Planet typography
The typographic Times
Jeremy Tankard


[August 2006]
“Understanding how digital type works,
the specifications are as important as understanding the forms of the letters
& how they work in various languages.”

Jeremy Tankard

Jeremy Tankard

You are graduated from the Royal College of Art. Why have you decided in the end to focus on type design ?

FF DisturbanceI began to focus on type generally during my time at the RCA. I spent a lot of time in the letterpress room. For my thesis I designed the Disturbance type (later released as FF Disturbance in 1993). It was called Disturbance as my lecturers said “I couldn’t do this to the alphabet it is too disturbing”. During my second/final year at the RCA I looked more closely at letters and created a couple more fonts. The very early stages of Bliss were created then.

After graduation I got a job in corporate design at Addison Design Consultants. My first project was Sabena Belgian Airlines (now gone). Addison went bankrupt in 1994 (ish) and I went and worked at Wolff Olins, where I stayed for about 4 years (though I did take 6 months off to travel Australia). During the 6 (ish) years of employment I developed Bliss and a few other fonts (Blue Island, The Shire Types, Alchemy) in my spare time. When I came back from Australia I basically knew I wanted to leave and do my own thing. So a few months after my return I resigned and set up Jeremy Tankard Typography to focus on my type designs.

Is the technical aspect of your job (a typeface is an piece of art and... a software) a significant part of your job ? Is it a constraint or an opportunity for the artist you are also ?

Type today wouldn’t exist without the technology - it is an absolute part of it. Understanding how digital type works, the specifications are as important as understanding the forms of the letters and how they work in various languages. I approach type design as product design (not so much as art). As time goes on it ’can’ be seen more as software design - some designers already see it as this (think of Letterror in The Netherlands).

OpenTypeI don’t see the technology as a constraint - more a challenge. I enjoy making OpenType fonts which involve a great deal of program code in order to make the fonts function.

The design of type hasn’t changed much over the years. The same problems exist today as they did 100 years ago and longer. As technology changes/advances there are just more issues, sometimes different issues, to juggle. The optical effects still remain - overshoots, spacing, balance, rhythm… but now we also have Windows OS, Mac OS, PostScript, TrueType, low resolution output, ClearType rendering, Quartz rendering, Unicode, OpenType features and expanded EU language support etc. etc.

Do you prefer to design a commissioned typeface for a corporate customer or a widely available one distributed by you directly or by a foundry ?

I generally design for my own foundry. Sometimes people contact me to ask if I undertake commissions (from logos to full fonts). Depending on what the job is and how busy I am, I will accept the project. I generally only work on new designs and ones that could eventually enter my retail collection.

Christchurch Art GallerySometimes commissions are restrictive (I may not accept these jobs). Sometimes they are open - as they want me to design it, not re-work their attempt. Christchurch Art Gallery was a perfect job - the release version is Aspect. They initially wanted a basic font - I decided to turn it into a huge ligature-based beast - they got a lot more than they asked for. As a result the visual design of the art gallery is intrinsically linked to the design of the font (see Footnote 02).

Arjowiggins InuitThe recent Arjowiggins Inuit font (see the related article) was a bit restricted. I wanted to make it support Central European languages and a few weights, but the person who could make the decision was on holiday at the time!! A real pain, as the final font could’ve been so much more.

You seem to like to design “disturbing” typefaces. Why ?

I presume you mean the types Disturbance, Blue Island, perhaps Alchemy, maybe The Shire Types, Aspect. These fonts have specific visual ideas. Whereas Bliss, Enigma, Shaker, Wayfarer, Kingfisher, (Corbel for Microsoft) are text fonts. I’m inspired by all areas of type and lettering. Sometimes I will design a display font, sometimes a text font. Depends. Type is so varied.

You have published “A small book of typefaces”. Do you consider the making of type specimens as part of the job of a type designer ?

A small book of typefacesYes. they can be PDF or printed items, but a specimen should exist - more so today as fonts can be quite complicated with many characters and functions, this is certainly the case in OpenType. It is essential that the person buying/using the font understands what the font can do, what characters it has etc. I also produce a ’user guide pdf’ that is packaged with each specific font. This describes how to access certain features/characters unique to that font.

I suppose a marketing department could do them, but I am on my own and I see no reason to send it out. I understand the type as I designed it, so it makes sense that I design the spec book.

On your site, your types are... animated. Does it mean anything ? [I don’t know if it’s a stupid question: maybe it’s just the designer of the site or maybe, it’s because today the typefaces are more and more used on a computer screen or on TV]

No - just a bit of visual movement. I remember a web designer saying that they are pretty poor uses of Flash. Which I laughed at, as the point is to show the type not the application! I don’t have much time for spinning logos and Flash heavy sites, they all seem to look the same.

On the web (Google) you are known as “Jeremy Tankard Typography”. But it seems that there exists too a “Jeremy Tankard Illustration”. Do you know each other ?

Yes, we contact each other on and off. He initially emailed me when he registered the domain name (he has a link to me on his site). It was odd as I was thinking about registering the domain, but decided it was paranoia - when do you stop - there are so many domains now.

Related article: AW Inuit typeface portrait (June 2006) and Inuit marketing strategy (May 2007). See also (external links) the article of Jack Yan about Jeremy’s works and this other one on the Small book of typefaces.