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. Continuing from the first half, we will deliver the second half.
“Explaining the Typographic Concepts Requires Creative Thinking”
8.What do you do outside of type design that influences your thinking and inform your design practice in indirect ways?
JS: I always feel self-conscious when I’m asked about my hobbies because everything I do, even during my “free time,” is related to design and type. Sometimes I wonder if this makes me a boring person. But that’s who I am. I like to do lettering, which is different from type design in both process and product, and I like to draw things that aren’t letters, too. Cyrus recently got Cem and me some drawing tools—the most thoughtful gift. I also really love to scan my environment wherever I go. I walk to work every morning, and I see new things every time. Or see the same things in different ways, depending on angle, lighting, what else has come into its vicinity since yesterday, etc.
CE: Nah, I don’t think that makes you a boring person. Actually, both June and I taught typography at the Rhode Island School of Design and I am currently an advisor to graduate thesis students, guiding them in their thesis research at RISD. Working with students is extremely valuable since it provides a mirror into one’s own practice. In class, I find myself re-explaining and re-defining essential concepts which in the end acts as a great reminder of what I do every day. These reminders are often substantial especially when I am engaged in small details for a long time and lose track of the big-picture. In addition, students at RISD tend to ask challenging questions requiring me to find creative ways of explaining typographical concepts. This often makes me look at typography through a new perspective. The students are driven, excited, and fearless. It is a privilege being around that energy in parallel with my work.
JS: Yes, teaching at RISD was one of the most helpful things I did. You become a better practitioner when you teach because it brings clarity to your thinking and to your work. And it’s very rewarding. I still keep in touch with my students.
9.Any current and/or future projects you can talk openly about?
JS: Certainly. I just finished my design for a project called Poetry in Motion. For this project in partnership with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), Rhode Island’s poet laureate Tina Cane selects a poem and gets a designer to create a graphic with the poem, which then goes on the TV screens on Rhode Island buses and in Kennedy Plaza, a big bus terminal in the center of Providence. It’s a really nice surprise seeing a beautiful poem on the bus because usually, grim smoking surveys or studies on alcoholism fill these bus screens.
Another project I am currently engaged in is my own column on type.center/kr, through which I share my typographic explorations. I left Korea 15 years ago. I feel like it’s about time I reconnect with my roots. So, it means a lot to me that I will have a voice on a platform through which I can reach the Korean audience.
CE: I also worked on a version of the RIPTA Poetry in Motion project June just mentioned, for the month of January. To be honest, running between Morisawa and my students had been keeping me pretty busy. I always try to keep my small projects running on the side such as making posters for local movie screenings or special holiday cards for Design Office’s 10th year party etc.
10. I saw that you both won the STA100 this year, which means you were each chosen as one the 100 best uses of type in 2017. First of all, congratulations. How do you maintain your graphic design practice while working full-time as type designers?
CE: Thank you! It is in fact very difficult to balance all the things. Currently I try to take small and fast projects that do not require complicated client management. Although this often leads to staying late at the studio or coming in on the weekends, I find maintaining a graphic design practice on the side, extremely healthy. The fast-paced small projects often act as quick motivation boosts. Eventually, I hope to engage with the larger graphic design projects. For now, I am extremely focused on type design.
JS: How do I do it? I don’t have any great tricks or secrets. I’m just almost always working—evening hours after I get off work and on the weekends. I’m more hardworking than I am talented.
“It Is A Great Advantage To Be A Maker And A Rapid User Of Type Simultaneously”
11.How do I do it? I don’t have any great tricks or secrets. I’m just almost always working—evening hours after I get off work and on the weekends. I’m more hardworking than I am talented.
CE: I feel like it is a great advantage to be a maker and a rapid user of type simultaneously. As I was explaining earlier, a portion of my inspiration comes from functional expectations that I have from typefaces I use and have used in the past. I like to see myself as a maker that can also develop his own raw material. Of course, I aspire to design typefaces to be used for others but I also create designs that I would use on my own work. So, in a way the ideas from a poster project might bleed into my type design process. I think this back and forth provides me an opportunity to iterate and test my visual ideas in various forms of media.
JS: Obviously being a full-time designer means less time for graphic design work, so the balance has shifted significantly. But I try to have at least one side project going on because it gives me a chance to work at a different pace. It’s easy for me to say that these two practices are very much intertwined, but elaborating on how exactly is harder to do.
First of all, my graphic design work is mostly typographic. Being a type designer makes me a better typographer and graphic designer; I am able to identify specific traits of a typeface and use it in a way that shows off these features, and most of the time, type is all I need to design a good piece of graphic design. And like Cem said, being a practicing graphic designer also informs my type design work. You know how for great UI/UX design, you have to put yourself in the user’s shoe? It’s kind of like that. Anyway, I will always be designing type and with type as long as I can handle the workload. It’s more fun that way.
12. I wish we were talking in your studio space right now. Just to help our readers imagine what it's like to work at the PDO, can you describe what's on desk and what your workspace is like?
CE: The office is located at an old New England building with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. We are actually members of a shared studio space known as The Design Office. Currently, the Design Office houses a couple independent designers and a graphic design studio. This makes a richer day-to-day experience. We have a chance to be a part of a larger ongoing conversation here and bring a type designer’s perspective to the table.
JS: Cem and I each have a desk there. Other than the expected setup of monitor, keyboard and mouse, and a big tome of a book I place my laptop on, I have a loupe, a tiny hand-bound book of traffic cones Cem got for me, a stressball in the shape of a traffic cone, a hand cream for the despicable New England winter, a big pile of printed proofs, and a few highlighters. (the erasable ones I got from Japan, just in case I need to de-emphasize something. You never know.)
13. And now to the most important question of all: coffee or tea?
CE: Iced Americano (but also Turkish Tea).
JS: Very predictably, I, too, worship the coffee god.
14. We just began a whole new year. Do you have any goals for 2018?
CE: I am not a “new year, new goal” person but my current goal in life right now is to publish my own typefaces as soon as I can. I don’t know if it will take one year or two years, but my goal is to at least get to that point.
JS: I have so many goals! I, too, am working on a new typeface, and I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I release it, but I’m really excited where this will take me. Or where I’ll take it. I also want to learn different kinds of calligraphy and I plan on doing that through the great workshops they offer at the Society of Scribes in New York. And I want to draw more. I am just getting back in touch with the artist side of me after many years of focusing on graphic design. I draw for my own pleasure now, and I am really loving it.
Thank you so much for your time today. I hope that you achieve everything you're setting out to accomplish this year. I'm excited to follow your work in the future.
CE: Thank you for listening to our stories!
JS: Thanks for having us.