Theo Rosendorf, Type Fanatic: On the Importance of Typography in Design

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Theo Rosendorf knows a thing or two about typography. Not only is he a designer and creative director, but he’s also the author of The Typographic Desk Reference, now it’s 2nd edition. Rosendorf took part in a Q&A to discuss typography, what designers do and do not know about typography, and being a Type Fanatic.

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How did writing and producing The Typographic Desk Reference change your outlook on client work and in turn, inform your vision for Type Fanatic?

Writing the TDR made me a better designer, which led to better collaboration with clients. I found writing about type—using the very thing I was writing about to put the words down—to be a very meta activity (not to mention the TDR’s publisher, Oak Knoll, makes books about books and bookmaking). This realization lead to Type Fanatic which combines both the work we do for clients and the things we make for graphic designers.

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In your 2010 Herman Miller Lifework interview, you wrote about how your “approach is typographic, which could be considered an aesthetic at times.” When did you realize this and was it instrumental in the decision to write The Typographic Desk Reference?

I’ve always known that type is the single most important aspect of graphic design. I wrote the TDR because I wanted to know more about type. I had so many unanswered questions, and my design peers weren’t very helpful. Things have improved but it’s still safe to say that most graphic designers don’t know much about type. This doesn’t make them bad designers, but knowing more about type makes a good designer better.

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From your experience and your research, what are the things that designers don’t know about type and how would knowing those topics make them better designers?

Type classification. It teaches history of form, but also how to look at letterforms which generally leads to an understanding of how to better use type. Be warned though: Helvetica will start to look increasingly less attractive.

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How has your approach and aesthetic sensibility changed over time and what do you think contributed to that change?

I used to think design was mostly math until I found you can just do what looks good. Golden ratios and Fibonaccis are fun but they’ll limit your work. Patterns still emerge when doing things without the math. I now view projects not as perfect final artifacts but as moments in time—fit into a larger design timeline. Everything evolves.

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How will Type Fanatic deliver that approach and sensibility, and what can readers and fans expect over the coming months and years?

Type Fanatic only just started. We share news with the graphic design community and sell type related stuff like the TDR. We have some typographic notebooks in the works—beta versions will be out soon. We also just released a pretty successful limited edition Type Anatomy Letterpress Print. We’re considering adapting that poster for other languages. Anyone reading this who would like a particular language should get in touch.

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Is being a Type Fanatic a more dedicated, more compulsive condition than being what Erik Spiekermann calls a Typomaniac, and why?

I’m afraid it is the exact same, incurable condition. The Type Fanatic is forever compelled. Churchill summed it up pretty well: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

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What excites you about the future of typography, given where we are technologically and where we are headed in the future?

Typography has become less of a black box. I’m very optimistic that in the future, graphic designers will become better at using type and less likely to just default to trends.

And we can hope that very soon, type will allow for infinitely adjustable widths and weights as the designer intends. The idea is similar to how newspapers use varying typographic grades for different applications. Imagine this done programmatically where letter strokes and shapes are optimized based on substrate or screen resolution. And weight-wise, this “active interpolation” will become the new superfamily. The future of type is truly responsive.

This Q&A was edited from a series of interviews conducted via email. You can learn more about Type Fanatic at type.fans, get The Typographic Desk Reference, 2nd Ed. at typedeskref.com, and follow Theo Rosendorf on Twitter.


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Online Workshop: Typography 101 – Letterform Design II 

This class will help you to learn the details of typographic perception through basic letterform design. This workshop doesn’t just show you how a letterform is created, you will also get hands-on experience designing all of the lowercase letters of the alphabet. Learn more and register.

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