Can you believe that ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month is still going strong, well into a second month? That’s a testament to the sheer amount of talent within the ADC community!
Just like last year’s Photography Month and Illustration Month, Typography Spotlight, highlighting ADC Members and Young Guns who love working with words and letters. Some of the names are already famous within the design community, while others will be new for you to discover, but all of them are card-carrying ADC Members from around the world.
Today’s Typography Spotlight casts its shine on an Brooklyn based designer and ADC Young Guns 8 winner who loves the limitations of creating letterforms.
Where did your interest in typography begin? It’s generally not something kids in kindergarten aspire to be. When did you discover that you could actually make a living out of it?
I think it began when I was 16. I was trying out graffiti with a few friends who I met at a painting class. It was an interesting challenge to sketch words with expressive letter shapes and trying to spray paint them huge onto walls. When I came to New York I recognized that I could make a living with type design.
How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?
I didn’t learn too much about typography in school. There they taught us more about ideas and seeing the bigger picture. At my first job, at Design Machine, I learned a lot about typography from Alexander Gelman. He has a conceptual approach to everything he designs. Gelman would encourage me to create my own custom letterforms and typefaces, to best express the specific mood or tone for the project. Later when my partner David and I started Triboro we maintained this commitment to experimentation and customized typography. We’ve found it to be very well received by clients and audiences alike. Now clients often seek us out for our eclectic approach to typography. It has become a Triboro staple.
How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style? Do you tend to lean towards one type of lettering?
I don’t like to think of having a style. I am interested in exploring different ways to create type that has a certain personality or visual voice and, if possible, conveys an idea. This is what makes typography one of the most powerful tools for designers. One thing I seek to attain is a level of beauty and care that should come across, even if the type is hand drawn and quirky. I try to not repeat what I’ve already done. In our small studio we are lucky to have a wide range of projects, from designing a typeface or poster to creating a visual identity for a new business or international corporation. I like the range of projects and prefer not to be specialized in just one area like lettering. I find it much more interesting to have this variety.
Walk us through your usual type design process.
It depends, I usually make an initial sketch by hand of a few words that I need to design. If the type needs to be created digitally, I quickly move to the computer. If the project calls for a hand done approach, I try a variety of brushes, pens, pencils to find the right look. Eventually all projects need to be composed and finalized on the computer even if everything was done by hand.
“I like to obsess over details, which can be very time consuming. But once you have figured out how to construct the typeface, creation becomes meditative.”
What is your favorite ‘practical’ font, one for everyday use?
I like to avoid any one-size-fits-all solutions, as most of our projects call for a unique approach. That being said, in a pinch I would go with a timeless sans serif like Berthold Standard. I can’t say that I love it, it’s just useful for many purposes. In general I prefer a geometric sans over a humanistic typeface but it really depends on the project.
Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design?
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?
I would say sans serif. They’re bold and strong and readable from a great distance. Maybe it’s also because I am from Germany and sans serifs are ubiquitous there. Serifs in Europe are often viewed as being old fashioned.
The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letterer or typographer is that the latter works mainly with words and letters. Name a not-so-obvious difference between the artforms, one that certainly applies to you.
As someone who creates a typeface, you are limited to the number of letters an alphabet provides plus the more or less recognizable shapes of letters. An illustrator has an infinite pool of images available to illustrate a subject matter. I like the limitations that you have when creating letterforms, since then you can fully focus on all the options you have to customize or alter the letters—which in itself offers many possibilities.
What other artistic passions do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?
I get most of my creative fulfillment through the work and this includes anything from concepts to customized typography, photography, drawing as well as writing texts.
I find inspiration pretty much everywhere. Brooklyn and New York are very inspiring, energetic places and are therefore 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 at night lying in bed. Of course a conversation with a client can often trigger an idea.
Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world?
Herb Lubalin, Henryk Tomaszewski, Ralph Steadman, Tauba Auerbach, Tibor Kalman, Willi Fleckhaus, Piet Zwart, Stefan Sagmeister.
What is the most challenging thing about your career?
Since we are a tiny studio (just two people) getting the right work-life balance is tricky. Sometimes it can be a challenge to get your ideas realized without compromises from clients, but over the years it has become easier to gain their trust.
At the end of the day, 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. I like to obsess over details, which can be very time consuming. But once you have figured out how to construct the typeface, creation becomes meditative.