Back Story: What relationship exists between graphic design and pedagogy? How do certain forms function in the transmission of information? These are some of the questions Éloïsa Pérez has explored over the years while visiting nursery schools and examining how children discover the alphabet, and how they use books. Her research dates back to 2015, with deeper investigations beginning in October 2016 as a Ph.D candidate at Sorbonne Université and Atelier National de Recherche Typographique. There, Pérez has been studying and documenting how youngsters begin to write, at times encouraging them to create with various materials, colors, jigsaw puzzles, and a stencil-like tool called a normograph.
“The challenge was to teach the young child that the letters of the alphabet have common shapes—and that they can build letters by combining basic shapes,” she says, noting the students’ appetite for play, drawing, and experimentation. “The observations that I made and the spontaneous writings of capital letters made by children, which I analyzed, showed me a great variety of forms. I wanted to preserve this variety of forms by designing a tool that guides the writing gesture without constraining it.”
The modularity of the resulting Prélettres typeface not only resembles design elements that the children toyed with, but it also provides a compelling typographic toolkit for graphic designers of any age to play with in their own design and layout activities.
Why’s it called Prélettres? Translating to “pre-letters” but essentially meaning “first letters,” the typeface was created and named in reference to Italian designer Bruno Munari’s 1980s Prelibri (“Pre-books”) for kids. Prélettres harkens back to Munari’s Prelibri in both name and function.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Poem founder Jérôme Knebusch sums it up best when he says that Prélettres “achieves a balance between a minimum of geometric modules and typographical legibility.” That minimalism factors into its playfulness—and then there’s the friendliness, a result of its rounded terminals. The ability to build each letter piece by piece offers a whimsical, wholly original look and feel.
What should I use it for, and how? Its Plain, Outline, and Mixed styles work well in the classroom as originally intended—tools to teach reading and writing. But grownups who get their hands on Prélettres will find it suited for large-size display text, signage and wayfinding, book titles, and magazine mastheads or section headings.
The fun happens when mixing and building, combining various strokes to create a whole letterform with varying qualities, especially with different colors. Use Prélettres Mixed to craft a feast for the eyes, fills and outlines, still functional, still legible. Don’t settle for somber hues, go with bright primaries or secondaries, or make eyeballs dance around the page with electric neon tones. Gradients? There’s only one answer to that: Yes.
What other fonts should I pair it with? Fun meets formal—pair the friendly Prélettres with the distinguished Mrs Eaves by Zuzana Licko. Or for a techno and technical look that’s reader-friendly, partner Prélettres with Adelle Mono Flex by Irene Vlachou, José Scaglione, and Veronika Burian. The more you toy with it, the sooner you’ll discover that Prélettres plays nicely with most every font—and, naturally, is well-suited for readers of all ages.