Kate Vasey Article By Kate

The Designer Behind The Typeface: Pablo Balcells


Pablo started his collaboration with The Northern Block in 2017. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he studied graphic design at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). After graduating he was selected to be professor assistant to teach typography. He worked in Longseller publishing house as editorial graphic designer where he developed high complexity design pieces such as schoolbooks, dictionaries, etc. In 2013 he started working as a typographer with a focus on Latin and Cyrillic in a geometric style. To this day, he has designed more than 20 typefaces. When he’s not designing typefaces, Pablo enjoys traveling the world and the occasional “asado” with his friends. I spoke with Pablo to find out more:

You’re originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina and now you currently reside in Barcelona, Spain. Had you always wanted to live in Barcelona?

Not really. I came to Barcelona for the first time during a trip in 2013 when I visited several European cities. It was after that trip that the idea of coming to live here started to grow on me.

What was the motivation behind your decision to come over from South America to Europe?

It was mainly financial. Argentina’s economy is going through a very hard time and it made much more sense to me to settle in Europe. Specially when working with people from abroad and Spain was the most logical choice due to the language and the cultural similarities.

Has growing up there inspired any typefaces you have created?

I wouldn’t say so — the modernist, geometric style of my typefaces doesn’t have much to do with South America or Buenos Aires for that matter, which contains a wide range of different aesthetics itself when it comes to design. It has more to do with my personal taste.

You studied graphic design at University of Buenos Aires, what key things did you learn during your time there?

Some of the most important lessons I learned in the University of Buenos Aires are to be very critical with my own work, and not to get too attached to it during the design process because you might have to drastically change it or even abandon the whole project and start again from scratch. And in line with that, to be very persistent and durable. My professors taught me a lot, but they didn’t dispense on some tough love when a project wasn’t achieving its full potential.

What is the Buenos Aires type design scene like, and how does that compare to Barcelona?

Type design in South America boomed in the last 5 to 10 years. And, since Buenos Aires is one of the cultural centres of South America there are some prominent type designers there. Ale Paul and Maximiliano Sproviero are two of the main figures, both of them specialise in script typefaces. However, I’d say that the type design scene in South America has been characterised by having a subtle soft, organic touch, either if it’s a sans, a serif or a slab, typefaces generally have a soft side. Barcelona is not that different, the similarities are surprising. In fact one of the main font foundries in Barcelona, Emtype, is run by an Argentine designer, Eduardo Manso.

When you’re not designing type do you get a chance to explore the city? Is it an inspiring city for type designers to live in?

Most definitely. I love to go for walks through the Gothic Square, get lost in the narrow streets, maybe take some pictures. Barcelona has countless hidden places and you can find inspiration almost in every corner.

What got you interested in working in type design?

One of the main courses in the University of Buenos Aires is typography which I loved from the first class. It contains what I find most enjoyable in design: clear shapes, precision, attention to detail. I remember my classmates cursing their luck when they had to calculate the grid for a text, I couldn’t get enough of it. During the course we first learn how to use typefaces properly and then some introduction into type design. By that time I knew it was what I wanted to do and I wanted to continue improving. When I finished my course I was offered to be a teaching assistant, and so I did for two years.

You’ve mentioned you like to create typefaces that have a strong modernist and geometric aesthetic. Is this your preferred style?

Yes. On the one hand I’ve always liked futuristic oriented products, from movies to video games and on the other I am very committed to geometrical precision, I pay a lot of attention to details even though it prolongs the developing timeframe of a typeface.

Armadura (Source) type family by Pablo Balcells.

Your previous marketing for your typefaces always use a particular colour scheme, is there a reasoning behind this?

I chose those colours to strongly establish the Foundry’s brand, but I’ve noticed that after adding more typefaces under the same colour scheme, it became a bit boring, I’m currently working on new images for my typefaces using a larger colour palette to counter the sense of sameness the current colour scheme has.

Ordax Type Family by Pablo Balcells for The Northern Block

What was the inspiration behind your type latest type family Ordax?

Ordax started as far more sharp and technical as the final result. During the design process in collaboration with Mariya, it became softer, more humanistic and organic. I’d say Ordax is not the realisation of a predetermined idea, but the result of a laborious back and forth, a careful polishing of raw shapes.

Estricta type family by Pablo Balcells (Source)

What is your favourite typeface out of your collection?

Estricta. It is a sans serif that performs well in long texts but with very sharp and aggressive details. 

Solida type family by Pablo Balcells (Source)

Which typeface means the most to you?

From my collection, Solida, is the first, and even if it’s experimental and not very sophisticated, I do have an emotional connection to it. From all the typefaces in general, Geogrotesque. I really liked it as soon as I saw it, it looks like a modernised, friendlier version of the old, classic sans serifs.

How did you find working with The Northern Block on Ordax? Could you describe for us your collaboration experience with The Northern Block?

Great, it was a very enjoyable experience, not only because the process was straightforward and uncomplicated and the result is remarkable, but also because I learned a lot. Mariya and Scott are great to work with. I look forward to collaborating with them in the future.

A big thank you to Pablo for taking part in this interview and thank you for reading. Want to see the typeface designed by Pablo? Make sure to check out Ordax type family.

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