In advance of Type Americana 2, the School of Visual Concepts reached out to some of our favorite designers to get their thoughts on typography and type history. First up is Juliet Shen, the director of Type Americana and typography instructor at SVC since 1999. Juliet earned an MA in typeface design at the University of Reading in 2005 and heads the Seattle-based and typography-centric studio Shen Design.
School of Visual Concepts: Type Americana focuses on a fairly narrow field of study (in particular, the history of American type). How is your work influenced by typographic history?
Every font designer’s work is influenced by typographic history. You must know tradition to understand fundamental readability. In addition, my first typeface design, Bullen
, was inspired by turn-of-the-[20th] century American metal typefaces.
What’s the importance of type history? Does it, or should it, matter to the average (non-designer) layperson?
JS: I don’t think it’s essential for the lay person to be intimate with typographic history, but everyone these days is setting type whether they realize it or not. My experience has been that once they begin to understand the history of the typefaces they use every day on their computers, they become very interested in type history.
What was your first “a-ha!” moment with typography? When did it first click that type actually mattered?
JS: I was in Florence on 9/11. There was an overwhelming desire to be home, but it was impossible to fly to the U.S. There were stranded travelers everywhere. To fill the time … I went to the library, handed in my passport, and sat in the reading room looking through the pages of a 15th century book I couldn’t even read. But the page was beautiful and calming to the spirit. I realized I had a serious relationship with the art of typography.
Who do you look to for typographic inspiration?
That would be Morris Fuller Benton (1872–1948), who was the subject of my masters dissertation, since made into a book by Sherwin Beach Press
. I use everything I learned from him as a designer.
Best book on typography or design you’ve recently read?
Current or upcoming trends to look for in typography and type design?
JS: Typefaces for indigenous languages.
With so many fonts already out there, why do you think folks keep designing new ones?
JS: We can’t help ourselves, probably. Type design is as close to the essence of design as you get, in my opinion.
Tags: Design · Interviews