If you’re old enough or keen enough to have heard of a 2005 Danish film called Dear Wendy, you will know that critics destroyed it, including the script by Lars von Trier. Possibly the most positive thing to come out of that movie was that it inspired two young French designers named Carole Gautier and Eugénie Favre to start the studio My Name is Wendy. In one of its first projects as a team, a graphic identity for an exhibition at the Musée Valence, they designed a new typeface they called Wendy, to breathtaking effect.

“The film speaks of the obsession with firearms,” says Gautier. “Therefore our first test sentence was ‘Just a shot.’ After that, we saw typography as being very important and decided we’d do more work in it.”

For nearly a decade, the Valence-based team has used its varied background—Gautier studied graphic design, Favre fine art—to build up a coherent resumé of letterforms and poster art in experimental colors against a tense, monochrome base. Keen to use obscure foreign art as muse, they’ve looked not just to film but to comic books, contemporary art, even music.

Wendy’s insistence on giving digital work a hand-crafted element lends it a depth that’s hard to find in type-based design. For a poster announcing an exhibition of work from French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, the partners photographed a telephone book contorted in different ways, creating a silvery, painterly effect that invited more than the usual amount of interest and scrutiny—and not just because it’s been some time since anyone has seen a telephone book in any form.

In fact, much of its work takes time to unpack. In the Matahari series, each poster contains a semiographic code relating to different parts of speech. Proper names are represented by four wheels that double as lettered pie graphs; personal pronouns get a sequence of moon-like shapes with satellite dots and exes. It puts the je ne sais quoi in je ne sais quoi.

Those hidden complexities are what clients like Nike hope will lure in a discerning eye. The brand asked Wendy to create a typographical identity for its flagship in Lyon, France, and they delivered a dynamic overlay of dots and dashes that’s weirdly energizing to look at. Acquiring that caliber of commercial client was a get for more reasons than the obvious. “The French have a tendency to work in one sector only,” says Favre. “When you work in the cultural realm, you stay in the cultural realm. Graphic artists don’t do publishing, don’t do illustration—it’s hard to switch tack.”

“We see ourselves as freer, able to expand, and ask different questions. It’s just not a very French way of working.”

They never stray far, however, from its art-house foundations. This fall they collaborated with musician Laura Llanelli on a visualization of “Take Five,” the jazz track by Dave Brubeck. Llanelli translated the drum score into onomatopoetic text: ride, crash, grosse caisse, caisse claire, tom, tom basse… The French hip-hop artist MC Madame Bert and a capella singer Christophe recorded the words, and Gautier and Favre created a graphic retelling in 28 posters, based on screenshots from Llanelli’s digital equalizers.

“We listened to the words repeated constantly,” says Gautier, “and drew up visual imprints of the sounds. The ‘crash’ ended up as lines being pulled and stretched.” While the palette of grays and blacks in the background represent the mechanics of the drumbeat, “the colors are very much the feelings—how we heard the sound and interpreted it.” It’s as esoteric as Danish cinema, but it gets four stars for panache.