Brian Gartside: Letter Perfect

ADC Young Guns 12 winner closes out Typography & Lettering Month

It’s been a wild typographic adventure, but ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month finally draws to a close today. This has been a wonderful showcase of the many ADC Members whose craft falls in the world of letterforms. We’ve featured type designers who have created entire font libraries, and hand letterers who have become “Instagram-famous” with their work. But no matter their field, they are all card-carrying members of ADC, and we welcome them on our blog!

Our final ADC Member to be featured this month is no stranger to our audience. In fact, he took center stage at the ADC Gallery a few weeks ago alongside iconic Hall of Fame laureate Paula Scher. He is the only ADC Young Guns winner to have a hand in designing his own Young Guns Cube, itself a marvel of typography and lettering.

Associate Design Director, Deutsch NY
New York, NY



I know you caught the typography bug in college at VCU, but obviously there was a creative streak before then. How did it all begin for you? Did you have an artistic childhood? Did creativity run in the family? Did your family support it, or were they more like “I dunno, are you sure you don’t want to go to law school?”

Growing up I always wanted to do something fun for my job. I always liked art and art history, but my first creative streak was in video. Throughout high school, myself and a group of my friends were always making videos and doing video projects for classes. They were fun to make and none of them were particularly serious, but it went far enough that I ended up going to Emerson College as a film student, on the path to be a director. Eventually there came a time when I realized I was spending more time on things like designing title sequences and hypothetical movie posters than I was on my actual projects. It was around that time that I made the switch to graphic design. My parents were (thankfully) supportive the whole time, and never tried to force anything on me that I didn’t want to do.

What was your first break as a type designer/letterer? It’s one thing to know that this was something you wanted to do with you life, but it’s another thing to convince someone else to let you do it.

The first time I got to do lettering in a real project I was still at school. It was one word lettered on the team kit for my school’s cycling team. It was a small part of a much larger piece, but it was a big thrill to get something custom in a project that was actually produced. After that I was completely hooked, and spent the rest of my time at school trying to get as good as I could at creating my own type.

Tools of the trade: everyone’s got a favorite brand of marker/ink/pencil/paper etc. What are yours? What makes them so great when it comes do getting the job done?

I’m a big fan of whitelines notebooks. They’re essentially grid paper notebooks, but the main body of the page is a light grey, with white grid lines in between. The grid is subtle and doesn’t get in the way, and it’s great because when you scan your work, it’s a simple job to get rid of the lines inPphotoshop.

Here at ADC we see a LOT of lettering projects on Instagram. Has social media changed the game? In what ways — good or bad?

I try to stay away from getting wrapped up in creating work for social media. I’m sure we all follow the same people and it always amazes me how much work is constantly uploaded, but it’s just not for me. I like having the structure of a project, and feel like I work best when I have those constraints to work within.

Which project of yours are you most proud of? Why does it mean so much to you?

Looking at the project as a whole I’m most proud of the Drinkable Book for the good that it’s doing in the world and the potential future of the project (though that’s not particularly relevant for typography month). Looking at all my projects, I think there’s a direct link between how fondly I look back on them, and how big of a pain they were to produce. I like doing kind of oddball projects. Things where I’m a bit out of my depth and have to just jump in and figure it out.

This past year I had the opportunity to do a fully custom painted vehicle for Krylon. We chose this really cool old chevy van from the 60s (I think). There’s no dieline for that and we couldn’t even see or get decent photos of the van before making it, so it was a very difficult process. We built a dieline for ourselves that was as accurate as we could be, and went off that. We cut custom vinyl for all the graphics on the van, hand applied them ourselves, and then painted the whole thing. The project was a learning process and getting the decals off once they were painted over wasn’t exactly pretty, but at the end of the day I’m thrilled with the project mostly because it’s a bit unusual. I have similar feelings about the ADC Young Guns YG12 cube. Designing a compelling award is difficult, especially when you’re limited to a 3.5” cube and have to think of it in context of all the others that have come before. Creating the art so that every line would register across all 6 sides, and then figuring out how to produce that from a technical perspective was a bit of a nightmare, but was ultimately worth it when I look at the final result. Both of those projects were produced pretty much entirely by Deutsch personnel as well, which is another point of pride for me.

What’s your dream project/client, one that you haven’t had a chance to work on but would kill somebody to do so. What’s the appeal?

Unrealistically? I’d like to design the livery for a plane…or if I’m really going for it, a spaceship or a rocket or something. I just think that would be so interesting and challenging. So I suppose if you’re reading this Elon, shoot me an email and we can spruce up the Falcon 9 a bit. More realistically, I’d love to design a watch. It seems to me that it’s one of the purist design challenges out there. They’re often beautiful, highly functional objects and I love the idea of the constraints that go along with it. It’s a very small area to convey a lot of important information, and they’re very personal objects for their owners, which is what makes them interesting for me. Designing something that a person would want to wear every day would be a huge thrill.

Apparently there’s a scientific reason for why people hate the word “moist”. What’s your favorite word, your favorite combination of letters to design, and what’s the science behind your love?

I don’t have a favorite word, but I do have some favorite letters. I particularly like the lowercase two story a and two story g, particularly because they’re challenging to draw, and then also because I find them to be the most beautiful. I also really like doing numerals.

“So wait, what is it that you do again?” How do you describe your job to someone not in a creative field? What’s the strangest question/response you’ve received when you told them?

If I feel like the person has no idea what a designer is, I mostly just say “I’m in advertising” and let them imagine I’m some sort of Don Draper type figure.

What do you do when you’re not designing? What do you do to break away,refresh, recharge and stay inspired?

I ride my bike. I’m an avid fan of cycling and to me, there’s no better way to unwind. There’s just something about going out for +five hours where you have nothing to focus on except for the physical effort and your own thoughts that I find very therapeutic. I can use it as a way to get quality time for thinking about work, or I can use it as time to escape entirely, just by focusing on the road and the task at hand. It helps me keep things in perspective, and I find that I do most of my best thinking on the bike. I’m also a big fan of sitting at home and watching shitty TV with my girlfriend, which I suppose is a different form of escape. Mostly just getting away from the design world for a while. I think it’s pretty common to get absorbed in your job in this profession because for most designers, it’s more a part of who we are than it is just a job. To me though, it’s important to have things outside of design that I can lose myself in. It helps me keep a bit of balance in my life. If I were thinking about design 24/7, I think I’d get burned out pretty quickly.

We often ask about professionals you look up to, but is there anybody you look down for? Are there any new cats in the game that you’ve met, maybe even mentored and thought “this kid’s gonna go far”

Absolutely yes, and I try to make sure that the people who work for me are people I look up to. Right now I have a couple absolute rockstars on my team, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Their names are Nicolas Ortega and Lynne Yun. Nico is one of the most creative guys I’ve ever been around. The sheer level of drive to make things that he possesses is astounding, and his personal style is something I’m wildly envious of. Lynne is an amazingly talented calligrapher and designer, and is off at calligraphy and lettering workshops seemingly every weekend. I’m super jealous of both of their abilities, which is why it’s a good thing that I get to work with them every day. One more worth mentioning is Joe Haddad. Joe interned with us when he was in his sophomore year, and he’s so talented that our CCO at the time tried to convince him to quit school and come work for us full time. He’s working over at GrandArmy right now, but I have every intention of stealing him back one day.

When all is said and done, what is the best thing about what you do for a living?

The best thing about my job is pretty much everything about my job. I work with a group of incredibly talented individuals and I get to do what I love every day. I play with letters professionally. I bring weird chemicals and science experiments to the office and am encouraged to do so. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.


Typography & Lettering Month takes place throughout April and May, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!