I’ve been involved in typographic arts for most of my life and all of my career—and I’ve always been an admirer of the masters of typography. I’ve used their work as examples in articles I’ve written and presentations I’ve given. I could tell you how they did what they did—but I’ve always wanted to know why. I wanted to know what tenets underwrite their work, what their overarching typographic goals are, and what advice they provide as teachers and mentors.
Last year, I took some trips to ask my questions. I traveled around the country and met with Gail Anderson, Carin Goldberg, Sean Adams, Kit Hinrichs, Michael Osborne, Erik Spiekermann, and DJ Stout to learn from the smartest minds about how and why they create powerful and engaging typography.
Although their responses varied, there were five key takeaways that rose to the surface and which I’m happy to pass along.
Master Lesson 1: Exploit Clichés
Kit Hinrichs says, “Clichés may be the most undervalued tool of our profession. Everyone knows about clichés, that’s why they’re clichés. That’s what engages the audience. Then the trick is to twist the clichés to make them fresh.”
Master Lesson 2: Flip the Paradigm
If you take type out of its environment and flip the paradigm, you can use it to grab the audience’s attention. “Typography should be appropriate – but not necessarily the expected solution,” says Sean Adams.
Kit Hinrichs – AIGA Poster
Master Lesson 3: Choose the Typeface First
According to Erik Spiekermann, “There is no such thing as a default typeface.”
Master Lesson 4: Keep Things Simple
Michael Osborne said that when designing, “nothing should break off if it’s rolled down hill.” His message is to distill things down to what is necessary where only things that are necessary are on the finished product.
Master Lesson 5: Everything Matters
When designing, everything needs to work together – the title, the type, the image. Sweat the details until you get a final product that’s just right. “A typeface is not a design solution – it’s a tool to create a design solution,” says DJ Stout.