Anthony Sheret & Edd Harrington (Colophon Foundry / The Entente) interview

While in London, we contacted Anthony Sheret and Edd Harrington from Colophon Foundry and The Entente to see if we could visit their space. A couple of hours later we found ourselves in their Hackney Downs studio having a chat.

Interview by Julian Hutton
Photography by Fraser Stanley
Published November 2013

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i. Anthony's workspace
ii. Various printouts 
iii. Refining Archive Semibold Italic, 2013
iv. No Cash Value catalogue, 2012
v — vi. Various projects
vi. Archive, 2013

All images © Fraser Stanley 2013


How did you two come to start The Entente and its type foundry Colophon?

Anthony: I left university in the second year of education, and had just met Edd at university before this. We went on a spontaneous trip to Japan and realised that the chance of employment was pretty low (we would graduate in one of the worst years of the financial crisis), so what better time to start a studio? I think we knew we would have more fun, be able to define our own principles and also involve self-commissioned work in our practice.

We started The Entente in a cold, damp shared studio in Brighton with exactly £0 in the bank. Colophon was formed a few months later in April 2009. We initially toyed with the idea of a publishers but worked out it wasn't exactly financially viable (overheads etc). We had both played with the idea of type design – myself a few years before, and Edd had created Peggs as part of a small freelance project whilst at university.

“We started The Entente in a cold, damp shared studio in Brighton with exactly £0 in the bank.”

Who else works with you?

Anthony: Rupert Dunk works very closely with us. He has been with us a year now. When we first took him on it was a huge step for us – but, for me, one of the best decisions we have made. I think our work has evolved enormously since he started working with us. It has also reinforced the idea of collaboration and the pooling of skills allowing for a much richer output.

Edd: With Colophon as a platform, it allows us to work collaboratively with a lot of different designers across the world. We've just set up an outfit in New York with one of our regular collaborators, Benjamin Critton.

Is there a guiding philosophy behind what you do?

Anthony: I wouldn't say we have a strict manifesto to what we are doing, but there is a certain strong aesthetic and way of thinking that seems to be commonplace through our work, whether it’s printed, web, typeface or installation. That is something we never sat down and laid down, but more of a natural progression and understanding what skills and interests individuals have.

You've quite recently made the move from Brighton to Hackney Downs. How are you finding working in East London?

Anthony: London is a totally different experience to Brighton. We felt like we had hit a glass ceiling in Brighton, and to develop our business further we needed to move to London. 

Edd: We had been in Brighton for nearly seven years, including university, so in all the city had become comfortable, familiar and in some ways restricting. Moving to London was a massive change but one that felt like the right thing to do.

We didn't move to London straight away as we felt we would get lost in the rat race as it were. Over our time working in Brighton we were able to define a voice of our own, which we felt London can now add to.

Since we visited you in June you have finished up on your newest release, Archive. This typeface was formed over a three-year period and the family is extensive. How did it all begin and are you happy with the end result?

Anthony: It’s a relief. Archive began in a single roman cut for a book project initially titled The Northern Ireland Archive. The book was renamed The Myth of the Airborne Warrior, but we decided to keep the name Archive as a reference to its initial name and its pre-existent qualities and characteristics.

Edd: It really was a relief. The project had become such a large part of the studio, with it going far larger than we'd imagined at the beginning. It was a real labour of love.

“It’s a healthy progression of each project to let it go, and not become too controlling or narcissistic about your work.”

It must be rather interesting — and maybe sometimes distressing! — seeing how designers use your typefaces. Is it hard to let projects go?

Anthony: We feel it’s a healthy progression of each project to let it go, and not become too controlling or narcissistic about your work. I think the mentality of a commercial release is very different to a project that you are working on from a self-initiated process. Also, it is important to note that when we finally come to release a typeface commercially, it has normally been a fairly lengthy process so we feel that we are finished with the project.

Edd: It’s always interesting seeing how other designs will use your work. A lot of the time, when we release a typeface, it is quite some time after we initially conceive it. This allows a certain amount of separation from the design, and for it to be given a new life in someone else's hands. 

What is the most rewarding part of a typeface project?

Anthony: Releasing it!

Edd: The initial design process of a typeface is incredibly rewarding. I'll go through a lot of different iterations of a typeface, with even more depending on the scope of the typeface. In this first stage, it’s interesting to try out new ways of drawing letterforms, and to see how far you can push a design. Sometimes these experiments can work, sometimes they don't, but it’s this stage where a typeface’s voice and vision can be defined.

What's the usual process when you work on a project together?

Anthony: It varies project to project. When we started, we actually split our tasks to ensure neither of us worked on the same task – this has several advantages as a structure. It allows specialism in a discipline or skill-set. It allows a distinct voice to be developed if you are required to make visual decisions in either typeface or design/direction.

Edd: Working on separate tasks helps us to keep from going down one path. It’s interesting, as I'm more interested in small details and the technical side of things, where Anthony works primarily on the broader picture and direction.

“We don't design to predict trends; we design typefaces for ourselves primarily.

Your typefaces have had huge success in the last few years – Aperçu in particular. What do you think made this sans serif gain so much momentum in today's visual landscape?

Anthony: Aperçu has been our most visibly successful project, and probably what we are most known for. But then again, in some ways I don't feel like it belongs to us anymore; it has far outgrown its humble beginnings as a typeface for a small art catalogue that we produced in 2010. I think we hit a conceptual and aesthetic note with the release of it – just a matter of accidental good timing.

Edd: It’s strange… It wasn't a conscious decision to design something that would try and be the next big thing; it was merely right place, right time. We don't design to predict trends; we design typefaces for ourselves primarily.

Last year you had an exhibition in Amsterdam's red light district called No Cash Value. Can you tell us more about the idea and its execution?

Anthony: This was our first solo show as such. We worked closely with Benjamin Critton on all of the outcomes.

The idea of No Cash Value came through previous group shows we had taken part in. Its title was a reaction to the lack of fiscal gain we made from a show in LA. We then based the idea on exchange, culturally, fiscally and in its most basic forms: two British designers and one American designer in a Dutch project space, the idea of selling wares/products, and the geographical location of the gallery — the selling of sex.

We created 24 pieces of work. Each had a physical counterpart in the exhibition, and was represented in the catalogue. Two of these 24 pieces were typefaces. 

Can you tell us the story of LAW Magazine and how you came to be involved?

Anthony: We have worked with John Holt since Issue 1 of LAW Magazine. John sold his Ford Escort Mk 1 to produce the magazine. It was also his final project as part of his degree at university. In his words, 'I sold my dream car to make my dream magazine'. Since then, we have built a great working relationship and are just starting Issue 4.

It’s a really nice process, where we feel really involved in the editorial and curation process. The production of the magazine is based on exchange, and through this exchange we have developed a strong aesthetic framework.

You mentioned that you work on new display types for each issue of Hotshoe Magazine. Why did you choose such a time-consuming process?

Anthony: That's correct. We utilise this as a playground to experiment with ideas. It allows a certain freedom and also gives us a time constraint in which to get the work done. Ideas such as these are a catalyst for our practice – most of our releases come from typefaces drawn for specific projects but then are developed over a longer period for commercial release.

You've been working on a project for a primary school that hopes to standardise the way children learn to write in the UK. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

Edd: It’s been a really interesting project for the last two years, and something that has an enormous amount of potential to help children.

The project started as a replacement for Comic Sans throughout the school, whereby they could unify the typography used. Rather than having Comic Sans for headers and Arial or Times New Roman for letters, they would have a set of typefaces whereby the forms would be consistent.

It then evolved, and now includes a set of instructional cursive versions where the letters are designed to join up, being an instructional tool to teach children correct cursive handwriting.

“The sign for 'SHALLOW END' is landscape and 'DEEP END' is portrait — the most simple of ideas but the utilisation of format to communicate space and depth is, in my opinion, a stroke of genius.”

Who or what is inspiring you right now? 

Anthony: Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Marc Newson, a lot of product design. I've become highly interested in three-dimensional form. We have been playing around with 3D renders for the last year or so in our work, so it’s probably an extension of this. I guess it’s also a reaction to the solid flat forms we used for the first three years. 

Edd: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact source, but The Whole Earth Catalog is an amazing reference from the pre-internet age.

Do you have interests outside of design that feed into your work?

Anthony: It’s hard to know whether they feed in directly or not, but obviously your interests play some role in what you make. One obvious example of direct influence for myself is something I've seen when swimming. The sign for 'SHALLOW END' is landscape and 'DEEP END' is portrait – the most simple of ideas but the utilisation of format to communicate space and depth is, in my opinion, a stroke of genius.

Edd: Over the past year, road cycling has become a big part of what I do outside of the studio. It may sound strange but the idea of getting on the bike, riding as hard as you can and going through a couple of hours of suffering is incredibly rewarding. It’s a sport that requires a lot of digging deep, where nothing is handed to you on a plate, or – in layman's terms – doing things the hard way.

What's on the horizon for The Entente and Colophon?

Anthony: We are working on our studio website (it has only taken five years), and we are also at the very beginning of building the new Colophon website. Several new type families, smaller releases, book projects, another solo exhibition...

Edd: A lot of different typeface ideas and, as Anthony said, the new websites for both the studio and Colophon. As the way type is used online is changing so rapidly, this is also something that we're looking to explore further.