When and how did you first discover your passion for creative coding? In university, I was introduced to MIT Media Lab’s research through a technology and design workshop called Night Market. The Taiwanese researchers studying at the Media Lab had the genius idea of bringing their professors and peers to Taipei in order to conduct experiments and give talks about mixing technology, architecture and art. It was eye-opening to see how coding can be creative, visual and idiosyncratic. I was particularly inspired by the work of John Maeda’s Physical Language Workshop, and found my passion for drawing with pixels using Processing.
What insights did you take away from working as part of Google’s Material Design team? Learn the rules, and then you can break them. If you are not sure what to do, follow the guidelines. Otherwise, be original and free.
How have your Risograph and plotter drawings influenced your type designs, and vice versa? Risograph is fascinating. The process is reminiscent of developing my own films in the darkroom. I discover areas to dramatize or simplify in the process of printing, as well as new mixes of colors, halftone textures and graphical arrangements. I love hearing the sonorous thumping when making masters, and peeping into the space shuttle–looking chamber that the drum occupies. Over time, I’ve learned to embrace the imperfection and unpredictability of Risograph in my work and let go of the neurosis of dictating how things should be.
The plotter machine brings out really interesting design constraints. I work with a limited variety of pens and inks for each drawing, because switching pens inadvertently alters the x, y and z position of the pen tip and it's best to contain the unpredictability. I am also limited to lines and dots. My project Numerical Compositions was born while trying to create a poster featuring a waterfall of type with the plotter. I was fascinated by the colors of the acrylic inks on black paper, and the color palettes quickly led to more simplified and abstract compositions made with type.
What led you to create your experimental typeface Alter? For my project Numerical Compositions, I designed a set of single-stroke duotone numericals in order to make typographic posters with the plotter. I decided to complete the alphabet, which led to the creation of Alter. Because each character is live-generated with code, I wanted to create an alternative typeface that felt forever changing and dynamic. The alternations incorporate colors and geometric constructs: curve/straight line, circle/polygon and vertical/oblique. Sometimes, words feel strange with odd kernings, and different color combinations can change the mood of how they are read. They’re capricious, flawed and unpredictable—just like humans.
You’re also an adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts. What lessons do you hope to impart to your students? Be hungry and proactive in learning new skills. It’s amazing how you can learn almost anything online now. The tools you learn today will likely be obsolete in the near future, so the real skills you need are being able to adapt quickly to new tools, languages and frameworks and knowing how to find resources and answers to your problems.
What is the most exciting digital design work you’ve seen recently? Jeremy Mickel and Forest Young’s typeface Redaction for the Musem of Modern Art PS1 exhibition The Redaction is both provocative and compelling. The design fuses the visual repercussions of bitmaps and low resolutions imposed by the photocopy and fax machines used in the United States court system. I liked the studied reverse of the high resolution, which propels viewers to see and read.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you design in the next few years? I can imagine how AI could be disruptive and ubiquitous in the near future—how interfaces can react and be dynamically composed based on contextual information and personal preferences. This type of personalization could also apply to how we access and consume information and the tools we use for designing and showcasing our work.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Empathy is the key to change. Having the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and acknowledge their passions, motivations, needs and fears is crucial for any meaningful conversation. It’s necessary in stakeholder meetings, design critiques and classrooms. It’s one of the more challenging things, and is truly humbling.