Back Story Searching for a tall, condensed, superfresh typeface, whose flow combines steady rhythm along with a joyful, spontaneous abandon? Look no further—just say hello to Lucas Descroix’s Grandmaster, hot out of the box from Type Designers Foundry. The family, inspired by typefaces such as Adrian Frutiger’s Antique Press 59, got its start in early 2017 with the Black weight. “I was playing with the idea of similar counter-shapes and spacing, and wanted to push the condensed feeling one step further to the edge of optical illusion,” the designer says. “The starting point for Grandmaster is that in a type system, each word is a different arrangement of predefined shapes. I was trying to find a point where everything would look kind of wild yet very controlled, like freestyle over a regular beat.”
While creating the font, Descroix listened to NYC hip-hop artists such as the Ultramagnetic MCs and Afrika Bambaataa and realized that one cut of Grandmaster had to function as a system; he wanted a family where the weight would vary while the width would always stay the same, just as flows and melodies in a song can change, but the beat and rhythm don’t. Much like how a skilled MC can fit an impressive amount of words into one short measure, the condensed letterforms of Grandmaster press and squeeze a maximal amount of letters into a very reduced space.
“I was trying to find a point where everything would look kind of wild yet very controlled, like freestyle over a regular beat.”
Why’s it called Grandmaster? “First, I wanted the name to be long, so when set in all-caps, the complex rhythm of the typeface would become obvious,” Descroix says. “Second, the hip-hop reference had to be there. There are also some hidden jokes: the elongated counter-shapes being the ‘White Lines’ from Grandmaster Melle Mel’s 1983 classic song, but also the fact that “grand” simply means “tall” in French. And, last but not least, each style of the family becomes like a new DJ name—Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Light; Grandmaster Jay and Grandmaster Bold.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Grandmaster is extremely condensed and the width of each letter stays the same across the width. Some of the more complex letters, like the capital M and N deal with this narrow space by folding rigidly in on themselves in a mechanical way, while others, such as the capital G and Q, feel more organic. Diacritics are included in the letter’s height, allowing for a tightly constructed layout. The family comes with several alternates, including a funky lowercase g, and the stylistic sets contain goodies such as very thin punctuation marks, perfect for setting big headlines. Grandmaster has a distinctive edgy manicule (other names for the symbol include printer’s fist and pointing hand), directly referencing “old-school” hip-hop flyers.
What should I use it for? “I really enjoy the idea that my typefaces, including Grandmaster, are not workhorses that allow you to make everything and anything, but already carry strong visual choices,” says Descroix. “Grandmaster is obviously a display type, crafted to work at large sizes and fit to a constructed grid, but to be honest I’d love to see it used for longer texts—it might hurt your eyes a bit but also really show off the type’s potential for abstraction. All in all, probably not a good idea for airport signage or a pocket book collection.”
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Descroix recommends a very thin geometric, such as TDF’s Averta in order to play with blocs of text and vertical spaces. Or, perhaps, something just as strange as Grandmaster itself: Yoann Minet’s Clifton or Descroix’s own Nostra Mono.