For the 2014 Amgen Tour of California we created, with the help of House Industries, a series of cycling caps. One for each stage of the race as it wound its way through one of our favorite states. We chatted with Rich Roat, one of the men behind the Delaware based design agency to get his take on the caps, cycling, design and even an upcoming show at the Rapha Cycle Club in New York City. House Industries have their fingers in a lot of pies these days — whether it be “creating beautiful clocks with Heath Ceramics”: or working on one of their custom font collections, they are at home in what they do — create.
Can you give me the briefest history of House Industries? Where did it come from? How long has it been around?
Andy Cruz and I started Brand Design Co. in 1993 and formed House Industries shortly thereafter when we decided that we needed an “in house” client to indulge our design fantasies. We made a few goofy fonts that struck a nerve among design and advertising folks. We took they little bit of money we made from those original fonts, invested it in more aesthetic equity and things sort of snowballed from there.
We were talking about another project that we’re working on together when we came up with the idea to do the 8 different caps for the individual Tour of California stages. Which, in terms of design workload could be a little daunting, so, I’m just curious on how you break out the workload?
The project came in at a great time because we are approaching release time and we were about to finalize the font data for creating specimens, web-ready fonts and marketing materials. We ended up not liking some of the numbers in context, so we redrew them for the caps, then those redraws found their way into the final release version. It fit in well with how we like to design type. Not being terribly organized or concerned about deadlines also helps.
Can you break down the individual TOC stages for me? We had a sort of fun game — Prolly and I — where we would guess at where the design inspiration had come from. It really started with the Folsom-orange day. But, I’m curious as to where some of the others came from?
We were looking at the original inspiration first as a starting point, so when we combined bicycling with classic European iconic brands and typefaces the possibilities were endless. Then we worked back through the ATOC route to find conceptual markers. Folsom was easy with the prison orange, Mt. Diablo; red and a mountainous pattern, Pismo beach; waves. The rest was numerology, playing to the strength of the number forms and sorting out the color palette. Ultimately we wanted people to want and wear them because they looked good, not because they meant something.
You have a new Typeface — Velo — that you used on these caps. Typefaces are kind of your thing, what actually goes into making a new font? Can you take us through that process a little?
When you say “process” you make it sound like we actually have a plan. Vélo started over a decade ago (there’s a sketch in our ten-year retrospective book from 2004) as a collaboration with type designer Christian Schwartz. The original concept was both serif and san serif families that loosely reference classic European typography and logotypes. We retrieved it from the back burner last year when someone in the studio said, hey, that’s still cool and I kind of need that now. The original working name was House Air because we had this silly notion that the first type specimen would be a style guide for a real or imagined airline. In all of our faffing around, someone release a typeface named “Air” so we had to come up with a new name. Vélo was available, short, snappy, opened up a cornucopia of inspirational possibilities, and, selfishly, let me bring one of my passions and hobbies to work.
Let’s talk for a moment about inspiration, I know that you’re a cyclist, but I’m assuming not everyone in your group is (maybe they are) how do you keep the cycling stoke alive with them, or temper your love for sport with everything else?
Honestly, what made the Richard Sachs project work so well is that the folks here doing the creative heavy lifting have zero interest in cycling. They did not have the figurative baggage to slow them down, so they looked at every design element with a really cold eye. The same notion has been effective so far with the Vélo project.
What else gets you inspired design wise? Can you tell us a few of your personal favorite designers? Maybe someone big and historic, but also someone contemporary that we might not know about just yet? Someone that you have had fun working with?
Historically we’ve always been enamored with the makers and journeymen who worked in anonymity but had the skills that so many designers view as irrelevant today. Lettering artists, sign painters, traditional typesetters and brush and ink illustrators come to mind. Then there are the people who we regard as visionaries who were really good at marshaling those skills into some amazing timeless design. Take a click through our list of collaborations and it’s fairly obvious. Even if you don’t know Charles and Ray Eames, your ass does because their airport seating design is still the most durable in both a physically and stylistically.
From a contemporary standpoint our inspiration often comes from the people who are actually doing the work. Like the woman at Heath Ceramics who can wipe the wet glaze away from the raised sections of clay on the Heath ceramic clocks before firing or the lithographic pressman who knows that sweet spot in the ink fountain that’ll achieve thickly uniform coverage without offsetting on the next sheet. Or a certain bicycle maker whose four decades of muscle memory tells him exactly when to stop filing.
We have seen a good number of collaborations coming out of House over the years. Everything from denim manufactures to ceramics and even a few bicycle related ones. What do you look for in these relationships? How do they come about?
Most of those relationships evolve organically through mutual respect and trust. It sounds simple, but once you can truly say that you have those two things, you’re 90% there.
Also, you have told me a bit about the New Balance shoe that popped up again on Instagram (the one off shoe), but its such a cool story — how did that come about?
When we had the House33 store in London, we manufactured some high-end Italian luggage fabric in with a 33 pattern. Our partner in London was friends with the Crooked Tongue guys and they grabbed a bolt of the fabric when they were going up to tour the New Balance factory. One of the operators in the plant dug it, so they snuck a few pieces into the production line. Then the suits in the front office saw it and that was the end of that.
Or the New Yorker? That’s amazing! What kind of tweaks did you provide for their classic looking Irvin lettering?
We were hotrodding a version of our Neutraface family for them and they asked us to take a typographic look at Irvin. Irvin was originally a one-off wood commissioned by the original New Yorker editor and was digitized several years ago. Wyatt Mitchell, the New Yorker’s art director, had the unenviable task of redesigning the classic magazine to work in modern digital workflows without pissing off too many of their long-time subscribers. Irvin was really the centerpiece of the redesign, so we had to make it work more typographically while retaining the original flavor. We did several different size masters and some really cool automatic ligature lockups.
Speaking of team-ups, you have been working with Richard Sachs for a bit now. How did the two of you become partners and how long has that being going on?
Richard and House Industries obviously live in two different worlds, but as we got to know each other we found that our enthusiasm and cynicism were almost perfectly aligned. Then the mutual level of trust reached a point where the rest was easy.
This might be a good place to introduce the other thing that we are working on together. Last year your Richard Sachs relationship took another step forward as you helped him to redesign not only his kits, but his bicycles and overall “brand.” But, this year is going to be even bigger than last. Without giving too much away, what do we have to look forward to in August when House Industries and Richard Sachs take over the Rapha Cycle Club NYC?
We had so much fun and attracted so much attention with last year’s program that we wanted to try to take things one step further. Let’s just say that certain famous framebuilders and painters are working really hard right now to make this work.