Are you curious about the happenings of the type world abroad? In this series, interviews provide a glimpse into their fascinating world through the lens of the designers, programmers, educators, vendors, and other members who make up the fabric of this type-loving community.
The first interview is with June Shin and Cem Eskinazi, designers at the Morisawa Providence Drawing Office (MPDO), which started recently in Providence, in the United States.
“Font Design Opens Doors To A Vast World”
1. Can you tell me a bit about the Providence Drawing Office?
Cem Eskinazi (CE): The Providence Drawing Office is Morisawa’s first and so far the only design office based in the U.S. It’s in the center of Providence, Rhode Island, and headed by Cyrus Highsmith, our Creative Director and an internationally renowned type designer. We are not drawing Japanese typefaces, but we have an opportunity here to learn from Morisawa’s existing library as well, so that’s great. Also, it’s always exciting to be in the beginning of something because we get to play a role in shaping the future of our office.
2. What are your roles at the PDO?
June Shin (JS): As type designers, we work on developing new original Latin typefaces as well as expand existing ones in Occupant Fonts’ library, updating the typefaces to better fit today’s standards. But our responsibilities vary from project to project. There are also days or chunks of time we set aside for research, as we want to make informed design decisions, especially when it comes to drawing scripts we’re not natives of, like Greek and Cyrillic.
3. To my knowledge, typeface design is not something one just stumbles upon by accident. Why did you decide to pursue type design as a career?
JS: I think you’re right. Type design is such a specific and specialized field that you wouldn’t suddenly find yourself in it without having deliberately made the choice. I knew I wanted to be in type design but expected it to be more difficult to get into full-time. To be honest, I didn’t expect to be in this position so quickly. This job was a perfectly timed surprise, in a way.
Why type design? I tend to think in black and white, as contrast and composition are what fascinate me the most, and type design is done black and white. And obviously, I love the level of care that goes into a well-drawn typeface. The thoughtfulness, the logic. It makes sense to me. If type design were a person, she it would be a very considerate, reasonable, and reliable person, the kind I like to surround myself with. And some time ago, I discovered that this seemingly tiny door that is type design actually opens to an astonishingly vast world where you begin to see how connected this discipline is to everything and there is still so much more to learn and explore. Cyrus showed me what was on the other side of that door and even invited me in, so that was a real privilege. I was there in a heartbeat. And it’s reaffirming that when I broke the news about this job, everyone said “but of course, that’s perfect for you!”
CE: That’s true! Also we both come from a graphic design background so it was actually a very natural progression. I always had an ambition and obsession towards typography. As a graphic designer, I was interested in producing and working on type-heavy designs which challenged me to further my knowledge of typography and typesetting. I realized that on every new project I took on, I was creating an opportunity for myself to intimately learn the behaviors of a new typeface. I often found myself over-tweaking the typesetting in order to achieve the design I wanted. Sometimes I felt limited by the typefaces and started lettering for small projects like posters etc. After a while, I felt like in order to achieve deeper control, I needed to learn how to draw type. I think this became the start of my type design career. I was lucky to be surrounded by great mentors. So, I think it is safe to say that I ended up at this career as a curious typographer.
“In the Particular Lies the Universal”
4. This may sound like a big question, but what are your philosophies in design and/or life?
CE: I don’t know if this is a “philosophy” but I try to learn a new thing every day. So it is not a coincidence that I chose to become a graphic designer in the first place! Working as a graphic designer, I get to learn about diverse topics and give form to information, enabling other people to read and learn. So I guess my philosophy would be to always stay curious. It also helps that I get easily excited about very small things, like the color Yellow or a funky shape.
JS: “In the particular lies the universal” is what I live by. As in writing, so in visual art and design. Details make the design, as they do our lives. I also believe in not rushing and not forcing things into happening. If I can let things brew a little, I do, because the process is less painful that way, and the outcome is better, too. I am lucky to be working in type design, because its time-consuming nature allows for fewer hard deadlines and less of “the faster the better” mindset our age is plagued with.
5. I read in your bios that you were both born and raised in different cultures? How does this inform your everyday practice, if at all?
CE: I was born and raised in Turkey which is an extremely rich country in terms of cultural diversity. I was raised in a compact territory that is exposed to so many cultures with diverse scripts due to its neighboring countries. Within a couple hours, one can encounter cultures that use Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, or Latin alphabets. This kind of diversity is only possible in a country that bridges East and West. An intuitive familiarity of these forms comes extremely handy when drawing the latin based scripts that are not my native to me.
JS: This is something that I was thinking about fairly recently. We got to travel to Japan and Taiwan for work last November, and seeing all the Chinese and Japanese letters̶both fonts and lettering̶made me revisit my childhood memories of taking Chinese calligraphy lessons and getting prizes for good handwriting (in Hangul) when I was little, and so on. Relatively speaking, there aren’t that many professional type designers with the same level of familiarity with both the Latin alphabet and Hangul, so I see a lot of potential there. Besides, we live in a very connected world where it’s not uncommon anymore to see situations where different languages need to be used together. The demand for typefaces that support multiple languages will only increase in the future, and this is yet another reason that I am excited to be working at Morisawa. I can see my involvement with Asian scripts to some degree, down the road.
6. Do you have any routines, rituals, or habits that nurture your creativity or productivity?
CE: I lose motivation when I stop making. This is why I try to find ways of making every day. This could take the form of sketching, collaging, making cards for friends or even cooking and trying new dishes. A professor of mine once told me that I should skim at least three books every night. I can never keep up with his advice but I am trying really hard to keep a good routine of reading, especially printed material.
JS: Yeah, I agree that small routines keep you motivated, and they can affect how the rest of your day plays out. This may sound ridiculous, but every morning, I make my bed immediately after I get up. I used to never make my bed. I’m meticulous in my work, but very messy when it comes to other aspects of my life. (To be clear, I don’t mind it. I like the mess.) But at some point, I realized that making my bed makes me feel good, like I’m starting my day right, and it’s a nice thing to come home to after a day’s work. So I made a conscious decision to start making my bed every morning, no excuses. It literally takes 2 seconds. I just do it before my brain can kick in and persuade me to not do it or do it later (we all know what that means). If you can’t commit to doing something so small, how are you going to achieve something bigger?
7. What challenges are you facing right now?
JS: I have to remind myself that it’s okay that I don’t know everything and I’m not as passionate about certain things that other people in the type industry seem to be. It can be kind of overwhelming because you see and read about things you have no clue about, and you think, “damn, should I do this? Should I learn this and that? And what about this over here, should I care about this, too?” I mean, I am generally a curious person and would want to learn everything if it were possible. But it’s not. So I’m coming to terms with that. This means I have to be selective and intentional about how I spend my time, which often entails having the courage to say no to things that aren’t at the top of my list. But the struggle is ongoing, finding that balance between trying to be well- rounded and being really good at a couple things.
CE: I totally agree, right now there are so many daily challenges since we are trying to kick-off our new office in Providence. As we settle, things are getting smoother. I never had been a full-time type designer before Morisawa and it has been challenging to switch from the pace of a graphic design practice to a type design practice where the projects are a lot slower and longer.
(the first half)
In the latter half of the interview, there will be questions about life outside of font design and current projects. Look forward to seeing you!