Regular Practice turns the lightweight padding of Ultra Light Down into a typeface
This article is part of our ongoing Ones to Watch series, supported by Uniqlo
It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch shines a light on 12 emerging talents who we think will conquer the creative world in the coming year. Over the coming months, we’ll be catching up with creatives from our 2019 selection to see what they’ve been up to. Ones to Watch 2019 is supported by Uniqlo.
We’ve been following the work of Tom Finn and Kristoffer Solling, known together as Regular Practice, since the duo were in their final year at the Royal College of Art. Back then we were impressed by their thoughtful approach to design projects, their highly accomplished handling of type, and their collaborative working style. Since then, we’ve seen them work for Serpentine Galleries, the Sheffield Insitute of Art, Intern magazine, and their alma mater, the RCA, to name just a few.
When we looked through the Ones to Watch we selected back in February this year, searching for a creative or studio to interpret the unique properties and qualities of Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down range, Tom and Kristoffer were an obvious choice. We were curious to see how the duo would respond to such a tricky project. “It was a pretty challenging brief due to how deliberately vague the request was and how many possibilities there are,” Kristoffer explains. “We interpreted the ask to be an open invitation to make something that feels coherent with the rest of our practice, where we could follow many of our ongoing ideas and thoughts – about materials, tools, forms and so on.”
As Tom puts it, the brief allowed him and Kristoffer to treat the project more as a “creative response than a design project” that they would undertake for a client. It was clear they were going to create letterforms, but there were loads of considerations they had to keep in mind. “We thought it important that it didn’t resemble any legible words,” says Tom, “as it is less about what it reads and more about the forms in the type. We very much wanted to move away from it looking like a marketing inspirational quote.”
On top of this, the pair also wanted to create something physical that would exist outside of the digital world and that would, in Kristoffer’s words, “invite play and spontaneity”. The final output had to be something more tactile and tangible. With these decisions made and parameters set, the duo was ready to get to work.
The initial starting point was inevitably the product itself. Ultra Light Down is Uniqlo’s range of lightweight, water-repellent and “compactable” technical jackets and insulation layers. Because they had been tasked with interpreting this range, Tom and Kristoffer spent some time at the beginning of the project getting to know “the forms of the padding and the bulky shapes that have an inherent lightness to them and the juxtaposition of those properties,” as Kristoffer puts it.
After that, they fell into their natural working rhythm. As a first step, Tom and Kristoffer discuss the project and their ideas in the abstract, without too much focus on actual form. “You might say we talk more about the process or workflow than the aesthetics of the final thing,” says Tom, “perhaps to surprise ourselves, perhaps to end up where we wouldn’t otherwise have imagined.” In this instance, they made some early sketches collectively to decide on the base forms which would be distilled in the rest of the lettering and produced a handful of different options of the more characterful letters. “These variants ranged from a more rounded bubbly form to straighter verticals with deep ink traps.”
A few examples of the chosen font
“The letters are bulky, sturdy and slightly inflated.”
Out of all these various options, one specific route was chosen and then refined further. Speaking about this bespoke typeface, in particular, Tom says: “The letters are bulky, sturdy and slightly inflated. They have thin incisions that define and rein in the expending core.” Indeed, the letterforms look, almost paradoxically, both lightweight and substantial, as if they’ve been puffed up, but filled only with air. This is, of course, a perfect analogy for Ultra Light Down, which has a roundness to it yet is relatively thin and can easily be compacted into a pocket.
Once the precise route had been decided upon, Regular Practice began working on the final outcome. As mentioned before, it was important to them that the outcome also involve a physical element, that it didn’t simply exist in digital form. What Tom and Kristoffer have created therefore is essentially a tool, which enables the user to hand-render compositions from the bespoke typeface that the pair made for the project. The tool consists of individual plates with cut-outs made for a large-width paint marker and spaces for furniture at the top, bottom left and right, which allow you to join the plates together to make words or compositions. Alongside this larger size of tile, there is also a full A-Z on a smaller sheet, so secondary smaller lettering can be added.
“We were asked to be auteurs of the project and that is not often something we are directly tasked with.”
As a next step, using these tools, Tom and Kristoffer began making some test compositions using the larger black paint marker on a flat paper surface, followed by using the plates on the Ultra Light Down Silver jacket with a red paint marker, and a white paint marker with the smaller letters on a black jacket. The idea with these tests, Tom explains, was “to see how the type, inspired by the forms in the jacket, responded physically with the material itself”. Seeing the letterforms on the material and interacting with it, the synergies and similarities become even clearer.
Although Regular Practice has worked on similar projects before, where they’ve been invited to interpret form in a spontaneous way, this brief was new in many ways. Partly, it was simply more open than briefs they’re used to seeing. “The lack of distinct function in some ways provides a liberating aspect, but in some ways also challenges us much more,” says Kristoffer. “What do you do when you can do everything? We were asked to be auteurs of the project and that is not often something we are directly tasked with.”
The finished plate
Their response to this challenge was to revert back to the absolute core of their practice and ask “the questions we normally ask ourselves when designing,” says Kristoffer. “What are the underlying structures that determine the form? How can we design underlying structures, processes, workflows, tools that will produce new outcomes?”
The final outcomes – the bespoke typography itself, the tool for utilising it, and the tests of this tool in the physical world – are strikingly smart and aesthetically unique. They also clearly respond to that brief set at the outset, which asked the duo to take inspiration from the unique properties of Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down range, its lightweight bulk and compatibility. Looking at the test compositions involving the Ultra Light Down garments, it’s clear there is a subtle dialogue going on between the type and the material it adorns.
What can we expect next from the duo? They’re hoping to release a second iteration of their In Review publication at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, which is a run-through of recent work as well as recent unsuccessful work, containing sketches, experiments and general attempts at work that for whatever reason never sees the light of day. “We’re also working on something for the Design Museum in London that has perspectives and is in some ways many of the ideas applied in this project, but executed in a more elaborate and flexible way,” says Tom. “Alongside this will be a range of books, identities and exhibitions to look out for.”
Supported by Uniqlo
As part of our Ones to Watch 2019 campaign, It’s Nice That is working with Uniqlo to explore a variety of its products through a series of original creative commissions. This piece by Regular Practice is the fourth instalment of the series, which will continue until the end of the year.
For the first piece, we asked Micaiah Carter to interpret Uniqlo’s linen range from a new perspective; we’ve also asked Jee-ook Choi to take Uniqlo’s AIRism range as the inspiration for a series of illustrations, and Yuko Mohri to create a sculpture from a series of Blocktech garments.
Ultra Light Down is Uniqlo’s range of lightweight, water-repellent, compactable jackets and coats.