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Elefonts joins Type Network

With ten years’ industry experience and degrees in both visual communication and type design, Elena Schneider produces custom typographic solutions and award-winning retail fonts. Her foundry, Elefonts, is built on principles of consistency and coherence. With an eye towards international growth, Schneider is joining Type Network. In this conversation with Lucas Czarnecki, Schneider shares how her process changes with each new typeface, why her favorite designs are the unexpected ones, and how her grandfather’s calligraphy sparked her career.

Lucas Czarnecki: If you can remember a specific moment, when and why did you become interested in type design?

Elena Schneider: Yes, I do remember that. It was at the end of my intermediate graphic design diploma, when the whole class took a trip to the Hague to visit the open day at the KABK. And yes, the type and media class blew my mind! I was already interested in typography, but I somehow never thought about this

However, after graduation, I started working with some of my best friends in our own studio, while—on the side—I always tried to work on typeface designs. That didn’t work out very well. Firstly, I didn’t have a clue about it, and secondly there were not many resources available online back then. So, I decided that I had to go to Reading for their type design master’s program.

Also, way back when I was a child, I would watch my grandpa do calligraphy. He made gift cards and sometimes he would draw these huge price tags for the local hardware store… I loved to watch him do it. It made me think about letterforms, because he could do a range of different styles. But when he tried to teach me, I just hated it! I still can’t make myself do calligraphy. Though, I do love to look at it. I am sure that this experience triggered something.

LC: What’s the story behind your first published typeface?

ES: The first typeface I published was Eskorte. It was my graduation project from the University of Reading and was published by Rosetta in 2014. Shortly after that, Paroli was published by Gestalten fonts. 

Eskorte is a serif font family with uprights and italics that both have their own different personalities. As a matter of fact, Paroli started as part of that family, too. It came along as ‘Eskorte Display’ in my graduation project. I used it as my punching bag, throwing in all the silly ideas that didn’t fit into Eskorte Text. Once I got rid of all my crazy energy, I could go back to the serious part—until I got bored and went back to the display… and so on.

After studying visual communication in the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund, Schneider co-founded the design studio Radau. Her fascination with typography and letterforms soon led her to move to Reading and pursue an MA in type design. She often combines her skills, like in this glyph set for German AI consultancy Merantix Momentum.

LC: How did you decide to start your own foundry?

ES: After publishing typefaces at various foundries for almost ten years, I thought it would be good to have something like a home base. But at the same time, I was a bit afraid to take care of everything on my own: maintaining my web-shop, dealing with angry customers and their lawyers, and doing all the marketing—in addition to working on new typefaces! So, I thought Type Network was exactly what I was looking for: United forces on the inside and the freedom to have my own space on the outside. 

Sketches for Fillip and Mikrobe side by side in Schneider’s sketchbook demonstrate her scattershot approach to drawing letterforms: She quickly goes wherever the ideas take her. 

LC: Is there anything unique or peculiar about your type design process?

ES: I don’t think I have a particularly distinctive way of designing typefaces. Like many type designers, I love the first 10% of a new project the most… the creative part. I usually do a lot of sketching before touching the vectors. My sketches are not very detailed, but they are very messy. I don’t try to keep a nice sketch book; I just bring the ideas out of my head. 

With the Fillip font family, it was a little different: I did a lot of research before I started the design process, and then did some writing instead of sketching. I quickly found that I wasn’t looking for a handwritten style, but I started sketching the letterforms with the idea of handwriting in mind. 

In contrast, the process for Halunke was completely different: It was more like a game or a puzzle to solve than designing a typeface. It was a real challenge to see if the original idea would work for an entire character set. 

So, I think my process is always related to the idea of the project, and it’s not always the same. 

Fillip is a font family for slow reading. It helps learning to read by mimicking the movement of writing, and it is slightly imperfect without being comic. It contains no ligatures, plenty of space, rather large punctuation, and robust diacritical marks. It is friendly, welcoming, and legible. License Fillip from TN.

LC: Your designs feature a wide variety of styles, and you have released typefaces in several scripts. Where do you find your major sources of inspiration?

ES: Inspiration just comes and I usually forget what triggered it. For me, a project works best when the concept of using it is inspiring, not the letterform itself. As with Fillip, the initial inspiration was to design a typeface that would be less confusing for beginning readers. Only then did I start thinking about the letterforms. For Mikrobe, I wanted to create a typeface for book covers with a width axis to make the type fit any layout. So, it needed those robust, geometric curves. 

As for the scripts, I mainly do Latin and it’s what I do best. However, in the master’s program at Reading we were encouraged to dive into world scripts and extend our character sets. I chose to do Armenian and Arabic for Eskorte; I greatly enjoyed learning about and designing these scrips. Later, I did some custom work in Arabic, but I didn’t feel comfortable taking on work that a native script designer could do better. 

For my retail library, I always start with Latin and maybe add another script later. Halunke, for example, got its Cyrillic addition because Ilya Ruderman suggested it. He also helped me a lot in the process. 

Mikrobe is a ruthlessly geometric display font family with a variable width axis, intended for the use on book covers. Even though Mikrobe’s temper is quite pitilessly monstrous, it is at the same time generously flexible and light-hearted. Modular elements and square counters make it easy to expand and compress. License Mikrobe from TN.

LC: Do you have a favorite example of seeing your type in the wild? What do you hope designers use your typefaces for?

ES: I love seeing my type in the wild. Though, my favorite examples are from Halunke, because I never thought anyone would use it at all! Surprisingly, it created the most interesting results: ElClassico by Vasava studio, which is huge—or the music artwork for radikal positiv from Querbeat by Yawn, which is just a dream-use for that font. 

I hope that Fillip will be used for kids’ books, because I believe that it really makes a difference for beginning readers. That said, I love to be surprised by unexpected uses of my typefaces.

“Paroli’s sharp edges and efficiently pared-down forms have hand-drawn origins, allowing them to hit a point of minimalism just before their character would start to disappear.” — Chris Rugen, via Typographica
License Paroli from TN.

LC: What does it mean for you to be joining Type Network? Who among the foundry partners are you most excited to be working with?

ES: The list of foundry partners is great, and I’m fighting hard against my impostor syndrome to convince myself that I really belong here. 

Joining Type Network was a game changer for me even before the official launch. Now, I feel like there’s a team behind my work. That was something I really missed before. I really enjoyed the technical review process with Glenda. I learned a lot from her and am very grateful for that exchange. Dan is great at managing everything around the onboarding and launching process, and with Dyana… I feel like I can ask her anything. 

LC: What’s next for you?

ES: There are more typefaces waiting in line to be launched into the Type Network library. I will just keep going! Finishing up old projects and creating new ones. 

Fillip, Mikrobe, and Paroli can be licensed for print, web, mobile apps, and ePubs. Webfonts may be tested for thirty days, and desktop trials are available upon request.
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