by Lauren Festa
It’s Typography & Lettering Month at the ADC and with the help of our friends at Monotype, we’re showcasing the many ADC Members who make their mark with letterforms. Whether they’re designing brand new digital fonts for the world to use, or creating free-flowing calligraphy to adorn a wall, these artists know that there is more to written words than just their meaning.
There is always one ‘creative’ kid in the family. From his childhood, Juan Carlos Pagan remembers obsessively sculpting, painting and sketching and when, years later, he learned what typography was, he became possessed by it. His early curiosity is paying off quite literally as now, people pay him to “make stuff”, with Pinterest, Nike, Jaegermeister and Variety among his extensive list of clients. Far from the struggling artist he thought he was destined to become, Juan Carlos is Typographer and Design Director at 72andSunny here in New York, no doubt passing down the knowledge like the greats who came before him.
Background check: Tell us how you got here, working as a professional typographer.
I grew up in Queens, NY and when I was about 11 years old, we moved to Lagrangeville, NY. I was always the “creative” kid in my family – I painted, sculpted and sketched obsessively as a kid – but it didn’t manifest itself in anything remotely resembling typography. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I became aware of typography. While attending the Communication Design department at Parsons, I had a few excellent professors who exposed me to typography and letter-forms creation. They also introduced me to the works of Herb Lubalin, Doyald Young and Saul Bass. I became possessed. I immediately began making custom logotypes for projects, lettering anything I could and designing typefaces. Before I knew it, people were asking me to do it for them.
So, you didn’t always want to be a typographer.
No. I had no idea I could make a living at designing letters until the college. I honestly always thought I would end up a struggling designer somewhere.
How did a formal education form your style? What’s a lesson that continues to stick?
My formal education helped me tremendously. I enjoy the energy of academic environments. I tend to try and soak everything up. After I graduated Parsons School of Design, I continued taking typography courses at SVA. Eventually I decided to go back to school for a much deeper study of Type Design. I attended Cooper Union’s post graduate Type Design program (Type@Cooper) which was a wonderful learning experience. Everything and everyone I was exposed to during my formal education has had a huge impact on the work I have made, and more importantly, how to examine it. It’s great that nowadays you can learn most technical stuff online, but I love the camaraderie, conversation and critics that comes with traditional higher education.
How would you describe your style?
I don’t think I have a definite style. In fact, I actively avoid having one. Professionally, it would be smarter if I did have a style, but I find it very limiting. I like to jump around and try different things. If I was asked to do the same kind of work over and over again I would become extremely bored.
Take us through your creative process. How do you know when a thing is ‘finished’?
I really wish I could explain my process. Sometimes I am sketching a lot. Other times, I know exactly what I want to make and jump straight into Illustrator. It’s all very circumstantial. There’s this quote from Matthew Carter which goes something like this: “Nothing is ever finished. At some point, the designer simply has to abandon the project.” What he mean by this is that you have to stop a project at some point and take everything you learned from it to bring it to your next one. You’ll never be 100% satisfied with work, but you do have to put the pencil down at some point and move on to the next thing. It’s all about learning. That’s why deadlines are so important for me.
What is your favorite practical typeface for everyday?
Impossible to say. There are so many good and practical typefaces for different applications.
What are some other typefaces or fonts you are loving right now?
Serif vs. Sans Serif: Who wins?
What are your must-have tools?
Pen, pencil, markers, tracing paper, wine and Adobe Illustrator.
For someone that doesn’t understand what you do, how do you explain it?
People ask me all the time. I tend to make a joke of it and tell people I am an “Alphabet Enthusiast”. They usually laugh and we move on. People are asking in a polite way anyway. Only very few people genuinely care.
“There’s this quote from Matthew Carter which goes something like this: “Nothing is ever finished. At some point, the designer simply has to abandon the project.”
What would be a dream collab or client?
I very much want design the identity of a major sports team. I would get a kick out of doing everything from the lettering, to the hats, jerseys, and so on.
Fill in the blank: “When I’m not being a yung type god, I am _____________.”
Going on a long run.
What have been some challenges in making this a viable career? Any advice for the novice?
It’s easy when you’re starting to see design work you admire, figure out how to copy it, and pawn it off as your own. I would urge anyone interested in making a career in design or typography to take the time to develop a point of view. Make a lot of work, and figure out what makes it unique. Also, learn how to talk about your work in an intelligible non designy way. Most of the people that will hire you are not going to be scholars in gestalt design theory.
Who in your orbit is producing work that you are loving right now?
What do you love most about typography?
I get paid to make stuff. It’s pretty great.