Making waves in the industry for the past five years, Marc Rouault discusses the newly released Trois Mille (3000)
Released yesterday on Sharp Type, Trois Mille (3000) has influenced the typographic zeitgeist for the past five years. Here, it’s creator discusses the ins and outs of its story.
- 19 May 2020
- Jyni Ong
You may have already heard about Trois Mille (3000), the typeface that’s been making waves for the past five years in the design industry. Released just yesterday on Sharp Type, it’s a bold design that’s been influencing the design zeitgeist even before it was published; one contrasting sans serif after another. But how and why you may ask? Well, it’s a long story that starts with a type designer named Marc Rouault. Half a decade ago, long before Trois Mille (3000) was available to the general public, Marc was completing his graduation project at the KABK Type&Media master’s program in The Hague.
It was there that Trois Mille (3000) started. In the beginning, there were several directions that the budding designer wanted to explore, but he started by experimenting with the tools he’d discovered in his studies so far. One of them was a broad calligraphy pen which, by nature, creates contrasting letterforms which undulate between thick and thin marks. “So, I started to use that tool a bit differently, trying to draw a low contrast (mono linear) letters by orienting my pen at zero to 90 degrees. By doing this, only the connections between different elements of a letter get thin,” he explains, “while the rest remain thick.”
It’s an aesthetic that is seen up and down the type design landscape today, but arguably this is where it all started. In its boldest styles, some internal strokes have to be thin, like the middle bar of the ‘E’ or ’S’ for instance, so the rest of the strokes can be bold. At the same time however, all strokes end with a vertical “like a humanist model rather than a calligraphic one”, adds Marc, as seen previously in Gill Sans or Antique Olive. In a way, Trois Mille (3000) became a reinterpretation and extension of such classics – albeit with more extreme weights and width characteristics – inspiring a new generation of contrasting typefaces in its wake which follow the same set of rules.
He was first drawn to the medium with a realisation that anyone could draw their own letterforms as opposed to using an existing one. And, once he delved further into the technicalities, he discovered a myriad of elements to play with, tweaking restrictions and minor aspects of letter structures here and there. For Marc, it is this “mix of freedom and constraint” that sustains his engagement in the craft. But it is also the idea of providing a service to others that intrigues him. “A typeface is not the end, but a tool that will contribute to another piece of design,” he adds, “and become something entirely its own. That makes it very exciting, to see and have no control over how and where your typeface will be used.”
Fundamentally for Marc, the art of typography comes down to communication. What continues to fascinate him is how “arbitrary and meaningful letters are at the same time.” Letters are visual signs which can be arranged into language and in turn, messages. As a type designer, Marc and others in this profession “play with these abstract shapes and symbols (now known as the alphabet) and imbue another layer of meaning to them.” All in all, culminating in a unique typeface, each one with different layers of meaning and flair than the one before it.
It’s an aspect of human history and culture that stretches back thousands of years – from civilisations far and wide – continuing to intrigue designers all over the world for its infinite variations. On top of all this, another aspect of the medium Marc finds fascinating, is that typography is rather invisible. “Normal people will read what’s written and that’s it,” he says on the matter. “They will not (and should not) stop and look at that nice capital ‘G’ you’ve drawn.”
Thrilled to now be part of the Sharp Type family, Marc is excited to see how users will interact with the extensive type family that is Trois Mille. He describes it as a “static variable font”, having created the typeface from a system where the width, weight, slant, super-ellipse axis and so on can be tweaked. This technology has already existed since the late 90s with systems such as Multiple Master or TrueTypeGX, and when Marc was first developing the typeface during his master’s studies, one of his teacher’s Erik van Blokland “kept telling me such technology would be back someday.” So, with this in mind, he developed the typeface with a huge variety of styles all in one font. And lo and behold, a few months after he graduated, the Variable Fonts system was announced at ATypI Warsaw. “While the technology is back and out, it’s still in development stages,” Marc goes on. “So Trois Mille is being released as a huge family of many many instances.” As was aforementioned, it’s basically a static variable font.
Having referenced many of Trois Mille’s components from other designs, when it comes to inspiration in type design: “I think nobody owns a style of a kind of shape,” says Marc. The area of expression is so limited in type design (confined to the alphabet) there are bound to be stylistic similarities. “You cannot always say what inspired what, so in the end,” says Marc on the often prickly topic of originality, “it’s better to be flattered than bothered by familiar shapes or features you see in new designs that could be based on yours.”
That being said, in general, Marc finds trends in the industry interesting to observe. The more involved you are in a discipline, the earlier you can see one emerging. But for type designers involved in a notoriously lengthy and arduous process, “the chances of missing the trend while trying to reach it are big.” Most creatives want to produce work that feels bang on trend, and arguably, it’s part of the job. When it comes to typography, though the trends take a long time to develop, they can be traced from the underground culture of the time which slowly surface into the mainstream. While this can be useful in creating a trendy relevant typeface, for Marc at this moment of time “my approach is to explore whatever typographic style I like, hoping that someday it might synchronise with a new visual trend and become a successful typeface. I don’t know if it’s a good strategy, only the future can tell.”
GalleryMarc Rouault: Trois Mille (3000), Sharp Type
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.