Meet the Creator: Rodrigo Fuenzalida

Bek Agius — 24 November 2021

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Recently, as part of a wider brand refresh, Outfit commissioned the development of a new sans serif, on-brand font. As a brand under the microscope for thought leadership on the very subject of brand within the tech space, it was crucial the font felt organic to the tone and personality of Outfit but also fulfilled the requirements of clearly communicating the power and functionality of our innovative brand technology.

We engaged Rodrigo Fuenzalida, an independent type designer with extensive experience in the typography design space and, specifically designing for the Google Fonts project.

The end product speaks for itself, (or we do here) but how does the commission of a new font come about and where does the inspiration come from?

These and many more questions are answered in a conversation between the Author of the Outfit font, Rodrigo Fuenzalida and Outfit’s Vice-President of Strategy and Innovation, Andy Fitzsimon.

Q: Rodrigo, tell us a little about your background?

Rodrigo: I studied Graphic Design because I wanted to work at Pixar doing animation. While studying design, I was exposed to typography and I fell in love with it.

After I graduated, I worked as a Graphic Designer for about 2 years and then went to work with one of my typography teachers, who had always pushed me to develop that interest further.

In 2009 I released my first commercial font, knowing nothing about that world at the time. My font was accepted by Google Fonts and since then it’s become my primary focus - working on type design non-stop.

Mostly I’m self-taught in type design. There have been mentors along the way and short programs but nothing formal. Mostly it’s been myself, a computer and long nights doing the work.

Q: Tell us a bit about your work!

Rodrigo: A bit of background, in 2012 I met Dave (Crossland) when he was doing a talent search in Latin America for the Google Fonts project. I started working with Dave and sold him a font called Titan One. It’s one of my most used fonts, because it’s free and it was also used in the Fall Guys game that came out last year.

I'm working on some custom fonts, mostly completing sets for all fonts of mine that came from the Google project.

I have recently started my own independent type foundry. We've released two projects now to the retail scene. In general, I have a distinct style in that I'm very geometric in my work and I like a lot of calligraphy.

Q: You worked a lot on the Raleway typeface which existed in Google fonts and was very popular but it was lacking in weight range and character coverage. What was your contribution there?

Rodrigo: Raleway was originally a very thin, one weight font with a very small character set. When they sent it to us, we completed the set to the standard at that time. We also developed the italics and the rest of the weights - including the regular and the black weights.

We were lucky enough to work with the original designer of Raleway and he gave us regular feedback throughout the project.

The best part of that project for me is that, normally I have a very strong personality for my personal drawing. This project taught me that when someone delivers you a project, you have to try and respect the work that’s been done already.

As a result, people tend to contact me when they want to work on depth within their existing font and don’t have the time. This work specifically has helped me find ideas down avenues I wouldn’t normally have pursued.

I used these learnings in my work on the Outfit font. The work does not look like a font from me, it looks like Outfit.

Q: What are your opinions on how typography relates to projects, people, companies and brands?

Andy: One of the things that always attracts the owners of brands, and also myself to the importance of type design is well summed-up in this quote by Beatrice Ward:

“People who love ideas must have a love of words. They will take a vivid interest in the clothes that words wear.”

One of the things that I find most exciting is that within the walls of Outfit, over a third of our staff are primarily software engineers. I've worked with plenty of developers in the past who appreciate design but do not prioritise design. At Outfit, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an analytical thinker or an aesthetic thinker, we all love fonts because fonts enable the rendering of so much meaning.

A challenge that I faced in the past is - how do you come across aesthetically as your organisation even when nobody can see the logo? That connection between all the elements in our brands, photography, typography, illustration, even in the writing tone of voice, gets amplified when you use, what I think is the most impactful hook, and that is the typeface itself.

Q: What started the Outfit font project?

Andy: I was talking to an old friend of mine, Dave Crossland (Lead UX Programmes & Operations, Google Fonts at Google) and we were discussing that I work for this software and consultancy business and that we work with a lot of brands designed for our clients but typographically, we didn't have a voice.

I'd been fortunate in the past to work for large companies like Red Hat, and commission open source typefaces like the Overpass font family with Delve Worthington and Dave Bailey as well as collaborating with developers on monospaced typefaces.

Dave said, “I think it's really achievable if you want to create a new open font library font and I've got the perfect person to introduce you to.”

So then he introduced me to you, Rodrigo and we've been very lucky to work together ever since.

Q: This project involved communicating from Australia to Chile across alternating time zones, through a pandemic, an open design Slack channel, collaborating with every designer at Outfit, all giving regular feedback and a lot of late nights. What kind of observations would you make in retrospect?

Rodrigo: The energy for the project came from your team. They were so warm and welcoming - adding me to the design slack channel and having the opportunity to feel like I was a part of the team was invaluable in building the project - it was an amazing experience.

It was not just because I managed to nail the look and feel quickly, it was really about the team at Outfit - they were so into the project. They gave so many good insights for ideas and additions which was so fulfilling and fuelled me to keep working on refinements.

All of these little things together are what gives the font its personality. Initially any client who comes to me with a set of rules, I try to deliver on those rules - but then as it evolves, it’s not just my work, it’s the collective mind of the whole team.

Trying to look at the glass half full when you think about the pandemic, it has really propelled the world into this kind of remote work environment and suddenly remote conversations are more useful. The way the world has become more open to the digital way of working has opened a lot of possibilities and made time more productive and more accessible.

Q: When we look at all of the amazing features within the typeface, one that stands out is tabular numerals to support marketing material heavy in statistics despite the Outfit font being a proportional typeface. This was such a great bonus, what made you go so all out on this project?

Rodrigo: Working on fonts for 12 years, you finally start to understand what could and could not work for different products.

As far as the tabular numerals, they should be a standard for many brands - they help so much in the communication of numerical data and so many brands rely on that. They’re not difficult to do and they go such a long way in communicating numbers and hard facts.

In Outfit’s case, your particular brand aesthetic and graphical style, the way you structure information with lead-based data, and the sort of 60’s design - it made sense to me that tabular numbers would work well and they did.

Q: What do you think makes a project team or organisation seek out a unique type personality for themselves?

Rodrigo: A couple of years ago, the typography offered was very limited compared to now. Today you have 2000-4000 fonts being released every day.

I think that as this change began to happen, companies started to feel like they needed to have their own look and feel, and that isn’t just the logo or the branding or even how they present themselves, it’s also how they communicate with type. So unsurprisingly, the thing that fuelled this trend was definitely these big brands asking for custom type design.

Now even small brands are starting to get the funds together to create a custom font project just because they need to have a way to express themselves.

I think it has to do with the amount of people doing type work now and the amount of typefaces available. Also I think there is a shift to typography becoming more of a trendy feature on websites.

We used to be the weird freaks in the background that nobody cared about and now we’re the front man of the band. Typeface designers have become so much more popular now than ever before.

Q: Talking about the Google Fonts contribution process and how it has evolved over time, they now have a refined build and QA process and a standardised repository for providing open-source fonts to the world. What was it like designing for Google Fonts this time compared to in the past?

Rodrigo: When Google started the Google Fonts project, they wanted to present something premium and unique in the typography space, but a lot of type designers and independent type founders had negative things to say about the quality of the fonts initially.

It has grown so much since then to the point that nobody doubts the quality of the fonts that come out of Google Fonts now.

Their biggest contribution to the type space world is not only that these fonts are open-source, which is huge, but Dave (Crossland) has this strong belief that most fonts should be available in as many languages as possible.

Q: Why should a brand have an open-source font?

Andy: There are massive economic advantages to open-sourcing your own font. The first advantage is that it’s a requirement, in order to be listed on the Google font library, that it must be open-source. The benefit of that is that not only is the font library an excellent CDN to help deliver that font throughout the internet, but so much third party software, from Figma to Canva to Google Suite itself all leverage the Google font library.

This is strategically significant if you are doing productivity using Google slides. The only way to get your custom typeface into Google slides is through Google Fonts.

You could have a workforce of hundreds of thousands of people and they can all be communicating with your look and feel and all it cost you was contributing something to the public.

So from an Outfit perspective, it was a no brainer - let’s get this design asset into the hands of as many people as possible.

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