Zipeng Zhu: Fledgling Foundry

ADC Young Guns 13 winner's style is "mildly seizure-inducing"

 The month is almost over, and with that comes the end of ADC and Monotype‘s Typography & Lettering Month. It’s been a fantastic ride, but don’t worry — we still have more to show! 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.

Closing out the week is a very colorful art director, designer and ADC Young Guns 13 winner who is making a go at starting his own type foundry. 

12249898_10201100240305910_1425121717041480902_nZIPENG ZHU
Art Director + Designer + Princess
New York, NY



Where did this crazy adventure in lettering all begin?

My type journey all started when I was in college, studying at the School of Visual Arts. I remember spending hours upon hours — days even — looking for the perfect font for a certain project and could never quite find it. Even when I found something close to what I was looking for, it would still be slightly from what I wanted.

So, I was like — why not draw them myself? It’s been 5 years and I’m still drawing type.

What made you realize that you wanted to make a career out of this, and what convinced you it was even possible?

Although I’ve been drawing letterforms since college, I only made the jump to pursue it full-time when I left my job as a senior designer at Sagmeister & Walsh earlier this year. For me, I immediately knew I wanted to start a type foundry. Now a few months into that, I don’t have any regrets, but check back in a year and I’ll let you know how I feel then.

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?

My work is bold, intense, and mildly seizure-inducing. While I embrace it as my brand, I can definitely work across a range of styles, usually sharing those themes.

Electrica_01 Electrica_02 Electrica_03

Walk us through your usual creative process.

A lot of my clients find me via my Instagram, where I share a lot of my process and type work. Other work comes from previous branding projects or word of mouth. With each of my clients, I try to make a typeface or custom logotype to accompany the project. I prefer to begin my projects on the computer, especially due to the geometric nature of a lot of my work. I sketch digitally, working through a concept and know it’s finished when everything looks good and nothing bothers me anymore.

What is your favorite ‘practical’ typeface, one for everyday use? What is it that you love about it so much? What about more decorative typefaces — which are your favorite ones?

Hmm… This is a tough one. I don’t really have a favorite ‘practical’ typeface — I’m not a person of very ‘practical’ aesthetics — but if I had to pick one, I suppose I wouldn’t mind using Arial, probably because it’s a little more quirky than Helvetica. If Impact can be considered decorative, without a doubt.

What’s your favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design? Why is that your favorite? (Ampersands don’t count!)

My favorite letter is Z, naturally. I have 2 of them in my initials, so get to have a lot of fun with that letter whereas it is all too infrequent in every other project. But uppercase ‘R’ gives me most of the structure I need for the alphabet.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Alright, we can admit it — serif had a good run few years back, but in the past 2 years sans is really killing it. But, give it a few years, serif will come back in full force, I have no doubt.

“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?

You know how you can pick different fonts in Word? That’s me.

Tell us about your favorite project to date. What set it apart from everything else?

My favorite type project I’ve done as of yet was a holiday card I made for A2A. The client just really let me run with this and do whatever the fuck I wanted, and was incredibly supportive of my creative direction. We had a lot of fun with this.

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?

All I want to do is make great work for people and companies I love and adore. I would love to work on some Chinese type in the future. It’s so difficult that I would love to tackle that challenge.

“All I want to do is make great work for people and companies I love and adore.”

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?

Convincing people to buy type and support type foundries is a huge hurdle in this industry. So many people rip off type or share illegally downloaded typefaces, which is super damaging to this industry and the folks hustling to make a career out of this.

It’s enough or a barrier to convince a client on the merit of custom type as a way of telling their story and branding their identity, but I try my best to counteract that by educating clients on the pros and cons, as well as students I teach at SVA.

What other creative outlets do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I illustrate, animate, and design websites. When not doing that, I love to walk around with no purpose at all.

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world and why? Have you had any creative mentors?

I really admire the work of Sascha Lobe, Founder and Creative Director of L2M3.

As for type mentors, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister push me to challenge my ability to see and make type in different perspective.

When all is said and done, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

I make things for people to read. It’s rewarding.


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