Life of Type
By Kathryn Weinstein
Photographs and Artwork Courtesy of Thomas Jockin
Interview first appeared in UCDA’s Designer magazine (Vol. 41, Issue 3, Fall 2016)
Thomas Jockin is passionate about type! Thomas is a typographic designer with a BFA in communication design from Parsons School of Design and a postgraduate certificate in typeface design from Cooper Union. Thomas started his own foundry in 2011 with the release of his debut typeface, Garçon Grotesque. Since then, he’s gone on to release two more families: Ductus, a five-weight face whose style is as ancient as it is contemporary; and more recently, Azote, a multiline type family inspired by the 1968 Mexican Olympics that adds lines for weight. Thomas organizes the monthly Brooklyn meet-up and online venue, TypeThursday In this interview Thomas shares a little bit about his life, interests, and projects.
Tell us a little bit about your background?
I was born on Long Island, New York to an Irish father and Egyptian mother back in 1986. As I was growing up, I always loved drawing and painting. That was my original plan for my art career. Then I discovered End of Print the monogram of David Carson. I loved how he “painted” with letters. That was something I didn’t even think was possible.
Why did you decide to pursue a communications design degree and why Parsons School of Design?
My parents hadn’t had saved for me to go to college so it all came down to which of the art schools I applied to could offer in scholarship. Parsons came on top, so I went there. But that one choice would change my whole life direction. In my sophomore year, I had the type designer Joshua Darden as my Typography 1 instructor.
When did you decide type design would be your calling?
Meeting Joshua Darden was what made me a typeface designer. I had an interest in typography—in that painterly way David Carson used it—but I knew nothing about typeface design. He spoke of the history of written language, the emotional capacity in design, the complexity of technology. The end of that first lecture sold me! At the age of 19, I knew I wanted to think like he did and if I had to become to typeface design to gain that way to thinking, so be it.
Typography and type design is characterized as this super nerdy, technical, and logical discipline. I had none of that. I was a messy, chaotic, passionate kid; the last person you would expect to become a typeface designer. And yet, here I am. What made this possible was my absolute conviction that is discipline is worth my investment and to buy in to that commitment no matter what. That’s the skill you need to possess to become anything you want to become.
Top (header): Thomas Jockin, TypeThursday
Above: TypeThursday; Azote ©Thomas Jockin
What was your first job after graduating Parsons? How many jobs did you hold before you became an independent studio?
I went straight to an independent designer out of Parsons. I apprenticed under Joshua Darden from sophomore year until I graduated. From that point, I was on my own. Finding, developing, and managing client relationships was critical to me making it as a designer. When you work for yourself, you accept the responsibly for all aspects of the business and your relationship with your clients. That may seem like a lot, but I weight that less than my freedom.
Why did you pursue a postgraduate certificate in typeface design at Cooper Union and how did the experience impact your career?
After my apprenticeship with Josh, I had a crippling inadequacy inside me. I thought I was just a shadow of Josh, without anything unique to offer. I was producing typography and type design for clients, but never on the public retail market. My original plan was to save to attend the acclaimed KABK (The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague) graduate program for typeface design.
I was in the process of saving for that program when I was chatting with Jessica Hische at a Type Directors Club (TDC) talk and she pointed out that Cooper Union was starting a type design program in New York City. The deadline was that Friday at midnight and it was Thursday. I made it just in time for the application deadline and a month or so later I received a call from the TDC’s director, Carol Wahler, that I was accepted into the inaugural class.
The program had a dramatic improvement in my career. Just being in a class with great designers like Nick Sherman and Carlos Pagan really pushed me to do my best work. The instructors also pushed me to become a better typeface designer. By the end of that program I stripped away that horrible sense of inadequacy I had since I left apprenticing under Josh; I did have unique and valuable perspective in my craft. Since then, I’ve published three typeface families retail, and had the pleasure to work with clients such as Express, Foot Locker, and Starbucks. Going to Type@Cooper was the best decision I made for my career.
Ductus ©Thomas Jockin
Tell us about the typefaces you have designed (inspirations, challenges, favorite part of the process, least favorite part of process)?
A: Well, my first retail typeface, Garçon Grotesque was a simple brief; Can I make Copperplate Gothic better? Copperplate was one of those default design choices people make when they want to be fancy, stately, and stable. Instead of whining about poor choices, Garçon was my attempt to make this model work better. I did a big write up about the design process for the influential typography website, I Love Typography.
My second was Ductus, study on the fundamental of typeface design, the broad-nib pen. Ductus was originally from a client brief that got killed, but I was drawn to the idea of the fundamentals of calligraphy and flow.
My most recent release, Azote, also came from a client brief that was killed. The brief was for this multiline font that the strokes would get thicker in each weight. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not very exciting either. I came back with the crazy idea, “well, what if the typeface adds lines to for weight?” That simple idea took almost 3 years to get done. But I do love the results, and I’m very excited to expand on the project.
Universally my least favorite part of the process is kerning. Not because it’s tedious; but because in kerning the entire system of your design will be tested. A lot of times there will be a drawing or spacing decision that kerning exposed; you then have to go back and make the adjustment. If that adjustment affects a fundamental aspect of the design—say for example the rounds are too loose in spacing and too round in shape, you’ll have to make those corrections to every single character that has a round.
That may cost you hundreds of hours to correct. It’s a very stressful period of the design process to say the least.
What sort of projects are you working on now?
At the moment I’m developing the next family expansion of Azote. I’ve had this planned since I originally designed the typeface family. I’m really happy to get this next phase out into the world. I’m also working as a consultant to Google Font project to improve the quality of the fonts severed. It’s a privilege to work on a project used and seen by millions of people.
When did you start to box? And what is the relationship of boxing to typography?
I started boxing three years ago when I spent a year in Portland, Oregon. I was overweight and always wanted to pick up boxing. Pardon the pun, but I was absolutely hooked. I loved how the lessons of timing, rhythm, and spacing from type design directly related to boxing. How deeply one understands these simple fundamentals is the difference between the amateur and the professional.
What is TypeThursday?
TypeThursday’s mission is to welcome those who use, make, and love type. For those who use type, it’s a chance to learn more about the complexities of typeface design and for those who make type, it’s a venue to develop their skills and be more informed about the craft. I organize monthly type crits/ meet-ups in Brooklyn. The online component includes interviews with world-class type designers and users. I recommend readers to check out our interviews on Medium (medium.com/@TypeThursday), or check out our meet-ups on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TypeThursday).
Garçon Grotesque ©Thomas Jockin
What are your predictions for typographic design in the next decade?
As for the next decade, more robust typographic abilities on the web and apps are the trend. The kind of typographic expression possible will explode. Safari 9.1 now supports advance opentype features, finally catching up to the other modern web browsers. Frameworks that are easy to install and lightweight bring the robust print opentype options to the web designer today.
What are your go-to typefaces for design projects?
A typeface I’ll make myself! Kidding aside, while I am biased because I worked on the project, the Freight Superfamily is a masterpiece of type design.
If you were a typeface, what typeface would you be?
My typeface, Azote—formal discipline with an exuberant personality.
What skills do you need to be successful in this field? How much is technology impacting typeface design? What advice do you have for students wishing to pursue a similar career?
You’ll need a mix of the logic of the programmer, mastery of figure-ground relations of the painter, the firmness and understanding of the salesman. Coming to resolution to the contradictory nature of type design is the key to success.
Technology is in every aspect of type design. Written language itself is a technology. But it’s better to say technology mediates everything in type design—from how the printer or screen renders your outlines, to the automation of repetitive tasks with programing and the distribution of type through the Internet.
If you had unlimited funds, what would be your dream project?
To develop a typeface library for every language in the world—a kind of Tower of Babel.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be the strength for others to act.
Left to Right: Ductus In Use ©Thomas Jockin; TypeThursday; Azote ©Thomas Jockin