IIII+I with Christian Schwartz

Last Friday we sat with Christian Schwartz from Commercial Type as part of our ongoing IIII+I series. He started the conversation by presenting a black circle on a white background — a test used to ensure the presentation screen is correctly configured to faithful display their work.

Christian is a partner at the independent type foundry Commercial Type, curating and designing an extensive library of critically acclaimed typefaces conceived for contemporary design. Paul Barnes is the second partner, a graphic designer who has worked with Spin Magazine and Peter Saville and designed display faces, for Bjork and Kate Moss. Twelve years into this venture, Commercial Type has designed bespoke typefaces for leading editorial publications such as The Guardian, Vanity Fair, The Oprah Magazine, Bloomberg Business Week and Esquire.

“It’s hard to avoid history when it comes to typography” Christian said, “There’s only so much you can do to an ‘a’ before it stops being an ‘a'”. Neutraface, one of his earlier typefaces drawn for House Industries has its origins in Richard Neutra’s historic architectural functionalism. The typeface eventually went on to become so popular, it has been used in a plethora of projects from luxury condo developments to Wendy’s and the Church of Scientology.

A lot has been said about categorizing typefaces, but Christian sums it all up with a dichotomy. There are two kinds of typefaces: Typefaces that do whatever you want them to do and typefaces that do most of the work. The first is a workhorse typeface with just enough design flair for it to function in most scenarios. The second is a typeface with commanding graphic quality suitable to take center stage of the design.