9 Type Designers to Watch
By: Emily Potts | March 6, 2015
Need more type in your life? The February issue of Print is the perfect way explore the history and evolution of typography. Discover important events in the art of typography’s history, see what it looks like today, and take a look at the potential future of typography with the informative articles included in this issue.
When looking to create a “top” list of anything, it’s always best to ask the experts, which is precisely what we did here concerning type designers. Of course, typography, like everything else in art and design, is highly subjective. People like what they like. Period. But interestingly, when we reached out to highly respected type design aficionados Gail Anderson, Ken Barber, Roger Black, Tim Brown, Tobias Frere-Jones, Allan Haley, Cyrus Highsmith, Jason Santa Maria and Christian Schwartz and asked them who they thought should be interviewed for this article, there was a surprising amount of consensus among the suggestions.
Don’t expect to see the popular kids here. Sure, some may be familiar and some have been at it awhile, but others are just hitting their stride. Each designer featured has a unique take on their craft, and has had success with at least one typeface. Several of these creatives started as graphic designers and then pursued typography out of necessity, making type for themselves and clients. No matter the paths they followed, one thing is certain: The designers below are all reaching a creative apex. Be sure to read about two more type designers to watch.
1.Nina Stössinger / Den Haag, Netherlands
Pursuing type design as a career was a logical choice for Nina Stössinger. “I’ve long been fascinated by letters,” she says, “this code that sits at the intersection of form, language and meaning. When I became interested in design, letters naturally felt closer to me than other modes of expression. Type design is mysteriously complex, with both a rich history and a host of technological considerations.”
Her type designs are friendly and inviting, but not frivolous or flamboyant. She begins with sketching explorations to see how her ideas can work within a set of characters. Her influences are varied, but Stössinger is often motivated by what isn’t out there. “I notice gaps in the design landscape: [I’ll] be searching for a typeface of a certain flavor or with certain attributes and not
find it; so this want [becomes] a catalyst to make it myself.”
Taking an organic approach, she lets the design process unfold and take shape before her eyes. “There’s a moment when working on a new typeface that it starts to gel—when the letters become more than a collection of shapes, when they begin to click together and form a texture that has its own voice. You read words in it and find they have a voice that did not exist before.”
Her latest typeface, Mica, was created while studying at the Type and Media master program at The Royal Academy of Art in Den Haag. “It’s a serif text face that explores how reversed contrast—in the sense of heavy horizontals—can be put to work rather subtly in a text face,” she says.
Stössinger has been delighted to see how her typefaces have been adapted and used. “It’s beautiful when you realize you’re contributing something to a larger design ecosystem, and it starts its own life outside your control.”
“Nina has a good eye and a steady hand. She can also program. I use her word-o-mat tool almost every day.” —Cyrus Highsmith
Mica. “I’m not a creative doodler who easily adds elements or ornamentation for the fun of it,” Nina Stössinger says. “On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of the overly clean, digitally constructed look that has become more prevalent lately.”
2. Hannes von Döhren, HVD Fonts, Berlin
“Typography was my main reason for becoming a graphic designer,” Hannes von Döhren says. “I started by designing experimental typefaces by myself for fun in my spare time, alongside my job as an art director, making them available as free fonts on the internet and using them in personal projects. Playing around with type was such fun that I became seriously interested in the workings of fonts: their technology, their rules and their background.”
His first typefaces were published through Linotype, and later at MyFonts, before von Döhren founded HVD Fonts. The type design that pushed him over the edge, so to speak, was Brandon Grotesque. Within the first month of its release it was climbing to the top of bestseller lists and was featured in MyFonts’ newsletter, and in its first year it became the most successful new typeface of 2010. “Following the success of Brandon Grotesque, I now get to experience the great privilege of doing what I love,” he says.
When starting a new typeface, von Döhren says he often acts on impulse. “On the one hand, I like to explore new paths—to experiment and devise new forms. On the other hand, I like moving in a narrow corridor, design-wise, and within those limitations develop my own personal view on something. I want to understand why the old masters of classic type design made something, to discover their brilliant and sometimes baffling solutions.”
After developing an idea and designing a basic alphabet, von Döhren begins to experiment. “I love to install the type family for the first time on my computer and start designing with it. In this phase, I see how it works in a totally different environment—the one in which it will be used in its future,” he says. “This is a very emotional phase for me.”
“[Hannes von Döhren] is relentlessly creative and prolific, and seems willing to take on just about any style or motif. His fonts are variously playful and serious, but always crafted.” —Tobias Frere-Jones
FF Mark, used for the branding of TYPO Berlin 2014.
In Mastering Typography, Denise Bosler expands upon the foundations of typography, and provides an understanding of type as a means of creating a visual experience. Learn about organization, relationships, composition, message, experimentation and using expressive typography to solve complex visual problems.
3. Jackson Cavanaugh, Okay Type, Chicago
I was introduced to the principles of type design while in school for graphic design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit,” Jackson Cavanaugh says. “Something about the process appealed to me, and I quickly became obsessed. I tried to turn just about every project into something involving drawing letters.”
His first job out of college was with VSA Partners, where he worked on branding and communications projects. “My interest in type never went away. I learned how type works in the real world: what art directors like, what clients like, what different audiences like. I was never very good at picking colors or photos, or coming up with clever graphics, and my type focus must have been noticed because, after a few years, I was mostly handling the type-centric projects.”
Cavanaugh eventually left VSA to pursue type design full time. “A year and one font launch later, I started getting commissions for custom typefaces,” he says. His first type release, Alright Sans, was followed up by Harriet, which received a Type Directors Club Typeface Design award. “I wanted to do something way more ambitious. I really wanted to push myself to do better, and three years of hard work later the result was Harriet.
“Designing typefaces isn’t reinventing the wheel,” Cavanaugh says. “The end result has to look mostly the same as all other typefaces, or people wouldn’t be able to read it. Most of the variation in design ideas is influenced by technology, materials and tools, informed mostly by history, with a bit of modern problem-solving and contemporary aesthetics.” Practicality aside, his designs for Harriet are incredibly versatile, and some are even a bit rambunctious.
“Type design scratches a couple of specific itches in my brain,” he says. “It appeals to [my] obsessive, super-detailed, anal-retentive side. At the same time it provides a massive creative outlet, where I feel like I’m actually creating a new, functional thing.”
“Jackson has only a few public typefaces under his belt, but they are deep works filled with marvelous detail. Harriet is one of those rare typeface families you settle down with. It’s with you on a desert island, and always within arm’s reach.” —Jason Santa Maria
Poster-sized lettering commissioned by Froeter Design for New Page paper.
Harriet type family.
Spencerian lettering for the Society of Typographic Arts.
4. Maria Doreuli, Moscow
“I became interested in type design by just doing it,” Maria Doreuli says. “I like that it keeps my brain busy. But to be good at it is not enough to be an artist. Type requires a wide range of knowledge and experience, from craft skills to history and mathematics. What is definitely annoying to me about type design is that I am very rarely satisfied with the result.” Doreuli’s diligence and persistence are not only hallmarks of her craft, but her character, as well. When she initially applied for the Type and Media master program at The Royal Academy of Art, Doreuli was turned down, but not turned off. She applied again, and the second time was a charm.
While there, she created the bold and funky Chimera. “Working on Chimera changed a lot in the way I do work and judge my work now,” she says. “It’s funny how it first started as just a set of five letters, and eventually became a type family. I had a lot of joy while drawing it both manually and digitally.” In fact, she often works back and forth between the computer and paper. “I usually start a project by drawing everything that comes to my mind very roughly,” Doreuli says. “At this stage I need only paper, black markers and Wite-out—lots of Wite-out. Drawing on paper allows me to quickly see which ideas might work. After I figure out a direction, I sketch the whole alphabet on the computer.”
Doreuli is currently working on two custom corporate typefaces, both collaboratively. “One of the great things about collaboration is that it stretches across international boundaries,” she says. “It’s also a great way to learn from other people’s experience.”
“Maria’s work demonstrates an uncommonly wide range. She is just as comfortable drawing an 18th-century revival as she is an expressive modern-day display typeface—all with Cyrillic counterparts, no less.” —Ken Barber
Pupiri project for Alexander Tarbeev’s workshop.
5. Cindy Kinash, Cultivated Mind, Vancouver, BC
Cindy Kinash is known for her handmade, vintage-inspired work. “The first typeface I designed was Hello I Like You, and I was excited to see people react positively to it,” she says. “This meant I could continue doing what I love.” But Luella is what put her on the map, landing Kinash on MyFonts’ Hot New Fonts top-sellers list. “Luella was inspired by retro lettering from the 1920s. I really wanted to create a font with a retro vibe and pair it with beautiful vintage hand-drawn calligraphic ornaments and catchwords,” she says. “I consider Luella to be a blend of the old and the new.”
Soon after, she designed Pacific Northwest and True North, both of which have a “Northern Exposure”–esque appeal. True North is also sentimental to Kinash: She dedicated it to her father, Matt Kinash. “He loved fishing, hunting and anything related to the outdoors,” she says. “I wanted to create a rustic and vintage-inspired typeface that fit well with the Northern theme.” She drew Canadian wildlife icons to accompany the typeface.
“I love being away from the computer and feeling like a child drawing at my parents’ dinner table,” Kinash says. She adds that she enjoys typing out her fonts for the first time and seeing how her handlettering translates into a typeface.
“One of my favorite uses of [one of my] typefaces so far is for a movie called Mood Indigo, which used Cocobella script for the poster,” she says. Luella has also found a life at Gap Kids for its in-store signage, and Pacific Northwest is being used for a new ABC show called “Cristela.”
“Cindy’s typefaces are a typographic giggle. They’re lighthearted confections that can’t help but bring a smile to your face.” Allan Haley
Poster graphic of the True North fonts and artwork.
Poster graphic of Luella font and frames.
6. Frank Grießhammer, San Jose, CA
“For me, typeface design is really like a puzzle game,” says Frank Grießhammer. “Each project is different, and expectations and workflows change, so there is a lot to figure out before a typeface can be successfully released. I like that tinkering and problem-solving part a lot.”
His Quixo type series made a big splash when it was introduced by FontFont in 2013. As Grießhammer states on his website, “Every weight of Quixo is executed with a different brush tool. The idea behind this concept references to manual graphic design: To achieve a bolder stroke width, it is just natural to pick a bigger tool.”
The quirky Quixo has garnered much attention, as well as a Type Directors Club award. But recognition aside, Grießhammer is fascinated by how people are using his font. His friend André Mora utilized it for a course syllabus to Grießhammer’s “delight,” and Alexander Roth at FontFont created the FF Quixo notebook. “It’s like an augmented typeface specimen booklet,” Grießhammer says. “The design is beautiful, ironic and cheeky—and it’s something I would never have been able to come up with. I loved it at first sight!”
Grießhammer finds it particularly intriguing that type is not a final product, but rather, a tool. “Trying to build a good tool that can be useful for many people at once is something fascinating and also satisfying,” Grießhammer says. “I just enjoy good-looking typography. It makes me happy to see a good typeface used well, and in my work I strive to do something nice that people enjoy using.”
Grießhammer recently designed Source Serif, a serif companion to the Source Sans typeface family drawn by Paul D. Hunt. The release of Source Serif coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Adobe Originals series, and it is the 100th typeface from the Adobe Originals program.
“I like Frank’s Quixo series for its whimsical feel. But it’s not too goofy. It’s tricky to find that middle ground.” Cyrus Highsmith
Specimen postcards for Source Serif.
FF Quixo workbook designed by Alexander Roth. “FF Quixo holds a special place in my heart,” Frank Grießhammer says. “It was an extremely personal project, which has stayed with me for many years—releasing it was a big step.”
7. Dave Foster, Sydney
Dave Foster gained some well-deserved attention as an up-and-coming type designer for his Blanco typeface, winning Gold at Morisawa in 2012, a certificate from the Type Directors Club and several other awards. However, for all the hoopla, the font still hasn’t been publicly released. “I lost momentum on it because the terms and conditions of winning Morisawa [are] that you can’t release it for a year,” Foster says. “Put this together with a healthy amount of self-doubt and you get a delayed release.”
But he has used it on a number of his own projects as a graphic designer, including a very personal one. “I used Blanco on my grandfather’s order of service for his funeral,” he says. “This had a lot of significance to me because he previously worked as a compositor, and was a talented journalist who understood and appreciated the difficulties of what constitutes type design. It was an honor for me.” Currently, Foster is working toward completing the typeface for retail release in the coming months.
He recently collaborated with Paul Barnes to help design Marr Sans, which was released through Commercial Type. “It was a fantastic opportunity to be guided through the full scope of a project from beginning to end, and receive feedback on work from such experienced designers. Commercial Type directed the entire project, from large aspects like establishing what it was we were setting out to achieve, the historical references and family structure, down to the smallest details like giving feedback on a single curve,” Foster explains. “My job was to develop what they initially provided me with into a functioning typeface. It was such a learning experience on so many levels—one that I won’t forget.”
Foster has a great appreciation for the craft, and takes great pleasure in the minutiae. “A lot of type design is incredibly boring and grueling,” he says. “I think this is what defines passion, though—the ability to tolerate and endure the entirety of something, good or bad.”
“Dave can make a crisp contemporary workhorse, then turn around and get his hands dirty with some whimsical yet well-considered handlettering—a rare feat for any designer.” —Ken Barber
Dave Foster’s illustration work for an Australian Geographic article about the many languages spoken by indigenous Australians.
The Blanco type family.
8, 9. Veronika Burian & José Scaglione, Type Together, Prague
Veronika Burian and José Scallion are the creative force behind TypeTogether, which has spawned numerous fonts since 2006. Both studied type design at University of Reading in the U.K., which is where they met and later began partnering on work. As Burian recalls, “We took things slowly. We were both working full time at other places, but collaborating on Karmina and Ronnia worked out so well that in 2006 we started TypeTogether.”
Their highly collaborative approach allows them to work on multiple typefaces simultaneously. “First, we discuss ideas that either José or [I] have, see if any of them are interesting enough to pursue, and then we discuss how big the type family should be, what historical research we might have to do, etc.,” Burian says. “One of us then draws a few letters, usually ‘a,’ ‘n,’ ‘o,’ then we discuss again to see if it’s going in the right direction. Most of the time we have at least two different typefaces going like this, and we have this rule of exchanging and correcting each other’s drawings. It’s great to have another pair of eyes because at some point you don’t see the bigger picture anymore.”
Although TypeTogether has a slightly recognizable style when it comes to their collection of faces, Scaglione is wary of that in type design. “Style is a tricky thing, and it’s often overrated,” he says. “In type design, style quickly becomes that comfort zone that prevents designers from trying new things.”
Each has their favorite type design. “I really like Tablet Gothic, our biggest type family so far,” Burian says. “It is hugely versatile and functional, but it also has its little quirks that make it quite special for me.” Scaglione is a tad sentimental, saying that Karmina, the first project he and Burian worked on together, is one of his favorites.
Many publications have adopted TypeTogether’s typefaces for headlines, text and display uses for their unfussy, readable qualities. “I like when my fonts are [used well] in surprising ways,” Scaglione says. “A good graphic designer can make typefaces live well beyond their original purposes.” ▪
“There is a refreshing confidence in [Veronika Burian and José Scaglione’s] work. I admire the thoroughness of their work, but their attitude as well, welcoming history into a contemporary context.”Tobias Frere-Jones
The Abril type family was conceived for editorial use, the Karmina family has calligraphic roots, and Ronnia is a friendly humanist sans serif.
Maiola is rooted in early Czech typography.
Print magazine will inspire, inform and challenge your thinking about design. Founded in 1940 by William Edwin Rudge, Print is dedicated to showcasing the extraordinary in design on and off the page. Subscribe today.
And don’t miss the latest issue, in which Print talks with “mad typographic scientist” Oded Ezer—a designer who manages to astonish, amaze and incense while simultaneously alter the way we look at type.