Veronika Burian describes her discovery of type as being similar to falling in love. The budding industrial designer would ride the bus to work every morning in Milan, bent over a book recommended to her by a type-obsessed friend, underlining passages. The book was Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, the gateway drug for many people just starting to learn about the dense, detailed world of letterforms. Something about this new universe spoke to Burian more than the three-dimensional thinking and model-making that defined her workdays. Within that realm, she had always found herself drawn to interfaces—those easily overlooked, but indispensable design elements that serve to communicate between product and public, often with no small help from typography.
Her affinity for interfaces pushed Burian toward graphic design. Early experiments in Fontlab followed, under the tutelage of Leftloft’s Andrea Braccaloni, the same typophile who first pointed her toward Bringhurst; the friends eventually collaborated on a typeface for an exhibition mounted at the 2002 Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) conference in Rome. Burian realized that the precise, patient work of drawing letters was something that she both loved to do and seemed to have a knack for.
Meanwhile, some 7,000 miles away in Buenos Aires, José Scaglione had completed degrees in graphic design and multimedia technologies and was starting a busy career pushing pixels. The commercial web was gaining momentum, and moving into web development seemed like a logical step for the technically minded young designer. But the early web was not necessarily very readable. In a visual landscape dominated by core web fonts, Scaglione yearned for print and was growing increasingly fascinated by type. Martin Solomon was an early influence, but the real turning point for Scaglione was a seminal international conference on typography and education organized by Rubén Fontana in 2001. It was there that Scaglione met Gerry Leonidas, director of the fledgling master of arts program in typeface design (MATD) at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The encounter with Leonidas galvanized Scaglione, and he started making plans to move halfway around the world to receive formal training in type design.
Burian got there first. While still in Milan, a friend told her about the new program and urged her to apply. Burian had been contemplating a return to school, and Reading seemed like a good fit. She matriculated in 2002. This period of her life, like Scaglione’s, was marked by a shift not only to a new career, but also to a new country, culture and language.
Neither was a stranger to displacement. Growing up in the 1970s, both endured political exile. Originally from Rosario, Argentina, Scaglione’s family fled to Brazil and Uruguay during the Guerra Sucia (Dirty War), a period of state terrorism against political dissidents. They returned to Argentina when democracy was restored in 1983. Burian’s family escaped to Munich from Prague when she was seven. Her parents remained in Munich, but her sister moved back to the Czech Republic a few years after the Velvet Revolution, and Burian returned to Prague in 2009, a move that she says was important for her emotionally. “It felt like a circle closed,” she told me, “but I also realized that I didn’t really belong there either. I had been away for too long.” Recently she uprooted herself yet again: she and her husband acquired and are restoring an old house with an abundant garden, in the mountains northwest of Barcelona. This time they plan to stay, she says.
Their early experiences of dislocation perhaps played a role in making Burian and Scaglione exceptionally adaptable, attentive to cultural differences and open to crossing boundaries—good preparation for a place like Reading, which celebrates interdisciplinarity and encourages students to develop native and nonnative script skills in tandem. The first program of its kind, the University of Reading’s MATD is noted for its focus on research and the high caliber of its graduates. Leonidas calls it “a machine for teaching people how to learn and think about design in general, masquerading as a type design course.”
The MATD tempers its academic rigor with practice: all students are required to design an original typeface family. From the remove of an unfamiliar culture, Burian rediscovered her birthplace in the work of Czech designers Oldrich Menhart and Vojtech Preissig, folding their influence into a contemporary text face. The result, which she dubbed Maiola, was awarded the prestigious Certificate of Typographic Excellence from the Type Directors Club in 2004 and was published through FontShop the following year. Her studies complete, Burian moved to London to join Dalton Maag as a type designer. There, she says, she gained insight into running a business and learned a great deal from colleagues like Ron Carpenter. But she always knew that she wanted to start her own foundry.
Meanwhile, Scaglione was finishing up at Reading. For his final project, he designed Athelas, a text face that was inspired by British book typography, but has also proved its mettle in digital settings. (Expanded with help from Burian and published in 2008, Athelas was licensed by Apple for use with iBooks and now comes bundled with OS X Mavericks.) Upon graduating, Scaglione returned to Rosario and set up his own studio. An early project was Carmina—since expanded and renamed Karmina—which he planned to submit, along with Athelas, to the juried type competition of the 2006 Bienial de Letras Latinas (Latin Letters Biennial) conference. He turned to Burian, who was still in London, for feedback. Although they overlapped only briefly at Reading and weren’t particularly close there, Burian and Scaglione stayed in touch. Both were passionate about legibility, readability and editorial typography, and Burian says she had a feeling that a collaboration might work well. They had tossed around the possibility of setting up shop together, and Karmina seemed like a good test case. TypeTogether was born. Burian and Scaglione collaborated on the Karmina design via Skype and e-mail and were pleased with the results, which demonstrated that a virtual type foundry was not only possible, but also viable. A few other foundries now collaborate remotely, but, unlike TypeTogether, Burian observes, they still have an office. “The first two years we did not even see each other,” she says. “It was all just e-mail.”
It was also completely bootstrapped. The thought that it could have been any other way seems to amuse Burian: “There was no external funding,” she says, laughing. In the beginning, in addition to developing retail fonts, the duo did custom work for a couple of large corporate clients. “That gave us quite a bit of oxygen at first,” Scaglione says. He initially developed the TypeTogether site himself, and there was no integrated e-commerce functionality. “I had a server, we had a PayPal account and that was about it,” Scaglione recalls. In 2008, old friends Leftloft redesigned the site, which is now the primary destination point for licensing TypeTogether fonts.
Burian and Scaglione take the word “together” in TypeTogether seriously. Both are full-stack type designers. Just as important, they are, in word and in deed, equal business partners. “We both know about all aspects of the business, and either of us can deal with mostly everything,” Scaglione affirms. What makes the partnership strong, he is careful to point out, is reciprocity and trust. “From the very beginning we decided that it was better that both of us look at and check every single letter shape.”
Though perhaps more common now, Burian and Scaglione say that such an approach to type design was relatively rare when they started out. “Within the type industry, which can be somewhat territorial, we were like these crazy people who could design together,” Scaglione says. Smiling, he recalls a colleague coming up to him at the ATypI conference in St. Petersburg and asking, incredulous, “Do you really let Veronika touch your glyphs?”
Burian and Scaglione’s process might be described as “context first”—they consider function (what and whom a given design is for) before form and also, somewhat unusually, think in terms of families rather than fonts. “We like to say that what we design is a type system, a type program,” says Scaglione. “We design it from the outside in.” Leonidas goes even further. Burian and Scaglione, he says, “realized that foundries would build their brand not on the quality of individual typeface families, but on the quality of complete libraries.” Almost anthology-like in its focus, the TypeTogether library “overwhelmingly addresses text typography and has carefully tracked the migration of document genres to screens,” says Leonidas.
Their collaborative way of working now has a new outlet. TypeTogether’s Typeface Publishing Incentive Program is the latest in a small wave of mentorship efforts within the type industry: independent distributor Village has offered an invitation-only incubator since 2008, and behemoth Monotype kicked off its Monotype Mentor Program, a “startup investment” initiative, in 2012. Burian and Scaglione’s program, beyond providing modest financial assistance to recent graduates attempting to complete and publish their first typefaces, “is an extension of how we work with every designer who publishes with TypeTogether,” Scaglione says. By providing guidance early on, Burian says she and Scaglione hope to “have a bigger influence about the commercial side, or give [students] a better idea of what will work, or what kind of family this could become.”
This sort of generosity and concern for the profession’s welfare presupposes a healthy, mature company. TypeTogether is flourishing, its work firmly part of the visual landscape. In spring 2013, Burian and Scaglione welcomed three new members to their core team: Sonja Keller from Berlin, Irene Vlachou from Athens and Elena Veguillas from London. The duo also recently returned to Reading—as students once again, working under the guidance of Dr. Fiona Ross and Vaibhav Singh to start building a Devanagari character set for Adelle. “I wish we could do it again,” says Burian. “It was really nice to focus for just one week on something completely different and learn again.”
If their lives and careers have been punctuated by migration, Burian and Scaglione appear to have settled down at last (although they both travel frequently to give workshops and speak at conferences). Burian and her husband have mountains to climb and a garden to tend in the Spanish countryside; newly elected ATypI president Scaglione, his wife, Fernanda, and their two daughters are rooted in Rosario, where Scaglione also plays in two rock bands. Who needs an office? Burian and Scaglione are content to live and work thousands of miles apart, making type together. ca