HOW Interactive Design Expert’s Corner: Meet Monotype’s Dan Rhatigan

We’ve really mixed it up this year for the 2013 HOW Interactive Design Conference, taking place November 5-7 in Chicago, Illinois. Keeping it fresh, we’ve added new names and faces to the line-up for the most robust program to date!

Who’s New to the HOW Interactive Design Conference?

Dan Rhatigan of MonotypeHere at HOW, we’re very fortunate to forge relationships with creative powerhouses—like the font specialists at Monotype. This year proves to be especially compelling with a session devoted to tailoring type for screens. Designer/typographer Dan Rhatigan, also Type Director at Monotype, will delve into best practices when evaluating type for interactive work—a much-needed skill when making daily design decisions in a responsive web world.

In preparation for the big event, I caught up with Dan to get his thoughts on typography in the digital age—and why it makes sense to always design with type in mind…

Talking Type with Dan Rhatigan

Okay, Dan. This conference is all about sharpening our interactive design skills and transitioning to the digital world. What advice or tips would you give designers transitioning from print to digital design? Get to know the medium you are designing! That applies to design for any context or any medium, of course, but I really feel that in the digital space today you must start with the type. You have to realize that many of your assumptions about how typography looks in print do not map directly to the digital space.

Type will always look different on screen than it does in print, and you have to make choices that support type on screens, just as you would have to make smart choices for different papers or printing methods. Luckily, digital projects allow you to design directly in the medium, so if you use the right tools you can see the results of your choices immediately and adapt to create the best experience.

Sounds like sage advice to me! What was your very first job in the design field? I did a bit of freelance work in a graphic design studio just after I got my degree, but I took my first proper job as a typesetter. I knew that typography was at the core of most designed communication, so I wanted to really master the details, especially since it was the era when designers started setting their own type with their own computers. After doing that for a few years (alongside doing my own design projects to round out what I was discovering at work), I went back to working as a graphic designer full-time. Type has always come first in all of my projects, so eventually I wanted to go deep into the details again and I went after a degree in typeface design at the University of Reading. It’s been all type all the time since then.

“All type all of the time.” That definitely speaks to your passion! And speaking of passion, what’s been one of your favorite projects? This is geeky, but I worked for years on the type specs needed to publish a line of over 600 technical publications. It was basically coding CSS-like logic for print layouts. If anything taught me to think about type as the core element of systematic thinking, that was it.

Wow! Well, we like “geeky” here, Dan…

What do you think has been the strangest or most influential thing that’s happened to you during your design career? My entire perspective on typography changed when I started learning to design for other scripts like Greek and Bengali. That really taught me to think any typeface as its own pattern, or systems of shapes. They have to make visual, functional sense no matter who can read the content.

That’s fascinating. Type is serious business! Well, any last bits of wisdom to pass along to our captive design audience? Learn to accept and accommodate dynamism. Print allows you to be a control freak, but digital projects rely on a continuum of appearances or results. You need to design for the range of what can happen, not just the one version you see in front of you while you work.

Want to learn more about how to handle typographic decisions in your daily work? Don’t miss Dan’s session “Tailoring Type for Screens” at the 2013 HOW Interactive Design Conference, November 5-7!