to exploring the world beneath his new creation.
GalleryCaleb Vanden Boom: Valori (Copyright © Caleb Vanden Boom, 2023)
Caleb Vanden Boom: Valori (Copyright © Caleb Vanden Boom, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.