Responses by Arnaud Chemin, typeface designer, Nouvelle Noire.
Background: The intention was to create a contemporary alternative for old Didot-like typefaces. There was a gap to fill in this area, and Didot Modern expresses the perfect affirmation between reproduction and innovation. The typeface was initially meant to fit the expectations of today’s designers and their needs for creative projects.
Design thinking: As mentioned in the typeface name, the idea was to modernize a style that appeared in the 18th century. The process to achieve such a thing was to mix it with the Grotesk—Gothic, sans serif—genre. Hybridization is often dangerous but sometimes produces successful results if it’s well balanced.
Challenges: Type designers’ work is challenging by essence. Doing typefaces involves many aspects that improve upon what has been made before. Apart from technical aspects, Didot Modern is, above all, the result of an authorial practice. Obviously, it had to look appealing to me and the graphic design community at large more than anything.
Favorite details: Didot Modern contains a lot of very nice features. For instance, the lowercase g is quite exceptional and recognizable, as is the lowercase y. There are also less visible details, like the top of the lowercase t evoking a tiny crown. These refinements are even more relevant in heavier styles, where every letterform is pushed to an extreme. Another interesting aspect lies in the typeface’s Black style: the horizontal crossbars of the A, E and F—for example—are thicker, referencing Renaissance typefaces.
Visual influences: I got inspired by many sources. That is why the design contains plenty of original drawings. Didot Modern is not a straight revival but a reinterpretation of the Didot style. I recommend that everyone check out sign painter John Downer’s essay for Emigre titled “Call It What It Is.” There will soon be a deeper article about the design process, which will show my sources in detail.
Time constraints: The process of publishing a typeface is quite long. It is not about being fast; it feels more like a marathon. However, I would argue that time is a positive thing. It allows having some distance with the project. Time perfects ideas within the unconscious mind. It becomes easier to spot errors or discover new creative avenues with time. Sometimes leaving work in progress on the side for a while even brings new motivations. Take your time with your work.
Divergent paths: I am a perfectionist, which is often quite frustrating. Consequently, there are plenty of things I would like to review, such as the contrast amount, some letterform proportions or spacing. But then again, type design is a never-ending job. I believe it is good to stop and let it be after a certain moment.