Back Story: Philipp Herrmann studied at the University of Applied Arts in Zurich from 2002–2007—“but I only came in contact with type design during a three-month internship at Dalton Maag in London,” he says. Thereafter, Herrmann took the self-taught route, and he completed his first typeface, the slab serif Piek, in 2007 for Optimo. His first self-released effort, Crack—“based on a painfully restricted design concept,” which taught him a fair amount about shape, structure, and the nuances of a rigid circular grid—arrived in 2011, and was notably followed by Quick Marker and Copy. Then, in early 2021, he began work on Cosplay, a typeface that, despite Herrmann’s 15 years in the trade, came with all-new challenges of its own—largely due to the fact that it was “one of the few designs which evolved purely in my head,” emerging as a loose idea with original shapes not related to any historical forms.
According to Herrmann, the focus on form without context was akin to designing in a vacuum. “I realized that solely organic shapes would be too one-dimensional, too illustrated. I needed something that would generate some tension.” He wanted a design in which “organic and gridded, fluid and systematic” worked harmoniously. So he looked beyond the type world, and found inspiration in Hans Arp’s art, as well as camouflage and its “fluid organic language of form.” Arp’s ability to intertwine positive and negative space proved that abstract and figurative could indeed coexist. Thus, in Cosplay’s specimen, Herrmann pays tribute to Arp on page two, with Collage Sur Papier (1957)—two separate forms, the first a large positive shape and the second embodying a form and counterform, light on the outside, with a darker center. Stare at the daubs long enough, and you begin to see letterforms, the second one feeling like an ‘o.’ It was the tension Herrmann needed.
“I was trying to create very loose letter shapes inspired by Arp’s paintings,” he says. “Later, the shapes became more systematic, but I tried to preserve the fluidity within the drawing.” He adopted a grid-based approach to analyze positive and negative shapes, see relationships, and create visual ambiguity. The end result: order with flow.
Why’s it called Cosplay? “I like the broad associations evoked by the word,” says Herrmann. Costumed play, aka cosplay—the art of transforming your appearance into a character or characters—does not literally come across in the typeface, but it’s at the heart of its conceptual underpinnings. Formally, Cosplay is all about drama and transitions when you consider its grid-based, Arp-like organic shapes, and diffused strokes (more on that below).
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Herrmann created Cosplay’s organic look by paying attention to the “bleedy-ink accidents” at smaller type sizes. It looks and feels like a typeface whose ink has spread, moving into the paper’s fabric—“blobby,” for lack of a better word, but also controlled. Cosplay’s superpower? Its variable font abilities to render swashes at short, medium, or long intervals, or fuse with another letter (super swashes, if you will). Expanding one stroke and interrupting another letter, you’ve got the opportunity to create unique, never-before-seen ligatures.
What should I use it for, and how? You would think a typeface with these idiosyncrasies—blobby, but in a good way—would not be well-suited for lengthy settings, paragraphs, or running pages of text. But Cosplay gets the job done, and thanks to its even, dark, and punchy vibe on the page, it looks good and feels right for paragraphs when set large enough. Set it much larger for your deck in print or online. Go really big for displays and titles, a muscular appearance that demands the reader’s attention.
What other fonts should I pair it with? Try TypeTogether’s Adelle Mono Flex for a mechanical design text aesthetic, paired with Cosplay’s globulous headings and subheads. Or, go for geometric and low-poly with punchy headlines by partnering it with Emigre’s Crackly. Last but not least, try Cosplay’s dominating shapes with the playful Garlic Salt or the delicate and sophisticated Filosofia (or, mix all three in your layout for all the feels). No matter the combo, no matter the situation you put it in, Cosplay’s super swashes and hulking strokes can help create an utterly distinct design.