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Work / Graphic Design

“Something illegible still has something to say”: Eliott Grunewald on his type designs

The question of when a typeface or lettering crosses the line from being expressive and conceptual into simply becoming illegible has long been debated in the field of design. Should type always be considered a tool for clear communication, or can it take on symbolism of its own, acting as an image would? For Paris and Lausanne-based graphic designer Eliott Grunewald, an investigation of the latter forms the basis of his experimental portfolio.

“I’ve been more interested in display typefaces, for their expressiveness and ‘voices’; like type as an image more than the design of a text typeface,” he tells It’s Nice That. “So I guess, sometimes, it does result in letterings which are formally too intense or even illegible. But something illegible still has something to say, to show or to promote, I don’t feel that even if you cannot read the word, you cannot get anything from it.”

Currently, a teaching assistant on the type design master’s at ECAL, Eliott also works as a freelance type and graphic designer. When working on projects, whether on his own or as part of a team, he’s motivated by seeing his designs out in the real world. “I can’t say that I don’t like working on type for text or a publication,” he explains, “but I’m really interested in the apparition of type in a space; as a sign, a piece of type as a decor in a movie, as a title in a video game, as a lettering for a movie poster, as an end title, on a shoe, engraved on a building etc.”

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Eliott Grunewald

Although selling typefaces in a traditional manner, each was borne from particular projects, made with a wider context in mind. This manifested as “a design process that needed type, or to learn and practice during my studies, but I’m not really interested in the design of typeface only for a type foundry market,” he continues.

Currently, Eliott’s intrigue in the world of type beyond the printed page sees him continuing a line of research he began during his diploma at ECAL. Titled Epoxy, “it’s an ongoing project based on the design of 3D type and lettering for ‘virtual’ environments.” Not defining how the type could eventually be used, instead, Eliott is “trying to find a design process to draw typefaces or lettering directly in a 3D environment.” This has resulted in him working in four dimensions: the usual x and y-axis, but also a third dimension related to space and a fourth related to time.

“Including these four dimensions in type design makes it pretty much endless, and super exciting to work on,” he concludes. “Drawing a typeface in 2D, and then adding a design part for the third dimension is already nice, but it’s even better when you try to use that third dimension in an interesting way, more than just ‘extruding’ it. Then when it comes to the materiality and the design of a space or context where the lettering will be, it’s even more interesting.”

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Eliott Grunewald