Maybe it’s the long winters, which nudge people to learn new skills. Or maybe devising new typefaces is the perfect challenge for curious Minnesotans.
Whatever the reason, this state is a hotbed for type creators.
“The Twin Cities also has a strong design community, and I’ve got to believe the two go hand in hand,” said type designer Carolyn Porter, whose best-known design is based on handwritten letters from World War II that she discovered at an antique store in Stillwater.
It’s rare to make a living from creating new typefaces, but much like writing a hit song, a type designer can cash in if their creation becomes popular.
“A graphic designer purchases the font — anywhere from $39 to $300 depending on the size of the font family,” said Eric Olson, co-founder of Process Type Foundry. “They license it by computer just like you would get a license for Photoshop, and then they’re free to use it for the rest of their lives.”
We caught up with six Twin Cities creatives, four of whom make their living from typeface production.
Hometown: Born in Edmonton, Alberta. Grew up near Tampa, Fla. Age: 51.
Signature typeface: Liquorstore, inspired by signage in Minneapolis, Constructivist posters and old magazine logos.
How he got started: “I always considered myself a failed designer,” said Diesel, who studied fine art at Macalester College, then learned Paintmaker and Fontographer. While serving as art director for the 1990s-00s music magazine Cake, he realized typefaces were his thing. “I was always inspired by songwriters who could make a song once and collect royalties forever. You could never do that with visual art.”
What’s still exciting about being in the field: Color typefaces; 3-D styles for virtual worlds; animated designs; extra language support for Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Russian.
Beloved typeface: Liquorstore. “It has the balance between the negative space and the positive space — like a checkerboard in how it pops up.”
Hated typeface: Helvetica. “Where I grew up in the ’80s, all the strip malls were labeled in Helvetica and the generic food line we ate when I was a kid was all Helvetica. It’s been overused by designers.”
Hometown: Minneapolis. Age: 35.
Signature typeface: YP Hand, a custom design for Yellow Pages Canada.
How she got started: A graphic designer by trade, Ulku flexed her type-design skills with the yearlong project “Six Word Story Every Day” with copywriter Van Horgen. She learned the font editing program FontLab through working with Diesel and fellow Twin Cities type designers Mike Cina and Matt Desmond. She designed Diesel’s 2014 book “The Travelling Font Salesman.”
What’s still exciting about the field: She can work with brands to develop unique type designs.
Beloved typeface: Houschka, because “it feels very approachable and human, but also very geometric.”
Hated typeface: “I don’t like anything with too much character to it, or really anything that is overused or is too grungy or distorted.”
Hometown: Beloit, Wis. Age: 64.
Signature typeface: Proxima Nova. He’s best known for “retro” fonts, a mid-20th-century style that draws from the 1930s and ’40s.
How he got started: He studied design in college, then started making typefaces in the 1980s on Macintosh computers. “It was always kind of a pipe-dream thing,” he said. A few were published in the ’90s, and by 2000 he was distributing them online via the online type library MyFonts.com.
What’s still exciting about the field: Seeing his typefaces in the real world. Knowing there are more yet to be made.
Beloved typeface: Classic metal designs from a century ago. “American Type Founders was the big font company,” he said. “They were the pinnacle of that whole period in the U.S. — Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, Century Schoolbook.”
Hated typeface: Comic Sans. “I feel so sorry for the guy who designed it,” he said. “I met him. A really nice guy. He never thought it would get that distribution.”
Hometown: Madison, Wis. Lives and works in White Bear Lake. Age: 50.
Signature typeface: Marcel, a cursive script based on a Frenchman’s handwriting. (She had his letters translated, which led to the 2017 book “Marcel’s Letters: A Font and the Search for One Man’s Fate.”)
How she got started: Porter learned typography while studying graphic design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. After desktop publishing came out in the 1990s, she started making her own type styles.
What’s still exciting about the field: “It is a love and compulsion in the same way that people might write a song even if they are not a full-time songwriter.”
Beloved typeface: Adobe Caslon. “There is a beautiful harmony about that typeface. And I just never get tired of looking at it.”
Hated typeface: She won’t say. “I want to honor the fact that someone spent a lot of time creating that work.”
Hometown: Olson is from Minneapolis; Dotin is from San Antonio, Texas. Both are 45.
How they got started: Olson studied graphic design in the late ’90s; inspired by DIY punk movements, he wanted to make typefaces that fellow students didn’t have. Dotin studied art at the University of Minnesota, but quickly discovered graphic design. She later got a master’s degree in typeface design from the University of Reading in Britain. Together, they launched Process Type Foundry. “The first day we put the website up in 2002 was the first day we sold a font, to someone in Germany,” he said.
What’s still exciting about the field: For Dotin, it’s about the love of letters and language. For Olson, it’s finding his designs “in the wild.” Facebook and an ATM in Croatia both used Klavika, for example. “I’ll be at a bus stop and then see my font. That lack of control, I love that.”
Beloved typeface: Dotin doesn’t have a favorite but Olson loves Antique Olive because it has that “nice, late-’60s French modernism about it.”
Hated typeface: Olson doesn’t have a least favorite but does “dislike the way people use things sometimes — it’s not the clothes, it’s the way you wear them.” Dotin feels differently: “I don’t dislike typefaces, because I understand the work that goes into them. It would be hard to pull out one of my peers and say, ‘You are not doing a good job.’”