Taking inspiration from fangs, claws and thorns, Nguyen Gobber’s Lucifer typeface is devilishly good

Drawing from the hand letterings of the lesser-known Swiss designer Robert Stöcklin, the typeface is one that's steeped in historical reference.

Date
12 September 2022

It was back in 2017 when David Gobber of Vienna-based studio Nguyen Gobber stumbled across the work of Robert Stöcklin, a Swiss designer who practised around 100 years ago. At the time, David was taken back by how Stöcklin’s more classical, avant garde typefaces stood out from Swiss design trends of the day, which often erred toward the matter-of-fact, modernist aesthetic. One of Stöklin’s fonts made a particular impression on David – that of his lettering for a Swiss Industries Fair Basle poster from 1924. With no manual typesetting, David tells us that the letters were instead all hand drawn, featuring “peculiar shapes with exaggerated serifs”. It was this very typeface that then bore the foundations for the studio’s Lucifer typeface.

It was the Lucifer typeface’s exaggerated serifs that became the focal point of the whole design, and the element that Hoang Nguyen – the second half of Nguyen Gobber – says gives the font its “menacing” feel. Taking inspiration from fangs, claws and thorns, the type has distinctly pointed edges that also lend it its very classical feel. The “danger of threat” feeling that it produces is part of the reason that it earned its Lucifer name: “the mythological figure has a rich historical dimension to it, just like there is a certain historic depth to our typeface,” Hoang explains. However, Hoang is also keen to highlight that the impression of the typeface does vary quite significantly, depending on the language it’s being used in. “The German ‘Elektrizität’ has many pointy characters in it and therefore looks way more menacing," she explains, “compared to the Vietnamese translation of the same word 'Điện’ which looks less threatening but rather elegant.”

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Nguyen Gobber: Photo documentation of Lucifer specimen (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)

Reflecting on the typeface, David explains how much Stöcklin’s original posters dictated how the project panned out. As the hand lettering was designed for a poster, the duo were aware that it would excel in wordmarks, headlines and poster designs. But, to ensure that the typeface was dynamic and versatile, they set themselves on creating lowercase letters based on the original sources. “Now, thanks to putting quite some time into getting the details on point, we can confidently say that the type system works just as well in various kinds of running text, which makes it a respectable, unique workhouse type family,” David explains. To demonstrate its versatility, Hoang and David have presented the various type spreads reminiscent of old school specimens, similar to when typefaces were only set manually.

So far, Lucifer has been used in a number of diverse projects, from a Danish exhibition catalogue of a classical painter, to a young subversive fashion store in Moscow. This is something David and Hoang are particularly proud of; they want the type to be one that has no limits as to where it can be applied. “We hope though that our fellow designers find inspiration in the aesthetics of Lucifer,” Hoang concludes, “and might even be able to elevate their work conceptually with the backstory, history and references Lucifer brings with it.”

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Nguyen Gobber: Photo documentation of Lucifer specimen (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Lucifer specimen (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Earlier versions of Lucifer in use – Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann exhibition catalogue by Spine Studio (Copyright © Spine Studio, 2021)

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Nguyen Gobber: Lucifer specimen (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Lucifer specimen (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Scans of posters of Robert Stoecklin (Copyright © Basel Poster Collection, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Scans of posters of Robert Stoecklin (Copyright © Basel Poster Collection, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Scans of posters of Robert Stoecklin (Copyright © Basel Poster Collection, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Earlier versions of Lucifer in use – NUW Visual Identity by The Great Fruit, Timur Zima, Wild.is (Copyright © The Great Fruit, Timur Zima, Wild.is, 2022)

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Nguyen Gobber: Animated transition of Robert Stoecklins hand-lettering to Lucifer (Copyright © Nguyen Gobber, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia 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.

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