Posted in Typeface
Completing our series of exclusive interviews with London based Fontsmith, we bring you the head honcho, founder and type designer extraordinaire Jason Smith.
Name: Jason Smith
Time at Fontsmith: from day 1
Role in the studio: Founder and Creative Director
Did you always want to design type and how did you get started?
Well I was a lazy kid at school, never did homework or study for my exams (not a good idea kids!). I was only ever interested in drawing and colouring in. On leaving school at 16 I went straight to art college to do a course on calligraphy lettering and signwriting, although I wanted to do the graphics course (I didn’t have enough GCSE passes).This actually turned out to be brilliant as I had a real eye for Letterforms. During my time at Reigate Art College my main tutor was Simon Manchipp’s dad, Ben. He encouraged me to concentrate on type and helped me get a placement at Monotype. Robin Nicholas and Pat Saunders gave me some great drawing tips and I loved my time there. They even paid me. I spent the lot on beer and sweets.
I stayed on at Reigate for a further 2 years studying more calligraphy and lettering. Once I left I applied for a Princes Trust grant and was successful. I used the money to pay for travel to London and to pay for desk space in David Quay’s studio. What a brilliant time that was. Both David Quay and Freda Sack nurtured my talent and gave me some work and helped me start out. For the next year or so I visited every design and advertising agency I could, to show my portfolio. I was by far the youngest lettering artist in the country and that impressed a lot of people.
I continued to work independently and as a freelancer for different type designers. At the age of 21 I met Bruno Maag and we worked together for about a year before I moved on to do more creative work.
Which commercially available fonts from Fontsmith have you worked on?
My designs are FS Albert, FS Ingrid, FS Sophie, FS Jack, FS Joey. As creative director I obviously have input on all the others as well. My philosophy is to allow my designers to design, my roll is to art direct where necessary and encourage.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished designing a typeface for a Spanish beer brand. I’m also working with my newest designer to pull together his design for release early next year. I’ve got an exhibition happening in China and am recruiting more new staff. I’m also managing several projects that the Fontsmith guys are working on as well as trying to get home in time to feed my kids… I need another holiday!
What is your greatest (type design) achievement to date and why?
I don’t have one particular thing as all the clients and customers we’ve worked with have been very happy. I suppose personally the Channel 4, Post Office or Sky News typefaces have been the highest profile jobs. FS Albert has been probably the most successful font in our library and I’m very proud of that.
Can you give us an overview of the process you would usually take when creating a new typeface?
I guess it’s pretty much the same as any other design process. Understanding the brief from the client, sketching and doing some research into the mood we are trying to achieve. Presenting and discussing with colleagues. Refining, drawing and extending the design across weights and the rest of the character set. More refining, more sketching, all whilst considering spacing, kerning and how this design will be used and what personality it is trying to be Once the first design is complete the others in the studio, who’ve helped, carry on and finish up the weights and technical side of things. At this point I only really art direct and do quality control with Phil.
What is your favourite part of that process?
Meeting and talking with the clients and customers. I love working with people and figuring out what is needed. I’ve always been one for keeping sketchbooks and doodling ideas — its the best part of the job. The other best thing is having a finished product and seeing it out there, being used. I’m still a designer and have a shameless ego!
Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from any particular era, culture or movement, and how does that impact on your work?
Not at all. Although the first type designers I discovered as a student still inspire me, probably mostly Eric Gill, because he was an artist first and type designer second.
Outside of Fontsmith whose work and faces do you most admire?
There is a small list and mostly people I know. Jeremy Tankard, Lucas de Goot, Jean Francois Porchez, Erik Speikermann, are designers that I admire. They are all really nice people too, which has a lot to do with it.
Where is the coolest place you’ve seen your work applied?
Tough one this as our work is everywhere. One thing sticks out though. Last years election night, all the main news stations BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and SKY News, all of them where using their own typefaces in content graphics, and all those typefaces where designed by us. That was pretty cool knowing that everyone following the election was looking at our fonts.
If you weren’t a type designer what would you be?
Realistically I’d always continue with something artistic, painting or whatever. But I’d love to be an actor or a musician, though I can’t act or play a musical instrument!
Thank you Jason for taking the time out to talk with us — top chap. Best of luck and congratulations on 10 wonderful years in business. Brilliantly done.
Fontsmith is a leading London based type design studio founded in 1999 by Jason Smith. The studio consists of a team dedicated to designing and developing high quality typefaces for both independent release as well as bespoke fonts for international clients.