Back Story: Dédale began life in 2017 when Thomas Oudin of graphic design studio Mo-To got in touch with type designer Thomas Bouville about a project he wanted to pitch for: a new visual identity for the Paris Catacombs. Bouville and Oudin went for a meeting with the team at Paris Musées, the organization that coordinates museums across Paris, and visited the catacombs—a trip that left Bouville “immediately amazed” by the quantity of engraved lettering inscriptions that adorn the walls of the underground ossuaries, and ranged in origin from the 16th to the 19th century. Some are geographical landmarks, others gravestone inscriptions, and some are poetic and philosophical texts. Bouville says that “this rich context of letters” guided the creation of the Dédale family of fonts. The visual identity project is now in its final stages, with the font already in use across the entrance to the catacombs, the logo, and the website.
As Dédale was initially designed for the Paris Catacombs identity, its designers had to bear in mind those historical links while also acting as a “functional graphic tool,” as Bouville puts it. To achieve this balance, he decided to take the idea of “erasure” present in the passages and apply it to the structure of Neo-Grotesque type forms. The designer went on to create a “plain bold version, a regular eroded version, and a light skeleton version.”
Why’s it called Dédale? Dédale translates from the French word for “labyrinth” (think Daedalus in Greek mythology). “It seems logical regarding the multiple underground passages, and the different functions of this particular place: firstly a stone quarry, secondly a cemetery, and finally a museum,” says Bouville.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Overall, the font family is heavily informed by the erosion that gives the catacombs lettering its character. This is shown by the interplay of the more diminutive stems and the more accentuated serifs. The Light version of Dédale is a slab serif, the Regular an incised, and the Bold a sans serif that retains many of the details from the incised stone letterforms. Each style has its own italic, and the variable version of the family means users can easily move between the styles.
Some letters within the font retain the unusual forms found in the catacombs inscriptions, such as the G or the Q for example, while the punctuation dots are diamond-shaped.
What should I use it for? According to Bouville, the “main structure of the typeface has been designed to be functional and readable for long texts,” while the different weights enable designers to create a “classical hierarchy” when designing longer text-based pieces.
While the catacombs were the starting point for Dédale, the font isn’t exclusive to their identity: among the other uses its designers are aware of are “a vast signage project for the new headquarters of a French industrialist,” so it’ll be interesting to see how the font adapts to large-scale uses. At the other end of the spectrum, Dédale is also set to be used in a magazine themed around the Anthropocene.
“Dédale has left the catacombs, it flourishes in very varied contexts,” says Bouville. He adds that the team is hoping to create a web animation to show off the variable font and the family’s significant changes as it moves between its various weights.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Both thematically and stylistically, it would act as a nice counterpoint to a modern font such as 205TF’s Kelvin. “The durability of the humanist ideas developed in the Kelvin family confronted with human mortality in Dédale…” ponders Bouville, cheerfully.