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Personalities

Andy Crewdson of Lines & Splines

Our writer interviews Andy Crewdson of Lines & Splines. We especially like that he is an ‘average indie kid.’

The following interview represents a series of emails between Mr. Crewdson of Lines & Splines and TMN. We especially like that he is an ‘average indie kid.’

TMN: Dear Andy,

AC: Dear RB,

TMN: When did you begin Lines & Splines?

AC: Right at the beginning of October… so about 2 1/2 months ago.

TMN: What is the purpose of the site? What is the public reception like?

AC: Well, I don’t suppose I have a very clearly defined purpose. The site is really just a way for me to loosely organize the typography-related things tumbling around in my head. Sometimes I just post observations, other times I provide links to things I’ve been enjoying. I felt I had to have a go at doing a weblog since I read so many other people’s logs. But I was sure I didn’t want to do something unfocused—I don’t think that would be very interesting (i.e. what I ate for lunch today). I enjoy many of those sites, but I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy doing one myself. So far the site is going quite well.

As for the reception, it’s been suprisingly good. I was lucky enough to get some notice early on (just a week after I started the site I was linked by some other prominent sites), and ever since then it seems like I’ve had many readers. I get positive feedback relatively often and I’m very appreciative of it. It’s great to know people are reading what you write and are enjoying it.

TMN: How did you get interested in type? What do you find so exciting about it?

AC: It started right at the end of my senior year in high school. I think what really got me going was when I saw an issue of Emigre magazine, and to them I suppose I owe a lot. When I get interested in things, I tend to get _really_ interested in them, and type has been no exception to this. I’m not sure I can say exactly what I find exciting about type. It’s a mix of things probably: its expansive history (and alternately, its novelty), the way it’s around us everywhere we look, its beauty & its ugliness, and so on.

TMN: How have you educated yourself about type?

AC: Well, the web of course has been a great help to me. It’s really just a matter of having the requisite interest. You compile bookmarks, begin visiting type-related sites regularly, look at sites those sites link to, etc. The same way works with books: start by getting the same three type books that everyone recommends, and then you’ll slowly branch out when you become more aware of what’s available. It’s really just a matter of devoting the time to read things and then investigate further.

TMN: How much significance does type carry in contemporary design?

AC: Well, I think it’s a given that type and design are inextricably linked, although the relationship is a complex one. Type has traditionally been the concern of ‘designers,’ but with personal computers it has become everyone’s concern (acknowledged or not). This phenomenon has of course been noted many times in the past, but it’s really significant. I mean, we see the fall-out from this everyday—when we walk through the hall at school or to the coffee-maker at work, we’re confronted with printed matter created by people who have picked certain fonts. Though we might not see much of a relationship between Gutenberg’s 42-line bible and the secretary’s hot-pink ‘8x11’ flyer which uses ten different fonts, both use type. So, in many ways, issues surrounding type are more relevant today than at any other time in history.

As for good type today, well this is difficult to say. A trend in type design we’ve seen in the last few years sort of mirrors what happened in the 1500s and 1600s when ‘type designers’ became somewhat separate from printers or ‘type founders.’ People who cut type would strike out on their own, selling their matrices to founders or printers in various towns. Today, many of the top-notch type designers are also independent businessmen (this comparison is not of my own creation—it’s also been made by many others). Some of the best currently working today are Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones in New York, Matthew Carter and David Berlow in Massachusetts, Zuzana Licko in Berkeley, Luc de Groot in Berlin, Gerard Unger in Bussum (Netherlands), and the many younger Dutch designers located in The Hague, Amsterdam, and Arnhem. As I’ve discussed on my site, it seems to me that in the last 15 years, the largest quantity of consistently high-quality, well-designed, and innovative digital type has come out of The Netherlands.

TMN: What kind of social role, do you think, kind sir, does type play?

AC: Well, this is an immensely difficult question—one that you could write many books about. I would say, though, that type does play some sort of socio-cultural role beyond just allowing us to express language visually. As many have shown (Emil Ruder, Wolfgang Weingart & Jeff Keedy, among many others, have all written about how type is perceived in a cultural context), type can convey quite a lot beyond things like emotion or ideas—more subtle things of which most people aren’t aware.

TMN: What’s your opinion of type usage on the web?

AC: Well, on the web there’s obviously lots of bad design—or more aptly, non-design (I don’t dare call myself a ‘designer,’ but I’ve read quite a lot about design and looked at lots of examples of it, so I do feel I can judge it from time to time). So, you have lots of people using type on the web who don’t think much about how they’re using it (see my secretary example above). You also have lots of style mimickry, where there are design trend-setters and many attendant copyists (you of course have this in every realm of design, including print). Again, this leads to lots of not-so-good type. I would say, from my experience, a large portion of people who describe themselves as ‘designers’ may not have as much type knowledge as you’d hope. I feel that if you call yourself a designer, you really should have some sort of typographic grounding—it’s essential.

TMN: Do you feel this absence of type knowledge is because of a lack of formal education, a lack of fundamental interest, the popularity/ease of becoming a ‘designer’ these days (especially in the web industry), or any other reason?

AC: Well, I think it’s a combination of all of these things. I do think that any designer who doesn’t have a ‘fundamental interest’—a deep, abiding interest—in type, maybe shouldn’t be a designer. And yes, I think the web has essentially changed the meaning of ‘designer,’ because of the way the appelation is applied and adopted so easily by such a broad range of people. Maybe this sounds elitest, but I don’t think it is because I’m really an impartial observer when it comes to this (I don’t at all claim to be a ‘designer’ by any stretch). But I see people who can write a little HTML who make a huge point of labelling themselves ‘designers’ and then I see people who have studied for years and practiced at the highest level of design for decades call themselves ‘designers’ as well…so, how can this be reconciled? How can these two sorts of people both be ‘designers’? I suppose they can, but at that point, the word loses meaning for me.

TMN: What are some of your favorite print designers around right now?

AC: I’m not too impressed with a lot of stuff going on right now in print design. Irma Boom and the team of Armand Mevis & Linda van Deursen are certainly two of my favorite print designers working right now; I also admire Lorraine Wild, Wolfgang Weingart, Wim Crouwel, Willi Kunz, Stefan Sagmeister, Ed Fella, and many others (many old guys like Herbert Bayer, El Lissitsky, &c.).

TMN: How about a favorite font or application?

AC: Well, this is a hard question…I don’t have one eternal favorite font, it’s usually changing frequently. Right now it’s probably Bram De Does’ font Trinité, which I’ve mentioned a few times on my site.

TMN: Perhaps a tough question: what causes you, on an emotional, irrational level to declare one example of type good, another bad? Or, is this not the case? How do most people respond, do you think? Thank you.

AC: Well, this is indeed a tough question. I think that most people don’t think at all whether a specific example of type is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They probably only think about it if they have trouble reading it. Now, of course if it’s a book cover, that’s different—even non-typo people evaluate things like that on a somewhat aesthetic basis. In my case, I have lots of preconceptions about type (how I think it should be used, &c.), so when I see something, I immediately think about it in that context. Emotion comes into the equation when I have some sort of negative associations with a certain font (for example), then I might.

TMN: In your experience, what art form do you find to be the most closely related with type-design? Both architecture and literature come to mind, with their concern for the precision and eloquence of relating a story and/or concept…many others, as well. Your take?

AC: Well, I might say calligraphy…but in many ways this is too close to type design to be considered a separate art. Architecture certainly shares many similarities (requiring an understanding of form, function, proportion, ornament, draftmanship, &c.). Your comparison to literature is one that never ocurred to me but seems to be a very good one, albeit in a more abstract way. I guess I think type design is in many ways a very singular endeavor, which incorporates aspects of many disciplines/crafts/arts, but remains rather specialized and unrelated to other things.

TMN: How do you respond to people who think concerning oneself with letters is a waste of time? With knives?

AC: Well, I’d say this is pretty foolish. Everyone has their interests, and type happens to be mine. Of the things one could be obsessed with, it’s a pretty good one. It seems that there’s always new aspects to discover, and this makes sense: not only are there 550 years of history, but people are making new fonts everyday (not to mention using them in new ways all the time). So, I think one would be hard-pressed to lose interest in typography.

TMN: For the kids’ sake, what’s your story?

AC: I’m 21 and an undergraduate history major at Berkeley. My other primary interest aside from type is music (listening, not playing). I’m pretty much your average indie kid, but I try not to get as nerdy about music as I am about type. smile

TMN: Yours, RB

AC: Kind regards, Andy