May 2022

By undertaking a thorough analysis of recently discovered type material from unknown Belgian type foundries, Typo Belgiëque aims to outline Belgium's visual design identity in the 19th and 20th centuries and shed light on a missing link in the typographic history of Belgium, the Low Countries and Europe. The project also studies the aesthetics and practices of historical Belgian typeface families and explores the possibilities of reconstructing a Belgian visual identity via digital font technologies. Typo Belgiëque is currently in the process of designing and developing a new collection of digital fonts.

To do this a unique selection of authentic printing types is used with the goal of reinvigorating these typefaces as digital computer fonts for contemporary use in publishing and media design. The aim is not merely to make revivals of these typefaces but to reinterpret them and bring them up-to-date with the needs of contemporary reading practices. At the time they were used, most of these printing types only came as a single weight (meaning they were either thin, regular or bold). For contemporary use, the selected typefaces are rigorously analysed in terms of their design characteristics and new additional weights are designed to serve as a complete font family that can be used for visualizing the typographic architecture of visual identities or editorial designs, such as magazines, newspapers, websites and other applications. The new and exclusive font families are being developed with the most recent variable font technologies in mind to secure a high level of legibility and optimal use, not just in print but specifically with an eye to dynamic, responsive web & screen typography in every form of digital publication.

Starting from microscopic photographs taken of the original matrices and punches, the typefaces were identified by matching these with the printed type representations found in the various type specimens of the Belgian foundries. When vectorising the high resolution scans of the glyphs with professional font editing software, an ‘invisible’ space is added that surrounds the characters on the left and right sides (spacing). However, if specific pairs of letters appear too far apart or too close to each other, the space they share is additionally adjusted (kerning). The quality of the outline designs, as well as the spacing and kerning, are meticulously tested using distinctive test documents for use on screen and in print. On top of that, other masters that might have different stroke weights, widths or styles are added during the design process to enable the interpolation of the variable fonts, followed again by a series of tests. To enable the newly designed font families to function smoothly on different operating systems, and read well on the variety of screens, OpenType features are programmed and the underlying code is skilfully engineered.

The two R's which I designed for 'Research and Realities' originate from the A & F Vanderborght type foundry in Brussels, one of three large factories that produced printing material and machinery in the city in 19th century, and demonstrate the variety of type styles that Typo Belgiëque offers. The three-dimensional R is a more graphic approach, unique in its kind and mainly to be used in larger type sizes, whereas the second R belongs to a timeless text typeface and its shape shifts in a variety of weights, from extremely thin to heavy and bold.

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Jo De Baerdemaeker (typojo) is an award-winning independent Belgian typeface designer and researcher. He holds an MA in Typeface Design and was awarded a PhD from the University of Reading. His interests are designing, researching and writing about world script typefaces (in particular Tibetan, Lantsa, Mongolian and Javanese) and multi-lingual typography. He is elected vice-President of ATypI, and currently teaches at LUCA School of Arts (campus Sint-Lucas Gent). In 2012 he founded Studio Type in Antwerp (Belgium) and collaborates with international design agencies and typefoundries. (studiotype.be)

Typo Belgiëque is a two-year practice oriented scientific research project (PWO) conducted by Jo De Baerdemaeker at LUCA School of Arts Research unit LABO Pro. A typographic artwork showing the design project and the new fonts will be on display during Design Fest Gent from 22 April until 1 May 2022. More information can be requested via jo@studiotype.be and typobelgieque.be

Three-dimensional R in five different sizes, inspired by Vanderborght’s ‘Lettres Raccourcies, no 2’
Six masters of the ‘Fantaisies’ variable font that illustrate the different weight styles of the typeface' which can be used in responsive typographic designs on screen or in print.
JDB Typo Belgieque DAMN RR Research image
Spread from the type specimen ‘Spécimen-Abrégé de la fonderie & gravure typographiques A. & F. Vanderborght Bruxelles’ (c.1895) presenting some of the larger display printing types.
Six masters of the ‘Fantaisies’ variable font that illustrate the different weight styles of the typeface' which can be used in responsive typographic designs on screen or in print.
This article appeared in DAM81. Order your personal copy.