Surface Pleasure


In 2018, while working for the Paris-based graphic design studio Spassky Fischer, Antoine Elsensohn began designing a new typeface, Trainer Grotesk. The idea was simple, emerging from the combination of a daily use of Christian Schwartz’s Neue Haas Grotesk,¹ a contemporary take on Helvetica, and a studio practice characterized by a visual language that condenses elements, emphasizing the interplay of full and empty spaces to an extreme degree.



Fanfiction 93, no. 6, 2018. Graphic design: Spassky Fischer with Antoine Elsensohn.

Struck by this concrete approach to graphic design, Elsensohn approaches the idea of type design through the notion of bootleg.² He wants to provide both Helvetica and Neue Haas Grotesk, an extension that he uses on a daily basis, with a new dimension, a less dogmatic intensity, and a more relaxed presence, perhaps even a form of nonchalance.

By seeking out unusual, intentionally hesitant proportions that are somewhat more approachable than those of the famous revival designed by Christian Schwartz, Trainer Grotesk is thus more structured, its proportions actually taking it closer to the Spartan Classified,³ another of Elsensohn’s models.


From top to bottom: Neue Haas Grotesk, Christian Schwartz, Linotype, 2010; Spartan Classified, Mergenthaler Linotype Company, 1927; EB Trainer Grotesk, Antoine Elsensohn, Électro-bibliothèque, 2023

By reducing the typeface’s letter spacing and compressing the letters both horizontally and vertically, he enhances its impact, creating a broken rhythm with rapidly alternating black and white elements, full and empty spaces, and forms and counters. In doing so, he discovered the identity he was looking for, one that evoked the Op Art of the 1960s and that aimed to provoke “extraordinary visual reactions” in the viewer. Victor Vasarely’s work undoubtedly stands as the most well-known example of this.


Victor Vasarely, Vega, 1956. Private collection, Belgium

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