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We published this article about a year ago and it was hit! So, we decided to bring this post back from the blog archives for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

profileYou’re probably aware of the hubbub surrounding the designer Fiona O’Leary and her new gadget, Spector. A hand-held device that recognizes text and colors in the real world, and converts them in real-time to the exact typeface, size, leading, kerning, and Pantone code, Spector has been covered in every design publication from DesignBoom to Wired to The Verge, and elsewhere. Fiona graciously took the time to answer a few questions for us.

 

Let’s start with your telling us a bit about your background. How did you first become interested in design and invention?

I graduated with a Bachelors in Visual Communication from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in 2010. After that, I worked as a graphic designer at a studio called Creative Inc, in Dublin, for three years. While I was there I gained a lot of valuable experience about printing and typography. However, I wanted more of a challenge, and to do more interactive projects, so I applied to Fabrica, a communication research unit in Italy run by United Colors of Benetton.

Throughout my one-year residency at Fabrica I got to experiment with a lot of different types of projects, from UI design to urban design to product design.

I got really interested in designing physical objects, and decided to apply to the Royal College of Art in London. They had a course there called Design Products, and I really liked the sound of that. It isn’t your typical product design course; it’s split into 5 platforms, which are groups of 8 to 10 students, and lead by two tutors. Each platform has a different theme, and challenges a different facade of product design.

I joined Platform 24, which is called Object Mediated Interactions, and is run by Durrell Bishop and Oscar Lhermitte. We focused on the field of product design that connects new, digital developments with the physical environment. It was all about designing solutions that take the systems behind products—as well as their real properties—into account.

 

What was the inspiration for Spector? Is there a story behind it?

I came up with this idea out of frustration. When you’re designing for print, it never looks the same on screen as it does in the finalized print.

You have no idea of the scale of the page, and the typography and colors often visualize differently too. I thought, if you are going to design for print on a screen, why not start with print material? And why not make it interactive?

As designers, we always collect lots of nice samples of inspiration. I wanted to utilize these samples by making them interactive.

Spector_PressShot02_©fionaoleary

 

Tell us a bit more about Spector. How have you felt about all the publicity that it has been getting? Did you anticipate that it would go this viral?

I see this tool as a way of understanding typography, and making typesetting more transparent, by communicating invisible factors such as size, kerning, and leading. This helps educate the user about typography.

I also see it as a way of taking the guessing game out of typesetting, so that when it comes to printing your book or page from Adobe InDesign, since you took it from a piece of printed material, you already know what it’s going to look like. I see it as useful tool for students who are just starting out as a graphic designer.

That said, I didn’t anticipate it going viral at all! However, I can understand how people identify with it, as it addresses a very common problem. It is nice to see how passionate people are about it.

 

Why did you choose to create a physical gadget, rather than software?

I chose to create a physical gadget for two reasons. The first is more technical: it would be difficult to write software for every camera that exists on every iPhone and Android phone. It made more sense to write software for a specific camera, which we had control over.

Also, the camera needed to be at a specific focal length, to make sure that the samples that were sent over to the database would be consistent.

The second reason is I wanted to design a tool for graphic designers that would be physical. I did a lot of research into the physical tools graphic designers had before computers, and they were really beautiful. I wanted my device to hark back to those tools.

I wanted it to be reminiscent of them, interactive, and useful. Thats why the visual language of Spector recalls a loupe.

 

How does Spector work? (Go ahead and get technical, if you like.)

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Spector’s software works as an InDesign plugin, with a live feed of the camera. The hardware connects to the computer via bluetooth.

The user presses the button on the device, takes a picture of the font with a macro camera, and matches this picture to a font database. Spector can only detect one typeface at a time (that helps with typeface recognition), however it can detect several colors at the same time.

High resolution and a sharp image are pretty essential, too. A sample has to be right-side up, as well. But beyond quality-related elements, probably the most important thing is that you have a varied sample of characters. In fact, there is a preference for certain characters: the letter O is usually not very distinctive, but a g or G can pinpoint a font from a single glyph.

Having more distinctive characters lowers the chance of Spector detecting the wrong font. In terms of memory, it can store up to 10 fonts at the same time, and 10 colors, or 20 fonts and 0 colors. Basically, it can store 20 snap pictures.

Spector uses machine learning, and it is all based on algorithms. For kerning and leading, it needs to be as horizontal as possible. Subsequently, detecting a typeface or font by the shape of the letters is the straightforward part.

Once there’s a match for a font, Spector’s metrics calculate the leading by comparing the baselines, if there are multiple lines in the sample. The kerning can be calculated by the taking the leftmost edge of the first recognized character, and the rightmost edge of the last recognized character, in a series of recognized characters.

This length is compared to the metrics to give a relative kerning size.

At the moment, Spector can only detect up to 48pt fonts, but this is something were working on as we continue to play around with different types of lenses and focal points.

Ultimately, I see it as a tool for typesetting—using books and posters and signage as your source material—rather than big billboards, as they would most likely use headline or display fonts, rather than body copy fonts.

 

Where do you see yourself—and Spector—going in the future? Will you be bringing this product to market?

Spector_PressShot05_©fionaoleary

I do hope to bring Spector to market, and am currently looking for streams of funding. There is a lot to do, but I think with the right resources this product could be kick-started in the next year or two. I envision a special type specimen book being sold with the tool, too.

As for myself, I want to keep designing products like this, products that help us understand software. I have another product—which was my other graduation project—called MIMO, which challenges our daily interaction with the process of copy-and-paste. I would like to bring this market, too, eventually.

For now, the design process is far from over. The real work is only beginning.

Spector had been my graduation project up until now, just me working on it, with some technical help from an interaction designer, David van Gemeran, so I was really making decisions simply based on what I like. Now that I am working on bringing it to market, the real roadblocks will begin.

Want to learn more about the latest and greatest type trends? Download our type trends survey report! You’ll see first-hand what other creative professionals are using to make their masterpieces.
Type Trends Report Survey Results


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David_Berlow

David Berlow entered the type industry in 1978. As a co-founder (with Roger Black) of The Font Bureau, David has developed more than 300 new and revised type designs for The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and many companies. He is a member of the Type Directors Club, and of the Association Typographique International. We’re so glad he agreed to participate in an especially short but sweet installment of our mini-interview series, 4 Questions 4.

1. How did you get into the business of type design?

I graduated college as a commercial artist in 1977 with a bachelor of science in art from a school that only taught fine arts. I moved to NYC and looked for a job in advertising and magazines. That lifestyle didn’t seem to fit, but when offered a job “drawing letters” at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, that fit.

2. What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?

All, and none. I’m not a picker. As a tool maker, I love what I’m making for others to use, and when I let it go, I love the next one. Loving the ones in the field (fonts), or what people do with them, (design trends), are for others to hash out while I look for the next ones.

3. Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?

TitlingGothicModernoGizaBureauGrotAgency

All… and none, following the last answer.

4. Describe your dream project.

Pride comes to my work when a user employs one of my fonts in the recommended range of sizes for that font, with other styles of that and other font families properly used for other sizes, weights, and widths, to form good typography. When the font is both apt for the purpose and adeptly used in reading, navigation or identity, I swell, quietly.

Want to learn more about the newest type trends? Download our Type Trends Survey Report and get in the know. You’ll learn the latest and greatest typographic trends that other creative professionals are using to design their masterpieces:

Type Trends Report Survey Results


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Extensis_4-Questions-For_Mark-Simonson_v1.0

1. How did you get into the business of type design?

I got interested in the idea of type design when I was studying graphic design at college in the mid-seventies. My first fonts were published by FontHaus in the mid-nineties. But I wasn’t really “in the type design business” until the early 2000s, when I started selling fonts on the web. I had quit a full-time position as a graphic designer in 2000 to go into business for myself, hoping to get freelance work doing design, illustration, lettering, and type design. I did do a bit of each of those at first, but my fonts started selling well enough that by 2005 I dropped all other work except type design.

 

2. What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?

I was rather dismayed by the grunge and deconstructionist type design of the nineties. It went against everything I knew about design. I didn’t really get it, and I definitely couldn’t do it without pretense. It seemed very reactionary and anti-design. So the trend I’m happiest about is the return to well-designed, well-made fonts.

 

3. Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?

Probably Proxima Nova, just because it has become so popular. You always hope when you design a typeface that it will catch on with designers, but you don’t seriously expect it to happen. I feel incredibly lucky.

 

4. What’s your dream project?

I don’t think I have a “dream project.” I’ve always tended to follow my interests wherever they might lead, without necessarily working toward some big goal. And I have a lot of different interests, mainly in the arts—cartooning, animation, filmmaking, music, graphic design, writing, type design. It’s not really the best strategy. You end up being kind of a dabbler, not really doing anything significant in any particular area. Better to focus on one thing and stick to it if you want to be successful. But somehow type design got traction for me. It wasn’t my only dream job, but, realistically, you’re lucky to get even one of those in life.

 

Learn more about Mark Simonson and check out his fonts at www.marksimonson.com.

 

Want to learn more from other font experts? Check out our interview with Kyle Bean, a London-based artist who creates one-of-a-kind designs, distinct illustrations, and playful, concept-driven imagery for a variety of editorial and commercial projects.

What’s hot and what’s not in the font world? Find out by downloading our Type Trends Report. We surveyed thousands of graphic designers, art directors, and creative people from around the globe and combined their thoughts in our most recent report.


4Q4 End of 2016

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This year we had the pleasure of interviewing type designers, foundry founders, art directors, educators, calligraphers, graphic designers, hand-letterers, and more. Our 4 Questions 4 series showcased these ultimate typographical innovators and some of their stories. We asked each artist four questions, and they shared what led them to typography, which trends they were admiring, the projects in which they took the most pride, and their dream projects.

As 2016 draws to a close, we want to celebrate the project by thanking our 4 Questions 4 contributors, and sharing a few of their excellent responses.

1.    How did you originally get interested in typography and design?

“I used to make little teen magazines as a kid – tiny folded spreads about the Jackson 5 and the Partridge Family.” – Gail Anderson 

Many of our interviewees are like Anderson; they’ve been involved with art and typography since a young age. Going back through all of our 2016 interviews, we are inspired by the number of grandparents, teachers, and friends who encouraged our budding type-stars.

Roger Black’s dad was an architect. “While grounded in history,” Black said, “my father was an individualist, and he said that good designers should have their own styles.” Alejandro Lo Celso’s father and grandfather were architects, too, and his grandmother was a calligrapher. Of his early influences, he said: “it came naturally.” Even for those designers who did not necessarily have artistically inclined families, early exposures and positive encounters with art were important motivators. Dan Rhatigan recalled: “Although I thought I wanted to draw comic books when I was growing up, my time helping with my high school newspaper really exposed a much greater love for design and playing with type.”

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Type design by Sumner Stone

2.    What typography trends are you loving these days?

“Hand lettering…. We live in such a digital world nowadays that anything made with evidence of the human hand has become something special.” – Alexandra Snowdon

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Hand Lettered Sign by Alexandra Snowdon

Many of our 4Q4 artists expressed a sentiment similar to Snowdon’s. The rise of hand lettering has been an exciting trend to follow, admire, and practice. Some of our interviewees explained it as a response to the internet boom; others cited improvements in web type and technology. “Web typography is no longer just trying to imitate print, but is developing into a culture of its own,” said Shoko Mugikura and Tim Ahrens. And Ludwig Übele rejoiced in aesthetic and functional typographic innovations. “The quality of use releases creative energies!” Übele exclaimed. Jackson Cavanaugh also acknowledged that graphic designers have been more committed to creative type. “Designers are looking for more expression and authenticity,” Cavanaugh said, “and this is opening the door for some people doing really interesting (and great) work.”

Our foundry founders and type makers chimed in as well. As a font creator, David Berlow considered his relationship with trends. “As a tool maker,” Berlow considered, “I love what I’m making for others to use, and when I let it go, I love the next one.” According to Berlow, trends are for those consuming his work to decide, while he moves on to the next creation. Alejandro Lo Celso summed up Berlow’s ideas saying, “A typeface you publish is like a daughter that leaves home and makes her own path. One day she comes back home with a boyfriend… and who knows if you’ll like him.”

3.  Which of your projects are you most proud of thus far in your career, and why? 

From window displays to experimental multicolored designs, our interviewees had ample projects to be proud of. The range of creations were impressive, and the reasons to consider them fondly were even more endearing. A few of our artists were proud of the project that most challenged them. Kyle Bean described a highlight of his career by saying: “It was an amazing experience, but also kind of terrifying.” Bean wasn’t alone in embracing fear to create an unforgettable product. Chank Diesel is most proud of his Liquorstore font, which was used on the cover of the Hunger Games and Zodiac Legacy books, “because it’s taken a long time to mature but it looks stronger than ever now.”

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Design by Kyle Bean

The struggle and the pride that comes with tackling a challenge were echoed throughout many interviews. Laura Worthington talked about Charcuterie, which she designed in 2013. “Very few collections were out at the time, and the concept of a collection was still very new,” Worthington said. She described Charcuterie’s launch as a huge risk, but one she continues to take pride in.

Artists are innovators, and innovation is driven not only by talent, but also by a willingness to take a risk, and step into the unknown.

4.    Describe your dream project.

“Hi, it’s Costa Rica calling. Would you mind coming over for some weeks to design a new typeface for our tourist board? We have a beautiful apartment for you at the sea.” – Ludwig Übele

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Erik Spiekermann with the font FF Real

 

Our artists’ dreams ranged from redesigning the information system on Germany’s highway to working with the Detroit Red Wings hockey team. Other artists were nostalgic, dreaming of finishing the first typeface they ever designed. However, on the whole, most were either content in the present or eagerly looking forward to the future. Roger Black was especially enthused about his present work. “It’s always the current project!” he said proudly. Mark Simonson felt similarly saying, “I don’t think I have a ‘dream project.’ I’ve always tended to follow my interests wherever they might lead.” David Carson mentioned enjoying projects that give him creative freedom, or a new topic or audience, but he agreed that he’s done some of his “dream jobs” already. Our future-facing artists dreamed of working with large design-conscious brands and good-hearted non-profits alike; they were excited to produce work across a series of platforms, and to get into the details of typesetting.

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Design by David Partyka

Others dreamed of travel, guided by their passion for type. “My dream project starts with: ‘And so we’re sending you to Italy for a few months…’ Enough said.” We think so, too, Anderson.

We wish each of our 2016 interviewees good luck on their current projects, dream projects, and beyond. From those who felt “inside the dream” to the artists on the brink of the next best thing, we are grateful for your tenacity and creativity and look forward to all that you will accomplish in 2017!


Interview with Jay Roeder

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jayroeder_portrait

When Jay Roeder didn’t know an answer to a math problem in grade school, he did what he knew best: he drew a Ninja Turtle. “I still think that this was the best possible answer to the problem,” Jay told us in an exclusive interview on his work, influences, and upcoming projects. Jay is a freelance illustrator and designer who, like many artists, couldn’t keep himself from making art as a kid. His work is filled with throwback items like boomboxes and Ninja Turtles and we got to talk with him about what drives his nostalgia. He focuses on hand-lettering and has worked with a number of notable brands, including Nike, TV Land, GAP and Monster.com. He is proud to be an obsessed letterer, and he is a big fan of Extensis, retro games, sneakers and coffee. 

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Check out his interview here:

How would you describe your work and your overall aesthetic?

JAY: I love describing my hand-lettering style as embraced imperfection. Being a perfectionist, it was not until I learned how to accept the crooked lines, misaligned type and illegibility that my lettering took on character and interest. As odd as it seems, these imperfections can have just as much craft as perfection. If you look at any great hand lettering artist’s work, you will see these “errors” are not accidents at all.

How have your early influences and/or feelings of nostalgia influenced your work?

JAY: A lot of my art is nostalgia based, and some of that has to do with memories I have of growing up in Minnesota. Things like boomboxes, Nintendo, and Ninja Turtles were a big part of my childhood, which is why I can’t stop drawing them, even in a lot of the work I do today.

 

doitforthekicks-jay-roeder

 

How would you describe your journey from a “childhood doodler” to a professional artist with agency and teaching experience?

JAY: While most kids wanted to be firemen or astronauts, I knew I’d pursue a career in the arts at a young age. If you looked at my homework throughout grade school, you would think that every class was an art class because I drew racecars and ninja turtles on virtually everything. I remember one such story when I didn’t know the answer to a math problem, so I simply drew a Ninja Turtle’s head in the answer space – I still think that this was the best possible answer to that problem. When I graduated from college, I worked at several agencies and did hand-lettering in my free time. I posted drawings to my website (www.jayroeder.com) and eventually clients started to reach out with larger projects. Eventually I decided to go out on my own, which has been the best decision I have ever made. I have also stayed in touch with the design department at my alma mater and have taught design classes for them, as an adjunct professor.

How do you balance the work you do with agencies and your personal work?

JAY: Balancing my agency and personal work is one of the most challenging aspects of what I do. So many people imagine the freelance lifestyle as being extremely flexible, but don’t take into account the effects of ceaseless project demands and an always on the clock mentality. Six years ago, when I first started out on my own, I quickly realized that nothing is guaranteed in the world of freelancing. I accepted every project that was presented to me, even if it meant working unhealthy hours. On the verge of burning out, it wasn’t until about 2 years in that I really gained the confidence to say “no” to certain projects and to work with my clients on building out timelines that worked for both parties when possible.

 

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We heard that you’re an Extensis fan! How do you use the software and how has it impacted your work?

JAY: I am a huge fan of Extensis, and specifically Suitcase Fusion. It impacts my work every day, to be completely honest. As someone who prides himself on typography you can see the obvious correlation. Suitcase saves me A TON of time when I’m searching for the right typeface. I also use it as an inspirational tool when I am working on hand-lettering projects that require me to emulate a certain style of font. It’s been a great product that I have used for over ten years.

Whose work are you admiring these days?

JAY: There are so many artists that I admire, but two that stand out are Jon Contino and McBess. There are aspects of both of these artists that I find extremely inspiring, whether it be McBess’s vintage cartoon inspired worlds, or Jon Contino’s ability to combine old and new world aesthetics into his style. Please look into both artists if you haven’t and be prepared to be inspired.

Have any of your commercial projects particularly resonated with you on a personal level? Which ones?

 JAY: Every once and a while a brand that I am a fan of reaches out to do a project. In one such case – Beer Advocate magazine recently had me do the cover artwork for their 10th anniversary issue, which is currently on newsstands so keep your eyes out! Aside from that, I have worked with so many amazing brands, some of which include: Nike, Ray Ban, Facebook, MTV and Urban Outfitters. I absolutely love what I do, and I hope people can see that in my work.

 

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What advice do you have for young designers?

JAY: I few years ago I read an article on Milton Glaser, which had a very simple piece of advice, but great nonetheless. If anyone doesn’t know who Milton is, he’s an icon in the design industry; you’ve probably seen his work, he’s responsible for the “I heart NY” and Brooklyn Brewery logos. The quote was, “Do good work.” I think this simple yet fundamental advice is invaluable and can be a deadly combination when paired up with motivation. If you do good work and work hard, everything else will fall in place. Also, drink lots and lots of coffee.

You’re truly living the dream, having transformed your passion into an admirable career. What’s next for you?

 JAY: I am so fortunate to have a career that is also my passion. The plan is to continue to grow my business and see where it takes me!

Check out Jay’s website: www.jayroeder.com

And follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @jayroeder

 


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Alejandro Lo Celso is the founder and princpal type designer at the font foundry PampaType, the very first digital type foundry in Argentina, which pioneered the latest wave in Latin American type design. PampaType’s broadly recognized and internationally prized designs are handcrafted following visual, rather than mathematical methods. We’re so glad that Alejandro joined us for this latest edition of 4 Questions 4.

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1. How did you originally get interested in typography and design?

Typography is the encounter of design and literature. I’ve always thought that typography was my safe escape from the commercial world of graphic design. But when I recall my family stimuli, I realize it all came naturally. My grandmother had a taste for calligraphy: she used to draw in fine blackletter on all the title pages of my mother and her brothers’ schoolbooks. And she loved literature. My mother became a historian, and now she paints. On the other side, my grandfather was an architect and an artist, and my own father is an architect too, and an urbanist. I find myself playing in between all these universes.

2. What typography trends are you loving most these days?

I’m not particularly interested in trends; they change too quickly. I prefer to think of typography as the materialization of more perennial words. I love books and reading, and I love the idea of creating typefaces that are comfortable to read. On the other hand, a typeface you publish is like a daughter that leaves home and makes her own path. One day she comes back home with a boyfriend… and who knows if you’ll like him.

3. Which of your projects are you most proud of thus far in your career and why?

garonne_specgaronne_expoThere are several. As a teacher I’m proud of having run many workshops and courses in many places. I think I’ve been a privileged apprentice to those experiences. I led the small team that created Garonne, a tailored type system for the city of Toulouse in France. That was a wonderful and quite unusual experience.

In 2013 we were invited by a Mexican art school to put together a large exhibition of our work in type design. The gallery was approximately 2,000 square feet, we had only 14 days to mount it, and had to coordinate the efforts of 20 people who kindly came to help. It was a great success in the end.

PampaType is now growing our type library on a collective basis. A great challenge for me today is taking care of the work of other designers, and trying to help them reach their highest capabilities.

4. Describe your dream project.

That’s a hard question to answer. I guess I don’t really dream of the unreachable, the far beyond. I’m currently working on a type system for the public university here. That is an awesome project that I didn’t imagine I’d ever do, one day. I could say it is a dream project, but actually I am inside the dream!

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Alexandra Snowdon‘s love for art and typography began at a young age, and her commitment to learning, traveling, and experiencing the world is reflected in her skilled designs. In 2010 Alexandra launched her own business, Snowdon Design & Craft, which has grown to include two successful online shops that sell her designs, as well as partnerships with independent retailers. We’re glad to share Alexandra’s thoughts on her work, her goals, and traveling around the world to find what really matters. Check out her 4 Questions 4 interview below.

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1. How did you originally get interested in typography and design?

I started off when I was quite young. My grandpa was a commercial artist and I spent a lot of time with him during school holidays. I loved watching him hand-letter posters and signs with brushes and ink. Art was my favorite subject at school, so I was absolutely fascinated with the whole process. He picked up on my interest and encouraged me to follow a creative path, so I have a lot to thank him for. When I got to art college I felt naturally drawn to graphic design because I’ve always loved typography in all its forms. I was only a couple of years into my graphic design career, however, when the whole industry went digital. I began to really miss the hands-on aspect of designing, and felt that I was losing my drawing skills. Years went by and I felt increasingly disillusioned. I took a year off to go traveling in my mid-thirties, and when I got back I decided to go to university part-time, and concentrate on developing my illustration skills. Most of my assignments involved combining lettering and illustration. I soon came to realize that hand-lettering was the thing I did best by far. A couple of years after graduating, I was in a position to leave my graphic design job and become a full-time illustrator and hand-lettering artist. I’ve never looked back.

2. What typography trends are you loving most these days?

It would have to be hand lettering. I think it’s definitely here for the long term. It’s great to have that contrast between clean, sharp, digital fonts and the organic warmth of hand-lettering, with all its flaws and imperfections. In some ways things have come full circle. We live in such a digital world nowadays that anything made with evidence of the human hand has become something special.

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3. Which of your projects are you most proud of thus far in your career, and why?

I think it would have to be the large-scale hand-painted sign I did for a local gallery. It was based on a quote about creativity by Einstein. I did it using chalk paints with the letters painted white on a black background. It was without a doubt the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on. I usually work on quite a small scale, sitting at my desk, drawing and redrawing letters on pieces of paper until I’m happy with them. Then there’s always the option of tidying the work up and making small tweaks digitally until it looks just right. But all that comfort was taken away when I had to paint the letters directly onto the chalkboard, and had only one shot to get it right. I felt sick every time I worked on it, but in a good way. I was pretty happy with the end result! It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it had a lot of character. I think that sums up the essence of hand-lettering: all its kinks and quirks are the very things that give it life.

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4. Describe your dream project.

I’d love to do a book of hand-lettered quotations. A few years ago I set myself the challenge of illustrating one quote every week for 12 months. It was sometimes difficult finding the time to fit it in, but my lettering skills really improved as the year went on. I posted them all on social media, and ended up getting quite a bit of work through them. I’d love to do something like that again.

 

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4 Questions 4… Kyle Bean

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Kyle Bean is a London-based artist who creates handcrafted designs, tactile illustrations, and playful, concept-driven imagery and animations for a variety of editorial and commercial projects. His work is usually characterized by a whimsical and meticulous reappropriation of everyday materials and handcrafted techniques. We’re so delighted that Kyle joined us for a special edition of 4 Questions 4 to talk about his typographic work, his design work generally, and more.

Architecture and Interior Photography by Jim Stephenson

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

1. How did you originally get interested in art and design?

As far as I remember, I have always been interested in creative things. I suppose it stems back to my childhood, when I would spend hours of the day either building something out of Legos—or, indeed, out of cardboard boxes and toilet rolls! I did a lot of drawing as a child, too, and because I often struggled with more academic subjects, this became something my teachers and peers encouraged me to develop outside of school. By the time I finished school I was very determined to pursue some kind of creative career. I just didn’t know what it would be at that point.

2. Which of your projects are you most proud of thus far in your career, and why?

There are a few I could pick out as highlights in my career.

The first was probably in 2011, when I designed and produced a set of window displays for Selfridges on the theme of ’Transformation.’ It was an amazing experience, but also kind of terrifying. I was only a couple of years out of university at this point, and so I was quite inexperienced at navigating such a large-scale project. Luckily the project cametogether fairly smoothly, and was a success. I had a lot of brilliant feedback, and having the windows on display for a whole summer got me a lot of exposure, which led to more exciting projects.

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A small personal project of mine which I am very proud of is my chicken and egg sculpture ‘What Came First?’ It was an idea I had for a long time but it wasn’t until I actually started to experiment with eggshells that things came together. I like visual play on words and this piece started a new direction in my work where I started experimenting and integrating materials in a more conceptual way into my work. It led to some very interesting editorial projects and has defined a lot of my work over the last few years.

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Finally, recently I worked on a series called ‘In Anxious Anticipation.’ This was a still life series for Kinfolk Magazine that I worked on in collaboration with photographer and friend Aaron Tilley. The series showcases a series of objects and set pieces where there is an underlying tension that something is about to happen. In one image we see a rock about to swing over a set of matches like they are about to be set alight. Our aim was to create a set of images that really create a reaction in the viewer. I’m very proud of the project as it set a slightly more abstract and conceptual direction for my work that seems to have resonated with the design community.

3. Does working with letterforms present any specific challenges or opportunities? 

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Some of the projects I have worked on have involved making some physical typography. I enjoy working with letterforms and particularly like doing something unexpected with them by making them out of everyday objects or constructing little model worlds with them. Of course, using objects and materials presents its own set of unique challenges. Keeping everything legible and yet with enough character is always a balancing act for me. Times when I have worked with typography have tended to lead on to some interesting projects though. A cover artwork I worked on for the Guardian for example led to some very interesting typographic work for Google. I think for me its important to experiment and with typography every now and then as its often a great way to communicate ideas—but still, for me, in a tactile way.

4. Describe your dream project.

I think my dream project would be something where I can produce work across a series of platforms.I am very lucky in that over the last 6 years I have worked in quite a few creative disciplines, from editorial illustration to window installations and stop-frame animations. My ideal project would be one where I can develop an idea to work across all of these platforms. That diversity appeals to me.

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4 Questions 4… Dan Rhatigan

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Dan Rhatigan works with Adobe Typekit in New York as the Senior Manager of Adobe Type. He has over 25 years of eclectic experience in various industries as a typesetter, graphic designer, typeface designer, and teacher, including several years in London and New York serving as Type Director for Monotype. He has a BFA in graphic design from Boston University, and MA in typeface design from the University of Reading in the UK, and a very tattered passport. We’re so glad that Dan joined us for this edition of out mini-interview series, 4 Questions 4.

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1. How did you originally get interested in typography and design?

Although I thought I wanted to draw comic books when I was growing up, my time helping with my high school newspaper really exposed a much greater love for design and playing with type. I went on to study graphic design, but the typography aspect of that was always the most engaging to me. It took quite a while to realize that it might be time to really focus that interest in typography and start designing typefaces themselves.

2. What typography trends are you loving most these days?

I am really, really interested in the prospect of generating type dynamically so it can better adapt to different environments or layouts. Interpolating font outlines is such a core part of designing typefaces, and I think once people who use type adapt to the idea that font outlines don’t need to be fixed items, they become as inventive with that idea as typeface designers have been.

3. Which of your projects are you most proud of thus far in your career, and why?

Pink MiceI’m torn about this question, as my career has been pretty varied. As a type designer, I’m most proud of Sodachrome, an experimental multi-color design I worked on with my friend Ian Moore. As a graphic designer and typographer, my best efforts have gone into Pink Mince, a zine I publish that actually lets my play around with type and illustration instead of just designing something for other people to use.

 

4. Describe your dream project.

thumbnailHonestly, my dream project would just be to finish Gina, the first typeface I ever designed, and my thesis project from my MA the University of Reading. It’s been so hard to find time to devote to it over the years, and my thinking about type is so much more sophisticated than when I first drew it.


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Richard Starkings and John Roshell founded Comicraft in 1992. Since then, the company has provided lettering for many comic books, and its collection of more than 250 font families has become a mainstay of the comic book lettering industry.

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Richard Starkings

Founder Richard Starkings is the Eisner and Eagle award-winning creator and writer of HIP FLASK (with Ladrönn) and ELEPHANTMEN (with Moritat, Boo Cook, and Axel Medellin), now in development as a major motion picture. He has also written comic strips for DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE, THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, and TRANSFORMERS. He lives in Long Beach.

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John Roshell

John Roshell has lettered thousands of comic pages for Marvel, DC, and other top publishers; created hundreds of logos and fonts for the likes of AVENGERS, DAREDEVIL and ANGRY BIRDS; designed book collections and websites; and, with writer Starshine Roshell, co-created two boys who have no interest in comic books whatsoever.

We talked with Rich and John about font design, that elusive concept “the comic book font,” and more.

So if you wouldn’t mind, for those readers who may not be comic book geeks, could you give us a brief history of comic books and the practical and aesthetic evolution of their lettering?

Rich: Brief?! Ha! I think it’s true to say that comic book lettering evolved out of necessity. It was cheaper and easier for comic strips in newspapers to be lettered with a pen than for them to be typeset by someone not directly involved in the creative process.

The bold, UPPER CASE style that slowly became the norm was necessary so that letters could be easily read and didn’t fill in due to the inevitable dot gain of ink on cheap newsprint.

Exclamation marks at the end of sentences became the norm, in order to ensure that readers saw the period at the end of each sentence, which might otherwise disappear due to poor reproduction of the art in print.

 

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John: It’s kind of funny that those limitations still define the look of comic lettering, even though they no longer apply! Digital tools have expanded the options, but the principal goal is still to tell the story as effectively as possible.

Sometimes that means grabbing the reader’s attention, and sometimes it means being invisible. Navigating that push and pull to keep the reader engaged is what the best letterers do, no matter their tools.

In his video for Vox, Phil Edwards raises the question: Is the so-called “comic book font” a font at all? When you’ve got multiple letterers out there with multiple different styles, how would you guys define the phrase “comic book font”?

Rich: For casual comic book readers there’s no real conscious awareness of different styles of comic book lettering.

Recently a comic book commentator who has what I’d consider an expert eye waxed lyrical about my pen lettering on a page of artwork he’d bought; in fact, it was lettered by another well known lettering artist—who I’d consider to have quite a markedly different style.

I think “comic book font” generally refers to an upper case style of lettering that is clearly made with ink using a pen nib or technical drawing pen.

They only occasionally include lower case lettering, and sit in white-filled balloons on pages of comic book art. I’m sure that if you showed comic book-style lettering out of context, some people would be hard-pressed to identify it as a comic book font.

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John: It’s funny how the closer you look at anything, the more infinite variations you will discover!

Pen letterers’ styles change with the types of pens used, the way their hands naturally form each letter, and who taught or influenced them. When I create a font from someone’s lettering, I choose from dozens of slightly different As, Rs, and Ss.

Every decision I make in the assembly, cleanup, and fine-tuning affects the final font. I’ve created two families based on Richard’s pen lettering (Hedge Backwards and Richard Starkings) that ended up having a completely different look! So I feel like there’s still an infinite number of “comic book fonts” left to be made.

In that same video, John, you mention Artie Simek and Sam Rosen as a couple of letterers that, in your words, “Nailed it.” What makes their work particularly good?

John: Well, I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact they lettered the majority of the comics I grew up reading!

When I look at their work now, I see a relaxed confidence in their pen strokes that just says, “I know what I’m doing, I’m getting the job done, and I’m having fun doing it.” And that still inspires me.

Rich: Artie Simek and Sam Rosen are two of my favorite letterers, also. They had such iconic styles; between them, they created the look of Marvel Comics lettering in the sixties.

They were the masters of creating atmosphere with soft rounded or ragged titles and sound effects… and they rarely used rulers, because the deadlines they were working too probably didn’t allow that kind of finesse!

Later, letterers like Tom Orzechowski, Steve Craddock, Bill Nutall and Tom Frame created more precise looks in their lettering that brought comic book pages alive in whole different ways.

But, generally, I think they had a little more time to get their work done.

Tell us about Comicraft. What was the inspiration behind starting your company, and how did it become what it is today?

Rich: I was working primarily as a pen and ink lettering artist over here in the States, and I realized that it was almost impossible for me to get projects that allowed me the kind of time I needed to make a healthy living and feel proud of my work.

I’d worked at Marvel UK in London as an editor and designer, and was comfortable with the idea of working with a team to get stuff done. I’d also been made aware that top Marvel artist John Byrne had developed a comic book font to letter his own work on his book NAMOR. I thought this was the writing on the wall for pen lettering, and was lucky enough to find a couple of friends who helped me create a font using a program called Fontographer.

These friends helped input scripts, so that I could speed up the process of digital lettering. But it wasn’t until I looked for someone more permanent that I came across John, who had just graduated from UCLA with a degree in graphic design. We were working out of the back of my Santa Monica apartment at the time, and John asked me what he should say when he answered the phone.

A friend of mine had a carpentry business he called ProudCraft; I quickly came up with Comicraft, and the name stuck.

What considerations come into play for you when you design a new comic book-style font?

Rich: Originally it was necessity. We had a dialogue font, but no title fonts. Then we needed fonts for particular logos, then we were asked for a specific font for a book called ASTRO CITY.

BATMAN artist Tim Sale wanted one based on his pen-lettering style. Then we made fonts that evoked the lettering of Rosen and Simek… and then John decided we should make twelve fonts a year. Perhaps he can explain that particular rod he made for his own back…!

John: I decided pretty early on, working for Comicraft, that I really wanted to make a living making fonts. And that meant expanding our catalog. So I set a goal of twelve a year, and sold subscriptions in advance, so that I knew I would have to meet it! We’ve achieved that goal every year.

The past two years have also been spent “remastering” another twelve—that is, going back into the catalog and improving and expanding on our early releases.

Requests from customers and clients usually dictate what’s on my front burner, so often I’m filling an immediate need, which is great. When nothing’s pressing, I have folders full of partially completed fonts and letter files and graphics to dig through. Sometimes it’s, “Okay, what’s nearly done that I can wrap up?”

And sometimes I find a file or graphic with only four or five letters that sparks an idea. I’ll get going on it, and the hours just roll by. Those are my favorite kinds of days.

Daddio, Maladroit, Atomic Wedgie, Girls in Genes, Urban Barbarian, Incy Wincy Spider… your fonts have such great names. How do you name each font?

Rich: Enthusiastically! I feel that the names of our fonts should make you think of comic books, whether you use them for fonts or not!

There are also a LOT of fonts out there, so it has become increasingly difficult to come up with unique names. But it’s still a lot of fun to try!

John: We spend a RIDICULOUS amount of time jockeying back and forth on font names, and names for each of the weights. But it’s part of the fun. I feel great when we finally find a name that both totally captures the spirit of the font and sounds like it belongs in our catalog.

How are your fonts used? Put another way, which of your fonts tend to be used in which contexts?

Rich: We see a lot of our fonts on candy and cereal packaging—and toilet paper rolls! I think our customers are looking for bouncy, fun styles. They gravitate to our catalog because we have so many loose-looking character sets that have that pen-drawn feel to them. And, obviously, we are the number one resource for comic book letterers all over the world!

John: I love seeing designers use our fonts in ways I never would have imagined. And I like applying the principles of comic lettering—make it readable and fun!—to creating fonts in other realms, like apps and video games.

The fonts I designed for ANGRY BIRDS have probably been seen by far more people than all the ones I’ve done for comic books. But they came to us because of our comics work, so it all relates.

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Of all your designs, do you have a favorite?

John: Whichever one I’m working on at the moment! I love ’em all. Even the ones that don’t sell. ESPECIALLY the ones that don’t sell. Every one of them has an idea behind it that I thought was cool and worth making.

Rich: I’d have to go with ZOINKS because it’s based on the natural way I draw display lettering. I’d add in MONSTER MASH, too, which John created to look very much like sixties comic book title lettering.

What do you think is people’s biggest misconception about you, Comicraft, and/or the work you do?

Rich: I think a lot of people think we letter EVERY comic out there—which is fine, LOL! I also think that people generally think that selling fonts requires little or no work, which is not true at all.

There’s a lot of hard work and thought that goes into it. Anyone who runs an online business knows that there are all kinds of hidden costs involved. Some customers think fonts are expensive, but I always like to remind them that back in the day graphic designers had to buy sheets of dry-transfer lettering from companies like LETRASET at twenty bucks a pop.

When you’d used them up, you had to order more—and more, and more. Pen letterers had to buy ink and nibs and new technical pens and vellum and drawing boards and all that stuff. When you buy a font, it never runs out of letters! Plus, you get a license to keep using it until you die!

John: For a long time, most of my friends thought I drew the comics. But I think people’s daily interactions with computers and screens has created a growing understanding and appreciation for fonts.

Everyone’s aware of them now, even if it’s just “oh, you mean like Comic Sans?” To which I reply with a descending “NOOOOOOoooooo….”


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