Type Design and All’s Fine: James Edmondson
Type designers are fussy—to make a successful typeface, you have to pay attention to the tiniest detail, stuff most of us never even notice. And yet, the OH no Type Company foundry’s mantra is “Life’s a thrill. Fonts are chill.” That attitude comes from the company’s founder, James Edmondson. He likes to keep his type simple and to the point—but with room for experimentation and tons of hard work. We got a chance to sit down with Edmondson and talk through his journey to type design and his analog-to-digital process today.
Create: How did you get into graphic design?
James Edmondson: When I was in design school I talked to a lot of people who were like, “Yeah, I played in all these bands and they needed all these flyers and record covers”...and the way I got in was in the most not-cool way possible. I was interested in calligraphy as a teenager, but I didn’t know there were job opportunities there.
Then I went to get a master’s in in Type Design at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague, Netherlands; that’s a year-long focus on type design specifically. Kind of like a type design boot camp.
Create: You mentioned that you still keep in contact with some professors at CCA. What good advice did you get from them?
Edmondson: As long as your hands are busy, you will progress and make discoveries and get better.
Another one of my CCA mentors said, “This is supposed to be fun.” We didn’t end up in design school because we wanted miserable lives, where we’re super stressed out and hating it—this is a job we pursue because we enjoy it and it gives us a certain amount of satisfaction. That’s definitely something I think about. Work is definitely fun for me.
Create: Where do your projects come from? Are they self-created or from clients?
Edmondson: It’s totally half and half right now, which I like. A huge part of a custom typeface for a client is waiting for the client to test things, to gather feedback and to see what’s working and not working. There’s a lot of downtime, which I like to fill with self-initiated projects, which are usually typefaces or drawings or fun little projects for friends. And then I do stuff for my mom and my sister-in-law, just like everyone else.
Create: “Just like everyone else.”
Edmondson: I mean, everyone’s doing free work for their family, right? I cannot be the only one.
Create: Well, it’s only fair, they did a lot of “free work” for you growing up….
Edmondson: Oh, yes. Big time. I’m about to have a kid pretty soon, and I’m thinking, “Oh my god. This is such an enormous undertaking.” I’m getting seriously scared right now. Luckily, my partner is amazing with kids.
Create: What sorts of personal projects do you like to do?
Edmondson: I like to mess around with music from time to time, but it’s usually type design. It’s where I want to focus my efforts, because if I’m making tools for someone—fonts are basically tools—those can continue to be useful for a long time.
Create: Sounds like you’re already preparing for your legacy.
Edmondson: Yeah, well, when I was working as a web designer, I thought, “I will die someday. Do I really want to look back on a pile of websites?” I like doing that work and I’m totally not dissing anyone who is really passionate about it, but that wasn’t me. So I re-positioned myself and thought, “Yeah, I would be stoked to look back on a pile of nice typefaces as my life’s work.”
Create: Describe your typical work setup.
Edmondson: Laptop, cell phone, sketchbook of some sort. I really like marker paper and a little Moleskine-sized sketchbook. A lot of different sorts of black ink pens and pencils and erasers. But yeah, I’ll be wherever—a coffee shop or at home or floating around San Francisco.
I’ve gotten comfortable without a mouse or external display, so I’m extremely mobile. Ideally there’d be a single place where I could work from all the time, but I also enjoy the freedom of just being able to throw everything I need into my backpack and hopping on the bus. I’m a firm believer that your tools matter and you should have good tools and facility over them and some customization.
I often only have my cell phone and my sketchbook and I’m looking for the most frictionless way to get an idea into a digital format. Adobe Capture does that really well for me. It allows me to keep my drawings going in a digital environment without getting bogged down in doing a high-res scan that will take a long time. It keeps me working at a pace that facilitates creativity and efficiency. I don’t need a super high-resolution scan a lot of the time, I just need to get a drawing onto the computer so I can do another drawing on top of it.
I don’t subscribe to the belief that the more expensive or robust the tool is, the better it is or the more useful it is. It’s about the basic principles of design and those are the same things I’m coming back to all the time; the relationship of positive and negative space and everything else should work to facilitate that as efficiently as possible.
Adobe Capture is a free download for Android and iOS. Give it a try.
Create: How do these tools affect your teaching methods?
Edmondson: We always teach students to draw by hand. That is always going to be the fastest way of getting an idea down, testing it, and looking at it and moving from there. We are starting by hand and finishing on the computer. So that means it needs to make the jump from an analog format into a digital format. Because these drawings are not perfect, they are an abstraction to some degree and can be quickly photographed with Capture to be uploaded in two seconds. Capture's pretty logical—I don’t have to hold their hand through every step of the process. If I don’t have to worry about software, it means I can teach what really matters like the basic principles of drawing good type.