CommunityInterview: Type Designer Mattox Shuler

Matt Spiel
writes on September 25, 2014

I recently interviewed Mattox Shuler, a type designer who runs Fort, his type foundry. Mattox was kind enough to talk to me a bit about his journey to becoming a full-time type designer and his new Treehouse course.

MS: Mattox, let me start by saying I am a huge fan of Fort and your work. I know everyone at Treehouse is incredibly excited for your web typography course to release.

MX: Thanks so much Matt. I’m honored you guys thought of me for the course. It’s been a lot of fun seeing it all come together.

MS: Alright, to get us started why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

MX: My full name is George Mattox Shuler, but the “George” is definitely silent—so I just go by Mattox. I grew up in Georgia and got into design because I was in band, and well, bands need merch. That’s how I got hooked on type.

Design continued to play a background role studied Marketing at the University of Georgia, but I was never formally trained in design. After graduating in 2010, I took some courses through Treehouse which helped me build a solid foundation in web design. I worked for a website that published articles daily and each one needing a nice typographic header. I was scouring the web for good type every day and I decided to see what it takes to make a typeface. I downloaded Glyphs and was enamored with the process.

MS: So, you haven’t been doing type design full-time for very long, what was the process of making that jump like?

MX: That’s right. I went full time through my personal foundry, Fort back in November of 2013.

The process of making that jump to full-time was interesting. When I first set out to design a font, I wasn’t trying to be a ‘type designer.’ I didn’t know if I thought it was a valid job or not—let alone if you could do it for a living. I knew I liked type, so I thought “Why not try to design a font or two and give ‘em away for free?” Those first feeble efforts as seen below were pretty amusing.

I had no clue what I was doing and many of the principles l knew from graphic design did not translate well. The upside is that I was having a lot of fun trying.

I eventually decided to release my first professional typeface with the necessary language support, symbols, etc. So I reached out to MyFonts who helped push me in the right direction. I still had my day-job at this point so I did all this on the side. I changed the name to Bourbon and finally put it up for sale.

Gin was the third font I put up for sale and it was very well received. It made it’s way onto MyFont’s Rising Stars newsletter and it was at that moment I realized I could make a decent living designing and selling type. I was thrilled.

Looking back, I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, I had a passion for it and it paid the bills. I took the leap into full-time type design and I’m grateful to be able to type design for a living.

MS: Are there any resources you would recommend for anyone who might want to start doing type design?

MX: Yes, absolutely!

Get This Book: Designing Type by Karen Cheng. I continue to go back to this book as it’s incredibly helpful for type design. The book details each letter (serif and sans-serif versions) and talks about the intricacies and design of each. It also references different typefaces and how they handle certain characters. I highly recommend it.

Download Glyphs and Get Familiar with how it works. When I started, I began designing with Glyphs Mini which was only $45 in Apple’s app store. You can also download a free trial version of the full Glyphs for 30 days which is great because you can figure out if you’re really into type design (it definitely takes a certain personality) without blowing your savings. If you’re familiar with Illustrator, you’ll pick up some things quick, but with any program there’s going to be a learning curve. Glyphs has some good tutorials over on their site too.

Find Some Friends in the Type and Design World. Having a another set of eyes on your work is invaluable. You might miss an awkward part of a letter because your eyes have gotten used to staring and working with the letterforms (typefaces can take weeks to months to years to build). Have someone design with a draft of a font to get their thoughts. It’s friends in the industry who have helped shaped my typefaces to what you see today.

MS: Where do you get the inspiration for your fonts?

MX: As a kid I despised going to antique stores and sitting around waiting for my parents to find stuff. Now, you can’t get me out ‘em. I love going and perusing through all the old product packaging or painted type on signs. I’ll take pictures and keep an inspiration folder on my phone or laptop that I’m often referencing. There’s so much good stuff and style from back then.

I’ve also found typehunting.com to be really helpful along with seeing what’s going on in the #badgehunting craze that Allan Peters is pioneering.

MS: Ok, here’s a real typical type question: What are your favorite serif and slab serif fonts?

MX: Serif-wise, I love Okay Type’s Harriet Series, and Eames from House Industries is super nice and stylish. Slab-serif-wise, I love the versatility of H&Co’s Sentinel, and sometimes you just gotta go with a heavy-hitter like Ironmonger from John Downer.

MS: Do you have a process or methodology you use when you create font pairings, especially for web?

MX: We talk about a number of different ways to go about this in the course, but I think I naturally gravitate toward pairing typeface with complementary personalities. I’ll read through the content at hand and write down some adjectives describing the tone or mood of it. I’ll then look for typefaces that convey or complement that mood and experiment with a typographic palette of those choices. Check out H&Co’s techniques on Combining Fonts, they’ve got more on it there.

MS: Alright, last question: Can you give us any sneak peaks into new fonts you are getting ready to release?

MX: Good question. As I’m writing this, I’m actually finishing up a release called Factoria (out now on MyFonts and Fort Foundry). It’s what happened when I took my typeface Industry into my underground slaboratory—the place where slabs are fused to letterforms:

MS: Mmmm. Hamburgers! Looks great Mattox. Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me!

Stay tuned for Mattox’s new course coming to Treehouse soon!

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