Designers, Interviews
comments 9

Ricardo Santos – Interview

Hello Ricardo!

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, about my academic profile, I studied at António Arroio and I made my graduation at IADE (Instituto de Artes Visuais, Design e Marketing) both in Lisbon. I started my carrier as graphic designer and illustrator, but since 1997 I had been designed my own typefaces. In this moment I’m running my own type foundry Vanarchiv and I give an workshop at IADE with Ruben Dias. Sometimes I make some lectures on design universities about my work around type design fields. My hobby is playing electric guitar on The Twilight Void project, since 1995.

2. When did you first got typography in your head and when did you start drawing fonts? Was it difficult to start?

I remember when I was younger I loved to drawing manually posters in an alternative and punk style on graphic application. When I worked at “Insectos”, the art director of the studio, Rogério Taveira, incentive me to create new typefaces for some graphic’s application. In that time it was difficult to start because my approach on type design and lettering, on that period, was very limited so it was complex to understand the balance between style and function. Most of the information and books about type design and typography in general I bought outside of my country. Now a day’s we have more people in Portugal working and investing time in this area so it is more easy to someone that is starting now to have more references and contacts with persons of the same area, like I had on past.

3. Designing a font isn’t an easy task. Tell us a little about your work process?

Designing a font isn’t an easy task at all. Now a day’s the process and the tools to produce the final work are more complex, but this digital and technological revolution also possibility fast production of large settings of type families styles in few time. Until now I tried to experiment different techniques to approach my ideas in to a specific project. The most of my ideas to new typefaces started on paper, it is faster to take a quickly and simple idea by drawing on paper that using the computer. I only need the main idea of the spirit and formal modulation of the basic letterforms to produce an alphabet. But the digital process takes almost the 95% of the working time, in front of the computer. I leave my process divided and organized in different steps.

1- Create and develop some ideas on paper or computer, about what kind of propose that typeface will be having, on style (serif, sans, decorative) and function (different optical font sizes).

2- Check and elaborate a work plan to see and understand how form the project will be expand, how many font styles and different versions will be created.

3- Drawing the basic letterforms and typographic components to a specific encoding language (Latin, Baltic, West of Europe or other) with Fontlab software.

4- Check and improve solutions to the different design problems (readability and legibility).

5- Decide what will be the final side bearings for each glyph and test this space improvement to see and understand how different letterforms combine each other.

6- Create and produce the final kerning pairs to the different font characters and languages.

7- Check and improve corrections on the final versions on different font sizes and applications to take an idea how that fonts will be working on the right environment that we designed for (paper, screen, others).

8- Generate the final font files to different platforms.

4. We noticed that you have explored several styles in your type designs. Is it a concern of yours? What’s next?

It’s true that I have been exploring and working in several styles but in fact I really have focused my attention last years to the development of font families. I have new projects to conclude which have been stopped almost one year because I’m finishing the second part of my Lisboa font family. On my Lisboa typeface family we can see different styles and approaches on the same skeleton, from sans to slab serif, from text to display, from italic to swash, from lowercase to small caps. All this variations create more flexibility and solutions for different kind of graphic necessities.
Other interesting point it’s how my typeface Lisboa Slab Italic explore two styles in the same way, this give a hybrid letterform combination. The italic main characters are directly related with roman font style (straight strokes). Also the open type font formats gives us other possibilities to have stylistic alternates characters with a calligraphic, warm and humanist treatment.

5. I know that you are only working in type design. Do you think it’s possible to “survive” only selling fonts? When did you come to this decision?

I think it is possible to survive only selling fonts, but it is only possible when we have large and good fonts to sale. I took this decision recently to working on full time on my font projects, but I think I will have a long and difficult battle to conquer. Today with internet it is possible to create alliances between font sales and font foundries to sale fonts to different country’s all over the world. This small industry depends of the ethical and economical respect of designers and different kind of users of the fonts. Today on internet we have available millions of different typefaces; so many people don’t know or don’t want to know to use legal fonts. For example if you use any photo or image from any commercial photo sellers, maybe you will have juridical and legal problems with that company’s. But on fonts market it is very difficult to control this kind of situations.

6. Have you had any historical influence when you started designing type? Any portuguese?

Yes of course, when I was student I admired the Bauhaus movement in Germany, the constructivism in Russia and others different graphic and visual styles. My typefaces Van Condensed and Focus are my contribution and my approach to the geometric and functionalism font style. Only after I started working and enter on typographic fields I had the first contact with the work of other Portuguese font designer, Mário Feliciano. He didn’t influence directly my work, but of course it was very stimulating for me to know that I had inside of my country a person with a very respectable work and experience. After some years later Feliciano was my professor and it was a very good time, learning and spending that time on his class with the other type maniacs.

7. How do you feel the type scene in Portugal?

I think we are crossing one of the most interesting periods on this activity in Portugal, the simple rebirth. During century’s we have few people working and producing new typefaces. About our typographic roots, we don’t have any particular tradition on our history, we always depended from other country’s (Germany, Italy, Spain), where the technical and conceptual knowledge were more strong and diffuse. We had some interesting exceptions and a few numbers of interesting Portuguese artists and punchcutters who worked and contributed on the past, this part of the history is few recognise and study (Joäo de Villeneuve, Joaquim José Ventura, Andrade de Figueiredo, José Lúcio da Costa and others). I’m mentioning all this people because it is a shame that our academic design programs don’t focus our history and progress. At these days we have some people like Mário Feliciano and Dino Santos which are recognisable on the international type scene. But there are other Portuguese type designers who also have a great and interesting work, like, Hugo d’Alte, Susana Carvalho, Pereira da Silva, Miguel Sousa, Ruben Dias, Jorge dos Reis and other persons which are starting to create their first projects. Slowly our small type community is growing up and bring to light this tradition, to the future generation of type and graphic designers.

My local and national interpretation of the Portuguese models it is visible on my Lisboa Dingbats Symbols project, where I explored some symbols which are visual references of Lisbon city. Some of this symbols have real interpretations of concrete references (Arrow, Christ Cross), the other part of the work are my own interpretation and extrapolation of that visual and graphic elements (Breaks, Arrows and finally the new version Ocean). I grow up with all these symbolic references, my grandfathers lived near of Jerónimos (Lisbon), which is very rich on monuments, so this project had a double meaning for me.

8. Who should we interview next? And what would be your question?

Any other portuguese font designer like Dino Santos, Hugo d’Alte, Susana Carvalho, Miguel Sousa …
I don’t have any special question to ask.
9. Finally, name three of your favourite fonts.

I like too many fonts to only choose three of them. I prefer to mention three type designers that I like for different ways: Gerard Unger from Netherlands, Erik Spiekermann from Germany and finally Jonathan Hoefler from USA.

Thank you!
Visit Vanarchiv for more details on Ricardo Santos fonts.
Lisboa Font on Fountain
Ricardo Santos fonts on MyFonts


  1. Thanks for interviewing Ricardo. He’s one of my favorite undiscovered designers. Your link to Fountain is broken.

  2. Uma óptima surpresa!

    I’ve been wanting to buy Lisboa Humanist since I saw it during atypi 2006 at Lisbon’s Fine Arts School. But I simply don’t have the money yet 🙁

    It will be one of my first buys as soon as I start designing ful-time!

    Best of lucks!

  3. Inês Maldonado says

    Thank you for interviewing Ricardo, I was so lucky to be his coleague in university and he is one of the best typographers around as well as a swell person.

    take care

  4. Hola Ricardo:
    cuanto cuesta la letra Van condensed Volume. y como se deposita el dinero a través de www. Gracias x la tención.
    Saludos cordiales,


  5. Thank you for interviewing Ricardo and congratulations!

    Espero que esteja tudo bem.. Tenho visto bastante a “up”!!


  6. Pingback: grá | Gráficas del mundo: Portugal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *