The Typographic Circle The Typographic Circle was formed in 1976 to bring together anyone with an interest in type and typography. We are a not-for-profit organisation run entirely by volunteers. We stage a variety of type and typography related events including a series of diverse monthly lectures by well-known industry speakers, and the annual New York Type Directors Club exhibition.
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The Typographic Circle Presents...
RIAN HUGHES Rian Hughes is a British graphic designer, illustrator and comics artist. Hughes graduated from London College of Printing before working for an advertising agency, i-D magazine, and a series of record sleeve design companies. Under the name Device he now provides design and illustration for advertising campaigns, record sleeves, book jackets, graphic novels and television. Since setting up his studio, Device, he has worked extensively for the British and American comic industries as a designer, typographer, and illustrator.
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Part of an illustrated cover for Marvelâ€™s Comic, Iron Man.
The Interview In the 1980s, Londoner Rian Hughes was one of the brightest young artists on the British comics scene. He went on to become a versatile designer, illustrator and lettering artist working for clients in the fields of publishing, music, sports, telecommunications, fashion and more. He is also the creator of an ever-growing library of typefaces — hundreds of them, in an amazing array of styles and atmospheres. Most of these have been published by his own type foundry, Device. Besides that, he is a writer and editor, and will be publishing two huge books later this year. Typo Circle would like you to meet Rian Hughes, a designer who wants to do it all. Typographic Circle - Rian, what are you working on at the moment? Rian Hughes - There are always several projects in various stages of completion. At the moment, the main deadlines that are looming are: Finishing the final layouts on two books I’ve edited and designed: Custom lettering of the ’60s and ’70s and Lifestyle Illustration of the 60s. Both are 576-page doorstops, and represent the culmination of a good few years work. Watch out for them later in the year. Other than that: Logo designs for two Wolverine comic launches, the rebooted New Mutants, and a logo for a new Batman series from DC; A logo for Archaia Studios, an independent publisher; A series of illustrations for new ranges from Clairefontaine, a French stationery company; A CD for the Priors, a French 4 - April 2012
band; The cover design for the Fat Freddy’s Cat Omnibus — this will be stylistically in keeping with last year’s Freak Brothers Omnibus — in other words, a hippy feast. Converting the Device library to OpenType (this one has been pending for four or five years, but I’m getting there! It’d be faster if I didn’t keep adding new ligatures and other OpenType fanciness). I have a couple of people — Silas Dilworth, whom you recentlyinterviewed, for one — helping out. 500+ font conversions, plus additions, is quite a project… Bubbling underneath, a return to drawing comics: a collaboration with old mucker Grant Morrison, another with American Virgin Steve Seagle, and a book for Fluide Glacial that will probably be a collection of pin-up images. That’s quite an impressive to-do list. Of all the things you do, is there a particular thing you like best, or do best? I have a low boredom threshold, so really variety is what keeps me interested. Almost any commission can be interesting if you look at it the right way (if the client allows you to look at it the right way!). You’re probably as close to stardom as a type designer and illustrator is likely to get. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that position? Do you often have to refuse work because it simply gets to be too much?
The Interview I’m sure I’m not up there in the stellar firmament — there are so many more capable designers with a lifetime of work behind them. Type design can occupy a large or a small chunk of my time, depending on which projects come in. Up until last month when we started on the OpenType conversions, I had not touched type design for almost a year. I have sketchbooks and doodles though, and these will get developed when time allows. Really, rather than having a great plan, what so often happens is the phone rings, or an e-mail comes in with an interesting proposition, and off I go… it’s quite often reactive rather than proactive, though I have been trying to change that with the new books and other more authorial projects. I’m pointing myself in a certain direction… Your roots are in comics. Has there been a moment in your life when you thought you were going to be a full-time comic strip artist for the rest of your life? What is it that is so attractive about comics? I was pretty much a full-time comic strip artist for six years. After hitting weekly deadlines for so long, I felt it was time for a break and to explore other creative avenues. But comics are in my blood — there’s something about the form, the authorial control, that appeals to me. I need to clone myself, and then I could do everything I’d like to do, right now. I’m impatient like that. You’re a brilliant draftsman, and an able user of software likeAdobe Illustrator. But do you really, really like working
with computers — do you ever miss the pre-digital era? Thank you — I did draw four new illustrations and endpapers using brush and ink for the Yesterday’s Tomorrows book last year. It’s a collection of my comic strips — collaborations with writers likeRaymond Chandler and Grant Morrison — and I did really enjoy it. It was very quick, strangely — I think though I’m fast with Illustrator, I’m faster with a brush. I was commissioned by a French stationery company to produce four duotone illustrations using brush and ink for a range of items recently — waste bins, folders, binders, that kind of thing, and it was a bit of a nostalgia trip. I then overlaid the images with digital elements and color, something I’d not have been able to do before, so in the final analysis the images were very much hybrids. As an illustrator, you master several different styles. However, in most cases there is a reference to the atmospheres and styles of the 1950s and early 1960s. What is it — fascination, admiration? Nostalgia perhaps for an era when things seem to be less complicated, and when commercial art was more naive? I think that it’s not an attempt to be knowingly retro — it’s more that the colors and shapes, the juxtapositions and motifs that appeal to me tend to be angular, brash and colorful — “graphic”, perhaps — so the periods in design and illustration where those concerns were to the fore will appeal to me more, April 2012 - 5
The Interview sing in tune with my visual heart. I’m not so lit up by Nouveau noodlings, even though it’s great fun to work on, for example, the Freak Brothers projects where a hippy pop culture riff on those themes is entirely appropriate. I’m sure you could analyze someone’s worldview by looking at their preferences for certain curves or angles, colors and shapes. Are you a yellow circle or a blue square? Or typefaces. Are you a Space Cadet or an English Grotesque? I’m a Slack Casual. With contextual ligatures. The range of genres and styles repre-
sented in your font library is huge. What is it that inspires you to draw new typefaces? All manner of things. Like design in general, if there’s a cohesive internal structure, an idea expressed through every character, it works for me. Sometimes I’ll purposefully set myself up to work against familiar approaches, just to make things difficult and interesting. I currently have a few loose scripts on the drawing board, and am playing with the possibilities of contextual ligatures. I’ll probably find a way to make the technology do something other than what it was intended for.
September is an unlikely mix of calligraphic sensibility and techno-inspired geometry. The secret is in the diagonal contrast between the thin and the thick parts — recalling the stroke of the broadnibbed pen — combined with careful modular construction. The alternation of angular and round endings and joints give the eye something to feast on when the type is big, and something to cling to when it’s small.
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Blackcurrant is one of those Rian Hughes fonts that blend in seamlessly with his colorful style of outline drawings. No need, though, to commission illustration work from him to get that vintage cartoon atmosphere: this family does it all by itself. Whimsical and cheerful, Blackcurrant’s asymmetric forms add fun to flyers, packaging and Tourist Board brochures. “Squash” is the more condensed version, “Black” is rather wide, and “Cameo” — now pay attention — is priceless.
The Interview Most of your typefaces capture a certain style or atmosphere without copying a specific model. Do you feel you’re a “character actor”, in some way? Which of your typefaces come closest to being “you”? Ministry is the only straight revival I’ve done, though I’m working on a new, unrelated, American revival. Rather than pastiche, I’d say “essence” is what I’m after. Paralucent and Blackcurrant are very “me”. The rough wood types are less “me”, but have been hugely popular. Give the public what it craves! Your English Grotesque clearly refers to the Johnston Underground/Gill Sans model. What was your motivation to design something in that direction? Again, I was after the “essence” — that clunky Englishness, that ruler-and-compass sans that was derived from earlier serif proportions. I took it back to the sources before Gill to see if I could distil the characteristics further, get at the real evocative heart of that style. When designing type, are your decisions purely intuitive, or are they in some way function-driven? They are rarely driven by function if you define that as designing for a specific technical use — but they do need to function as clear expressions of an idea. A bad typeface is an unresolved typeface, one that doesn’t know what it’s trying to convey. Font design is a curious mix of the technical and the aesthetic,
the left and right brain. It’s been ten years since your first digitized typefaces were commercially released. Were you always meant to be a type designer, or did this originally happen as a by-product of your illustration work? Looking back, I’ve always had a broad spread of interests — or obsessions, possibly. One of these was type. I have many, many sketches and inked alphabets from when I was 13 or 14 — I rediscovered these recently and there are actually a couple of good ideas there that might actually form the basis of some upcoming fonts. They tend to be the kind of decorative headline type of type. The illustration, comics, and design work has always proceeded alongside this, and an old passion — photography — has just recently fired me up again. I took hundreds of shots on my travels all over the world in my 20s, and now with a new negative scanner I’m going slowly through them and cleaning up the best in Photoshop. Many of them have the exact same concerns with layout and composition that my illustrations have, if anything in a purer and more starkly abstract fashion. They also feature some nice typographic oddities. Maybe I need to look at putting a small book together and finding a publisher. Though your typefaces are unmistakably of the now, they have a certain retro feel to them. How do you explain that?
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The Interview I guess it’s a fascination with ’70s and ’80s headline faces as epitomized by the Letragraphica range. None are meant to be historical recreations or pastiches. I think the flavour of a font sometimes emerges from the internal construction without much duress from the designer. Certain underlying frameworks have been popular at certain times, so using these forms to structure a font lends them that flavour by association. English Grotesque, for example, fills the same “idea space” as Gill because it investigates the same idea — a sans based on traditional Trajan serif proportions, most obvious in the wide ‘W’ or ‘T’ and narrow ‘S’ for example. This style of font through use has become associated with early modernism, especially in the UK. Your very first fonts were released under the FontFont umbrella. Next came Device, and nowadays licenses for your fonts can be purchased through various outlets like T26. What made you decide to self-publish? Device fonts are distributed direct from the Device site, or by Veer (who do a monthly catalogue that’s very good), Fontworks, FontShop and T26. I had a huge backlog of fonts that just couldn’t all be published as FontFonts, and I really preferred the idea of bringing them under a personal library banner. That way I could create a unique range with it’s own character, something that’d get lost if my work was subsumed into a larger collection. What are your experiences with Device? 8 - April 2012
No one got rich by designing fonts! Device is a project that sometimes I will not work on for up to a year, depending on other commissions. I see it as a slow build over a long period of time. It’s the home for fonts that derive from commissioned work (say for advertising campaigns, magazines etc) but importantly more personal type experiments. These I can send out into the world to find their own uses, which is one of the most interesting aspects of type design — seeing your font in use unexpectedly on someone else’s design. As a designer and illustrator working in digital media, you don’t really depend on being in a metropolis like London for making a living. Ever thought of leaving the city? Geographical proximity to clients is much less of an issue than it used to be, especially as many of them are in the US and Japan. Every time we move studio, it seems to be a bit further out of London. We’ve moved from Wardour Street to Clerkenwell to Bayswater to Portobello to Kew, which means I now actually travel out from the centre instead of in. It’s nice here, though — mellow atmosphere, trees, Kew Gardens and a traditional pie shop. However, London is a cultural hub, an inspirational resource that always refuels the inspiration — “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.” (Samuel Johnson)