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Max Esnée on Gamuth and the Journey of a Type Designer

We sat down with Max and talked about his debut release, Gamuth.
We sat down with Max and talked about his debut release, Gamuth.

Max Esnée is a type designer and web developer who is looking forward to a busy and ambitious 2023 ahead. His first font, the reverse contrast Savate, was released in 2016, and Max has been building his repertoire ever since. Inspired by his work in web design and how online newspapers utilize typography, Max’s newest type family Gamuth, released with Production Type, is designed “to provide a comprehensive range of typefaces for the requirements of online news media” and is one of four in-progress fonts Max is working on with Production Type. Max was kind enough to share his excitement about his upcoming Gamuth release, his journey towards becoming a type designer, and how he learned to appreciate the art of kerning.

“Gamuth is designed to provide a comprehensive range of typefaces for the requirements of online news media”
Font: Gamuth Display Light

Tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to Production Type.

Max I originally studied graphic design. I graduated in 2014 and I’ve been freelancing in the field since then. I worked on various projects, but mainly related to branding, editorial design, and web design. I started drawing type after finishing school, learning by myself for a few years. It was mostly something I was doing for myself, as a side project. I eventually got more and more into it and in 2019 I decided to fully commit to type design and join the EsadType program. After the end of the program in 2021, Jean-Baptiste Levée offered for me to publish Gamuth at Production Type.

How do you feel about releasing the full Gamuth family this year? How does it feel to put something out into the world that you've worked for such a long time on?

Max I’m very excited obviously! And I’m also relieved. I’ve finished the design, now the Production Type team is working on the mastering. This is the biggest type design project I’ve worked on so far, so I’m already proud of myself for carrying it to the end. Now I just have to wait for the release to see how designers responds to it. And there’s a bit of apprehension too. When you spend so much time looking at a design, you lose perspective, it becomes hard to form an opinion. I wonder what I would think about it if it were someone else’s design and I was seeing it for the first time. Would I like it? I’ll never know that, but I stared at it for almost 3 years and I don’t hate it, so I guess that’s a good sign!

“Type design…has a lot of provocative power.”
Font: Gamuth Display Black

PT: How do you feel Gamuth has evolved in your collaboration with Production Type? And you have a few more fonts in progress with PT, how are those going?

Max Max: It became a complete family, with a full range of weights and a much larger character set. That’s the most visible part. The overall design haven’t changed that much though. If I look back at earlier versions of Gamuth from 2 years ago, it feels like the same typeface, but it’s all in the details. The frequent feedback from PT really helped me raise the bar in term of quality of drawing, and in maintaining coherence between all the different weights and style. As for the fonts in progress, they’re at various level of advancement. Right now I’m working on a sans serif companion to Gamuth. It was part of the plan from the beginning, but I had put it aside to focus on the serif family. So there’s more Gamuth to come. I’m also working on a humanist sans-serif which is already quite advanced, but I wouldn’t venture to say when it will be finished. And also a display serif family that is more early in development, so I’m still figuring out the design.

What about type design excites you the most?

Max I really enjoy the intersection of art and technique. I always loved drawing and illustration; when I was a teenager I wanted to be a painter. But I’m also kind of technically minded, I enjoy doing programming and web development. I guess type design hits that sweet spot for me. There’s the initial artistic impulse but then it quickly becomes about designing a system, solving problems within constraints. I really enjoy that. I also really like how type can tell a story. Type design is pretty abstract in and of itself, but it has a lot of evocative power. Type can remind you of a specific era, a place, a music genre, etc. But it’s never fixed and it changes all the time depending on how it’s used. Garamond can evoke French Renaissance, or it can evoke Apple commercials from the 80’s.

When you graduated, how did you feel about the prospect of being a freelance designer? What were your main challenges there? How has that changed over the years?

Max It sort of happened naturally. I was already doing a bit of freelance work during my last year in design school. I had stayed in contact with the design studio I interned at the year before and they were giving me a bit of work. So I continued doing that after graduation, and my activity developed progressively from that. It was a bit rough sometimes. You don’t really learn what it is to be a freelancer in design school, so I had to figure it out as I was doing it. How to talk to clients, how much to ask for your work, how to handle bad payers, all things I’ve learned from experience. And I’m clearly still learning!

“I’d really like to design something that lasts.”

Tell us about a project or a design you worked on that you are most proud of.

Max I’m still quite proud of my first typeface, Savate, that I did back in 2016. It was the first typeface I was committed to finish and release. It’s a bit wonky, it contains a lot of questionable decisions, and looking at it today, I see a ton of drawing issues, bad curves and so on. Also, I was not convinced kerning was all that useful at the time. That was until someone used it to set the words « A V ANT-PROPOS » on the first page of a book. But I think it holds up ok, and I still enjoy seeing it in use. I think I did the best I could do at the time, I learned a ton about type design doing it, and seeing people use it after the release was great. That’s what really made me want to pursue type design as a career.

Cats or dogs?
Font: Gamuth Display ExtraLight

Cats or dogs?

Max Max: Definitely cats. Though, I became a bit allergic to cat hair growing up, so I tend to keep my distance nowadays.

Outside of type design, what other talents make up your resume? What other non-work related hobbies do you have? Do those hobbies inform your creative work in type?

Max Mostly graphic design and web development. Recently I worked on type specimen websites and I really felt like I was playing all my cards there. As for non-work related, as I said, I enjoy drawing and painting. Drawing skills are obviously useful for type design, but drawing letters is quite specific and different from drawing landscapes or people. The funny thing is my favorite part of drawing is using color. I used to do a lot of watercolor painting, I love impressionist painting and all that. And yet here I am staring at black and white shapes all day. I’m not even really interested in color fonts! I guess those things live in different compartments in my brain.

As a part of your design career, what is something you haven't done yet that is an important goal of yours? What is a big Max Esnée designer dream?

Max I don’t have any specific project or client in mind, but I guess I’d really like to design something that lasts. A lot of what we do as designers is rather short lived. That’s true of advertising obviously, but even brand identities or websites rarely last more than a few years. That’s part of what drew me to type design when I think about it. Some typefaces are still in use after 500 years! I certainly don’t expect anything I do to last that long, but I’ll be happy to design a typeface that people still use in 10 or 20 years.

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Useful type with an edge.

Production Type provide retail as well as dedicated creative services in typeface design for brands.

Based in Paris and Shanghai, Production Type is a digital type design agency. Its activities span from the exclusive online distribution of its retail type for design professionals, to the creation of custom typefaces for the industrial, luxury, and media sectors.
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