Name: VTC Du Bois
Designer: Tré Seals
Foundry: Vocal Type
Release date: June 2021
Back Story: For Tré Seals, history and cultural representation inform his typography. From the Anti-Apartheid Movement to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, his studio, Vocal Type, confronts the racial and gender disparities of our past as a means to create typographical forms. Seals’ latest font, Du Bois, is a nostalgic font that he says visually equates to a traditional sports jersey or the Back to the Future logo. The curveless collection is named after W.E.B. Du Bois, a civil rights activist and one of the leading academics of the early 20th century (he was also the first Black man to earn a doctorate at Harvard).
Seals took inspiration from the series of infographics Du Bois and his students created for the 1900 Paris Exposition. The purpose of these primary-colored posters was, according to Seals, “to showcase how the institution of slavery was still holding back progress within the Black community.” Not only did the posters actively communicate the validation of Black lives, but they also served as an educational moment for whitewashing, as Du Bois’ style predated the Bauhaus movement by nearly 20 years. Seals’ font family, two-and-a-half years in the making, is a powerful reclamation of Black history and recognition.
Why is it called VTC Du Bois? “I wanted to show that activism comes in many different forms; [that] not all activists organize marches,” Seals says of his choice to focus on Du Bois for his latest typeface. Seals has named many of his fonts after renowned Black figures, including transgender icon Marsha P. Johnson and March on Washington organizer Bayard Rustin. His use of historic posters and visuals celebrates the value of marginalized communities while accomplishing a larger goal: educating a largely white design industry on how it can do better.
What are its distinguishing characters? Du Bois worked with a team of designers to create his famous Paris Exhibition infographics, and Seals wanted to ensure his font family reflected the gamut of characters involved. Some of Seals’ characters take an Art Deco form, while others have what Seals calls “half-slab serifs.” Seals included three sets of alternate lowercase letters that he says can make a paragraph “look and feel completely different.” Part of the joy of this font is exploring the diversity of type.
What should I use it for? If you’re Seals, you use it as the body copy and headline font for your site. Its look isn’t far from that of an old school typewriter. And, of course, in an homage to Du Bois himself, VTC Du Bois lives naturally on posters and protest flyers.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Seals likes to pair his ornamented font, VTC Ruby (named after Ruby Bridges), as a headline with VTC Du Bois as a subhead or body copy. In other words, VTC Du Bois is about telling stories— it can be anywhere, and should be used at length.