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The typographic Times
Mark Simonson

 

[May 2007]
“I doodle a lot, and usually I am doodling letters. Sometimes typeface ideas
come out of this doodling.”

Mark Simonson



MS Studio

How have you become type designer ?

Felt Tip by Mark SimonsonI became interested in type design when I was studying graphic design in college in the mid-1970s. I had lots of ideas and I read any books I could find about type design. I tried to sell a typeface design to ITC in 1979, but it was rejected. I was discouraged, but didn’t lose interest. In 1984, the Mac was introduced and I bought one. I bought Fontographer when it was introduced the following year and started making PostScript fonts, although I didn’t sell any at first. My first font distribution agreement was with FontHaus in 1992. I have continued to make fonts since then, especially after 2000 when I decided to get more serious about it.

What makes you change from Art Director to type designer ?

It is not really an either/or question. I thought of myself as a type designer even before I sold my first font because it was something I wanted to do and to learn to do. When I was working as an art director, whenever there was an opportunity I would incorporate my own lettering into the design. I also set my own display type a lot and learned how to do spacing.

How do you usually begin the project of a new typeface ? Where does your inspiration come from ?

I doodle a lot, and usually I am doodling letters. Sometimes typeface ideas come out of this doodling. Other times I see some lettering on an old sign or magazine and I try to imagine how the rest of the alphabet would look and whether it would make a good typeface.

You seem to like the Art Deco style, don’t you ?

Art Deco typefaceI like a lot of different styles, but I do have a particular fondness for letters from the mid-20th century, including Art Deco. I feel an emotional connection to them probably because I learned about letters from seeing type and lettering around me as a kid. I was born in 1955 and there was still a lot of that style around when I was young. I think it left an indelible impression in me. Even now, I can recall certain things that had type printed on them and tell you what typeface it was because the image is so clear in my mind.

You design some commercial lettering too. Is it different or complementary to the type design ?

Lettering by Mark SimonsonType and lettering are superficially similar but fundamentally different. With type design, all the letters must look good in any combination, no matter what word you choose to make. A single letter in a font should not call too much attention to itself. With lettering, the letters only need to look good for one particular word or phrase. With lettering there are fewer restrictions, but it would be a lot of work to letter a whole book. It is like the difference between a pile of bricks and a mound of clay. You could make a wall out of clay or a vase with the bricks, but it would better the other way around. The difference between type and lettering is similar.

ArialYou have also written a critical article on Arial (the scourge of Arial).
Can you summarise your point of view ?

Arial was designed above all as a substitute for Helvetica. If Helvetica did not exist, Arial would also not exist. Arial became popular because Helvetica was already popular and also, because of Microsoft’s dominance in computer software, it is installed on practically every personal computer. Besides this, it is not as well designed as Helvetica. It would never have become as widely used as it is on its own merits. Essentially I’m saying that it is a mediocre typeface that does not deserve to be as popular as it is.

On what projects do you work today ?

I am finishing up three new fonts for general commercial release. All three are based on lettering used in movie titles from the 1940s. I am also working on a couple other commercial font projects in collaboration with other font developers, about which I am unfortunately not able to discuss at this time.


Related articles: Coquette typeface portrait (March 2007)

Typography fonts