Collaboration, Character and Consideration: Marie Boulanger's mindful typographic practice
With a striking and superlative practice, London-based type designer Marie Boulanger is a showcase of a contemporary creative career – working independently at a fascinating intersection of disciplines, treading the line between art direction, branding and, most significantly, bespoke letterform design.
"A good way to describe it would be to say I work with and for letters," Marie dutifully explains, often partnering with type foundries in the process, manifesting in striking, soulful and innately thoughtful typography.
Mindfully and meditatively, inspiration between Marie's work comes from staying present in the environment she's in, explaining "truth interests me, and I think a lot of that is found in the physical world, which is, unsurprisingly, where I find most of my inspiration," taking notice of light, form and colour in doing so – in a way collecting these moments as she does collecting pictures and notes. "Sometimes it takes years before I find the right context for an idea," Marie recalls, "I truly have no interest in copying a design I've seen everywhere because it feels like the right thing to do."
Showing a refreshing balance of mindfulness and practicality, Marie's work is also incredibly savvy, making sure she keeps herself up to date with the contemporary design scene through regular talks and conferences, alongside the more significant sentimental side deep-seated in the work she creates. "Other people and their thought processes inspire me a lot," she adds.
All of these influences play key roles in constructing Marie's unique practise that is equal parts punchy and delicate – considerations innate to her process. "For me, the balance is struck by weaving different layers of thought and meaning together," Marie tells us, "emotional intensity brings the punch, careful research brings the delicacy."
The duality in Marie's work is something directly reflected in her own character, something she explains has followed her throughout her life. "Growing up, I often found that people tried to define me by one or the other," explaining, "a very emotional, hypersensitive side, combined with a thoroughly analytical mindset."
It is through the combination of these two, and indeed harnessing these feelings, that shapes her work at its core. "I feel very conscious of the responsibility that comes with shaping the world around us," Marie adds, often directly leading to projects with a more charitable focus, such as a collaborative print produced between Marie and fellow London-based typographic designer Marion Bisserier. "The print was designed to raise funds for Sistah Space, a Hackney charity working with victims of domestic violence," Marie tells us, utilising Marie's beautiful display typeface Vulva in situ with Marion's remarkable Good Girl typeface – resulting in a striking, powerful and memorable print.
Continuing her combination of collaboration and consideration, Marie explains how an incredibly rewarding side to her practice is working with "fearless" individuals. "A lot of branding projects which made me proud aren't out yet," Marie explains, wishing to tell us more, "but they were all for incredible small businesses and independent brands launching during a pandemic." Many of these projects have concerned the hospitality industry; an industry dearly hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. "Knowing that my work is hopefully helping people navigate a difficult situation is very heart-warming," Marie notes, having had her typeface Aligre recently be used for Parisian restaurant Fitzgerald courtesy of design studio Abmo – used across every space from digital Instagram assets to printed menus.
"It's so easy to speak about the good things," Marie notes seriously, "but any creative knows there are struggles too, periods of crushing self-doubt and negative emotions." Continuing Marie's ongoing endeavour to use her practice as a slice of reality as an example to younger creatives, Marie explains, "I'm not scared about those things at all," adding, "facing them has made my creative practice stronger, but I wish there was more possibility for conversation."
This has led to a wider view on the creative industry that is shared by many other practitioners alongside Marie and something that is key to her own practice; collaboration. "For me, everything started clicking into place when I truly applied the collaboration over competition mindset," Marie explains, wanting to see a change in the industry away from "feelings of scarcity and jealousy that will get you nowhere," in favour of "more help, more opportunity, more diversity, and more people realising that when they help someone get ahead, everybody wins."
Considering her practice on a greater scale, Marie considers the mixture of reward and challenge that she faces and the fluctuation between the two, suggesting how the most technically challenging aspect of her career comes from the very craft of typographic design. "It forces you to be humble," Marie explains, however adding, "the most rewarding is by far the immense creative possibility of designing letters." Never tired of "seeing, making and building" elegant new typographic forms, Marie recalls, "It's much like hearing new music," concluding, "I'm never unexcited when I start drawing, which is a real luxury."
Marie's latest endeavour XX, XY: Sex, Letters and Stereotypes is up on kickstarter now.