Founded in 1993 in Wilmington, Del., House Industries (www.houseindustries.com) began as a two-person graphic design studio. Within a year, co-founders Andy Cruz and Rich Roat found themselves up against more client restrictions than they had bargained for. Creatively frustrated, they needed a product that would solve the age-old problem of client-side art direction. And so, capitalizing on their love of custom lettering, they developed their first fonts in 1994. The team hand-drew 10 typefaces on a promotional flyer, then dispersed it across the landscape in a mass mailing. The first company to take the bait was Warner Brothers. When Cruz admitted he and Roat had drawn only enough characters to spell out the font names, WB execs gave the typography upstarts two weeks to create a complete set of letters.
Today, the foundry develops about three type collections a year. Cruz has stopped counting. "When you draw ABCDEFG all day," he says, "you kind of lose track." House Industries still draws by hand before turning to programs like Fontographer. "We prefer first drawing on pen and paper," says Cruz, "not because it's a retro thing but because you get a more organic feel for certain forms on paper than when moving points around on a computer."
Inspiration comes from Hot Rods, the mid-century modernist movement, or anything that strikes a personal interest. "I can't say that we draw on any one thing consciously," says Ken Barber, typography director. "We do what we like. And that allows us to keep a certain honesty in our work. We don't have focus group meetings-we just put it out there. Every product that we do is a test for the next one. That's how our testing works." House Industries' Las Vegas collection is based on the underappreciated "futuristic" Googie architecture of the 1950s. Its Flyer Font collection appropriates the aesthetic of punk rock flyers of the late '70s and early '80s. Recently, House Industries' Shag collection translates the highly illustrative painting style of Pop artist Josh Agle (aka Shag) to type. The firm's newest collection, Neutraface, is based on the life's work of architect Richard Neutra, whose progressive buildings were typified by clean, linear geometry. In a departure from the company's primary focus on display type-used for larger copy such as headings, titles, or signage-Neutraface is a text face, used for the body copy of a page. The collection's success has inspired plans for more text faces. The company has also forayed in directions that eschew 2-D design limitations: its Neutra Boomerang Chair, based on one-of-a-kind pieces the architect produced for private homes, can be purchased for about $900.
Ten years of House Industries' work will be captured on the pages of the upcoming retrospective, House (Die Gestalten Verlag, 2004). The linen-bound volume provides a history of the firm. A "Process" section features a velum overlay, enabling readers to compare final typefaces with original sketches. Perhaps most illuminating are the five new collections included on a companion CD. Entitled Poster, Soiled, Custom, Sign and Runway, each encapsulates one of five prevailing aesthetic sensibilities of House Industries' life span, beginning with the Xerography phase of 1994 and ending in the foundry's most recent products-extended, geometric sans serif faces. In its demonstration of the company's stylistic range, the 240-page compendium should right at least one wrong. "People call our typefaces retro," says Barber, "but we disagree. That's just a catchall. I guess we're like everyone in that we'd like to think people can't pin us down with one word."