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.
We had an interview with Cyrus Highsmith, the Creative Director of Morisawa Providence Drawing Office.
“to making high-quality original typefaces”
1.Please introduce yourself briefly.
Cyrus Highsmith（CH）： I live and work in Providence, Rhode Island. I am a type designer, graphic artist, teacher, and author. I work with June Shin, Cem Eskinazi, and Marie Otsuka at the Morisawa Providence Drawing Office. I’m the founder of Occupant Fonts which is now a brand of Morisawa Inc.
2.It's been almost a year since you joined Morisawa and MPDO (Morisawa Providence Drawing Office) was launched. How was the first year at your new environment?
CH： It was great. The four of us have formed a really strong team. Between us we speak English, Korean, Japanese, Turkish, and Spanish. We each have training in different specialities—fine art, graphic design, programming, business, calligraphy, and education. But we all love to draw letters.
Morisawa has never had a design office in the west before. They took a big leap of faith when they acquired Occupant Fonts and hired me as a Creative Director. Since we have common ground in our commitments to making high-quality original typefaces, we are always moving toward the same goals. I feel very lucky.
3.What is your plan for MPDO next year?
CH： We are working on two new latin designs, experimenting with variable font technology, and we will work on our website at occupantfonts.com.
There will also be lots of travel. I’m going to Japan in May for the judging of the Morisawa Type Design Competition 2019, and again in September for the ATypI conference along with the rest of the crew. Some of us are also going to Istanbul for ISType, New York for Typographics, and probably some other places too.
CH： There are so many amazing writing systems around the world. I love the logic and shapes in Hangul. Arabic can be so graceful. But I suppose my favorite is the Latin alphabet since that is the one I use. And I love how many different kinds of languages are written using the Latin alphabet. These include Roman languages like French, Spanish, and Italian; Germanic languages like English, Dutch, and German; Celtic languages like Irish and Welsh; slavic languages like Czech. The list goes on.
5.The first character you draw when drawing a new style.
CH： When I am sketching, I draw whatever letter I want to. Some ideas can be easily visualized in specific glyphs. I just draw the ones that come to me naturally at that moment.
When I start to produce an actual typeface, I usually start with the ’n’, ‘o’ and ‘p’. With these glyphs you can figure some fundamental things about the tempo, shapes, and rhythm. This is a very typical place to start for many latin type designers.
6.Any current project you can openly talk about?
CH： At the moment, I am working on a new serif design. I am focused on developing that Latin but I think it has the potential to support additional writing systems like Japanese and Hangul. Thinking this way has added a new dimension to my design process. It’s exciting to imagine what that kind of collaboration might look like.
7.Any language you would like to try to design?
CH： That’s a tricky question. The short answer is Japanese but I couldn’t do it by myself. It would have to be a collaboration between myself and a Japanese designer. I am slowly learning Japanese thanks to my job with Morisawa. I visit Japan at least once or twice every year. With each visit, I can understand a bit more. Plus, I have been publishing children’s books in Japan with Bunkeiduo. For these I work together with Hiroko Sakomura. She writes the text, I make the illustrations. We made a Hiragana primer called Ari Inu Usagi and a counting book called Ikko Nihon Sanbiki. As part my role as illustrator, I do the lettering. Our books are for kids so it’s all in hiragana. I write out the text myself using the same kind of tools I use to draw the pictures. I’m grateful to my co-workers at Morisawa who help me by checking for the mistakes that I cannot see myself. It’s thanks to projects like this that I am almost as literate as a 3 or 4 year old child! I don’t know what effect reading and writing have on type design and lettering. But surely they do have an effect. And you cannot just show up and expect your experience with one writing system to apply to another. Therefore question I ask myself is how can I use that to advantage, as opportunity for collaboration, as well as education.
a spirit of collaboration and learning between East and West
8.Do you have any routines to start working?
CH： I do my best creative work in the morning. I usually get up early, meditate, and then work for a couple of hours on whatever I am most interested in at that moment. Then I make breakfast for myself and the rest of my family. The rest of the day is for projects with deadlines, meetings, and correspondence.
9.What would you expect to ATypI 2019 Tokyo?
CH： In the last couple years, there has been a growing presence by type foundries from all over Asia at the ATypI conferences in North America and Europe. Thanks to these efforts, a spirit of collaboration and learning between East and West is in the air. Therefore, it’s fitting ATypI will be in Tokyo in 2019. I have heard from many of my colleagues here that they are very excited for this opportunity to visit Japan. It will be a great chance for Japanese designers to connect with colleagues from overseas.
10.You are one of the judges for Morisawa Type Design Competition 2019. What you are looking forward for this competition?
CH： I always look forward to seeing Mr Torinoumi, one of the judges of the Japanese category. We don’t speak the same language but I look up him as one of the world’s masters of type design. I am also excited to get to know the new judges.
I met Ms Nishizuka a few years ago when we both gave lectures in Tokyo at a Morisawa Design Forum. I learned a lot from hearing about her approach to type design.
Like many people, I am fan of Ikko Tanaka’s work. Therefore I am curious to meet Mr Hiromura and hear about his experience working at Tanaka’s office.
And of course, robots! I am eager to hear about Mr Kitagawa’s experience working with the Henn na Hotel, “the first robot staffed hotel in the world.”
I will confess, I am a bit nervous about my role in the judging of the Latin category. In the past, Matthew Carter was our leader. This year, I will lead for the first time. Thankfully, Matthew will still be present as an advisor.
Plus it will be great to work with the other Latin judges, Indra Kupferschmid, Ilya Ruderman, and Laura Meseguer. I know from personal experience they have sharp eyes and strong opinions about type. I always enjoying hearing and learning from them.