We visited the studio of Edd Harrington and Anthony Sheret, partners at London type foundry Colophon, for a conversation about their work and the caps they designed for Rapha to mark this month’s Tour of California.
How did the collaboration come about?
Edd: We were based in Brighton for four years and worked closely with Generation Press who do a lot of Rapha’s printed work in the UK. They’re all keen cyclists too and we were put in touch. We got talking with Jack [Saunders, Art Director at Rapha], discussed some potential ideas, projects, and also came in to give a talk up at Imperial Works. Then Jack asked us if we’d be interested to design a set of cycling caps.
What was the thinking with the design of the caps?
Edd: We played around with a whole bunch of ideas, looked at applying type in various ways, use of numbers, and we realised that we wanted to keep it super simple, apply basic use of shape and colour to reference the golden age of cycling, in keeping with Rapha’s aesthetic.
Throughout the 10 designs each cap corresponds to each other by taking a colour from the preceding cap. The individual patterns also have a correlation of sorts. Each cap leads on from one stage to the next so this continuity represents the route of the race.
Anthony: We were trying to create a narrative as it’s a tour. But they all work independently, they all have their own character, each stage has its own personality.
And in terms of colour choices and patterns, what was the thought?
Edd: Each pattern and colour has a loose connection to where the stage is. So with the queen stage, stage 7, where the winner will (in theory) be decided, we went for a crown pattern and yellow to signify the leader’s jersey. Stage 4 goes from Pismo Beach to Avila Beach so we thought to reference swimwear colours, Californian beaches – that sort of thing but without it being too forced or garish.
Anthony: Originally, instead of three panels covered with the pattern it was opposite panels, contrasting panels rather than three, but they started to look like jockey hats. Normally we don’t design on clothing, apart from t-shirts, but this is four triangular panels so you have to think about it differently. And also how do they look off and on the head? Getting the right fit for the format was tricky; with flat artwork it’s a bit more straightforward.
A lot of type designers seem to be taken with the bicycle.
Edd: It’s a close-knit thing, design and cycling, it intertwines. But I think Rapha has encouraged the aesthetic side of the sport. But rather than emphasis on logos and technical aspects the brand uses a more emotional, and therefore stronger, and malleable approach.
Anthony: It’s interesting that Rapha started out super-understated, minimal and monochrome. But everything is coming back around and you can see that in the current colours and shapes. It’s great.
Colophon is the name of your typographic service, but you do other things too.
Anthony: Yes, Colophon is the type foundry and it’s not just us working on that, it’s a collaboration involving a lot of people ultimately. But with our design service we try not to do everything. Colophon is a lot more specialist, more of a platform for us to do other things. We do a lot of print and layout, photography books.
We’re more interested in the application of what we do in a wider context; typography has weight, dryness, seriousness. We don’t come across as hardcore type designers because we’re more concerned with how and why it’s used, not the actual design.
Edd: We teach once a week at RCA too and we were just over in Marseille conducting a workshop. When we teach students that have no experience designing typefaces, they have no preconceptions so they come up with some really great results… And that influences us and keeps our own perspective fresh.
Anthony: It’s definitely about doing different things, to stay agile.
The names for your typefaces are distinctive.
Anthony: It’s either instant or the biggest headache ever. So it’s usually related to the process. Something that’s quite obvious but then you try and work out a rationale… we’re both like “what do you call this?”. It’s either taken already or too non-specific/neutral.
Edd: It’s one of the hardest parts of what we do. The latest one we called ‘new’ for ages… it’s a working title obviously, it’s a new font. But search that on Google, ‘new font’, it’s tricky.
Tell me about ‘Castledown Specimen’.
Anthony: We did a project for a primary school in Hastings called Castledown. We re-envisioned typography in and around the school but rather than just type for cloakrooms it became an all-encompassing project, designing a cursive alphabet and a hierarchy for communications around the school. They use the same 1920s instructions for cursive handwriting in schools. So it’s a modern version of that.
The school now gets royalties from the sales of this typeface and we’re trying to get other schools to adopt it. It’s actually now being used in Sinagapore Maths, a maths textbook.
That must be satisfying to really see your work being put to use like that. Are there times when it’s a surprise or worse?
Anthony: In 2010 there was a photo of Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook’s first ever marketing conference and she was stood in front of type all designed by us. At first we thought maybe they didn’t have the licence for it, but they did. Paul McCartney uses one of our fonts in his archive, which is kind of cool.
I guess it’s nice to think that your design can be applied in so many contexts?
Edd: We did a show at the KK Outlet in Hoxton last year displaying 25 typefaces over five years. When you design a typeface it gets applied in so many ways you can’t always consider when you’re designing it. So they were 3D renders in fictional spaces, ubiquitous objects assigned a language.
Anthony: That thing about wider context – we see ourselves as passive collaborators so we wanted proof of that. We wanted the show to be more than just displaying the alphabet.
And you design LAW magazine, a great publication.
Edd: I grew up with John [Holt, the editor]. He was at Brighton too, studying fashion. He realised the course allowed him a broad scope and asked us to design a magazine he was putting together in his final year. It was about everyday, undercurrent culture and fashion that isn’t obviously fashion but very much British. It was literally a case of him giving us a hard drive and saying: “Here’s a bunch of my stuff, can we make a magazine?”
Anthony: And it became this weird artist’s book/magazine hybrid. That has been refined over time but it’s kept that spirit, that kind of underground, slightly irreverent tone. I really like working on it as the pace is intense so it’s different to the more considered or perhaps more traditional artwork we do. John’s got a good idea of what he wants and so that’s good for us to collaborate with him.
And how about digital artwork – you did the LAW website too – do you do much web design?
Anthony: It’s hard because a website is an ongoing thing, there’s no endpoint. Once you create something or design a site it becomes this relationship that can get out of hand [laughs]. It’s frustrating, because clients might hack the CMS and ruin the design. If you work closely with people it’s ok but once it’s out of your control it can be a real headache. But we work to solve problems and that’s one side effect of design jobs sometimes.