August 19, 2014

Looking at Letters and Designing Them: Laura Meseguer, Type Designer

Photography by Norman Posselt.

At BunkerType in Barcelona. Photography by Jesús Morentin.

Laura Meseguer is a freelance graphic and type designer in Barcelona, Spain. In addition to running her studio, working on both commercial and commissioned projects, she is the co-founder of Type-Ø-Tones, a typographic design foundry. Here, she elaborates on her approach to designing letters and alphabets.

On being a typeface designer

How did you arrive at what you do as a typeface designer? Was there an initial encounter of typography that played a role in your path toward becoming a typeface designer?

It has been a quite long time for me working as a type designer, but it happened, naturally. My father was a printer, and I had a great drawing teacher at school. Later, I studied graphic design and began to work in design agencies at the time when computers arrived there.

It was the moment when I joined Type-Ø-Tones (my digital type foundry) where I began to discover more tools and experiment a bit. My referents in design were those where typography played a main role, either as lettering in logotypes or as a huge headline on a magazine page. So, from the very beginning, I started to look at letters and its design as ways to express ideas and concepts.

Letterpress printing with wood-types at Familia Plómez, Madrid.

What were essential activities/steps you took to start and establish yourself as a typeface designer? Why were these activities/steps important?

Joining Type-Ø-Tones in 1992 is relevant, because I found a group of enthusiastic beginners like me, and enrolling in the Postgraduate Type & Media program of the the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, during 2003–2004. This is a full-year experience of learning ‘how-to’ methods and topics taught by professionals who teach you different ways to approach type design, and give you necessary feedback to achieve a personal project on a professional level. This experience encouraged me to become a full-time type designer.

What is lettering and typeface design’s purpose or obligation in our society, the world?

To assure culture and education, because they are the visual representation of words.

Who are your lettering and typeface design-related influences?

Maybe my lettering work is influenced by calligraphy, and my type design is influenced by letters that are both emotional and functional.

Calligraphic alphabet composition of the Tipofino Collection, a personal retail store of typographic things, printed with different techniques on paper and clothes.

How do you arrive at the idea of a typeface you want to realize?

My personal work is based on ideas I want to see in a completely functional alphabet. In viewing a typeface as a system, I try to think of systems in a different way, not only considering the weight or condensation values. If not a family and just a single typeface, I always look for an attribute.

Design of a high-contrast display typeface inspired by the pointed pen and copperplate calligraphy, yet with a retro-chic twist.

Personal project of lettering and poster for Comuniza Studio’s second-anniversary celebration.

What is your process of designing a typeface, from notion to availability?

When having an idea, the first thing is to write it, and quickly sketch it by hand, defining some attributes, both functional and aesthetic. This allows me to put the limits within which I will play in. Later, I keep on sketching by hand till I have some key characters defined and structured—for all the styles I want to design—allowing me to understand better if my idea of design makes sense, or if I need to change some aspects.

After some feedback—coming from the client if it’s a custom project, or some colleagues if it’s a personal project—I may reflect some changes in new drawings that will be scanned and digitally redrawn. Here, the process requires a workflow of drawing, testing, and production.

Similar to a lot of other elements of visual culture, it feels like a typeface is birthed every moment. What is your take on the proliferation of fonts?

This is a resulting mix, consisting of many circumstances: more training and education, more tools, more means to easily promote and distribute your work. You can think that all fonts are equally good, but this is not the case, considering that a camera doesn’t make a photographer, or a computer doesn’t make a type designer.

Design of a display typeface with strong character. Lalola has already received two mentions, the Typefacts’ Best Typefaces of 2013 and the prestigious Type Directors Club 2014 Certificate of Excellence.

I like your typeface Lalola (formerly Lola). Must ask: How did you arrive at the name?

Actually, in a very intuitive way, Lola is a very popular Spanish name, associated with women of character and personality, as it is in this typeface.

Whether in a bookstore, physically or online, do you judge a book by its cover design?

I have a nice collection of books whose covers were designed by great lettering artists as Michael Harvey or Ricard Giralt Miracle. It’s difficult to find such quality work nowadays. There are some exceptions, but sadly, many book covers are designed by people with a huge lack of knowledge and sensibility regarding typography.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute to doing the quality of work you want to do?

I work in a shared studio space, used by other graphic, industrial, and interior designers. It’s a peaceful space, with lots of natural light—qualities that are very important for me

How do you get the word out about what you do?

Mainly through my website and Type-Ø-Tones, and, of course, sharing it via the usual social networks. I am happy to see my work published in blogs, books, and magazines, and to be able to explain it in lectures or workshops.

How do you attract clients and work?

This is a difficult task that takes lots of time. I have done little with activities concerning self-promotion. Better if I get an agent, someone who can offer my work in the best way and in the right direction. So far, I’m lucky enough to receive projects from many clients, from different places and activities, who understand the power of custom lettering and type design.

What is your definition of growth, as it relates to business?

Feeling confident—because of having clients who trust you and allow you to keep your freedom.

On creativity, design, working

How do you handle disagreements while you’re working?

Before I start a specific project, I always talk a lot with the clients. People who ask me to work on a custom type-design project know that I’m probably the best for that project. It’s also is a matter of confidence and trust.

What part of your work is particularly trying—and how do you deal with it?

The production phase. If the budget allows it, I prefer to collaborate with someone. Every part of the process is important, but I enjoy better working on different kinds of projects and escape routine.

What tools do you use and recommend to work on ideas and make them grow, to collaborate and get things done?

Like many other type designers, I work with specific programs, such as FontLab and Glyphs, on the development and editing of fonts. For collaboration, what tools are used depends on the workflow and the requirements of the project.

Design, curating, editing of a publication devoted to the use of typography in contemporary magazines.

How do you stay creative? What are some of your sources of motivation/inspiration?

I feel very much inspired by calligraphy, the vernacular lettering, and all the precious signs you can find throughout the streets.

What is your definition of bad design?

Obviously, it’s design that doesn’t accomplish the requirements it was designed for.

If you were asked, “Laura, how can I do the work you do.” What’s your response?

That ‘nobody should try to work like someone else’—perfectly fine to be inspired by others, we all do, but it’s best to find your own way and practice a lot, because working hard is the only way to do type design.

Any other aspects of your work that would be interesting to creative practitioners and aspiring product/business makers?

Respect and give value to the work that type designers do—and explain it to others.

How does the city of Barcelona contribute to your work?

It contributes to my way of seeing. Barcelona is a mix of many things, most of them very inspiring, still: the modernism, the color of the city, and the climate, of course—everything that influences our daily lives can be reflected in design.

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All images courtesy of Laura Meseguer.

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Read more from Design Feast Series of Interviews with people who love making things.

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