Recently the Type Worship blog reached a milestone of 150,000 followers. To mark the occasion we have invited a selection of creative leaders to guest blog on the subject of their choice. In the first of these posts, Rob Clarke describes a pivotal time in his education that led to his career in lettering and typography, and offers his advice to aspiring designers.
Why a career in type?
I’m often asked why I got into such a niche career as typography. Back in my student days there weren’t many opportunities or information on a career in type design or lettering. I didn’t even think you could make a living purely out of playing around with type. In the early 90s I studied an ordinary graphic design degree course and loved the work of many contemporary designers of that time including Neville Brody, David Carson, Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, Why Not and 8vo. However it was Erik Spiekermann who really caught my attention. He had recently co-founded FontShop and was proving an inspirational speaker.
With Brody at the helm FontShop developed ‘the magazine for the future’ entitled Fuse. In each issue four designers were commissioned to create a font and poster based on a theme. The designs rejoiced in pushing the boundaries of legibility and creativity. It was this experimentation with type that I found most inspiring at that time. I only have a couple of Fuse issues but now I wish I’d bought them all.
I had the pleasure of meeting Erik in his MetaDesign studio in Berlin in December 1992. I was hungry to learn and this short visit would prove incredibly important to my future career decisions. At this time MetaDesign were working extensively with Berlin Transport Services (BVG). I was lead through the process of designing fonts and bespoke type in order to suit the needs of a particular project. I was also given a copy of Erik’s book entitled ‘Rhyme and Reason – A typographic Novel’ – a light-hearted look into the world of type and well worth a read if you can get your hands on a rare copy.
The revelation of my trip, however, was being introduced to an emerging East Berlin design collective called Grappa. They were originally established in 1987 and were pioneers of the Mac – embracing both its capabilities and limitations. Prolific poster designers for dance, theatre and music, I found their work so expressive and engaging. With a minimal and inventive style they created an unpredictable relationship between type and image. They were not traditional typographers and went with their gut instinct. Co-founder Andreas Trogisch told me they wanted their work to stay fresh and experimental. Their supplies were limited and budgets low therefore creativity was essential. Andreas was both warm and passionate and continues to champion freedom in design today. Grappa became Blotto in 2002 and recently Andreas left to form Troppo.
Meeting these guys had a lasting effect on me and I couldn’t help but be hugely inspired. To see how they worked in the real world and getting physically involved proved to be the real inspiration. I based my thesis on the emerging graphic design scene in Berlin and it heavily influenced how I would look at and treat type in the future. I still had no idea that I would end up concentrating purely on type and it wasn’t until I got my first job alongside a calligrapher that my education really started.
My advice for students/aspiring designers today: If you don’t ask you don’t get. It’s all too easy to send a generic email to a designer you admire, in the hope of receiving some magical inspiration. You have to dig a little deeper than this. Without becoming a stalker, try and meet your idols – go to as many talks as possible, you may bump into them in the pub afterwards. If this isn’t possible look at websites, like Dribbble, I’ve found this a great place to get feedback and virtually rub shoulders with all levels of designer.
We all had to start somewhere and my experience is that us designers aren’t a bad bunch and most are willing to help.
Above from top left: Neville Brody, Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, Typography Now2 (Why Not Associates), Fuse Packaging, Fuse poster by Neville Brody.
Images 7-10 & 12: Rob Clarke, December 1992, aged 21.
Image 11 Eye Magazine Winter, 1991
My favourite characters: August
Tumblr is such a vibrant visual feast of experimental and masterly type and lettering. It’s tempting to blog dozens of inspiring typographic images each month but in order to keep things concise, here’s a round-up of projects that have caught my eye this month on tumblr and beyond.
Row by row, starting top left:
Perspective Signage and wayfinding for the Innovation Center in Porto, Portugal, by Claan.
BA Flyer: Bachelor Ausstellung Kommunikationsdesign FH-Mainz, flyer submitted and designed by Marcel Haüsler (2012) for Type Only by Unit Editions.
Skinny Will’s The Letter Dump: “It’s where odd little letterforms can live. If I feel like making a new ‘t’ for whatever the reason, the letter dump can house it”.
Hand-lettered tees by Fair Goods: “We asked four of our favorite type guys —Ale Paul, Neil Summerour, Corey Holms, and Grant Hutchinson— to create a hand-lettered T-shirt for TypeCon 2013”.
Pentagram’s Paula Scher’s identity for Rockaway Beach, painted on the side of the newly rebuilt Concession buildings on Shore Front Parkway.
Mira Schendel's exhibition at the Tate Modern opens on 25th September. The first ever international full-scale survey of her work.
Medusa Font. Ramiro Espinoza’s beautifully presented homage to the 19th Century Catalonian pointed pen.
Typographic miniature golf course by Ollie Willis An analogy of the link between golfing and graphic design — they both require patience, precision and end in frustration or fulfilment!
F “Turn a bad grade into a career in design/engineering/finance” career advice after exam results season by The Prince’s Trust. See the brilliantly executed work on Creative Review.
Valentine’s day idea?
Not only is the lettering beautiful — that split ‘Type’ — but I’m loving the soft indentation on the ‘spongy’ paper and the depth of colour from this scarlet ink.
This limited edition letterpress print might make a nice gift…
OK yes, I just convinced myself and bought one.
Beautiful lettering poster by Ken Barber, printed by The Aesthetic Union. You could buy a copy here and learn more about the process on Ken’s blog post.
After writing about Paul Thurlby’s alphabet letters a few months ago, Paul got in touch and I had the opportunity to ask him to describe some of his lettering work:
The Making Future Magic illustration was a promotional piece for Dentsu London [huge advertising agency, founded in Japan]. They chose a number of illustrators to come up with their own interpretations of the phrase.
Boooom was personal work. I was trying to make the image using the word itself.
Modest Artistic Genius was a self advertisement. Originally, I wanted to just say ‘Artistic Genius’, but I knew I couldn’t get away with that. So, it was just something a bit tongue in cheek that, somehow, putting ‘modest’ in front of such a statement makes it alright, plays it down a little!
Unidentified street art
There is definitely something alluring about this doodle. A snap taken by Stephen Coles in Clerkenwell, London. "Depth, flow, invention, intrigue, likability, its got it all"
3 years later, I keep coming back to this street art I found in London. I still don’t know what it says or how it was made, and I still love it.
Nice ‘P&P’ sign, lit with coloured bulbs. (Taken with Instagram in a Pitcher & Piano pub, London )
Friendly character logo of the furniture company: Actiu (Taken with Instagram at Clerkenwell)
Letterpress poster spotted on Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London.
Old Ampersand woodblock printing
At the St. Bride printing workshops yesterday I had the opportunity to print some wonderful mismatched ampersands from their historic collection using one of their Vandercook Pre-Presses.
Now some of these large woodblocks are well over 100 years old so despite packing out the paper and adjusting for the slight printing height differences, two of the blocks had sunken deeply in the middle leaving a void on the print.
See more on the St. Bride Library “The world’s foremost printing and graphic arts Library”
A colourful, ‘modular’ headline typeface by Studio8 Design. An agency based around the corner from me in Clerkenwell (London).
"A typeface designed for Wired. Used throughout the magazine and iPad app for chapter headers the typeface can be coloured in numerous ways in order to suit the page it sits on."