Chalet
The Greatest Typeface Tale in History
Thoughts
9th August 2018
Michel van 't Foort
Marketing & Communication

As a communication professional who appreciates the beauty of words and loves to read and write, I used to pay awfully little attention to typefaces. I would proudly use fonts like Comic Sans (which was designed for a digital dog) and Lucida Handwriting (the informal cursive handwriting-like font) to cover the heaviest topics: ‘as long as it’s somewhat readable, right?’ The cover pages I ‘designed’ were consistently decorated with graceful WordArt, and I was convinced they wouldn’t be out of place in the better art museums. Fortunately, times change, and I got a bit wiser – thanks to the help of our designers, and a surprising story I stumbled upon…

When I started working closely with designers, I noticed and learned about the importance of finding the right typeface for a client. It’s a vital element of an organisation’s identity and should therefore meet many requirements. It has to support the message that is to be conveyed, match the feeling that should be transmitted, and it has to be in balance with the colours and visuals. On top of that, as I sharply figured out ages ago, it must be easy to read.

While I’m glad I learned from the wisdom of our designers, it’s not the only reason I wrote this blog.

René Albert Chalet

A couple of days ago, typefaces got even more interesting to me – but on a completely different level. I came across the story behind Chalet: a typeface that is used by our client One Young World The Hague. The story introduces the acclaimed Swiss fashion designer René Albert Chalet, who was particularly famous in the 1940s. He designed the typeface to reflect his personal attitude: function with flair – and used it in his early advertising campaigns.

After reading Chalet’s story, I wanted to learn more about the elegant typeface and the flamboyant entrepreneur who designed it for us to use. But first I told the story to one of our designers, who noticed that Chalet looks very similar to the iconic Helvetica – but was apparently even older. We decided to consult the world wide web, to see if our discovery was as ground-breaking as we thought it was. Our quest for knowledge led to a surprising conclusion: the entire story was fake.

The company that launched the Chalet typeface in 1996, House Industries (Chalet – House, see what they did there?), came up with a very detailed, yet very fake story about its origin. They invented the fictional character René Albert Chalet, wrote him an extensive biography, and involved high-profile industry professionals – to applaud the brilliant Chalet. Their efforts paid off: the story of the forgotten multi-talent and his typeface got picked up and was published in several design magazines. That resulted in a lot of free publicity for the typeface – including the blog you’re reading now, written almost 20 years after its launch.

What can we learn from this case?

To me, the story is not just exciting and entertaining to read, but it’s also inspirational and contains important lessons and/or reminders. I’ve listed a couple of them below:

  • Always question what you see/read.

While this might sound either obvious or paranoid, I think the importance of critically assessing whatever you’re being told can’t be emphasised enough, especially when working for a communications agency. Clients can be convinced that they’re facing a certain problem and brief you accordingly. Having an objective and unbiased look at their organisation and situation – from the outside – can lead to the discovery that the actual issue lies elsewhere and might need a completely different solution.

  • Creativity is key.

I’m sure that I wouldn’t be writing this blog about the Chalet typeface if House Industries ‘simply’ designed the font. The fact that I am, shows that their unorthodox way of marketing the typeface was very effective. Their decision to do it completely differently than their competitors surprised people and resulted in a lot of attention. This shows the impact that a creative and non-standard approach can have. And that it’s definitely worth the extra time and effort it takes to come to such an approach.

  • Design and communications are a perfect combination.

The combination of a well-designed typeface and a convincing story gained the Chalet typeface a vast amount of (free) publicity. Even though this grand story was nothing but that, a story, it clearly illustrates how the impact of a design can be strengthened by the right messaging. It also works the other way around. The design can contribute to conveying your message. Or would you have made it all the way to the end of the blog, if it had been typeset in WordArt?

At Happy Folk we also creatively integrate design and communications. We do so to help our clients tell compelling stories – that stick to the truth. Do you have stories that need to be told? Send an e-mail to hello@happy-folk.com or drop by for a cup of coffee!