As STF is dedicated to championing fledgling type designers, education is clearly at its core. With this in mind, our interviews with leading typographic practitioners are designed to obtain a greater insight into their working procedures. This is the first in that series. STF was fortunate enough to secure an interview with Darren Scott of Darren Scott Typographics at the agency where he is Creative Director, Truth in Manchester. Darren’s typographic journey began, as detailed below, when, as a student, his first typeface Berlin(er), was chosen by Neville Brody to be included in the seminal publication Fuse (15). From here his compulsion, dedication and desire to produce typefaces saw him submit type designs all over the world, including T-26, FontFont and more recently MyFonts and Hype for Type. His commercially driven output has seen him be commissioned to design typefaces for Fanta and The People’s History Museum. In this article Darren discusses, amongst other aspects, his type heroes, methodologies and tips for success, whilst demonstrating his vigor and continued delight in all things typographic. Can you discuss your typographic heroes, in terms of the work that inspires you, both historically and contemporarily and the inspiration this has on your own practice.
Firstly I think it is really important to have heroes, someone that inspires you to achieve more and want to be better. My heroes were always typographers and type designers, from the age of 15, when I first saw Neville Brody’s work for Face Magazine. It made me realise that type could be illustrative and decorative and communicate a whole lot more than what the words were actually saying. That typography was about controlling how messages were read and controlling the emotion behind the narrative. Brody’s work was always so decorative and impactful, it pushed the layout to it’s limit. This then led me to the work of Jan Tschichold, then Constructivism, Dada and the Bauhaus. I obsessed about the rules, the grid, white space and the importance of craft. Then David Carson came along and tore up the rules and stuck them all back together again with a PrittStick and called it ‘Grunge’. This changed everything, the rules went out the window and suddenly everyone was a designer as craft didn’t matter anymore. I quickly became bored of this lack of structure and sought influence in the work of Erik Spiekermann at Meta Design, the Germanic obsession with the grid and precision typography really inspired me. It was around 1995 by this point and Neville Brody became probably the biggest influence on my future career path when he chose my Berlin[er] typeface for inclusion of FUSE 15 – the experimental digital typography collaboration. (I decided to put the brackets on the er of Berlin[er] as the name Berliner was already taken by an older Erik Spiekerman typeface). This opportunity coupled with the invaluable guidance of David Crow (another massive influence) really inspired me to draw my own typefaces and not settle for what was available to hand at the time, which at the time as a student was system fonts, and a purchased copy of FF Meta which a fellow student had carelessly left on a shared Mac in the Salford University Mac suite. Meta is such a beautifully crafted font and a real icon of 1990s typography for me. On graduation I sent a few crude fonts I had been working on to Carlos Segura in Chicago, I remember it well as his email was the first email I ever received as an employee of McCann-Erickson. He offered to take my shoddily cobbled together ramblings of typefaces and market them via his new type foundry T-26. He offered to sell all 6 once I had finished off the basic character set of 256 glyphs. Looking back at them now they are very badly produced and the character shapes are full of basic errors. But I quickly learnt from that and continued to learn, develop and release fonts. During this period I was introduced to the late Phil Grimshaw, who was a legendary type designer and master calligrapher. Phil took me under his wing and we attended the ATypi Conference together in Reading where Phil introduced me to some of the most influential typographers and type designers of our times. People like Erik Spiekermann, Lucas DeGroot, Matthew Carter, Timothy Donaldson and Alan Kitching to name a few.
I also remember watching Adrian Frutiger talk about his Univers typeface at ATypi in Lyons France. That was a real seminal moment for me as he is beyond a legend, he is a God, and the audience hung on every word he said as if it was his last. The one hero that I wish I could have worked with is Herb Lubalin, he defined American typography, his work was so ground-breakingly beautiful and reminiscent of that period of glorious American advertising. In recent times I have been lucky enough to have some of my heroes produce numbers for our birthday posters, with Milton Glaser designing a 4 and Wim Crouwel designed a 5. Also Si Scott who does some amazing work with hand-drawn type produced a 2 and Supermundane produced my favourite so far which is a wonderfully illustrative 3, which is a real thing of beauty.
What gives you the greatest pleasure in type design?
The greatest pleasure I take from designing fonts is firstly the achievement of working out what is essentially solving a great big puzzle, but then seeing how people interpret it and the context in which they use it. Only by drawing type yourself do you really understand the skill and craft required to create a perfect character shape, like the New Baskerville 2 or the Gill Sans lowercase g, things of such beauty, an impossible dream. I once spent a day redrawing the Pistilliampersand just to walk in his shoes and understand the process and level of craftsmanship that went into producing such a seductive character. I remember I blogged about the whole experience and a young American Designer contacted me to ask if I would send her the artwork to have tattooed on her back. I did, and she did!
Why is type design still relevant?
Of all the design crafts typography has to be the most important. As a designer, it is the most powerful tool at your disposal and one you will use every day of your life. The ability to set type and control the connotations of the message is to control the minds of the reader. An appropriately chosen typeface can make copy appear sad, happy, aggressive, exciting, modern or traditional – it has that power. When used effectively it is without doubt the most powerful communication tool available to a designer. That is why in my opinion the most influential designers in history were also typographers or type designers.
Any key tips for budding type designers?
The one thing that progressed the quality of my type design was trying to master the drawing tools and in particular Bezier curves. These are a very important thing to invest time in mastering. Simply knowing where to place points, and how many, really improved the quality of my character shapes when designing, helping to speed up my glyph production.
Can you explain your processes of making, by which I mean how do you begin to design a typeface, where does the inspiration come from for the original characters, and how do you produce them?
Typically font design for me was always about getting things out of my system. Not being able to find the font that had the exact emotion I wanted, so I drew it. This led to further internal conflicts with myself as the process of designing any font is a long intimate one that involves many hours of spacing, kerning pairs and adjusting side bearings. You spend a lot of time doing the technical aspects and you soon disconnect yourself from the emotional and visual qualities of the character shapes. You spend a lot of time focusing on the space between the letters rather than the actual letters themselves. This means you start to look at your own finished typefaces as pairs of letters and as character shapes and it becomes hard to disconnect from this and see the emotion again. This means using your own fonts can become slightly uncomfortable and frustrating. This meant that once I finished and tested a font, I didn’t really use them within my own design work. However, it does give you a heightened respect for the truly great fonts like Gill Sans, New Baskerville, Frutiger, Franklin Gothic, Univers to name a few classics, and the truly great designers like Erik Spiekermann, Jonathon Hoeflerand Matthew Carter who continue to produce ‘Classics’. You take more pleasure from using other peoples fonts once you really understand the amount of skill and effort that goes into producing them. I soon realised what really gave me the most pleasure was seeing how other people interpreted my fonts and the contexts in which they used them. Once your fonts start popping up everywhere you quickly start to realise whether you achieved what you wanted or that you have created something completely different to what you intended. Corporate fonts are very different as you are typically responding to a brief. It is a problem solving process rather than a personal piece of expression. Usually with a headline font the client will have a basic idea of what they want and may even provide basic sketches or even a set of crude digital characters. It tends to involve a lot of back and forth with clients (who tend to be creative agencies) and with their clients too (Corporations or brands). I tend to use a paper and pencil very little to draw fonts, not because I think this is wrong, it just isn’t the way I work. I used to draw a lot of the characters in Adobe illustrator first then import them into Fontographer in the early days. I see character shapes as exactly that, geometric shapes based on basic shapes like a circle and a square, these can be manipulated more effectively digitally. I was always inspired by the simplicity of Futura, it is an alphabet of circles and squares, it is über efficient. I don’t come from a calligraphic background and I don’t really have those skills, I wish that I did, but I don’t have the patience for it. The thought of designing a script scares the hell out of me, and I guess that is why you don’t really see great script fonts anymore, it is a dying craft. Once I started working in FontLab it became so much easier to draw directly into FontLab and go from there.
STF would like to thank Darren for his enthusiasm and commitment to this interview.