In Part 2 of our conversation with Tré Seals and Kwesi Amuti, we dig a little deeper into what it means to dedicate yourself to the craft of type design. Taking a look at family and the cultural changes around type design, we think about the future of type design.
Kwesi, you mentioned that you introduce yourself a certain way to people. Can you say more about that?
Kwesi: Sometimes I kinda don’t want people to know that you actually do this. Because then, if it’s the right person, they’ll say, “Oh, you do fonts? Well, I know somebody who works at this company who needs a font and maybe we can get them in contact with you.” Bang, that’s fantastic. But then there’s the other side of it. “Oh, you make fonts? You know, I hate Comic Sans.” It’s like, “Okay, but I didn’t make it.” Or they will constantly come to you to identify fonts. I remember I got this moniker Font Master Flex when I was working at an ISP. If you could actually find a font, or they needed something for a design or something like that, I could tell you exactly what it was. I was like “Why are you calling me that?”
And they’re like, “Because you know every font. Every single time somebody says a font, you can identify it instantly.”
What’s been your experience, Tré?
Tré: You know how people go to Microsoft Word and they pick a font? That’s exactly how I have to describe it to my family when they ask me what I do. And I feel like it’s also a generational thing. I feel like up-and-coming generations are a little more aware [of type], but at the same time, it’s still an unconscious presence.
Kwesi: But one effect of it though is that you will actually influence your family members about type though. Because, my mom, she’s now like hypersensitive about these things.
Tré: Oh, yeah! My parents, too.
Kwesi: Okay, so it’s not only me! My mom will say, “You know what? I saw this commercial yesterday, and they just used the wrong font, and the kerning was off.” And I was like, “What did you say?”
Tré: I know. My dad’s like, “Man, see that logo on that dump truck? Man, they should’ve used a different font, man, ’cause that thing is illegible.”
I would love to hear each of your thoughts on what you would like to see for people that are just getting started in type design. How do you think people can get started?
Tré: I would like to see people just experiment more, because to be honest with you, I’m a little bit tired of seeing like the release of a new script or a new grunge font or a new iteration of Avenir or Futura.
Kwesi: Man! Oh yes!
Tré: I’m cool with seeing a Franklin Gothic, but do something different. And with script fonts; think about how it is going to be used because there are so many that I see released where, “I have no clue when or where I’d ever use that.”
Don’t try to follow what’s trendy right now. Do some hand lettering and see if you can make it into a cool font. Don’t try to follow industry norms.
Kwesi: I’m gonna riff off of Tré as well. Originality. I understand that you want to delve into the mid-century modern or Bohemian scripty stuff, but get into the funky, nasty stuff that no one really gets into. Something psychedelic. Something futuristic. Something that doesn’t really look like everything that everybody else does, because there’s only so many fonts you’re really going to use.
Now, as far teaching and people being in type design and stuff, we need more. There need to be more people, because when I started out, I would be the one on the type boards asking where are the other Black or African-American or Caribbean or African type designers. I would always be pointed to one dude [Jerry Matejka, who might have been Black] and did this font in the ’70s called Soul and then to another guy named Joshua Darden. Now, I’m not calling out Joshua Darden, because he used to work for Hoefler & Frere-Jones and he made a font named Freight, but that’s the guy they always point to! From speaking with Tré now, I know that there’s more Black type designers out there and that’s great. It’s not like an isolationist thing, like, “Yeah, we’re Black type designers and I’m gonna put a raised fist in a little square, so you can just type it out all day.” No, I’m not doing that. But to know that there’s someone out there like me who does this and we can actually talk to each other and share some of the stuff that we know in common? That’s cool too, in concert with the wider world of type design.
Lastly, we need to share more. Type designers won’t tell you their secrets; I’ve made it my mission: if you wanna know, I’ll tell you. For real. Because I didn’t have it, so I have to let somebody else know.
That’s cool. I really appreciate that. Listening to both of you inspires me to want to make a typeface. [laughs] Anything else you two want to add?
Tré: I think the future of typography isn’t just a traditional font. There’s this company called HandMadeFont with fonts made out of gummies or burnt toast or Christmas gifts. Don’t limit yourself to just the flat black and white.
Kwesi: There’s a guy named Chank in Minnesota who used to run these traveling type events where he would teach people how to make type, and they would make type out of Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans… stuff like that. Now you could actually do that in Photoshop because technology has come to the point where you can create and use photo fonts and that’s cool.
Tré: One last thing: I highly recommend people just starting out with type design to check out this program called Fontself. It’s an Illustrator and Photoshop plug-in where you can create color fonts by just dragging and dropping.
Kwesi: Understand kerning, understand spacing and get books and read as much as you possibly can. Go outside and look around because there’s plenty out there that will influence you.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.