Whether you’re still studying, have just started out in the creative industry, or are a veritable type design veteran, we’re sure these are questions that crop up for you from time to time, as people open to learning more and exploring their practice. And when you’re stuck in a rut, whether that’s in your job, or it’s just simple creative block, it's always useful to hear other perspectives so that you feel less alone!
At Pangram Pangram, we hope to foster a digital space which is intriguing and educational across the board, and not just limited to the type we produce. That’s why we’re launching our Advice series, speaking to industry leaders and creative heavy-hitters to gain their insight into navigating the design world.
In this article, we’ve spoken to some of the very best people in type design, including Pangram’s own Mat Desjardins, wonderful close collaborator Caio Kondo, type wizard Samara Keller, the ever-talented Morgan Vantorre and the one and only Erkin Karamamet. From staying persistent with your goals, to staying creative through side projects and keeping yourself in check with good old planning organisation, they’ve detailed their top career-related and creative tips for type designers. Over to you, folks!
You either feel creative or you don't. As designers we're constantly performing creativity, the absence of it can be frustrating and make us question our creative abilities. Often when we're in this position we look at others. What are they doing and what are possible reference projects?
Looking and analyzing what aesthetical qualities you like in the project can help you to figure out what you want to see in your current design process. I call this intentional copying. Instead of starting from scratch, what if you choose to recreate one element of your inspiration and go on from there?
For me, the most important part of creating type (or other stuff) is trusting my intuition. It is the base for most things I do. I also think Intuition comes from experience so don’t be afraid to test, research, get inspired, create to gain the most experience and knowledge.
Things are moving a bit too fast for my creative taste these days but the good thing about this is that if you do something you don’t like one day, you can move on to the new project the next day!
Another big part of my creative life is the curation of my environment. It has such a big impact on my mood and creative work. Everything affects that creative mood, lighting, music, time of day, clutter, etc… Make sure you set everything up nicely for maximum creativity!
First of all, I would say that creation is shaped and nurtured over time.
On the one hand, by maintaining one's curiosity, especially by opening oneself to new subjects and by nourishing one's culture through readings, conferences, exhibitions or exchanges with fellow designers.
On the other hand, by engaging – as much as possible – in personal / self-initiated projects. Indeed, I think that experimenting, by practicing various drawing tools, or by learning new languages such as code for example, allows one to get out of one's comfort zone and to constantly renew oneself.
This posture, in my opinion, is a good way to be surprised and to initiate new creative paths. It is also an attitude to adopt, in my opinion, at the beginning of each of your projects, personal or professional. The research stage is not to be neglected! There is no point in going too fast. Taking the time to test different things and letting your experiences guide the process – rather than choosing a quick and easy solution – allows you to surprise yourself and to make the project evolve towards something finer, more subtle and often much more coherent and relevant.
This ties in with my last point: one of the best pieces of advice I could give is to take time out during the creative process. For me, a project is like a bread dough that you knead for a long time and let rise before baking! The best breads are those made slowly and with love (:
The phrase “design is attitude,” by Helmut Schmid, is apt. There’s so much you can read about whether a design approach is right or wrong, good or bad. But in the end, what counts is whether you’re convinced by your design. Even if someone else thinks it's wrong, everything has a justification if you feel good about it. It’s important to believe in what you do.
And today, everything has become so fast-paced. Our needs and demands are constantly growing. Although our tools (software, computers) are better and more precise than ever, I still adhere to tried and tested approaches, like sketching by hand. For example, I sketch with hand to get an idea down. This creates a moment of slowness, which brings my thinking into synchrony with the movement of my hand as it glides across the paper. That works the best for me. Trying to find out what works best for you, and believing in that, is important. There is no right or wrong in this regard.
I know, this is very personal and it might not work for everyone. But if you’re having creativity problems, I would advise letting go of social media. I’m not saying that instagram and pinterest are bad places to find good ideas, because they’re not, but try other platforms. I love fashion books and I get a lot of inspiration from them. Look for something in things you like!
Besides finding a good reason to design type, I think that having technical mastery is essentially important. In this sense, both Glyphs and Fontlab provide tutorials – do as many as you can. Knowing how to manipulate this will save you, in addition to time, good ideas.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask more experienced type designers for feedback. From my own experience, I feel that the type design community is very helpful and friendly. It’s always good to get other people’s opinions.
One of the things that set you apart from other designers is your style. Your uniqueness and your personality are what draws the clients to you and will filter out the people that you don't want to work with. But not even in freelance work, cultivating your own style and design methodology will help you to know for who you want to work and which studios align with you and your idea of design.
Invest time in trying out different aspects of design and different styles, try to make a choice and focus on it. What you design is the essence of your aesthetic interest, be honest about what you're designing, and honour your audience and who you are as a creative.
Like I mentioned in the first part: try things out! Put things out there, build your portfolio, build your brand and most importantly build your confidence. Confidence is your biggest asset.
It’s a cycle! The more you’re confident in your work the more you will put out stuff that will make you proud. The prouder you are of your work the more confidence you build. It’s also a great way to get to know who you are as a designer / artist and to make your style evolve!
And you know, try new things once in a while, keep your mind flexible and open!
One of the first pieces of advice that comes to my mind – at least when you are a freelancer – is to be organized and to know how to plan your time in order to be efficient. For me, I manage to find this balance by getting into a daily routine. It may seem obvious or even naive but, in my case, planning my days at least over a week helps me considerably to manage my time better. For example, I usually keep a diary in which I see on each double-page my entire week. This way, I anticipate all my tasks and adjust them according to upcoming events, my appointments or simply my physical or psychological state aha... – because of course it's not a question of being too rigid with yourself either!
Then, another advice that comes to my mind is to keep in mind that YOU "ARE" NOT your work. When our work is a true passion and we put our heart and soul into it – I know this is the case for many type nerds – we tend to embody the successes or possible failures of our projects. We can then tend to suffer the consequences emotionally (especially when something goes wrong or doesn't work). But it seems to me that it is healthy to learn to let go of this. To accept that we are human and not machines and that it's ok not to know everything, to take time to perfect a project, to perfect a practice etc... :)
On the other hand, it is obvious that the search for success is not a good state of mind. The search for our own fulfillment, our own growth, on the other hand, is much more rewarding and benevolent for ourselves.
Type design is undergoing incredibly rapid change. This is, of course, due to continually improving software, as well as accessible information on the internet and, of course, expanding educational opportunities. But what really matters in type design is, in addition to a lot of patience, learning to observe! Being able to conduct investigations like an archaeologist – so comparing forms and evaluating them. In type design, you don’t only need the tools.
You need a well-trained eye. And most importantly: dare to make mistakes and try a lot of things out. Optical illusions play a big role in type design; the eye must not only recognize but also understand what is happening.
If you have the opportunity, invest time and money in a master in type design, but if not, be self-taught.
I say this because this was my trajectory. I started my career working in a design studio focused on branding. And during that period, while I was studying on my own, I applied what I learned in the day-to-day.
As I designed symbols and logotypes, and gained confidence, I started to take risks on typeface design, and haven’t stopped since.
I feel that there is no right way to pursue a career as a type designer, but persistence was necessary on this journey. I know this may sound generic, but in the beginning there were plenty of moments that I thought about giving up.