ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month is winding down, but we still have quite a few more ADC Members to showcase to the world! Whether you’re designing brand new digital fonts for the world to use, or whether you’re creating free-flowing calligraphy to adorn a wall, you guys know that there is more to written words than just their meaning.
Wrapping up this week is a Brooklyn-based ADC Member and one half of Triboro Design, who loves working with clients as interested in creating something unique as she is.
Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?
From an early age I drew or build things every day, it was a passion and a way to express myself. No one in my family worked in the creative field, but they noticed my obsession early on and nurtured it. My father spent time drawing with me and when I was six I went to painting school. What I do now really feels like an extension of all that.
What made you realize that you wanted to make a career out of this, and what convinced you it was even possible?
After finishing school in Germany, I came to New York in 2004 and joined Alexander Gelman’s studio Design Machine. He would encourage me to customize the letterforms in logos—making the shapes of letters relate to each other formally—and creating typography that is more unique and pushing the limits of readability. This was an eye opening experience, I felt that type could be so much more exciting than what you were used to see. Later when I started Triboro with David Heasty we experimented with all kinds of different approaches. We try to make the process organic, giving ourselves new little challenges in response to each project. There is a lot of good type design available out there, but often we go the bespoke route because it’s just more fun to start with a blank slate and see where a typographic challenge will take you, rather than taking something off the shelf.
How would you best describe your style in a sentence? Do you fight against having a telltale style, or do you embrace it as your brand?
We’ve always tried to resist a singular Triboro aesthetic. We definitely have a conceptual process and creative approach, but when it comes to the way things look, we prefer our portfolio eclectic. The creative journey that comes with each new project is too interesting to pass up. When we start a project we never know where it goes—opportunities and inspirations spring up—and we end up in a place that surprises us.
Walk us through your usual creative process.
Clients contact us via email usually. Then follows a meeting either in person, by phone, Google Hangout or Skype. Once we received all the information we need to know, we engage in a research phase. We start sketching (always on paper at first) and look for possibilities hidden in the sketches. Early on we try to define the soul/personality of the design. Design for us is all about editing. You start with a blank sheet and infinite possibilities. Getting to the best idea requires you to make a series of decisions. Often we will work up a few different concepts that are worth sharing with the client, but there is almost always a favorite for us. We gravitate towards solutions that feel so obviously “right.” You can’t add anything and you can’t subtract anything from the design. When it feels right it’s an easy sell to the client.
What is your favorite ‘practical’ typeface, one for everyday use?
You can do a lot with a geometric sans. They’re practical and can be used on a variety of projects, but get repetitive. We have used Berthold Standard or Archivo in the past. Overall I much prefer typefaces that feel like they have been custom made for a project and have a quirkiness to them. Even with all the hundreds of thousands of fonts out there we feel like there are opportunities to break some new ground—or we just aren’t satisfied with what exists—so we’ll end up making something new.
Everybody’s got a favorite brand of marker, a favorite kind of ink, that pencil with just the right amount of heft. What are yours, and why do you swear by them?
Copic markers are great, they have a nice dense color and a variety of tips that allows for different effects. Usually I prefer a brush and ink over markers.
What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design? Why is that your favorite? (Ampersands don’t count!)
I am more interested in letter combinations and making a word or multiple words work together in an interesting way.
Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?
The problem is that sans are currently ubiquitous. Every self-proclaimed “disruptive” start-up wants to use a geometric sans. Meanwhile we think there is a huge potential for serifs to differentiate and add some more humanity, but so many serifs available seem to be revivals of old designs. It’s a challenge to find a serif that embodies a truly modern spirit.
“Wait, what is that you do again?” How do you explain what you do for a living to people who aren’t in creative fields? What’s the thing they can’t quite grasp about it?
It depends on who asks. I usually just say that I am a graphic designer. It’s hard to describe it without showing the actual work since everyone has different associations with the term. The value or role of design nowadays has not yet trickled down to many people outside the field.
“The value or role of design nowadays has not yet trickled down to many people outside the field.”
Tell us about your favorite project to date. What set it apart from everything else?
The best work happens when the client is as interested in making something unique as we are — and when the project allowed the creative freedom (and schedule) to push a concept to a logical extreme. My favorite work brings into play systems of handmade ingredients that work together as a language. Past examples would be releases for Blonde Redhead. Currently I am doing this more for restaurant clients, like our work for the Standard hotel and a new restaurant called Sauvage opening soon in Williamsburg.
What would be your dream project/assignment/client? What’s something you’ve never had the opportunity to do thus far, but would kill for that chance?
To redesign the US currency.
What is the most difficult thing about making a career out of what you do? How do you get around that, and what advice would give to others facing similar challenges?
To continually push yourself to reinvent, and not get lazy. Work your ass off especially in the beginning to build a portfolio—and only include the work you are proud of. Always try to do your best for any client. Later on you can be more choosy when it comes to which projects you accept. Seek out clients that understand your approach and where there is mutual respect.
What other creative outlets do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?
I get most of my creative fulfillment through the work. It’s hard to say, inspiration can be anywhere. Brooklyn and New York are rich, energetic places that offer limitless sources of inspiration. What helps me to come up with ideas is to leave the desk and just take a walk or focus on a problem lying on my couch. Of course a conversation with a client can trigger an idea.
Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why? Have you had any creative mentors?
Henryk Tomaszewski for quirkiness
Herb Lubalin for brilliant letter combinations
Piet Zwart for rhythm
Stefan Sagmeister for concepts and humor
Tauba Auerbach for systematic experimentation
Willi Fleckhaus for cinematic layouts and dramatic scale
My mentor was Alexander Gelman. Now it’s my partner, David.
When all is said and done, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?
When working on a typeface or custom type treatment I like that you can completely focus on something in a very detailed way. It can be time consuming, but once you have figured out how to construct the typeface, creation becomes meditative.
Typography & Lettering Month takes place throughout April and May, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!