Jamie Bitmead: Element Grotesk

Interview with Jamie Bitmead for the Baseline blog.

ISTD Student Assessment

I first heard of the ISTD through a friend’s internship, in which he mentioned that the creative director of the agency (Claire Playne, of Playne Design), was a judge.

Discovering the works of Frutiger

Whilst researching the life and work of Frutiger, I noticed that the majority of information about his work concerned his two most popular typefaces; the self-named Frutiger, and Univers. I wanted to dig deeper into Frutiger’s designs and also to find out about his lesser known work.

I found much more then I could have imagined, a truly huge body of work, that was meticulously well documented. I also had access to the university archive, finding several original type specimens. Others in the class were also doing the same project, so we also shared our research with each other.


During my research, I came across the book Adrian Frutiger Typefaces: The Complete Works, within which, I found a list of seven typefaces designed by Frutiger that never taken to production. Among these, was the typeface Element Grotesk. The typeface instantly captivated me, as I was particularly drawn to the modular design and contemporary aesthetic, despite being conceived in 1953. The face consisted of a few basic elements, which, when duplicated, could be used to extend the letterforms.

The typeface never made the transition from graph paper to hot metal, due to its difficult diagonals, and the cost of production. After discovering this, it was clear to me that in order to celebrate Frutiger’s life and work, I could digitise this typeface and finally bring it to fruition. By digitising Element Grotesk, I would both avoid the production costs, and at the same time, resurrect a wonderful piece of type design. I also set upon designing a type specimen for Element Grotesk, to help communicate the ingenuity and simplicity of the design.

Element Grotesk. Adrian Frutiger, 1953.
Element Grotesk. Adrian Frutiger, 1953.

The most detailed part of the whole project by far is the design of the type itself, I went through several iterations of the typeface before the modular system fit the original design, diagonal sections were particularly difficult to perfect.

Other notable details include a square pica grid, in conjunction with the original graph paper that the 1953 sketch was made on, a laser cut front cover on the specimen, and descriptions of the typeface and the type designer side by side. [See image 6 below]

Expanding horizons

The amount of typographic knowledge I amassed over the eight week period was massive, I would not hesitate to say that this project was the biggest learning curve of my three years at university.

Achieving membership

It is a great honour to have gained this accolade, I am proud of my work and I am glad that those eight weeks have paid off. For me, I feel that having an ISTD pass on my CV will put me in good stead for interviews and job opportunities.

Element Grotesk. Jamie Bitmead, 2016.
Element Grotesk. Jamie Bitmead, 2016.
Element Grotesk. Jamie Bitmead, 2016.
Element Grotesk. Jamie Bitmead, 2016.
Element Grotesk. Jamie Bitmead, 2016.
Element Grotesk. Jamie Bitmead, 2016.

Jamie Bitmead

University for the Creative Arts, Epsom
BA Graphic Design

About ISTD

International Society of Typographic Designers, ISTD, the professional body for typographers, graphic designers and educators.

The ISTD student assessment scheme, started in 1975, is cited as a model of academic thoroughness and professionalism. Unlike many others, the scheme is not a competition as it considers the holistic achievement – not just the final outcome. The overall design process of research, reflection, strategy, design development, technical and production specification is assessed by teams of practicing designers and educators. Students who are successful in the scheme are offered membership of the Society.

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