How did you learn the skills necessary to be a type designer? When I was attending the Maryland Institute College of Art for my undergrad, I took Ben Kiel and Ken Barber’s Type@Lettering class, but despite it being my favorite class, I didn’t do so well in it. So, after graduation, I bugged Ben about which books I could read or which documentaries I could watch to learn more about type. From there, I was learning on my own until I started working with Lucas Sharp. I then enrolled in the Type@Cooper program where I took Jesse Ragan’s class. I grew a lot under Jesse’s guidance, and in 2014, I began working at Commercial Type.
What did you learn from the process of creating Robinson, your first release through Commercial Type? What it takes to finish something that is release quality and how important it is to self-edit. There was a lot that needed to be cut, and I learned how to do that with Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes as my guides. I had a lot of ideas that didn’t fit with the design, so I saved them for later. I also learned a lot about how to draw certain forms I had never drawn before and make them fit within a system of shapes.
How would you update Robinson today? There are things I would change, but it’s also nice that it exists as a snapshot of where I was at that time in my life and career. By looking at it, you can see what my interests were and the things that I was or wasn’t good at. I like that it carries these things about me, like a time capsule. But if I were to expand Robinson, I’d be interested in adding a condensed cut, but it would definitely be display oriented and I would explore the crispness more. I haven’t given myself the time to sketch it out, though, because there are other projects I want to finish and release first.
Where do you think the field of typography is going in the next few years? It’s hard to say. We’re in interesting times because what used to guide design was a production-methods limitation, and now, it’s limitless. Screens are getting better and becoming more widely available, so it’s natural that things will become more precise and detailed. But I don’t think everything will be slick, mechanical and sharp. Since more nuance is possible, there are new opportunities to create shapes that have a softness that screens didn’t have the fidelity to show before. Style-wise, I think because we’re now in a recession, we’re going to return to minimalism, and maximalism will quiet down. In the end, I always see type evolving along with culture. What I hope for is more diversity, which is already happening, but we could still use more of it.
What trends in type design are you most interested in? Though I’m not interested in specific type design trends, I do think they’re interesting as a whole. When you start looking at them as reactions to each other and guessing what might be next, it becomes more intriguing than isolating them. But if I have to pick one, it’s that brands are opening up to using serifs. In terms of custom work, there is more room there for brands—or any organization for that matter—to differentiate themselves in an unique way. There are more variables to play with in serifs than sans serifs. I also personally love designing serif typefaces.
What’s a recent typeface you worked on that you’re proud of? A custom typeface project for Google called Roboto Serif, which hasn’t been released yet. To date, it’s the biggest project that I’ve completed, and I’ve grown so much by working on it. Since it’s a large family, we were able to get a lot of great designers to help finish it. It has also been beneficial because it has yielded ideas for other typefaces that I’m thinking of designing.
What insights did you gain from participating as a judge for the Type Directors Club’s annual typeface design competition in January 2020? Being a judge makes you face what your values are as a designer. There were definitely times when you had to defend a typeface to the other judges, who may not agree with you. So, it was interesting to revisit what I thought made something worthy of being included in a competition. It was also refreshing because I got to see work I had never seen before. Not all of it I liked, but I loved seeing a culmination of what people were designing that year.
Which type designers do you most admire? Sandrine Nugue consistently makes work that surprises me. She comes up with great unique forms that are also usable. I imagine a lot of things I could use her typefaces for if I were still doing graphic design. I admire all of my friends who are designing type—it’s great to see what they make and what they’re thinking about. I admire Christian and Paul a lot; not only do they have interesting ideas that make an impact, but they are also great bosses who know how to guide designers through their own ideas. That is an invaluable skill that not everyone has. I also deeply admire the work of Bram de Does, Adrian Frutiger, Zuzana Licko, Fred Smeijers and Berthold Wolpe. The way that they viewed and made work has influenced me in some way, shape or form.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Spacing and drawing should happen at the same time when designing type. It’s pretty basic but important, and somehow, not everyone learns this when they’re starting out. I’ve also learned that you should develop your own interests and not worry about how they can be unique. But it’s hard to turn the worrying part off, especially when you’re desperate for a new idea, so it’s really an exercise in letting things go. As a part of this, quick sketching is helpful. If you have an idea that you’re not sure about it, sketching it will quickly tell you if it’s something that is interesting or if it should be burned with fire.