The Fundamentals of Typography: An Interview With Michael Stinson
Typography is a core component of logo design, but so many designers lack the essential knowledge needed to use fonts correctly. To solve that, this week Ian interviews Michael Stinson to talk about the fundamentals of type, choosing and managing fonts, licensing, laying out content, book recommendations and more.
Michael is the typography instructor at Laguna College of Art + Design, and is also the founder and lead Instructor at TypeEd, an educational platform that teach designers about the fundamental theory of type.
Typography Resources & Books Mentioned
- TypeEd Website
- Font Management: Suitcase Fusion
- The Anatomy of Type by Stephen Coles Amazon UK | Amazon US
- Type Matters! by Jim Williams Amazon UK | Amazon US
- The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst Amazon UK | Amazon US
- Reading Letters: Designing for Legibility Amazon UK | Amazon US
- InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign Amazon UK | Amazon US
- The Complete Manual of Typography by James Felici Amazon UK | Amazon US
- Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks Amazon UK | Amazon US
Michael Stinson Interview Transcription
Ian Paget: To start off the discussion, can you talk through the importance of good typography when working on logo design and brand identity?
Michael Stinson: Okay. So, yeah, for typography for branding identity, let’s say, I was taught that there was about five different kinds of logos. There’s categories, right? And one of them is logotypes, or wordmarks. Those are the kind of logos like FedEx, that have no symbol. They’re just a word, right? Or Coca-Cola. Or Johnson & Johnson, right? So, all the personality of the company has to come through the type itself. So, if FedEx were a serif, instead of a sans-serif, what kind of company would it be? So, the choice of typefaces and how the characters are arranged, and the length of the word, and the number of syllables, all kind of play into the wordmark. How we say the name, and how it looks to us. If FedEx was not purple and orange, that’d be a huge effect on it. If it was Starbucks green instead, we’d be confused, right? So, the typeface itself has a lot to say about it, in terms of all the personality, like I said, in the company has to be the attitude in that typeface. It has to come through it.
Ian Paget: So, in order to capture that personality, what advice can you give us to help choose the most effective typeface for our project?
Michael Stinson: Well, to me it’s… I explain to my students and colleagues that, it’s almost like you have to be a casting director on a film. So you have to cast the right actor for the right job. For the right personality. So, if you have a comedy, are you going to cast, you know, Jim Carrey, or are you going to cast, like, Jack Nicholson. What kind of humour are you talking about. You know. And what kind of voice and pitch does it have, to that particular sound of the film, and the look of his face, and all that kind of stuff. All the personality. So, the typeface choice is particular. And usually you start at sans-serif or serif. So, if you’re looking for classic, you’d pick serif. And then sans-serif if you’re updating.
For instance, I just saw the new Burberry logotype as well, and it went from serif to sans-serif, and it looks quite, quite different. So, it really just depends on how classic they want to be, or if they’re moving in another direction, like Burberry obviously did, not quite as classic as before. Because a lot of times in the brief sessions with clients, you know, you start saying classic, they’re going to say old. And that’s what they don’t want to be. So, that’s a tough … I can see that happening in the meeting, if you will, going from a serif to sans-serif, just talking about the typeface.
Ian Paget: I like the analogy that you’ve used here. The casting director. It just outlines the importance of understanding the business so that you can find the right typeface for that business.
On a side note, I want to ask you about font management. I personally have the terrible habit of installing every font that I’ve ever used. And I know that I really need to start using a suitable font management software. I’m aware that there’s quite a few different options out there for this. What would you recommend to use?
Michael Stinson: Personally, I used Font Book with the Mac for a long time, until I became a type teacher, and started acquiring more and more typefaces. Because right now I have about 4,800 fonts.
I’m looking at my machine, and what I’m looking at right now as far as the font management system, is Suitcase Fusion by Extensis. And I started using that third-party kind of software when I had to have a lot of typefaces to teach typography. So it’s always worked well for me, and it categorises everything into classification, and keeps everything organised. So I highly recommend that.
Ian Paget: So, how would you go about selecting a font when you have as many as 48,000 installed?
Michael Stinson: Well, I have them in 17 or 18 different classifications. So, the first four are categorised as serifs. And the next, let’s see, eight are categorised as sans-serifs. And then you have all the display ones, like script, and blackletter, and ornament typefaces and stuff like that. I even have a Japanese folder. So … But I try to teach classification because it helps the designer choose typefaces more deliberately and accurately. Because the older they are, because classification is like music for typography, in the sense that it’s based on a historical timeline. Because we got serifs first, and sans-serifs came way later. So, in that sense, serifs are a little bit more classic. So, if you know different kinds of serifs, and you’re doing something for a high-tech company like Google or something, you may not want to use the serifs at all. So you’ll cut right to the sans-serifs. And so I go to those quickly. So if you have them organised in such a way, you can cut to the chase quite quickly.
Ian Paget: That makes sense. Being transparent, I feel like I need to study typography further to understand those classifications properly. And I’d imagine that listeners may feel the say way as I do. So, to expand on what you’ve just spoken about, what are the typography classifications that you mentioned?
Michael Stinson: They’re subcategories. Like, there’s the subcategories there, just like in music. Like, alternative rock or alternative punk, or alternative, you know, electronic, let’s say. But it’s all under alternative. So I took my classifications from the book called The Anatomy of Type by Stephen Coles. And he’s got 17 or 18 classifications. So it goes, for the serifs, it’s humanist, and then transitional, and then rational-slash-modern, and then contemporary. And then for the sans-serifs, you have your grotesques and neo-grotesques, and then you have your gothics, then you have your geometric sans, and then you have your humanist sans, and neo-humanist sans. And then there’s three categories of slab that go with the serifs. Grotesque, geometric, and humanist slabs. And then you get into the displays that are everything else, like wedge serifs and stuff like that. And scripts, and ornaments, and blackletter, that kind of thing. I usually lump blackletter with scripts, usually.
Ian Paget: I really feel I need to get myself a copy of the book that you mentioned, The Anatomy of Type, so that I can study each of those in more detail. So, once you do have that knowledge, how does that allow you to choose a more effective typeface?
Michael Stinson: It gets you to cut to the chase quickly. Because if I wanted to do a modern magazine, let’s say, I know that, by looking at magazines, a lot of them a starting to use slabs for body copy, for reading. So I’ll go right to the slabs because I know that magazine wants to be more contemporary, like Wired, let’s say. So I might choose, like, a neo-grotesque or geometric slab, like Adelle. I’m not sure what category that is, but … But I can go right to my folders and I go right to those. And compare the different ones in that classifications, of what’s going to be the most readable.
Ian Paget: It sounds like you’ve been able to build up a library in your mind of how companies and industry use typefaces. So that, when you do need to make a choice, you can immediately select the most suitable for the job. Like, as a designer, I know that you can learn that on a project-to-project basis through research, but I feel like knowing those categories on top of that means that you can continuously observe and learn as you go about life. It means that you can just quickly and efficiently narrow down your choice to the perfect typeface, rather than needing to filter through, you know, an extremely long list from project to project.
Michael Stinson: Yeah. Because when you’re doing eight jobs at once, you kind of have to know, if you have to pick out typefaces, you want to just cut to the chase. Picking out a typeface shouldn’t take you an hour. It should take you a matter of minutes, usually, to pick a few that are going to be relevant for that particular usage. You know.
Ian Paget: For sure. Now, I want to talk to you about font licensing when working on logo design and branding. As a designer, I’ve collated together a fairly comprehensive library of fonts. Most of which I’ve purchased a license for so that I can use those fonts myself. One area, however, where I’ve never been sure about is how you ensure that your client also owns a license to use that font too. How do you typically deal with that situation?
Michael Stinson: Well, to me, it’s all in … In developing a logo, you know it’s going to be for a larger system. Graphic design is largely creating systems. Especially for identity and branding. It’s a system that a company is going to use to express its personality, right? To stay in the minds of the consumers or people around. And so, what I’ve always done is, is I will, when developing comprehensives to show the client, I’m already looking at the typefaces that I have, and I’m using a particular font, let’s say, for a wordmark. And let’s say I have three of them. I’m going to show the client three different fonts for those logotypes. Once they buy off on one, we purchase that, I have the client purchase that particular font for their wordmark. Just that particular font. So it’s like, $30, $40.
Ian Paget: So, would you buy that on behalf of the client, and invoice them accordingly? Or would you request that the client actually purchases it themselves?
Michael Stinson: I always have the client buy it. I’ll set up an account, if they want me to. But I recommend that they purchase it so they have it and they own it, and there’s no legal, you know, issues or anything like that.
Ian Paget: Okay. That’s useful advice. And to clarify on this, as a designer, would you still need to own a license as well as your client? Or could you ask your client to send it over once they purchased it?
Michael Stinson: I usually will. And here’s what happens, you’re not supposed to transfer fonts to one another, just like music. However, you only get into legal sticky situations if you publish that font. So for instance, I tell my students, you can use fonts off your computer, you know, like the default fonts, because they come with your computer. If someone gives you a font, you can use it if it’s not published. So, if you use it just for printing out a paper for your history class or something, it’s perfectly fine. It’s when you have to produce a thousand of those, and you put them online, with that typeface in it, then you have some issues. Because now that’s actually being published and used. So it depends on if you’re publishing or not. That’s the way I have always tried to look at it.
Ian Paget: Okay, so based on that, would it mean that, as the creator of the logo using that typeface, that you don’t specifically need to own a license yourself, because you’re not using it commercially?
Michael Stinson: Correct.
Ian Paget: It would only actually need to be your clients, since they are the one using it publicly. Am I understanding that right?
Michael Stinson: Yes. And if they purchase the whole entire typeface family, I’ll ask them to give us a copy if we can still have it. Or use their account, to use it off of Typekit or whatever. But, in knowing that we are not going to publish anything with that typeface, we’ll keep track of knowing that we’re not publishing anything with the typeface. So like, if we were to rebrand our studio, and we use that typeface that they loaned to us, we have to repurchase it again, for ourselves, in knowing that it’s going to be in our studio’s identity. Yeah. So we purchase it for ourselves, yeah. It’s just the honest way of doing it.
Ian Paget: This is really interesting. I wasn’t aware of this. So, to clarify, how would it work if you wanted to present that work in your portfolio?
Michael Stinson: We’re still showing their work that they own. We just have the right to show their work, which is in the contract. We’re just borrowing it to show what we did for them. But it’s still their work.
Ian Paget: This is interesting. I was always under the impression that, as a designer, you needed to purchase a license for every typeface that you own. So I really appreciate you explaining this. Thank you.
Michael Stinson: My pleasure.
Ian Paget: Now, I’m aware that, over the years, you’ve built up a considerable amount of knowledge around typography. And I’m sure you’ve read a lot of books on the way. Based on that, are there any book that you would recommend to the listeners, to help them effectively learn typography in more detail?
Michael Stinson: I do, I have quite a few beginner ones. And for training, I wouldn’t … Really, the books for typography are really for reference, I would say. Typography, you really do need to be trained over a certain amount of time, to get it to stick in your mind, and for your career. I highly recommend learning, you know, onsite. There are drills and things you can do online, but it’s one of those things that you kind of have to be in the room to learn from, you know, a master of something.
But yeah, I have some books on our TypeEd website that I enjoy. One of them is for beginners, it’s called Type Matters! by Jim Williams. That one’s very simple, well designed. For a bit of an upgrade intro, like, a type 2-level book, I would go for The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. Or, Reading Letters: Designing for Legibility. I’m not sure what the author is on that. We don’t have that on there. And of course, you know, depending on what software you’re using, for typesetting I would recommend Nigel French’s InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign. That one’s very good. Because it takes you through InDesign with a type-centric kind of mentality. Which is great, because that’s how were producing a lot of type these days. And then for my classes, and like, the higher-end stuff where you want everything in one spot, The Complete Manual of Typography is also very good. And that’s by James Felici.
Ian Paget: Apologies to interrupt, but so that listeners aren’t quickly writing this down, before we continue I just wanted to add that all the books and resources that you mention here will be included in the show notes for this episode. I think this will be episode 7, so the link should be logogeek.uk/3.7. Now, apologies. I’ll let you carry on.
Michael Stinson: Great. Yeah and then for some really nerdy casual reading, I recommend the Shady Characters one. It tells you about all the backstories of these glyphs that we’ve … these funny glyphs like ampersands, and pilcrows and everything that we … And there’s an interesting one in there called the interrobang. And that’s the combination of an exclamation mark and a question mark. Which is equivalent to saying, what?! Like that, you know. It’s really interesting. It’s a really nerdy typography book. But it’s fun. It’s very fun. And I’m not sure … That’s by Keith Houston. That’s who that one’s by, yeah.
Ian Paget: This is great. It sounds like lots of reading for everyone.
Michael Stinson: Yeah!
Ian Paget: So far, we’ve spoken primarily about selecting pre-designed typefaces. But I’m curious if you’ve ever had any experience where you’ve needed to design a font or typeface from scratch?
Michael Stinson: I have developed typefaces by hand. One in particular that we did was for a non-profit in downtown Los Angeles. It was called the Pacific Asian Consortium on Employment. And it definitely needed to be consolidated into, you know, an acronym, for sure. Because it was such a long name. And so, basically, the whole thing that this organisation did was find people work. In essence, kept them busy. Busy as bees, let’s say, right? A busy bee worker. And so, we drew the four characters, P-A-C-E, as if they were four bees running around in circles, right, and made the actual characters in the path of the flight of those four bees. And so, we sketched it out, like, so it had great energy and movement. And that’s what we were after in communicating this organisation’s value was energy and the work that they give citizens of Los Angeles, in that community. They kept them busy as bees. So that was the whole thing, of drawing those characters by hand, because you couldn’t find a typeface based on that. It would take us forever to find it. And I’d never even seen anything like that, and I look at type every day. So, we had to create it from scratch, and we did. Straight from there. So that’s, like, our experience of designing typefaces. Or, that would be four particular characters, not necessarily a typeface. But for a specific purpose, you know.
Ian Paget: So, in terms of a process for developing those letters, is there an approach, or certain steps that you might take when working on that? I appreciate this might be quite hard to explain such a visual thing.
Michael Stinson: Yeah. Let’s see if I can. It’ll test my articulation skills, won’t it? Yeah, so the P-A-C-E. The main thing about that was, when designing typefaces, for us, especially if it’s not an entire alphabet, is to make sure that the characters that we’re doing are completely readable. And so the A was, and the E, were of concern, because … Especially the A, because there’s two kinds of As in the alphabet, as far as roman characters. You have a single-storey and a double-storey A. And we wanted to use a double-storey so it would read better. So it would read more easily. And so, it really was just a kind of a flip-around of the actual lowercase E. And all four of these characters that read PACE, or P-A-C-E, were all lowercase. So it would read much easier. Because if we used uppercase, if we used an uppercase A, you know, bees don’t fly at right-angles, so that didn’t make sense. So with the lowercases, they were much more round, and we can actually get away with … And it was more friendly to have it in lowercase, as well. And it was easier to read. So the whole thing, for me, over the years, is just making sure that the reader is … I’m cognitive of the reader with my work. That the type is easily able to read. Because if they can’t read it, what’s the point of graphic design, right?
So, that was the main thing about that particular project, is to make sure that the, since it was such a freehanded kind of thing, in developing the four characters, we wanted to stick to the readability of an actual roman character, as close as possible. That was the main thing in that process. And it really just, as far as process, went through, you know, pencil sketches on paper. And then moving to the computer and digitising. And then lots and lots of iterations, of course, to get it just right with the kerning and the line weight. Like, how heavy do the lines have to be to read but still light enough to represent a bee’s path of flight. And all that kind of stuff. So, there was a lot of factors in there, in developing, once we got it digitised.
Ian Paget: Can I also ask if you’ve had any experience designing an entire typeface?
Michael Stinson: I have not, actually. I get asked that a lot. I get asked that a lot. But when I explain to people, especially my students, they always ask me, so where’s your typefaces? And I say, I don’t have any. Because, developing typefaces is more of an engineering kind of mind. It’s less of a graphic design kind of mind. There is so much engineering in developing typefaces, and all the glyphs. Hundreds of glyphs that you have to come up with, the accent marks and everything, that are all based on the characteristics and the design of that particular starting font. Like a regular weight. And then developing it out to a thin, or a black, or an italic, and a bold italic, and so on. It takes quite some time. I have friends that are font developers. And it just takes them a year or so to get through a typeface, and … but it’s an engineering effort. Now, I used to be an aerospace engineer. I went to college for aerospace engineering. But then I switched over to the art side, and design. So. But it is more, it definitely is more of an engineering mentality. Everything’s done on a grid, on a microscale, kind of a thing.
And if I were to develop one, a couple actually, I would probably do my parents’ handwriting. So, the scripts. Because my mom is right-handed. And she writes in a normal, formal way. She was taught in penmanship back in the ’50s or whatever. And my dad is left-handed, so he has a reverse angle to his type s they are both opposite angles. So, if I were to develop them, I would probably just call it Mom and Dad. Of two different scripts. My dad’s is really fascinating, because it’s literally like a negative 45 degree slant, the other direction. Because he’s pushing the pen. Whereas a right-handed person will pull the pen. So he has to push it into the paper, because he’s left-handed. So he has that reverse stress, or reverse stress to the angle of the characters.
Ian Paget: Now, I want to dive a little bit more into your area of speciality, which is laying out typography. I know that the podcast itself is about logo design, but listeners will also probably be working on other areas of graphic design, such as branding manuals, brochures, literature, and so on. So, are you able to talk through some of the methods that you take to effectively lay out content on a page?
Michael Stinson: I can. That’s no problem, because I’ve been doing it for 20 years. So, like, for a piece of paper, if you have to do a flyer or something, there’s usually three levels of information. There’s the body copy that holds all the detailed information, and then there’s a subhead level that gets out eyes to go to that body copy, and then there’s a header that tells us what’s on that page. So it’s three basic levels, right? I was always taught, before the computer, when we were doing cold type, to start with body copy first. You have to address the most amount of content first on the page. So, in order to do that, you have to lay out a grid on the page, and plan it out, where all that content’s going to go first. Okay? So, once you have all the body copy in there, and the subheads, and everything’s in one font at the same size, and you lay it out, and compose the page first. I always stress this to my students. Compose first, style second. Okay? So, compose the page first, get the header up at the top of the page, the subhead where it needs to go. But everything is 12 point in Minion, let’s say.
Then, once you have it arranged in the right spot, then you can make your subheads and your header a different typeface. Like, Avenir or something. And change the sizes. The header will probably be, if your body copy is in the range of 9 to 12 point, usually let’s say 10 point, then your subheads will be 10 point, but they’ll be in bold or black. Heavy. And then your headers will be, your headlines will be three to six times larger than your body copy. So it’s still in proportion. Okay? I know I’m getting into a lot of kind of math side of it, but there is a lot, that’s what got me involved, as an engineer, in graphic design in the first place. Because it is like music. The math is the underpinning. The numbers are the underpinning of the profession.
So, how you address the page, with the body copy first, with all the content, then you can start styling from there. You can start changing typefaces, and adding rules, like, lines. And then adding colour. I always have my students add colour last. Because when they do it, I’ve seen them in my office, interns, over the years, they’ll try to do all that at once, instead of in the steps that I described to you. The three steps for the body copy and the grid first and all that kind of stuff. They’ll try to do it all at once, with colour and everything, and they’ll waste about two hours of time for about 100 words on a page. It really should take a half an hour, to lay out a one-page. If that.
So, I try to get my, we have a bootcamp in TypeEd that I drill them, I call them suicide drills. And suicide drills are like a football exercise where you’re standing on the 100-yard, you know, marked-out field, like a football field. And players start at the goal line and they dash to the 10-yard line and back, and then the 20-yard line and back, and the 30-yard line and back, they’re called suicide drills. So you do it over and over again, until you get it, you know, you build up speed. So we do that with one page. They’re supposed to set 900 words on one page in under 10 minutes. At the end of the two-hour workshop. So, if you could do that, you can really start to handle the typography and get it down to where it’s really, really efficient and fast.
Ian Paget: That all sounds really great. I love the approach that you’ve described, where you compose first, you know, using just one type of font at just one size. Because it just means that, you know, upfront, you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
Michael Stinson: Yeah, I see … It’s a funny analogy I just thought of. It’s like our parents taught us, you know, it’s like that Pink Floyd song. You’ve got to eat your meat before you have your pudding, right? So, it’s the same thing. You have to get the content composed on the page first before you start to make it look good. Because if you think about it. If you do it all at one, each one of those steps only has about 20 percent of your attention. So if you take it a step at a time, you have 100 percent of your attention at each stage. Because you’re not overlapping anything. And so, it gets done with more perfection and efficiency that way. I know it’s an engineering nerd thing to say, as far as an artistic kind of profession, but it’s true.
Ian Paget: This is really solid advice. And I think the approach can also be applied to so many areas of graphic design, because you’re really focusing on function over form.
Michael Stinson: Well that’s graphic design’s mantra in the first place, right? Form follows function.
Ian Paget: Absolutely. To expand on this, I’ve heard you speak about the fundamentals of typography that all designers need to be aware of. Could I ask you to briefly talk through what they are?
Michael Stinson: Well, one of the basic ones is like a five-step process. And it really starts with type, and then it really, I’ve used this method for many, many years, and it’s what’s made me so quick in producing comprehensives, and producing final art for reproduction. So, it goes like this. Number one is the format. Okay? That’s the page size or the surface that you’re on. Whether it’s a mobile screen, or, you know, a brochure, or a banner ad, or whatever it is. It’s just the format comes first. You have to determine the size. And then at that stage you have to determine how much content you have for that size. If that content’s going to fit. Because if you have 100 words, there’s no way it’s going to fit on a banner ad that’s going to pop up on Facebook, right? So you have to determine that.
Second is then developing the grid that goes on that page. That’s the second step. The third step is putting all the content on the page, based on the grid. Getting it all composed, just like I was telling you before. Everything’s one size, one font. Then the … So, that’s the third one. Then the fourth one is composing everything and styling it. Everything is still in black and white, but now you’re changing the style, you’re adding rules, elements and things, to the text. And stylising the text, making it sans-serif or whatever else. So four out of the five steps are mostly the type. The last step is imagery and colour. Number five. That’s when you add those and try to get the type and imagery and the colour to jive with one another, based on the personality of what’s written in the content. And that’s really the basic steps of going through layout. Or any project, for me, for the last, you know, 20, 25 years.
Ian Paget: I think one of the big steps that you’ve mentioned with this is using a grid. When I’ve applied grids to my work, I’ve seen a vast improvement in my work. So, do you have any advice for working out and developing a grid?
Michael Stinson: I was always told in the beginning, by my mentor, that the content will tell you what to design. That’s probably a profound thing to say, because it’s true. And it really is that simple. The content itself, whether it’s in the story, will tell you what kind of personality to use for the typeface, what colours to use. Everything. It will also tell you what grid to use, based on the format. That’s why you have to know the format first. So, if you have a newspaper, you can have up to six or seven columns of content. You can’t have six or seven columns on a regular A4 page. Because, the reason for that is, is because the type size, the font size, is in a relationship to the measure. In a roughly two-to-one ratio. This is something that was taught to me way back in cold typesetting. I don’t know anybody that teaches this anymore. But if the measure is in a certain width, let’s say 20 picas, the type size that goes in that column is 10 points.
And it only works with points and picas, because this is how we did it, in annual reports, when we were doing it on boards in cold type. But I still bring those principles to my teaching today, to make designers sure that they’re cognitive about proportion on the page. Instead of just throwing stuff on the page. They’re actually thinking about the proportion. That’s important. That was taught to me. So, if your measure is, typically on … If your page is, you know, let’s say 40 picas wide, which is like, somewhat of an A4, let’s say, that would mean that your … And you’re going to use one column, that means your type is going to be 20 points. Well, obviously that’s too big for body copy. Body copy is always in the rage of 9 to 12 point or so, depending on the typeface. So 20 points is too much. So what do you have to do? You have to cut the page in half. And cut the measure in half. The two columns are now 20 picas apiece. And so now that type size is 10 point, and you’re within body copy range.
And that’s how we were taught. Is to think of these proportions, because typography is all about proportion. Proportion of the type size to the page to the measure. And the margins play into it as well. So really, to answer your question is, to formulate a grid, it really is a factor of looking at those three elements. The format, size, the amount of content, and then factoring in how many images are going to be in there as well. Maybe, it may determine whether you have a modular grid, or you have a column grid, kind of a thing.
When I go through my Type 1 lecture, for TypeEd, there’s about six different grids that you choose from based on format and content volume. For instance, a poster, since it’s so large, and you don’t have a lot of content on there, you don’t need columns. That kind of grid is usually modular. Square boxes, typically. So, yeah. And then if you’re doing a website, since everything is sliced horizontally, it’s more or less a horizontal grid. Because you can’t technically do columns of flowing content on the web, anyway. They haven’t figured that out yet. So, yeah.
Ian Paget: This is interesting, I’m just thinking, based on what you said, would you actually create the grid in combination with the content? Like, you know, as you lay it down on a page?
Michael Stinson: Yes. I would, because when I look at that content, that’s the 1; thing I do. When I get, like, a Word file from a client, and it’s, you know, it’s 40 pages or so, I’ll usually take it home at night. And I’ll read it at dinner or something, and I’ll have a bunch of highlighters in my hand, different colours, to highlight what’s going on in that content. So if I notice that the paragraphs are very short and choppy, and they’re not consistently long or short, I’ll try to divide the content up per page. Sometimes that content will get rearranged. I’ll ask the writer, go, are you sure you want this content here? Because this sounds like, you know, it goes with this content up here. Can we move it? Or is there a particular reason for that? So, I always try to ask. And a lot of times, you know, when content comes in that, it’s not in a hierarchical format, like subhead and header as well, so I’m always, I’m looking at that, as well. So.
Ian Paget: I think that’s really sound advice. And I feel that you’ve really stressed the importance of kind of reading and understanding the content that you’re working with. As well as the importance of making sure that that content looks great and is well structured, too. Now, to steer the conversation in a slightly different way, I understand that here, today, I’m aware that you’re now focusing on your own business, TypeEd. Can I ask about your background, and how you arrived to the point of actually creating TypeEd?
Michael Stinson: Okay. Well, we started TypeEd in 2012, and we were about 10 years into our agency, you know, studio life. Developing branding and corporate reports, and a lot of corporate materials and things. Packaging, and websites, and the whole thing. And so, we were growing and we were getting bigger, and we started to have interns and employees come in. Showing their portfolios and what I noticed was, in doing a few speeches here and there at local campuses, I noticed that these students and these recent graduates had three or four levels of type, but they didn’t know anything about type. And they didn’t know how to typeset properly, or, you know, they’re putting content all the way across the page, instead of breaking it into two columns, and so on. So, they were really lacking the fundamentals, that I can see. I mean, they had all these type courses, and yet they still couldn’t do anything. So I had to turn some of them away, because, I mean, I couldn’t see teaching them. Now, I’m no business mastermind, but to pay them to teach them, that’s kind of backwards.
So, we started TypeEd to help them, to bridge that gap between the universities, you know, in Southern California here, to be more equipped in the industry, because the gap keeps widening. And these designers keep coming out of school and falling in the pit. So we tried to create TypeEd in a way where it got them up to speed. There’s more drills and workshops, and more studying, and that kind of thing. And it really does help, that we’ve found. So, it was really out of necessity that we got that started. So it’s been going about six years now, yeah.
Ian Paget: So you started that primarily to teach staff who would join your team?
Michael Stinson: It was initially that. But then it started to take effect. We would go to schools and lecture. And one school just, you know, three years ago, actually offered me a position to build their type program. And it was at Laguna College of Art and Design, down in Southern California. And so I said, sure, I’ll help you get this thing going, because they obviously needed more type. And I think they had just one level at the time. I said, no, you need like three or four levels, for sure. You could never have enough, too much type, in your education anyway. Because I was always taught that graphic design is like 80 percent typography. You know, the rest is all filler of pictures and illustrations and everything else. But that’s kind of the skill that defines graphic design, is typography. And my boss, my first mentor and boss always said that if you could nail that and get that skill down, you’re like more than halfway there, in this profession. So, yeah.
But yeah, it was, first it was for the people we were having in our office, and then it just spread out to everybody in the community. And now it’s kind of grown … Wherever we go now, we do speeches for AIGA, and I have, mentoring a student in Singapore that’s out here visiting at the time being. And helping her with her branding of her company. And that kind of a thing.
Ian Paget: Now, we’re near the end of our time, so I want to ask you one last question.
Michael Stinson: Okay.
Ian Paget: If you could offer just one piece of advice to graphics designers out there who are just starting out in typography design, what would that advice be?
Michael Stinson: That’s easy. I would take as much type as you can, even after you graduate. And more writing. Writing, you’re going to have to do when you get into the creative director role anyway, so it’s always good to have a writing background as well. Because typography and graphic design is inherently joined with language at all times. So that would be my advice.
Ian Paget: This is interesting. I know from my own experience, I frequently needed to edit content. You know, to make a design work really well. So, it’s really sound advice, and it’s not actually what I was expecting you to say.
Michael Stinson: Oh, I’m sorry. I know, see I’m kind of a geeky designer, I guess, if you will. So, yeah.
Ian Paget: No, no. It’s great advice. And it makes sense that, if you’re designing type, you should also be able to write well, as well.
Michael Stinson: Indeed. Indeed.
Ian Paget: Michael, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a really interesting conversation. And I think with all the book recommendations and advice that you’ve given here, you provided a really solid foundation so that, you know, everyone listening can learn much more if they wanted to. So, thank you again. You’ve been a fantastic guest.
Michael Stinson: My pleasure. And thank you for having me. It was wonderful. Thank you for having me on.
A Big Thank You to FreshBooks
FreshBooks have sponsored the Logo Geek Podcast, and I’m so thankful – without them this would not be possible (It takes so much time!!).
FreshBooks is a cloud based accounting software that makes it easy to create and send branded invoices, track time and to manage your incoming and outgoing money. I highly recommend it, and you can try it out for yourself with a free 30 day trial.