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Interview with Type Designer Mark Simonson

Interview with Type Designer Mark Simonson

Grant Friedman

March 23, 2009

When I started working digitally in the late Eighties, I couldn’t wait to stop doing things the old way. Simply being able to “undo” was worth the hassle of learning a whole new set of tools. And the results were more perfect than was possible the old way. On the other hand, I think drawing on paper is still the most direct and natural method for getting visual ideas out of your head into the real world. I suppose a graphics tablet could work, too.

GF: How do you think technology will affect font design in the future? What sort of trends do you see emerging?

MS Font formats have become more sophisticated. OpenType allows all sorts of things to happen automatically, like choosing alternate characters based on their position in a word, that previously had to be done manually. Progress has been slow, though. Apple introduced a similar font format in the early Nineties that was just as sophisticated, but it failed because it only worked on Macs. OpenType, although it came later, has been much more successful. I think it will continue to evolve, but perhaps not as fast as we want.

On the other hand, font design tools have been continually improving. As a result, I think the general level of quality of fonts is getting better, even if the formats have been relatively static.

GF: Choosing a font to use in a design can be one of the toughest and most challenging aspects of a project. What sort of advice would you give to a graphic designer looking to choose the perfect font for a project?

MS: Think of a font as you might think of an actor playing a part, or a narrator reading your text. The font is not the content, but it can influence the reader’s impression of the content. In most cases, you want a font that does not call attention to itself, a font that does not “up-stage” the content. Sometimes, you do want a font that gets attention or evokes a certain attitude or association. First and foremost, you should think of your audience, and what, if anything, the font will mean to them.

GF: Some of my favorite fonts of yours include Kinescope and Refrigerator Deluxe. Which of your fonts do you like the best? Are there any fonts by any other designers that you really admire?

MS It’s hard to pick one, but if I had to, it would be Coquette. It’s partly because its origins are still rather mysterious to me. It seems to have bubbled up from my subconscious fully formed. It started with a logo I was working on in about 1992. The logo wasn’t used, at least at first. But the letters I came up with kept coming back to me. I would make doodles of them during meetings, or when I was on the phone, until I had a pile of sketches.

It seemed inevitible that it would become a font. It also taught me something new about drawing typefaces, which was to let go of geometry as a crutch and to trust my eye. It wasn’t until I understood that that I was able to draw it properly. Finally, in most of my other typefaces, there was a deliberate goal in mind. I start with a concept and follow through. With Coquette, it felt like finding a buried treasure, and my job was to dig it up without damaging it.


Coquette Sketch

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