Christian Schwartz and the Graphik typeface
How an interest in ‘type without baggage’ inspired a type family
The inspiration for the typeface Graphik (pronounced “graphic” not “graph-eek”) started with an obsession with Swiss Modernism from graphic designer Christian Schwartz. “Graphik came out of my love of the ‘B-List’ of European sans-serifs like Plak, Neuzeit Grotesk, Folio, and others. These typefaces have a similar style and are of the same era as Helvetica, Univers, or Futura, but they don’t have the baggage associated with them.”
Along with the Ohm type family, Graphik is being used as part of the design for the 2017 Typographics design festival, so we asked Schwartz about the history of the design.
Schwartz took his obsession and designed a “Swiss Style” typeface for himself which he started using for invoices and PDFs to clients. “Graphik was never intended for release, it was just the sans-serif that I wanted for myself.” But soon, clients were asking what font was on his PDFs and asking if it was available for use. He told them it wasn’t available commercially but, like many things in life, “If you tell them it’s not for sale, it becomes the thing they want more than anything else in the world.” He started licensing it to a few people and then realized he should finish it and release it properly.
Graphik became one of the first releases from Commercial Type, a foundry that he started with designer Paul Barnes after working with him on the type for an award-winning redesign of The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, 2003–2005. Commercial Type is a “Transatlantic Venture” with Schwartz in New York City and Barnes in London. The company designs and publishes retail fonts as well as custom typography for clients around the world.
Graphik has been used in many publications including Esquire, Wallpaper*, T, the New York Times Style Magazine, and Bon Appétit. But Graphik was not an over-night success. “At the beginning, only a few magazine and exhibition designers were using it. But in the last two years, it has gradually become more and more popular.” Like many designers, Schwartz likens making a typeface to other forms of art: It’s like recording an album or making a movie – you hope it is going to find its audience. A typeface only comes to life when someone is using it.
The art directors and designers at Bon Appétit and Esquire magazines have been using Graphik to its fullest potential. As Schwartz says, ”For Bon Appétit, once a year you know you’re going to have a turkey on the cover and once a year you have Christmas cookies. They have to come up with a fresh way to deal with cookies every year – I don’t know how they do it.”
Around the same time both Esquire and Bon Appétit commissioned Schwartz to design a condensed companion to Graphik for tight headline use. “Each publication has brought out a very different character from the family. A vanilla typeface like Graphik is all about flexibility and adaptability, and the various widths came out of that idea, pushed to the extreme and maybe beyond.” This commission started a process that eventually lead to the design of six different weights of Graphik (from Compact to XXXX Condensed) that will be released by Commercial Type in 2017.
For an early view of the Compact and Condensed widths of Graphik, as well as a special “Dot” variation reminiscent of lightbulb lettering, have a look around the rest of the Typographics site for this year, or come to New York in June to see it in person on signage and other material for the festival.