From Dua Lipa to Jacquemus: Guillaume Sbalchiero talks about his “accidental” approach to design
The Paris-based art director, graphic and type designer talks about the importance of custom typography as an expressive tool.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 29 March 2021
Describing himself as an independent art director, graphic and type designer, Guillaume Sbalchiero grew up in a small town in the east of France on the border of Switzerland and Germany and currently resides in Paris. He recalls his early influences in the design world, inspirations he found through skateboarding and rock music during his teenage years. Like many skaters, he used to plaster his deck with brand stickers, paying attention to the overall impression this festooning gave, before starting over again once the board broke.
“I always kept these ripped boards around to do new things. At that time, I enjoyed practising collage, in a very grunge way, with some rough objects like paint, scotch and screws which were lying around,” Guillaume tells It’s Nice That. “My practice is based on an ‘accidental’ design approach: in the search for attractive and unexpected solutions, I like to mix very contrasting materiality and references to create a luxurious marriage between trash and sophistication. As in skateboarding, to find the perfect balance you have to try and experiment with variants a lot.”
Guillaume continued his studies at the Fine Art School of Lyon, where he picked up typography as a key tool to invest in for his projects. Today, his practice lies across both digital and print, working on anything from self-published projects to collaborations with major record labels and luxury fashion brands. “Each project is very different, so I have to reinvent the creative process each time and adapt it. I find it very important to question my process every time I work on something new. Design is about conversations,” he says. “I like to create novelty and skid in the production process, because the results offer interesting objects both digital and physical. Being able to divert these means and push the limits of feasibility is something very stimulating in this profession. I don’t hesitate to push the printer or the web developer to do something they thought was infeasible or complicated, and to achieve these ends by upsetting the profitability chain.”
Guillaume highlights how creating custom typefaces always lies in the centre of his projects, something that allows him to respond to a broad spectrum of briefs, from a logotype to the visual identity for an art centre. “The design evolves along with the choice of the format and support; for example, some of my typefaces have defined the layout process, but the grid also sometimes generates new typographic forms,” he says. “I love to play between legibility and illegibility and so I find it pleasant to compose text that is very legible in front of a strong abstract sign on the page. The two complement each other.”
In each of his type projects, Guillaume starts by looking for typographic anomalies that set his designs apart, often breaking design rules around optical corrections and optimising design. “Printing and screen display technologies have evolved to such an extent that the range of possibilities is now gigantic,” he explains. “For example, the ink traps in a letter were a technical concern in the age of movable type, but they have now become stylistic to the point of falling into the realm of fantasy.”
Guillaume talks briefly about his work for Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album, for which he did logo designs. For the project, art directed by Hugo Comte, Guillaume created the handwriting-style logo that eventually became an indispensable part of the record’s visual identity. “The idea was to create an iconic pop graphic signature. A tangible word, like an image recognisable by all. I made this hand lettering in a very 80/90s pop look, which fits perfectly with the mood of the album and Hugo’s art direction,” he says. “It’s amazing to do such a big project for a pop star like Dua Lipa. To see my handwriting everywhere in town, on TV, from the supermarket to the huge billboards in New York’s Times Square!”
He also highlights his project for Jacquemus, where he helped develop its new global identity. “I designed a new skeleton of the logotype, plus a custom headline typeface for titling uses. This Jacquemus Condensed typeface looks like wooden store sign letters: very popular, it reminds of the old school hardware stores and bakery signs. It’s a warm sans serif, with colour,” he says. The challenge for him was to stabilise the original drawing — raw and organic, yet beautiful — without creating yet another sanitised sans serif typeface, the kind that have taken over the identity of luxury brands today. “I’m very fond of the idea of creating tailor-made typefaces for brands, which reflect singular stories by the silhouette of the word. A custom typeface is a vital asset for an identity, it allows you to personalise and incarnate the branding everywhere with the text.”
Looking to the near future, Guillaume is working on launching a digital foundry together with Marie-Mam Sai Bellier. Called Diorama Type Partners, it will feature all of the typefaces that were included in Revue Diorama No. 1 and No. 2. He’s also working on the third issue of Revue Diorama, exploring ideas based on the work of French philosopher Antonin Artaud.
Website Overview (Copyright © Guillaume Sbalchiero, 2019)
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.