Partnership / Fontsmith: Local Characters

Local Characters: Astrid Stavro’s tailored typeface showcases the split personality of Trieste


Lucy Bourton


Astrid Stavro


Salva López


FS Sally Triestina

This winter It’s Nice That commissioned three creatives to explore the broader possibilities of type, in partnership with Fontsmith. The result is Local Characters, a series of posters and typefaces inspired by each creative’s hometown. In this second instalment creative director of Atlas, Astrid Stavro, tailors the Fontsmith typeface FS Sally, to represent the split personality of her birthplace, Trieste, Italy.

Trieste, a city in northeastern Italy, is a puzzle. Throughout the city, architecture and nationalities intermix lucidly, in a naturally laid back style that only the Italians can master. It’s the birthplace of Astrid Stavro, the creative director of design consultancy Atlas, and the sensibilities of the city have influenced her nomadic existence consistently.

From the age of five Astrid has moved around globally, from Trieste to Madrid, to Boston, back to Madrid, across to the Netherlands, back to Madrid again, on to London and then Barcelona. For now she lives in Majorca but will be on the move again soon, relocating to New York this summer. As a result, selecting a hometown to base a typographic outcome upon wasn’t initially easy for the designer. “For me, home is really nowhere,” she explains. “I have lived in so many places that for me, home is wherever my son and I are. I don’t feel particularly Italian, or Spanish, or anything really.” However as a city, Trieste reflects Astrid’s feeling of multiculturalism.


Photographs of Astrid’s father’s typography archive in Trieste

“If you walk around the city of Trieste, you’ll notice it’s full of contrasts,” Astrid tells It’s Nice That. “The architecture is Austrian, you walk around and actually feel as if you’re in Vienna rather than Italy. There is also Roman architecture, sometimes in the same square. You’re also only ten minutes from Slovenia, so near that during the war you could actually hear the bombs, it’s that close.” This composition of not only buildings but actual countries, has built a city that the designer describes as schizophrenic. Therefore, this was to be the key representation of her typeface, FS Sally Triestina. Astrid settled on the idea to showcase the split personality of the city, and the multi-faceted nature of her personality.

Astrid saw the brief to tailor an existing Fontsmith typeface depicting her hometown as an opportunity to look back, to mirror the elements that have informed her career as a designer. “The brief was interesting, stimulating, but what particularly appealed to me was the reflective side of it. It referred to a sense of place, it linked to my identity, it made me think, who am I, where do I come from?” Consequently, Astrid phoned her father who she spent her holidays with in Trieste. These summer or winter breaks consisted of endless days in their family business, dating back to her great-great-great-grandfather, in a printing office with a publishing office on the floor above. This was Astrid’s playground, describing the wooden and metal blocks of type her father printed with as her legos. Now a creative director, Astrid regularly calls on her father as a personal consultant. “I already have a number of wooden and metal letters from his office but I asked him to go back. He wasn’t very happy with me, hating It’s Nice That and the whole thing because of the four-hour drive to where the boxes are kept. But, he delved into it, sending me amazing photographs of old catalogues, the typefaces they originally used for printing. To have my father involved in the process was really lovely.”


These references were to help refine the selection of a typeface. Influenced by original Italian typefaces, Astrid chose FS Sally, which she describes as “a beautifully crafted, elegant typeface that closely reflected the ones used by my father”. FS Sally is a slender serif typeface with an adaptable rhythm. “We also thought it would be the best one to create a high contrast in type,” elaborates Astrid. From there, Astrid and her senior designer Igor, coincidently also from Trieste, began to draw. “We did everything by hand which we normally do with all of our projects, suggesting ideas to Fontsmith with pencil and paper.” The idea was to merge two typefaces, representative of Trieste’s split personality in both architecture, its natives and Astrid herself. FS Sally showcases a gentler side, attenuated against a bolder font, portraying the block letters from Astrid’s father’s archive. “We started to really look at the typeface in detail,” says the designer, “we looked very very closely to decide the perfect cut to create a high contrast typeface”. The process from this point mirrors the way Fontsmith tailor their fonts through Brandfont, “a ping pong game in-between us and them,” Astrid describes. Jason Smith, Fontsmiths’ founder explains the approach to the brief similarly, “The process was really collaborative with a lot of back and forth. We were open to their ideas and they were open to ours so it was a really enjoyable process.”

To accommodate Astrid and Igor’s original sketches Fontsmith’s Senior Designer Fernando Mello adjusted FS Sally Regular, increasing the contrast, “to make it closer to the Modern style,” Jason explains. “He then needed to redraw the top serifs, making them a bit longer and more in tune with the higher contrast. The new modified version of FS Sally Regular was then spliced with the Bold version around the midline and the kerning adjusted. Importantly, not all the letters worked first time round so we had to make subtle changes to the design. For some of the letterforms we provided two alternatives so Astrid could discuss which one she preferred. We also extended the character set to include math symbols and punctuation to make a fully functioning typeface.”


Black & white specimen poster of individual FS Sally Triestina characters


Specimen sheet posters where each initial stands for a different neighbourhood of Trieste


‘Saba’ and ‘Svevo’ posters, based on Trieste’s famous authors, Umberto Saba and Italo Svevo


The result is a typeface of tiers, illustrating the multi-faceted elements of the city in a graceful split. “The merging of the typefaces together portray the aesthetics of movement, of frontiers, of the old and new, a split personality that is slightly jarred and a merged beauty results from that. Melting pots of different cultures, and ways of thinking, ways of seeing, coming together.” To exhibit the typefaces’ characteristics Astrid and Igor have gone above and beyond the brief. They have created a type specimen and a series of posters depicting different neighbourhoods and even expressions in the local dialect, Triestine. It displays Astrid’s connection to design and to Trieste flawlessly, even representative of the sound that encourages her work. The sound of the print press from her childhood, and the smell of paper and ink, is kindred with the sound from Trieste’s seaport, she says. “The sound of the sea has this amazing presence, you hear it at any point in the city. It’s loud, roaring and rough, it’s the same as the noise of the printing press that has been in mind since I was a child.”

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FS Sally Triestina applied by Astrid to a Triestin phrasebook


Interior spread from phrasebook


Specimen sheet of FS Sally Triestina