Jean François Porchez
While auditing txpmag.com content in preparation for TXP’s relaunch, I came across a short article from 2006 that introduced Le Typographe, a Textpattern-powered website belonging to the French typeface designer, Jean François Porchez. Keen on typography-driven web design, I decided to look into Porchez’s background more, and was rather stunned by the magnitude of his accomplishments. His professional history, combined with the fact he’s still using Textpattern CMS today, inspired me to do a follow-up interview and give the man due attention as a talented individual and a committed Textpattern user from the very beginning.
In the late 80s, when Jean François Porchez (Porchez from hereon) was enrolled in the graphic design school, EMSAT (l’Ecole Municipale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques, Paris), a guest lecturer exposed him to the fields of calligraphy and type design. The encounter lead Porchez to pursue these fields headlong and he was soon doing internships with the Ford Design agency while still in school. He quickly mastered skills in drawing curved letterform by hand, and began working for Dragon Rouge after graduation. By 1989, Porchez designed his first typeface, Angie, which also won him his first award, a Morisawa Award in 1990. He’s been designing typefaces and winning awards ever since.
Porchez’s most notable accomplishment is probably his “Le Monde” family, comprising 10 typefaces released from 1994 to 2008, the earliest versions were used by the Parisian newspaper of the same name. Design work for other notable companies and brands is extensive; names include The Baltimore Sun, France Telecom, Peugeot, Renault, Beyoncé Knowles (yes, the “bootylicious” singer), Louis Vuitton, RATP (operator of the Paris public transportation system), and many more.
In 2001, Porchez served as President of a jury established by the Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale to select a new handwriting model for the French educational system. He’s an honorary member of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI), and was acting president from 2004 to 2007. Porchez also travels the world over; speaking, leading workshops, presiding over competitions, teaching in schools, and generally just giving back to the industry that he has successfully been a part of for so long.
After looking at some of his past travels, like his week long workshop at the American University of Dubai in 2004, I asked Porchez if any particular trip was most memorable, or if there was a special destination he often returns to. He said he considers each travel engagement a unique experience, all memorable in their own right. He always looks forward to meeting new people and having good discussions about typography. As it happens, he’ll be in the US, speaking at my alma mater, the University of Washington in Seattle, as we get ready for publishing this article.
I began to wonder about his work situation; how a guy can travel and lecture so much and still take care of the business end of the stick. So I asked him… ‘Are you a one-man agency, or is there a Porchez team toiling away while you’re on the road?’ He didn’t miss the irony…
Yes, 200 people in Asia working everyday for me. Some are specialists with serifs, others with capitals, and others with the letter “g”. No, seriously, we are a small team, some people work at Clamart [France] with me, others are freelance from various places in the world depending on the nature of the project. We have plenty of projects in 2012, and we’ve formed into two companies: ZeCraft, dedicated to bespoke typography, and Typofonderie, which is an existing project undergoing a transformation and will be dedicated to the publication and distribution of typefaces. When the new Typofonderie website is launched (very soon), the changes will be more evident.
Porchez and Textpattern
One of the first things I discovered while poking into Porchez’s past with Textpattern was a little mention of “JFP” by Dean Allen, captured by the wayback machine on the 9 February 2003. It’s a note in the sidebar dated the 24 January (undoubtedly 17 days earlier from the wayback record), and suggests Porchez may have been the original French translator when Dean was still putting Textpattern together. I asked Porchez about it. He didn’t recall being the only French translator, but he was one of the first people to test Dean’s translation tool while it was being developed, and provided usability feedback in the course of translating the first French strings of the CMS.
Porchez’s original interest with Textpattern stemmed from he and Dean Allen having met a few times prior to Dean’s start on Textpattern code. His impression of Dean had always been good, as he told me:
I was aware of Dean and his reputation in the field of typography before his work on Textpattern. He was an excellent book designer and published insightful blog posts about typography. His evident knowledge in this area was considerable and based on solid experience.
The first time they met was in 2001 at the annual ATypI conference in Copenhagen. The two gentlemen shared a table at the gala dinner. Porchez believed this was also the year Dean left Vancouver B.C. for Southern France. They met on a couple of occasions after that, but Porchez admitted not as much as he would have liked.
Porchez’s original interest in Textpattern—and one of his motivations for helping to translate it into French—was the desire to use it for the French blog of the ATypI website. The ATypI site itself was powered by Zope at the time (maybe still is), but room was made on the server for Textpattern so Porchez could begin with the French blog initiative. Le Typographe is that French blog. Porchez is still running it with Textpattern CMS (version unknown), and it’s still sporting the design created by Jérôme Vogel a few months after the blog went live.
Porchez’s own site, porchez.com, and ZeCraft, mentioned earlier, are both powered by Textpattern CMS too. The former still has the unmistakable flavour of Textpattern’s default template, yet it’s remarkably fresh under Porchez’s own typography.
Typofonderie is not Textpattern-powered, but it does incorporate Textile, “The Human Web Text Generator” also invented by Dean Allen, and Porchez adores it:
I still love Textile everyday I use it. Textile is probably the most crucial element for me because it helps to clearly separate content from form. With Textile, just hints of the markup structure are there; the usual HTML code is not clogging things up and getting in the way of copy writing and editing. Its a good balance and easy to manipulate.
Because of the need for e-commerce functionality, the new Typofonderie site will be powered with Lemonstand, but Porchez says Textile will be integrated, as always. Tweets from Porchez suggest Typofonderie will relaunch soon, and he’s been giving clues, naturally, about what to expect with typography…
So what does Porchez really think about Textpattern CMS? It’s safe to say he likes it since he’s still using it, but I asked him a few questions about it specifically, such as what his first impressions were back in the day, what aspects he likes best from a publishing standpoint, and if there was something Textpattern did particularly well for his needs as a typeface designer.
My first feelings were ‘good design, great use of typography on screen, well organised on the back office…’ But for a non-professional web designer as I was, Textpattern was just easy because it had everything right there, directly in the browser, from css to images to structure. And Textile is clearly a system created by a typographer who knows what good use of typography means for the user interface.
Although, he says there’s still room for improvement too…
The biggest complaint I have with Textpattern right now is it’s not easy to start an article and add images to it at the same time. It’s fully two different processes: adding images, adding text. The two should be more connected. A list of last images uploaded with easy integration of Textile image code should be present in the Write panel, right where you need it without leaving the view. Multilingual publishing is also a strong limitation to me as I produce a lot of content in both French and English.
And what does Porchez think about using something different?
Each time I need to start a new website, generally I use Textpattern, simply because I know how do the things I need to do, even if it’s not perfect. I once tried Drupal, because it offered multilingual abilities, but it really wasn’t easy from my point of view, a mere amateur!
Porchez on web typography and Typekit
One of the things I wanted to run by Porchez was whether the increased use of typfaces on the web—thanks to
@font-face and services like Typekit, FontDeck, WebINK, and even Google Fonts, which has been adding more options like gangbusters—could influence a typeface retailer to make more fonts with web use in mind. Not all typefaces via Typekit, for example, were designed that way, and they can look bad to people still using dated technology (which is definitely still out there, albeit fading). We still can’t confidently pick any font from Typekit and expect it to look as well to one web user as it might for another. Porchez didn’t see that happening:
Low resolution and technology limits are ephemeral phenomena compared to the long history of writing and typography. They should be addressed but they should also not change your full design process. Technologies should adapt to human habits, not the reverse. Several guys understood this long ago. Jobs is among them. Just compare screen typography 10 years ago with today, its incredible how the quality improved. Recall how it was to set text in Quark Xpress in the early 90s, and still several years later how it was to read your news on a Palm Pilot with pure bitmap fonts, and so forth. The main things to resolve now are text justification and hyphenations in columns, not the quality of the typeface used to set text. Plenty of typeface are available, and very good.
I certainly understood adapting technology to the user, but being a lot of his bespoke work was for print periodicals I pushed him further on the issue by highlighting the fact more and more mass media (newspapers, journals, magazines…) are reorienting to web models, and consumers are increasingly using more mobile devices in daily routines. Wouldn’t all this tend to generate more demand for more typeface designed specifically for web use?
The challenge is not there. Even the quality of the typefaces can be improved easily with higher resolution like the Retina screen. A good screen will not improve bad hyphenation! Emulation of paper, and every detail from a real book on an iPad, is probably too superficial, but necessary to help people understand that reading on screen is just as easy as on a sheet of paper. Gutenberg, when he “invented” printing, used Fraktur type despite the fact Humanistic/Roman typeface was already around. Let’s appreciate that moving from writing to typography was a big change and challenge. Gutenberg preferred to stick to traditional forms to have typography accepted rather than change to Roman type on top of it all and be rejected all together for the wrong reasons.
Inventing new things and making them easy to use, based on existing and obvious habits, is crucial to make the change acceptable. If we compare what we can do now with a PDF in terms of quality to Robert Estienne books during French Renaissance, we realise the same quality, even better, and it’s more easy to create, thanks to Indesign, OpenType fonts, and so on. The same thing is happening on the web now. Many web designers have a high level of typography skills that print designers don’t have, simply because web is the ideal medium for texts. Structure, hierarchy, legibility… these are key elements of a good web design. Web designers know the value of typography, appropriate size depending on the content, good typeface selection… You see what I mean.
After getting schooled about Gutenberg’s intentions, and learning about somebody named Estienne, I took heart in hearing (as part web designer) that I know more about typography than print designers do. So I decided to to keep it modern and digital and asked Porchez about his participation with Typekit; how the relationship worked, exactly, from the standpoint of a foundry.
I don’t recall how joining Typekit started, exactly. Generally a mix of various things, such as discussions with colleagues via email or during international conferences. Typekit is doing an excellent job. The service is easy to use and easy to manage as a foundry. They’ve created a tool that’s very simple and that’s never easy to achieve!
Somewhere in one of Porchez’s websites (the URL for which I can’t seem to locate again) there’s a list of typefaces he’s designed. I remember counting 38. THIRTY-EIGHT! Mind you I don’t keep tabs on what is typical for typographers, but that seems like a big, impressive number to me. I asked him if he was working on number 39.
Honestly, I don’t know how many typefaces I have created. There is the public list, the private list, the retail collection and bespoke typefaces. Some typeface consist of one weight, others have 45 weights. Counting typefaces doesn’t make sense to me. The most recent one is a typeface created for Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, available in seven weights, with support for Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek scripts. This family will be used for all communication, including packaging, website, advertising, and so on. Other typeface projects are on the board for hotels, luxury companies, transportation, food companies, and even new projects for Typofonderie.
Most of Porchez’s non-exclusive typefaces can be acquired from Typofonderie.com, but I’ve found you can also look at his ZeCraft site for typefaces nearing the end of their exclusivity periods. For example, Deréon, the bespoke work for Beyoncé (and Tina) Knowles, had a 6-year exclusivity that expired in 2011 (according to information on that page), and Retiro, a typeface for the Spanish city/travel magazine, Madriz, is not available to the public until 2015. Both of these typefaces have won awards, and Retiro many times.
Special case: the layered typeface
Leave it to me to fall in love with the layered typeface designs; the ones that can’t be used as web type fonts, not even by old school sIFR methods. Regardless, one of Porchez’s most interesting works is the AW Conqueror family, and particularly the subfamily AW Conqueror Carved, a fun set of typeface layers giving text character and depth.
The AW Conqueror family was created for Arjowiggins Creative Papers, and the project was orchestrated by Reflex Group. As I learned from another interesting interview with Porchez, the brief for the project was to create a font family “from 1888, Great Britain”. Once you know that, it becomes obvious, looking at the Conqueror family, that Porchez succeeded. Reflex Group built the Conqueror site to promote the font family and some scenarios of use.
The entire Conqueror family—consisting of five subfamilies and their respective typefaces—is free for a limited time (expiring sometime this year), and can only be downloaded from the Conqueror site, though it’s a bit tricky to find the download location. Here’s how to do it.
I asked Porchez if he knew of other layered fonts available. He offered that layered fonts are “an old trick”, and some work better than others, but the earliest good example he knew of was FF Minimum Bichro, created in 1993 by his friend Pierre di Sciullo.
Liking Porchez’s Carved subfamily a lot, and thinking “FF Minimum Bichro” was probably the coolest font name ever, I high-tailed over to Mr. Sciullo’s Bichro, and if you go there too, you’ll see Bichro typefaces made up of horizontal and vertical lines. It makes sense when you remember these were meant to be layered together. Sciullo’s description is both explanatory and humorous:
To use FF Minimum Bichro you have to be very precise, and everything will be fine. The various Bichro fonts contain only parts of letters. By laying them on top of each other and by giving them different colors, the horizontal and vertical parts of the letterforms will get different colors [too]. You need FF Minimum Éclair for the darkness, FF Minimum Ivre when you are drunk, FF Minimum Crible when you have lost your gun, and FF Minimum Toc when you need to forget the Letraset catalogue.
Porchez’s Conqueror Carved set is treated the same way. Best results are realised at larger font sizes, from my experience playing around with it. The texture and depths that can be created with Conqueror Carved reminds me of some of the letter forms designed by Jessica Hische in her Daily Drop Cap project. I’d love to see more of these layering typefaces produced, and Hische would be a fine candidate. Even better would be if someone invented how to make use of them as machine-readable web type.
Another one of Porchez’s typefaces I like quite a bit (one we originally considered for TXP too) is Le Monde Courrier, a “typewritten” font described as halfway between writing and printing. This font is available through Typekit, and Porchez uses it at porchez.com, in addition to Conqueror Carved for his site’s logo.
Advice to web designers
The last 20 seconds of this fun video promoting Conqueror shows Porchez giving design advice to typographers, so I couldn’t let him get away without a little advice for web designers too. I posed this final question… What advice could you offer to web typography neophytes about how to select a font in web design work?
In response, Porchez explained that font selection is the result of considering various constraints, including:
- Style: Does the typeface match your project? Depending on the subject, a good analysis of the trends is crucial. From that you can decide what to try or not. I.e., Comic Sans doesn’t work for every content!
- License availability: Do you have the right to use the font as
@font-facebased on what the foundry allows or not. Converting fonts to specific format such as TrueType or WOFF from OTF are generally not allowed with desktop font licenses. Read licenses first to avoid putting your clients in a bad situation. This is one reason why Typekit, FontDeck, WebINK and others are such great services; the typefaces they make available are safe to use without worrying about it.
- Weights and widths availability: Choosing AW Conqueror Sans Light, for example, when you know you need condensed and heavier weights in italic, is a bad idea.
- Font size: Typefaces can have different base sizes, which are independent of what you set sizes to in your designs. For example, the serifs Georgia and Garamond will be considerably different in size, all things being equal and sized at 12 point. Naturally, this can impact your decisions with font stacks and fall-backs, which your designs may need to rely on at times.
And so ends my profile with the venerable Jean François Porchez, reigning French king of typeface design, and wielder of the mighty Textpattern CMS.comments powered by Disqus