Roger Black has been described as a titan in the design industry. Since 1972, he has been the chief art director or design consultant for publications all over the world, among them: Rolling Stone, New York, The New York Times, Newsweek, Esquire, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC.com, Bloomberg.com, The Washington Post, Semana (Colombia), Panorama (Italy), The Straits Times (Singapore), Kompas (Indonesia), The Nation (Bangkok) Tages Anzeiger (Switzerland), Placar (Brazil), Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), and Scientific American. He’s been involved in many startups, some of which—like Outside, Fast Company, and Out—are continuing success stories. Currently, Roger is a director at Type Network a new firm that exclusively offers the typefaces of leading digital type foundries, including Font Bureau, which Roger co-founded in 1989. A co-organizer of the Typographics conference, this year Roger is starting a new magazine about type, by the same name: Typographics. Thanks to Roger for being a part of our mini-interview series, 4 Questions 4!
1. How did you originally get interested in typography and design?
My dad, J. J. Black, was an architect. He taught me simple lettering when I was learning to read and write. He pointed out the simple proportions of Latin capitals, and explained the “two-story” lower-case a and g of the Renaissance. While grounded in history, my father was always an individualist, and he said that good designers should have their own styles.
2. What typography trends are you loving most these days?
The new interest in wood type is wonderful. I got excited by it when I was a teenager, and I love the combination of the big bold grots and fanciful barbed slabs with old-style metal type. That contrast was the spark of my own design style. Second, I am delighted that the digital tools have made it possible for individual designers to support their own foundries. We are just at the start of an amazing explosion of great type design. Luckily for us, there is exponential growth in the market for type.
3. Which of your projects are you most proud of, thus far in your career, and why?
Well, I’m still happy about the work I did at Rolling Stone 40 years ago. It made my reputation as a publication designer, and I learned a lot in four short years. My work is traditional in the sense that I try to exploit classical forms (including letterforms) in a new context. Much of my approach, however, is experimental, though it may not look that way. At Rolling Stone we had the luxury of failing. There were many pages that were complete disasters. But there are others that hold up, after all this time, and I’m sure we would never have reached those heights if we were afraid to try.
Sometimes I show people an old design and ask them what year they think it was done. I love it that they usually guess a date that’s decades later.
4. Describe your dream project.
It’s always the current project!
Right now I am helping to rethink the entire editorial, business, and design strategy of an established English-language news publication in Southeast Asia. I get to think as big as I can, and then assemble a team to push ideas into reality, both in digital form and in print. The publisher is based in one of the most exciting cities in the world, filled with beautiful people and fantastic food. This is of course a challenging time in the news business, and the work is not easy. But we’ll test, place some new designs in front of readers, and build on what works best. I think design is the main problem with reading on the web, and I bet we can offer some solutions. What could be better?
Of course when this is done, I get to move on to the next dream project.