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Chank Diesel is a typeface designer and painter based in Minneapolis. He was born in Canada and raised in Florida, then attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Through his type foundry Chank Co., he has released hundreds of contemporary fonts, which can be seen on products, websites, videos and advertising materials worldwide. He also creates custom fonts for companies and non-profit organizations including Ben & Jerry’s, Doctor Who, Indian Motorcycles, PBS Kids, Scholastic Books and Target. He calls himself an “alphabetician,” because it is the alphabet that ties all his work together, from useful, functional fonts to fanciful and impractically large word paintings. His work has been called an “important example of contemporary typography” by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

06.17.14

Quirks, Irregularities and Improvisations

What personal experiences or circumstances have most influenced your work or style? I’m a lefty, and handwriting has always been a challenge for me. I push the pencil across the page instead of pulling it, so all the right-handed writing instructions don’t work the same for me. The shapes all come out differently, and my hand smudges the words after I write. I was actually held after school in sixth grade because my handwriting was so bad. I made it a point to get much better at drawing letters after that.

Why did you create your new book, The Travelling Font Salesman? I wanted a way to show off the best new fonts I’ve been working on for the last few years—a grand and impressive printed introduction to my latest typefaces. But I also wanted to create a story that would draw the reader in, entertain them and add a snippet of human personality to each font. It’s unique for a type specimen book to have a story that runs from cover to cover.

How does your background making zines influence you as a type designer? I never want to make perfect fonts that are mathematically correct and typographically proper in every aspect. Making a font like that sounds incredibly boring to me. So I try to mix in a few quirks, irregularities and improvisations, to make the typefaces more credible as personalities. The best fonts aren’t perfect. They all have subtle flaws that make them charming and unique.

What excites you about typography right now? I am so excited to be making fonts for new media, i.e. phones, tablets, big-screen TVs. I love that all these devices are getting higher-resolution screens every year. We’re almost to the point that screen resolution is as good as print resolution.

What would be your dream assignment? I’d really like to work with academics and educators to teach children of the twenty-first century a new way to put their thoughts down on paper with pen or pencil. As a culture and a civilization, we still need to know how to write on paper. But with the downfall of cursive, we need a new handwriting style, and it needs to be taught sometime between kindergarten and college. I’d like to work on a handwriting font design for a “grownup quick script” that would replace cursive writing in the future, and have someone develop a curriculum for teaching it.

What is the strangest assignment or project you’ve ever worked on? Creating custom kerning information for a tombstone company. They already had all the letters drawn and brought me in just to help with the spacing. It cracks me up that my contributions to the words on these everlasting memorials is kinda invisible; it is just the space between the letters, and nobody can even see that. But it will be around forever on each tombstone.

Why do you think typeface design and lettering have become so popular lately? Do you think it’s a lasting trend? I think typeface design and lettering is always popular, and always evolving. Every generation has its own typography that helps define it. The hippies had their groovy lettering, the 50s had the cocktail and swashy script styles, and Art Deco and Art Nouveau were partially defined by their unique typestyles.

Which type designers do you most admire and why? Two of my font heroes are Jim Parkinson and Matthew Carter, because they have both dedicated their lives to lettering and fonts, and they both seem really happy with their career choices and wouldn’t want to do anything else. Matthew represents the east coast and champions legibility and clarity, while also being an elegant and charming human being. Jim is the west coast guy, with more flash and flavor in his typestyles, and a more relaxed and informal personality. But both of them are wonderful people who have been very supportive of me and my work. A newcomer who inspires me is Maximiliano Sproviero, who makes incredibly beautiful scripts and turns them into extremely functional fonts as well.