Planet typography MyFonts
The typographic Times
Claudio Piccinini


[February 2002]
“I am fascinated by how much you can change the shape of a letter without losing its identity.;.”
Claudio Piccinini



Can you introduce yourself ?

I didn’t attended artistic studies. I have a diploma in telecommunications but since I really didn’t cared about the matter, I’ve forgot almost everything. My passion for design came from the fact that I used to draw. I started drawing as a child and when came the time to find a job I decided to find a work somewhat related with drawing. I started working in a typesetting bureau, where I discovered the Macintosh in 1989.

Two years later I bought my own Mac and started to explore better programs like FreeHand and Photoshop which interested me more.

Why have you decided to design typefaces ?

Well, thinking of it now I can see that I’ve been always fascinated by letterforms. I used to watch in awe Letraset catalogues and I can say that I always loved writing and drawing, and I appreciated letters for their visual appearance. When I discovered FontStudio (which is the program that I still use, despite the fact it doesn’t work on recent machines) I was fascinated by the precision the program offers and its architecture on two layers (background and foreground) allowed construction on the first and design on the second.

My first attempt at designing typefaces was in a geometric fashion. I designed a typeface partly based on the proportions of Neville Brody’s Industria trying to convey a more elegant, serif feel. It wasn’t so original but it’s not ugly. It will be released on a collection Dirk Uhlenbrock (Fontomas) has assembled whose profit will go to the international humanitary organization Worldvision-Germany for a children project. My first “serious” typeface has been Ottomat, available from Emigre, whose original name was Tomazooma. I loved the original name a lot, but we’ve had to change it for legal reasons.

Where does your inspiration come from ?

We can say that it depends from typeface to typeface. However, as I deepen my interest and embrace more the richness of the letterform (we can say that I’m getting really serious about working on and about type), I see a few points that are always present in my work.

First, even if I work on designs with the most unusual letterforms, I do like to make each letter work with each other, and, ultimately, I try always, even with the most strange designs, to make alphabets as usable text faces, it’s a challenge and it’s one of the things that fuels mostly my work.

On a second hand I love the proportions of classic text faces, like the types of Garamond or Jenson, having a strong roman influence and an influence of the chancery cursive for the italics. So, even in bizarre fonts, I love to incorporate tiny but so important basic rules, i.e. giving rythm to the caps and the lowercases alike (and you obtain this varying the width between one letter and the other, for example), using ascenders that visibly surpass caps-height.

Third, and it might be evident observing my few commercial releases, I am fascinated by how much you can change the shape of a letter without losing its identity. This emerges in particular from the mysterious transitions we find in the history of the alphabet, first of all the one from uppercase to lowercase forms. In a word, I love to decide what is uppercase and what is lowercase, challenging the long-adopted conventions.

...and in the end I finish always to make the Os circular (laugh).

On what project are you working today ? And in the next future ?

BertoI have many ideas, which have to develop in the necessary time. First I’m working to finish two typefaces, Ogilve and Squatront, which are my first typefaces (if we don’t count Fear Unknown) designed entirely on the Mac. However, they are very different. Ogilve will be released by Thirstype late in 2002 and Squatront will be submitted to Thirstype as well.

A desire I have is to start a series of "promotional" pieces, in the form of a postcard and a specimen folder for each one of my typefaces, also for the ones already on sale. Thru emigre, in addition, I’ll do a booklet in their own series about Ottomat, but this promotion is supported by Emigre with their funds. WhatI’d like to start doing is specimens, like in the good old days of lead typography or photosetting, specimens on the history between that particular face and on how to use it. These are meant to be given only to people purchasing the typefaces, not for free.

The other things on my list, all under my Thoughtype label umbrella are: first, "Letters in the 1990s", a book (or more) on the innovations that accompanied the transition from analog to digital. Currently a lot of people have collaborated, with their typefaces and writings, including Miles Newlyn, Paul Shaw, Allan Haley, Barry Deck, Fabrizio Schiavi, Toby Stokes, Lee Schulz, Nick Shinn and a lot more to mention here.

However, most of the essays for the book are still to be done, and many typefaces in my selection have to be addressed yet. If anyone with a honest typographical culture and wide-open mind wishes to contribute, I encourage them to write me.

Second, I have to finish my most experimental and yet most text-suitable text face as of today. It’s called Neoritmo and it’s been designed mainly in 1996. It should be released by Psy-Ops. I’m also thinking about revivals of italian typefaces lacking a digital version.

Can you tell us more about the Italian typographic landscape ?

Well, I usually don’t do custom typefaces for clients. About contemporary designers I can’t see a lot of people doing interesting things, in my humble opinion. Just because we’re good friends I mention Fabrizio Schiavi, whose early releases have been sold through FontShop and T-26. Fabrizio now runs his own thing (, doing web and type design.

If you were referring to our historical tradition... well, if we limit ourselves to the 20th century we have the Big, Aldo Novarese, which devoted his entire life to type design. Part of his designs (expecially late ones) are available from ITC or Adobe, although a lot of wonderful work by Novarese, Alessandro Butti, and by typographers like Raffaello Bertieri or Salvatore Landi is widely unknown abroad.

If we go back in our history we meet Giovan Battista Bodoni (the most faithful version of his main typeface has been released by ITC, which came to the city of Parma to gather material first-hand) and going back again to the 15th century, obviously Aldo Manuzio with his great punchcutter Francesco Griffo, designer of many alphabets for the aldine editions, some of which are now valued in the order of hundreds of millions of Italian Lire. Also, at the very roots of printed type, back in 1465, Conrad Schweinheim and Arnold Pannartz, founded in Subiaco (near Rome) the very first italian printing house. Schweinheim and Pannartz, although not Italian, were the first to cut a typeface which could be cathegorized as an hybrid between blackletter and roman forms. It’s actually the first prototype of the extablished roman type, which later took their best shape in the hands of Nicolas Jenson, Claude Garamond and all that followed.

Related article: Neoritmo typeface portrait (February 2002).