David Keshavjee (born 1985) and Julien Tavelli (born 1984) are two Swiss graphic designers/typographers, they both studied at Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) They where one of the winners of the Swiss Federal Design Award with their graduating project, ‘Using Tool,’ in 2009. They just made a pedagogic booklet at the Federal Office of Culture in New York, Acid Test. In collaboration with Körner Union and Tatiana Rihs they made offset cmyk experiments. Later they printed a reproduction of that handmade booklet, “Les impressions magiques“. They are part of Maximage Société Suisse, an exploration in the field of emotion and technology.
Their Using Tool project is, I think, the most interesting thing to discover about them, it explains a lot about how they work and how their poster series for music concerts where build up. The posters where published in Wallpaper and in the book ‘Typeface as Program,’ witch was published by Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) Especially the last one is very related to their process and what they are designing. They also explain in this book how Keshavjee and Tavelli approached their works by using half digital half manual tools during the process.
They started in their design process of the posters by first programming a script, inspired by a workshop of Frederik Berlaen on ECAL, that could automatically create a system of characters by using the already by Keshavjee and Tavelli designed ‘o’ and ‘n.’ Those two are the essence of the typeface, so with this characters the script is able to create the other characters of the alphabet. Keshavjee and Tavelli like to keep the random and uncertain factor in this system and in their font by giving the computer the control of the typeface. I think the script also helps them to design the first layer of the poster, the digital printed part, the black thin lines. When their computer created the characters they use a machine next to the computer that cut the letters out of a 2mm thin wooden plate what is still very raw then, but they do the final touch by hand. After they manufactured the wooden characters they cut pieces wood all the same size to glue the 2mm thin wooden characters on it. After they did this crucial step, they can think and work with the spacing of the letters, and build up the composition. The last step for them is to combine the background layer and the composition of the typography, the wooden characters into the final poster.
I think with the combination of manual and digital processes that are repeated at each step, from the production and application of the typography until in the composition and final print, Keshavjee and Tavelli create a refreshing and inspiring result of the raw woodcut with the smooth digital print. They work according to the principle that the means influence the form and that new forms of expression in graphic design can be created by combining different tools. These ideas are applied to the poster series as well, it’s the essence of their project. The posters are also published together with the thoughts about this series and an interview where they explain more in the book, ‘Typeface as Program.‘ There is also an interesting article on boston.com about the swiss designer thoughts of typography by Cate McQuaid.
For me they work a bit like typographic engineers I would say. They really are working with developing scripts and systems to help them approach typography in another way, not very usual and practical way, but an interesting one. You could think if you read about how controlled they work in a way, that they are probably to much controlling their work. But their prints are very open for unexpected accidents within its system, there is a lot that can go wrong, all trough this process the accidents are creating new opportunities in the creative process of their typographic experiments, that’s a good value of their work I think. They also always start projects by experiments. It could be interesting to learn and see more of the projects of David Keshavjee and Julian Tavelli, and see how they treat their project during the process of designing typography.