The Pyte Foundry on the power of type design to fiddle “with the subconscious of the reader”

18 September 2020
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3 minute read

As the managing director, lead designer and sole employee of The Pyte Foundry, Ellmer Stefan divides his time between creating custom type, lettering and retail type projects. Additionally a teacher at Oslo Academy of the Arts, the Norwegian type foundry sets itself apart from others in the industry for its research-based prowess, and dedication to the history of type.

Describing the departure point in his work as “often found in historical material”, Ellmer can often be found browsing lettering manuals, typographic journals and specimen books, remarking that “there is nothing better than a visit to the archive!” Though most of these viewings now take place online, for the designer there is “more lust involved in this act of curation than in coming up with something fancy and new for the sake of fanciness and novelty.”

Having grown up in Salzburg, Austria, Ellmer was first introduced to graphic design as an apprentice in an offset and newspaper print shop. Working predominantly on the technical side of the printing process, after a while, he got bored and decided to study graphic design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. There, he indulged in the openness of the course, developing an interest in avant-garde film history and analogue photography, not to mention graphic design where the course welcomed a “multi-poly-omni-cross-multidisciplinary approach.” Aiming for a more craft-focused approach, eventually, he pursued the technical type-leaning education he craved. Enrolling as a guest student in two other institutions to seek this out, he finally got deeper into the mechanisms of type, a craft that would go onto inform his latter work, more namely with The Pyte Foundry.

For Ellmer, the continued fascination with type lies in the “direct access to the very details of typographic expression.” He values the type designer’s power to manipulate the perceived meaning of words or phrases by the alteration of the alphabet which is in turn, “almost like fiddling with the subconscious of the reader.” A liberating and powerful medium, he equates the type designer’s role to a painter who is able to mix pigments to create a unique, desired colour instead of relying on the off-the-shelf paint. Additionally, “the fact that type is a contentless medium in the first place makes for a rather poetic exercise,” adds the designer.

Expanding on his speculative aspect of the process, Ellmer believes that: “Until type is used in context, it remains a rather elusive object. It’s this unpredictable fusion of form and content that actives the potential of a design and reveals its culture-driving forces – or not.” It’s this context which makes The Pyte Foundry’s typefaces so interesting. Developed from historical reference, functionality, idiosyncrasy and contemporary design, each typeface is a highly considered and thoroughly researched product.

There are additionally three texts that have been particularly influential to Ellmer’s school of thought. The first being Gerrit Noordzij’s The Stroke, detailing just how much letterforms owe to pre-typographic tools for its developments thus far. The second, Fred Smeijers’ Counterpunch builds on the aforementioned, and is a text Ellmer values for allowing him to understand that “imitation (in this case pen strokes) is at the very heart of typographic design.” Finally, the third book – Rob Roy Kelly’s American Wood Type 1828-1900 – is highlighted for sharpening Ellmer’s awareness on “the interdependency of material and aesthetics.”

These are just a handful of philosophies imbued in The Pyte Foundry’s work. Often using conceptual analogues to type design in literature, Ellmer grounds his extensive portfolio of type families with contextual necessity. Triptych, Polymer and Comapagnie are just a few of The Pyte Foundry’s products where this is clearly evidenced. As for the future, there are plenty of unfinished projects that Ellmer would like to wrap up. “Putting it cynically,” he goes on to say, “the Pyte foundry would need a Money Grotesque and an Income Mono in its catalogue. But I tend to go for the pitfalls of less feasible projects.”

Elmmer also has hopes to contextualise the “Pytographic Movement” within a wider field later this year. With many a project for us to look forward to, there is one last maxim Ellmer leaves us with aptly describing The Pyte Foundry’s ethos as “mating the monstrous with the absurd and charming.”

GalleryThe Pyte Foundry (Copyright © The Pyte Foundry, 2020)


Triptych specimen




Compagnie specimen


Compagnie Resources




52 Typefaces

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

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. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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