We checked in with the talented minds behind Patented Pending Industries, Jeff Kleinsmith & Jesse LeDoux. The prolific duo is responsible for hundreds of concert posters for as many bands, and they’ve each put in some serious work as art directors for Seattle-based Sub Pop Records.
School of Visual Concepts: Y’all use a huge variety of type and lettering in your posters, often as illustration. How do y’all think typography for gig posters is different than other media?
Jesse LeDoux: Unlike a website, magazine, book or packaging, a poster is an item with only one plane. It doesn’t scroll and there aren’t other neighboring pages or sides to take into consideration. Therefore, the type can be less restrained and augment the poster’s strong central image (or in some cases, become the strong central image), with little regard for the adjacent surfaces.
Jeff Kleinsmith: Jesse’s mostly right on here. I would differ with him on the point about competing with neighboring pages; posters are rarely hanging by themselves. They are competing for your attention on a wall of other posters so it’s important to grab attention immediately. A great piece of type will always grab my eye more than a great image. I just saw a gig poster for Sleigh Bells that has a nude woman with her legs up in the air and there’s this awesome piece of type covering her crotch. I should be “titillated” by the nude woman, right? but I’m fascinated by that cool piece of type!
Type Americana focuses on a very narrow field of study—the history of American type, mostly in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century. How influenced are you by typographic history?
Jeff: I am influenced by it TO A DEGREE. I would say that I know enough about typographic history to be able to use type appropriately in my design work. More importantly I know enough to be able to break the rules.
Jesse: Type, like fashion, is cyclical. Type trends come and go. It’s important to know what came before, to help inform me of new directions to take my work.
What’s the importance of type history? Does it, or should it, matter to the average (non-designer) layperson?
Jesse: Although type definitely matters to the “average” person, if done “right,” it shouldn’t be noticed. By nature, design of every kind (type, industrial, architectural…) should improve people’s life, regardless of the user’s/viewer’s background. Design is only noticed when: 1. It doesn’t work right (“This chair pinches my back!” or “Do these jeans make my ass look fat?” or “Based on the poster, I thought that movie was going to be a comedy.”) or 2: When “wrong” becomes so much the norm that things that are “right” begin to get noticed.
Jeff: Jesse mostly echoed exactly what I would say. It’s like what I said in the previous answer, it’s important to know enough type history to be able to use it appropriately when necessary, and enough to know how to break the “rules.” I do think type should be noticed, though, depending on the context. It’s a hard question for a designer to answer because it’s all I ever look at. I can’t really fairly evaluate what a layperson sees.
What were your first “a-ha!” moments with typography? When did it first click for each of y’all that type actually mattered?
Jesse: My personal breakthrough with typography was the day I realized I could create my own type. Early in my career, I was working on a poster where I couldn’t find a typeface that worked. My solution was to create my own. It was a big turning point for me. It immediately removed any mental barriers I had in my design process. I thought, “If I can make my own type, there isn’t anything I can’t make.”
Jeff: Same here. I had been doing posters for years and 99.99% of the time I used hand set type or type from a computer. I would tear it apart, cut it up, photocopy it to death but it always started with a “straight” piece of type. When I realized I could draw my own to fit whatever space or style my world opened up.
Who do you look to for typographic inspiration? What kind of work inspires you?
Jeff: Everywhere, really: The way my daughters try to draw their names on a new school folder in a “fancy” way, an old punk flyer, cool old beer labels, ads in the back of Popular Mechanics. The type that gets me most excited is the sort of every-man typesetting done for the credits in an old album from the late ‘60s, or for a magazine ad. It’s not fancy or imbued with any sort of personality, it’s “just right” for the situation.
Jesse: I find a lot of folk art very inspiring. I love the presence of the hand (which is growing increasingly rare, now that a lot of people even use computers in the sketch phase of a project). There is a fluidity and soul to the work that is magical.
Two typefaces you couldn’t live without?
Jesse: It fully depends on the project. Type is a tool. Sometimes you need a screwdriver and sometimes you need a wrench to properly get the job done. The reason there are a zillion different typefaces is because there are a zillion different needs (except Papyrus–which, if using the tool analogy, is the equivalent of a rubber crowbar) for them. With that said, both Futura and Relay are solid go-to’s for me.
Jeff: I agree with this. I did a poster once and used HOBO. It was just the right typeface for the job. I tend toward the Futuras, the Franklins, the Gothams. I used to almost only use tall, thin san-serif faces. Serif type intimidates me.
Best book on typography or design you’ve recently read?
Jeff: I haven’t recently read a book on typography. I once read ‘Design For You’ from 1961 and ‘Handjob’ by Michael Perry is really great too.
Jesse: I recently read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Although there’s not a word about type nor design in it, the points Gladwell makes relate to type perfectly. A great typeface can be used poorly, and a bad typeface in the right context can look incredible (except Papyrus). The mark of a good designer is to know which is which.
Current or upcoming trends to look for in typography and type design?
Jesse: Trends come and go. Do what you feel looks right and forge your own path.
Jeff: I have no idea. I agree with Jesse, do the thing that works best for your design approach.
With so many fonts already out there, why do y’all think folks keep designing new ones?
Jesse: Why do chefs create new recipes? Why do fashion designers create new collections? Why are furniture designers still inventing new chairs? Although the classics will remain, the near-classics can always be reworked, mixed up, and improved upon and turned into something fresh and unique.
Jeff: Nicely said, Jesse.
What aspects of typography would y’all like to learn more about? What kind of type-related questions come up in your work?
Jesse: The essence of design is problem solving. Type designers presumably create type to fill a void. I’d love to know the motivations behind why a designer created a specific type and how they imagined it would/could/should be used.
Jeff: Yeah, it would be amazing to bring back the old classic typeface designers so they can see how their faces have been manipulated and bastardized over the years. As I mentioned in an earlier question, I think it’s important to know the rules in order to break them, so it would be great to know more about my favorite typefaces and what their original intended use was.
*Interview by Adam Brinson