Interview: Ana Gómez Bernaus on Typography

Interview: Ana Gómez Bernaus on Typography

"The way you build the letters gives a voice to the words you're working with."

Ana Gómez Bernaus is an illustrator and lettering artist currently based in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Barcelona, her early work was influenced by Catalan Modernism. After moving to New York City, she fell in love with typography and acquired a more rational and organized flavor to her work. Barcelona brought her a taste for illustration, New York allured her with typography, and now both disciplines live in Los Angeles through her expressive digital lettering. Bernaus's designs can be seen in a wide range of media, from film titles to advertising campaigns, apparel and editorial. Her clients include Converse, Nike, Trident, State Farm, Kia Motors, Direct TV, and Polk Audio.

She has won multiple awards for her typography, and is a member of the Type Directors Club board of directors and the Cinema Eye Honors "Kitchen Cabinet" board of advisors.

We spoke with Bernaus about trends she's seeing in typography, how typefaces can give voices to words, and the brilliance of the Stranger Things title sequence.

What are some good trends that you’re seeing in typography these days, and where do you think they come from?

There’s obviously a trend towards handmade typography. I think it’s because in the 70’s there was a lot of hand-drawn typography, and then in the 80’s and 90’s, there was more structure, more of the influence of things made by machines. I feel like now, as a reaction, we're going back to a focus on the handmade stuff. It can be handmade with a tool like a brush, or handmade stuff like lettering. Even if it's digital, it's more of a custom-made kind of typography.

What are some trends you've seen that you don't like?

Like everything, typography loses a bit of personality when it's overused, and when it's everywhere. Like, a couple of years ago, everything was made from chalk. Also the style of making lettering with food that we've seen so much in the past few years. It's not that it's horrible or that I don't like it, it's just that it's been done so much that it's lost its brilliance and its meaning. For example: if the product is coffee, and the lettering is made from coffee. The first person who did it was like "Oh, this is a new way of using the product," but when everyone does it, it makes it not as creative or valuable.

Is there a good trend that you’ve seen lately that hasn’t been overused yet?

As far as the handmade trend goes, that's Gemma O'Brien's style and she does it very well, and then there are all the people who want to be like her. You have someone who champions a style and that's her signature style, and then you have all the copycats that come after it. Sometimes the client is going after a style but it's important that there's either a signature style like the hand of the artist, or that there's a concept behind it.  

What can typography do that other forms of graphic design can’t? (Besides. obviously, spell out words?)

Part of the fun of typography is that the way you build the letters gives a voice to the words you’re working with. When we speak out loud, we can speak in monotone way or a very emphatic way. Typography is what gives you that change in intonation visually, and it’s important because you can use typography to emphasize your message. I think it’s a very powerful tool. The ability to use typography to give a voice to the message visually gives it that extra layer of meaning.

How have you seen typography used to solve a particular marketing or advertising problem, or to speak to a particular audience?

I feel like when it comes to, for example, commercials and TV, the typography is often used in a timid way because it stays on the screen for just the two seconds, so it needs to be clear. If you pay attention to commercials, you’ll see that the typography is always very safe. It’s never very illustrated.

But being in LA, I get to work with a lot of companies that do titles, and it is not advertising per se, but I think that the title sequence for Stranger Things has one of the biggest recent success stories. It’s advertising in the sense that their logo has become an icon already!

In one piece, it defines the era in which the show is based, it gives us the general look and feel of the show, communicating the tension and scariness, and it has become such a memorable logo, that no matter what you write using a red outlined ITC Benguiat, people will remember Stranger Things. I wrote an article for the TDC when they won the Emmy for best main title.

I think Imaginary Forces and Michelle Dougherty did an amazing job of giving this title personality by infusing the type with levels of meaning that help communicate the character of the show.

What's a typeface that you think is overused?

The ugly one, Comic Sans. That typeface was designed with a type of usage in mind. Maybe it was for kids. But then people started using it in high school projects, then some people must have thought that it looks friendly, but there are so many other typefaces that look friendly, and its overuse makes us hate it.

Is there something that you wish more people were taught to do?

I think it would be good if students were able to have more of an apprenticeship model, with a mentor and an apprentice. Maybe you could be in the real world working with a mentor for longer than the average internship. Internships could accomplish this, but I feel like internships can sometimes be more about seeing how everyone works and being a fly on the wall, but not really doing the job. I think of the old painting apprenticeships, where the painter is there painting, and the apprentice paints the hands. You learn much faster if you’re actually doing the job and getting feedback from a mentor.