Dr. Shelley Gruendler is a typographer, designer and educator who teaches, lectures and publishes internationally. She holds a PhD and an MA in the history and theory of typography and graphic communication from the University of Reading, England and a Bachelor of Environmental Design in graphic design from North Carolina State University.
Shelley has presented at TypoBerlin, ATypI, TypeCon and How; has published articles in Communication Arts, Eye, Codex, Slanted and Step; and has judged international typography for Communication Arts and Canadian book design for the Alcuin Society. She is proud to live in the Canadian Typographic Archipelago and plans to publish her biography of Beatrice Warde, the champion of accessible typographic theory, within the next few years. As the founding director of Type Camp International Shelley travels the world helping people learn typography.
Dr. Shelley Gruendler
If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a PhD and an MA in the history and theory of typography and graphic communication from the University of Reading, England and a Bachelor of Environmental Design in graphic design from North Carolina State University.
Which designer (or design studio), other than yours, do you most admire? I’ve always admired architect and design educator Dr. Michael Pause; he was my first instructor at the College of Design at NCSU and has remained my mentor ever since. He has simultaneously helped me to challenge and be kind to myself. I am who I am today, both as a designer and as a person, because of him.
What’s the strangest request you’ve received from a client? Here on Galiano Island (a small island off the coast of Vancouver), I do small bits of design or typography work on the side but it’s always for trade. I’ve designed for a case of beer, a truckload of dirt, a pile of firewood, apple pie, tickets to a talent show and bedding plants.
If you weren’t working as a designer what would you be doing? This is one of my favorite questions to ask other people! I would certainly have something to do with linguistics and languages. Communication fascinates me and how languages work is just a small piece of that. I know a few languages but I’m always trying to pick up the language of wherever I happen to be because I simply can’t stand not knowing what is going on around me.
What well-known typographic application is most desperately in need of a redesign? So much of typography these days is rubbish. Numerous graphic designers have only mediocre typography skills and I'm constantly disappointed by the multitude of missed opportunities. (I blame educational institutions, not designers, for their lack of prioritizing typographic knowledge in curricula.) I started Type Camp precisely to help designers gain better type skills so that I don't have to see unreadable type choices, bad line lengths and primes-for-apostrophes ever again.
From where do your best ideas originate? I don’t live a life where I search for ideas, particularly with design and typographic work. They’re all interesting puzzles to me and it's just about finding how the pieces can work best together for the situation at hand—and they’re all unique. I absolutely love the process. It’s as if ideas are all floating around my head and I can just reach out and grab one when I need it. I’ve got several books and dozens of articles in me all waiting flow through my fingers. It’s a time and money thing—never a lack of inspiration or drive.
How do you overcome a creative block? I can’t say that I’ve had a creative block in recent memory. I occasionally have trouble getting through to a student... when what I’m saying just isn’t the right combination of words for them to “get it.” The advantage of the team teaching in Type Camp is that we have three different instructors with three different approaches; if I can’t help, one of the other two certainly can.
What’s your dream project (not client, but project)? I’ve always wanted to redesign all of the typography and information design for the Girl Scouts of America. I remember looking at my guides and badge books as a young teenager and thinking that they could make more sense and be less childish. It would be a challenging project with a very wide scope, but could be incredibly interesting. Girl Scouts did a lot for me when I was young so I'd like to return the favor.
Do you have creative outlets other than graphic design? I’m currently teaching American Sign Language classes and also horseback riding classes to adults and kids in my community. Like typography, they both relate to communication and precision; they keep me grounded and remind me that I’m not just about type.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I live on a small island off the coast of Vancouver; it has only about 1,000 residents so there’s not much to “do” in conventional terms but I do my best to not check email, or even sit in front of my computer on weekends. That’s my time to live my life.
What product/gadget can you not live without? Twitter. Being a typographer can be lonely and even though my partner is a type designer and I teach with other typographers at Type Camps, I still need more (typographic) community. With Twitter, I can see what all my type friends around the world are up to—hear about their projects, their lives, and even what kind of sandwich someone just ate. It helps me to feel more connected to them, though I only see them once a year at typography conferences. I can be a part of their lives and they can be a part of mine, while I’m thousands of miles away. My clever and witty typographic Twitter friends remind me that I’m part of a greater international whole.
What’s your favorite quote? “Do what you can, with what you have and where you are.” My aforementioned professor repeated this to me often as a student. It’s not so surprising that today, as an adult, I still need to be reminded of it.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Stop aiming for perfection. Get out there and work in the wrong job, get bored, mess up and just... make mistakes. You’ll never learn a thing or change the world, if you stay safe. There is a fantastic, chaotic, complex world out there full of new experiences and screwing up is the only way you’ll encounter them.