A Q&A with pioneering, internationally award-winning designer Robbie de Villiers, who created The Mission’s website and signature font, Ellume. In this two-part interview, Robbie shares his inspiration for The Mission’s visual identity, his proudest achievement and what made him fall in love with typefaces. 

How did you begin to be interested in design—specifically typefaces?

Robbie de Villiers: I always seem to remember wanting to express myself with drawing and being curious about how things around me work. I am not sure that I know exactly what interested me in type design, but I know in school a couple of us had a bit of a competition going to see who could have the best handwriting. Perhaps that’s when the seed was planted. Later on I became intrigued by the notion that letter forms are the “messengers” for any visual communication. As such, I count it an incredible privilege to be able to contribute my art into the presentation of a piece of visual communication—and it may very well impact a reader in a way that will effect them for eternity. Once I realized that communication can be clarified with an appropriate font, I got really excited and began designing type.

What about typefaces really made you fall in love?

Robbie: I became even more intrigued by type when I read an article about measuring the effectiveness of three different typestyles.

The same point size and spacing was used in an article that respondents had to read. Speed and comprehension was measured. The research results made me realize just what an important role typefaces can have. Imagine creating a font that made people comprehend quicker or imagine having a font that is used for a Bible—it is your font they look at that communicates God’s Word! When type creation software became available, I jumped in immediately.

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What approach did you take, or what informed your process, when you were designing The Mission’s font?

Robbie: The Mission’s font, which I named “Ellume” (after illuminate) was inspired by Celtic letterforms which I felt was appropriate for the Mission. I saw this as an opportunity to remind us as a Mission of our wonderful Celtic heritage. I also envisaged seeing Ellume being used in all our churches as a unique way of reminding us of our identity and heritage. We will all be literally singing off the same page!

I did some extensive research into Celtic letterforms and realized early on that, while there were similarities between the various different styles through many generations, it was almost impossible to pin down a specific style. In addition, our culture has been influenced by modern-day versions of Celtic type that do not necessarily conform to the historic variations. I also had to create the typeface in such a way that it would draw too much attention to itself and be very readable. I decided to create the essence of the average of each character for the capital letters. The lowercase characters are almost all different from the capitals for legibility while I took more liberties with the capital letters.

I designed the font in different weights with matching italics and then had an Italian type specialist engineer fine-tune the typeface kerning. I also had a British and US type specialist engineer help me output the typeface for desktop and web font usage. The end result is Light, Regular, Bold version with an Italic version for each weight.

What do you like about this specific font? What does it “say”?

Robbie: Ellume says ancient-future for me. It is ancient Celtic with a contemporary influence. I also proportioned Ellume using natural proportions found in nature which I call “God’s algorithm.” When someone sees Ellume, I hope they want to be identified with a modern-day St. Patrick. I would LOVE it if all our churches use it as their default font since it can help unite all of The Mission and serve as a constant reminder of our Celtic heritage. If someone walked into any of our churches they should see Ellume being used and immediately feel at home, knowing we are in unity.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “The Man Behind the Mission’s New Look”!

Learn more about Robbie.