Interview with Jeremy Dooley – typeface designer

Jeremy DooleyIn a recent myfonts.com newsletter we picked up on a Kickstarter project ‘The Clothes Letters Wear’ initiated by typeface designer Jeremy Dooley. The project is to create a book that teaches young children about typeface’s and as it resonates with a few of our own passions (design, typography and education) I delved a little deeper into the fascinating world of Jeremy Dooley. Read on for interesting insights into typeface design, new releases on Cabrito and what’s next for the Kickstarter project.

How did you get into designing typefaces? And why do you think you enjoy it so much?

That would take me back to my college days, where one of my first projects was to do a poster on a type designer. I chose Adrian Frutiger, and I was hooked. As I closely examined his typefaces, the simple beauty of his forms amazed me. To me, a well-drawn font is like a beautiful woman, and my passion was to learn how to make that kind of beauty.

Through my education, I came to enjoy branding a great deal. I wanted to be able to make brands that truly stood out, and in order to do that I needed to be able to create custom type. So thus began my long adventure into typeface design. In order to have truly distinctive and interesting branding, you need custom or, at least, unique letterforms to set the brand apart. Initially, I worked just with logotypes, but eventually custom typefaces really set my projects apart.

I currently offer over 117 different typeface families on myfonts.com, though I have designed more than that. Type design is definitely an interesting challenge as each individual character has to be designed. Some may think this is very tedious work but it seems to flow easily now with experience. I think I enjoy the challenge of creating a concept and then replicating the concept throughout the lettering. It’s kind of like a puzzle, a challenge to make everything fit together.

And is being a type designer the only thing you do in the creative field?

Nowadays, to be a typeface designer it means that you have to wear a great many different hats. So, in addition to typeface design, you have to do graphic design in order to create materials to promote the product. There’s writing, which is another creative field, and of course you have to have business skills, which I consider another creative field. I have also written a science fiction novel, Ergo: The Drone.

How do you start to create a typeface? Can you explain how you get inspired to design a typeface and how the world around you translates into a new font?

There are many different ways and reasons to create a typeface, and believe it or not, this is very important. I have begun to alter the way that I work, and now I like to think that the beginning of the new typeface project for me is a need: Identify a technical or artistic challenge that needs to be solved in a better way. I think that you can really see this in the formation of Cabrito.

So how are the actual letterforms themselves designed?

We have a basic structure that is descended from Latin. Throughout the centuries we have, as a result of technological innovations, changed the structure of our writing system. For example, lowercase was created by Carolingian scribes so that they could write on extensive parchment quickly and there are several other examples of technological innovation driving how we write letters, including movable type and more recently web fonts. The basic structure of our letterforms is something that has been created slowly throughout the centuries as we removed superfluous forms. Over time, and through technical advances, we’ve drilled down to the basic forms of our letters.

Now we have a basic structure on which we work on, a skeleton. I believe the name of the book encapsulates this idea, that we have a basic structure on which we hang different clothes – or typeface classifications.

A resource I recommend for typeface designers – aspiring and professional alike – is typecooker.com, which randomly creates a set of parameters for a new font. For example, the typecooker could say to “create an extended inverted contrast serif typeface.” Having an outside source give guidelines to work by is stretching and can help a designer start thinking about incorporating elements that he or she hasn’t touched much previously. It’s a fantastic teaching tool and provides a different way to see fonts.

In the field of design (mostly graphic, web, digital design) how important do you think it is for designers to have a good understanding of typography?

It is absolutely essential. As I said before, typography is the basis of design. You cannot communicate on the web without typography. Typography allows for your message to be absorbed even subliminally with the choice of a typeface that communicates well. Type is, in my opinion, the foundation of advanced visual communication. You cannot communicate advanced themes in commercial art with only space, size or color. You need type to convince, to persuade.

Can you give us a little bit of background to the Kickstarter project, why you chose to do it and why through Kickstarter? And based on how it’s going at the moment can you see crowd funding being part of your future business plans or is it a bit of fun?

For this project, unlike a typeface, there were significant upfront startup costs to produce the book. Normally when designing a typeface, the risk is largely of time. Of course, time and money are essentially the same thing, but somehow it feels different when creating something physical.

I am a huge fan of crowdfunding. I think it is a future model for many things. It allows a single creator such as myself to put their ideas out there and compete head-to-head with large established corporations that used to have a stranglehold on our media and what we consume.

I have been involved in two Kickstarter projects now. The first was Chatype, an experiment to create a municipal typeface for the city of Chattanooga Tennessee. This typeface was a first in the United States, and it is the first and only municipal typeface that has been funded and created by the grassroots. I see this as a prototype for how government projects should be done in the future. It allows citizens to more directly influence where taxpayer money is allocated and allows for transparency. This is not a fully formed idea but there is definitely the germ of something there.

For my main business of typeface design, I do not currently see Kickstarter or crowdfunding becoming a big part of that business. I’ve seen several type designers try to get funds for the development of a new typeface on Kickstarter. At this point I need to generalize; I’ve seen this done right and wrong. The way they do it is, in my opinion, somewhat obnoxious, almost like they are holding the fully complete font hostage that they’ve already created. I could see a model where the typeface gets to a point where it is approximately 10% done, and then a designer asks for additional funds to complete the typeface. Google web fonts has been a big driver of Kickstarter driven fonts, providing a large portion of the revenue for several of these Kickstarter projects.

With some of the letterforms in ‘The Clothes Letters Wear’ being quite diverse and visually complex, might that be confusing to very young readers who have not yet learned the basics of reading?

Those letterforms are everywhere, and I think it is better to present them in a form near to an explanation, and likely near a parent who can explain the forms.

Are you thinking of similar books in the same vein for children? What’s next?

I already have some ideas on how to expand the concept. The concept is easy to expand into other venues, but I think it’s premature to say that I’m ready to do something like this again.

The Cabrito font was an ancillary part of creating the book, are you surprised by it’s success?

I was very surprised at the response for Cabrito. Cabrito is its own creature, not conforming to any contemporary type trend. Maybe that’s what makes it so notable, but every once in a while, an outlier finds its way to the front. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt when the font has a great story behind it. No complaints here, though. I think Cabrito is a great design, and I’m very happy with the finished result. I’m also pleased to let you know that there will be extensions of the typeface coming soon, such as a sans-serif and an inverted version (which is already in the works). Release of the inverted Cabrito is scheduled for mid-February if all things go as planned.

Cabrito has a real personality and looks very original. There seems to be more and more fonts published nowadays – is it getting harder to come up with original font designs?

Not at all. Type design is a fashion industry. Clothing designers are, and will, always turn out new clothing though the human form hasn’t changed. New cars are being made, new websites, new buildings, new music. Type is no different. Like all fashions, they come and go, making room for something new. There is nothing new under the sun but can be combined from pre-existing things. There will always be new challenges, both technical and artistic that require better or more contemporary solutions. New type will always be needed.

Would you like your son to grow up to be a type designer?

That’s completely up to him :). I’m certain the market for type will be substantially different, and it’s far too early to tell if it will be possible to make a living from designing type in the future. My desire for Will is that he be a creator. If he wants to innovate in the medical profession (like his mother) than that is wonderful. If he chooses something else, like writing or programming, I just ask that he work hard to create something new and of value to others.

And what’s next for you and Will’s journey into the world of children’s book publishing?

Getting The Clothes Letters Wear produced and in my backers hands! Some folks think that a Kickstarter is like printing money, but the reality is much much different. There is a ton of work involved, planning and creating, running the Kickstarter and then delivering.
I would be interested in finding a company to partner with to distribute The Clothes Letters Wear. The Kickstarter has indicated there is a great market for a book like this and I look forward to finding a partner to assist in that endeavor.

If you have enjoyed finding out about Jeremy and his Kickstarter project you can visit the page here, there is still time to make pledge too.

About emc design

emc design is a leading print & digital design agency for publishing.
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