When I first read a passage in Benoît Bodhuin’s new font, Mischievous Typeface, I reached for my glasses—surely I wasn’t seeing the page clearly—but I already had them on. The font isn’t obviously off-kilter, but it’s manipulated enough so that you feel slightly uncomfortable or curious about the letterforms when you’re reading them. “I’m not just interested in readability and reading speed,” French designer Bodhuin tells me when I ask him why he enjoys these mischievous alterations. “I’m interested in playing and experimenting, in jostling with the rules, in linking typography with other graphic shapes. Once I’ve done that, I like to observe the consequences.”
Bodhuin is fantastically experimental when it comes to legibility and formality, and his splintering typefaces challenge the rhythm—and meaning—of what’s being read. These are fonts that joyously rebel and revolt, shifting the way we engage with words and manipulating our emotions when we read them.
Like Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive before it, Mischievous Typeface plays with optical correction rules and vertical cuts, and the alternating glyphs flirt with the idea of a typographical mistake. The font oscillates between this playfulness and the rigor of a classical grotesque, resulting in something that’s both cheerful and stern—a slightly disturbing combination. The font was commissioned by French visual culture magazine Kiblind, who expressly wanted something that manifested this confusing tension.
Bodhuin didn’t actually train as a typographer. He studied for three years as a graphic designer, and, as he says, “The lack of interest I had at school for typography has now opened up my curiosity even more.” His background explains some of his more graphic and shape-shifting typefaces, which are so playful that they practically beg to be used for posters and logo designs. Bodhuin’s rounded Zig Zag oscillates between hand-drawn and geometric; a designer can choose between different variations of each glyph to “zig zag” and mix-up the styles. He often chooses to make fonts fluctuate, one of the methods he uses to challenge the conventional flow of our reading habits. When you see Zig Zag in use—whether for a club poster or an art center’s logo—it’s like a typographic circus, an explosively energetic font that doesn’t stand still.
Fractured and pixelated, Mineral similarly confounds with its broken lines, and Bodhuin’s pointed Side A was inspired by the pulsating beats of electronic music. He used Side A for the identity of s=eee, a self-organizing group of designers, and the spiky, darting shape of the font is in itself a form of manifesto. The letters are provocative, which brings typography to the forefront for a group that aims to “look at letters as an evident part of visual communication” while simultaneously leaving the rules for later.
As Bodhuin says, it’s not just the production of a typeface that’s important, seeing his typeface in action is part of the experiment; the letters live and change depending on their use. “Even if I try to anticipate and control a typeface’s behavior, it’s always a revelation for me to discover how it then works. This is one of the reasons that I love typography; it’s what motivates me to work on its laborious design.”