Introducing SuperBlue by Seán Donohoe

16 January, 2023  |   No comments

Retype is proud to announce the release of SuperBlue, a brush-based sans serif with flared letterforms. Its affable shapes make it particularly well suited to relaxed, friendly designs for video games and apps, children’s books, food packaging, greeting cards, and theme park identities.

Seán Sebastian Donohoe, a visual designer with a love for craftsmanship, designed the striking new family. Born and raised in Frederiksberg, Denmark, Seán runs two businesses: his graphic design studio seandonohoe.dk helps companies develop and improve their corporate identities. At skiltemaling.dk, whose name means “sign painting” in Danish, he puts traditional lettering techniques into practice. We chatted with Seán via email to learn more about him and his work.

Tell us a bit about your background.
I’ve always had an interest in letterforms. Even as a small kid, I would sit for hours practicing my handwriting. This interest in letters continued throughout my youth; it ultimately made me study graphic design. After dropping out of high school, I attended the Scandinavian Design College, a one-year diploma program in graphic design. One of my teachers, Mette Grønning, showed me that typography was a discipline in its own right. She definitely set the course for my further education. Her guidance led me to apply to the Graphic Design course at the Danish School of Media and Journalism (DMJX). After completing my bachelor’s degree in 2015, I worked as an independent graphic designer and sign painter in Copenhagen. The combination of computer and brushwork proved to be perfect for me.

How did you get into sign painting?
I started painting signs in 2015. It happened kind of by accident. A friend who is a left-handed calligrapher had been writing small signs for a bakery for a long time. Due to him being a lefty and having to write literally hundreds of these signs, he suffered an elbow injury. Because he couldn’t continue doing this work, he asked if I could take over the client. That first project then snowballed into many more.When I started, there weren’t really any sign painters left in Denmark. Since I therefore couldn’t do an apprenticeship, I searched the internet to find out what tools and techniques other people were using. A friend was getting into sign painting, too, so we shared the information we found. Besides that, I also went to a few Letterheads meetups, where I participated in workshops on different areas of sign painting. We are now a handful of sign painters slowly but surely giving Copenhagen a facelift.

And typeface design?
In 2017, I decided it was time to learn something new and expand my skill set. A friend told me about TypeMedia, the master’s program in typeface design at the KABK, the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. It seemed like a great education. I applied, was accepted, and entered the master’s course without any experience in typeface design. I knew I had a lot to learn. Needless to say, it was an intense year with many firsts.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
My approach to typeface design is very much based on the brush. Since I’m using this tool in my work as a sign painter, it comes naturally to me to explore letterforms through brush strokes. I enjoy drawing letters with a trace of the hand that made them, letters with a bit of life and playfulness.

Besides that, my background in graphic design also informs what kind of typefaces I want to create. This happens more subconsciously than consciously, though. When you’ve spent countless hours practicing graphic design, you acquire certain preferences in terms of type. Using typefaces intensively gives you an understanding of what requirements they need to meet.

The aspect of type design I like the most is coming up with the actual letterforms, whether by hand or on the computer. I find it fun to go back and forth between letters to make sure they relate to one another. However, I don’t exactly enjoy the technical side of type design.

Some letterforms can be a challenge to draw. Are there any glyphs that keep you up at night?
No, I sleep well. Thanks for asking.

Can you tell us about the origins of the SuperBlue family?
SuperBlue began as my final project at TypeMedia. The letters took form by using two flat brushes of different sizes. These shapes were then developed through many iterations. After graduating from TypeMedia, SuperBlue just sat on the shelf. It wasn’t until Ramiro reached out that the typeface came back to life.

The DNA of my final project at TypeMedia is definitely still there, but everything has been taken to the next level. In short, SuperBlue has been fine-tuned. The shapes have been streamlined, spacing and kerning have been improved, and the number of styles has almost doubled, from six to ten (five weights with matching italics).

What was it like collaborating with Retype?
Working with the Retype team has been crucial in terms of getting SuperBlue finished. They were amazing to work with: they are very knowledgeable and more than happy to share their way of doing things.

The typeface never would have been finished if not for Ramiro. He was able to see SuperBlue’s potential and helped reach it. He told me where he saw the typeface ending up and how we would get it there.

You’re based in Copenhagen. What does the type design scene in Denmark look like?
There are a few large agencies in Copenhagen that design big corporate typefaces and independent type designers doing incredible work. To name just a few: Trine Rask graduated from TypeMedia, too, and specializes in all aspects of type design; Kasper Pyndt established Approximate Type in 2021; Playtype has been creating retail and custom-made typefaces for international brands for more than twenty years; and Kontrapunkt is a design agency with a focus on type.

What plans do you have for the near future?
In the coming year, I plan to continue working in my Copenhagen studio. I have some client projects lined up and I always have a few personal projects brewing. Getting back into type design with Ramiro’s help has reignited my interest. It has made me want to work on another typeface. I definitely think there’s room in the market for some more brush-inspired typefaces.

Interview: Yves Peters & Caren Litherland.

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