Typography is for everyone

Typography speaks to instinct. Often an unnoticed element, type can serve as the biggest influence in a design because it tends to tell the personality of a piece before the copy’s been read. To share the love of type with the company, Addepar’s Design team hosted an in-house, hands-on workshop with Rod Carvazos, owner of PSY/OPS Type Foundry in San Francisco, California.

About Rod + PSY/OPS Type Foundry

PSY/OPS specializes in custom typefaces for startups. It also creates typefaces based on logos for larger corporations like Taco Bell, Amazon, Dr. Seuss books, and Jack Daniels. PSY/OPS uses FontLab to create type since, compared to Adobe Illustrator, it’s easier for typographers to draw curves. PSY/OPS can typically create an entire font family in about a month–a lightning-fast pace that only years of experience and a lot of hard work can accomplish.

Rod’s dedicated his career to the intricacies of type, and he sees all type as equal and beautiful. If a typeface looks overdone or bad, he thinks it’s because it’s been misapplied. For example, Rod believes Comic Sans has such a bad reputation because it’s been used incorrectly for so many years; Comic Sans was created for comic books, not government documents. For that purpose, it’s actually a very well made typeface.

Rod’s process is simple: he starts with one letter and builds the entire font from there. A true kid at heart, he told us that he loves and cares for letters as if they’re his children, or imaginary characters in a story he gets to bring to life. Whenever he has the chance, he creates fun objects to interact with the letters. With reluctance, he explained that his least favorite letter is “W” (but don’t let W know that, of course). It’s a tricky letter to draw because it’s often wider than the every other letter. He loves “K” because it’s simplest to transition into other letters.

Our Workshop Experience

Rod kicked off the workshop with a session just for our Design team. He introduced blocks and puzzles with unique typefaces, and we “oohed” and “awed” while spelling out silly words. He reminded us to have fun with type and not take it too seriously. More importantly, he reminded us to turn off our inner critic.

After goofing around, we began Fontbake: a process for creative discovery and playful collaboration founded by the PSY/OPS Type Foundry and (The) Alphabetic Order. It was the perfect opportunity to just draw. As we sketched, Rod reminded us of the history of typography, how written communication came to be, and how knowledge of both allows us to make educated decisions about type while remaining open to new possibilities. After completing the Design team’s Fontbake experience, we opened it up to the company. It was really great to see how different everyone’s sketches were. Drawing expertise didn’t matter; this process was just about releasing your inner child.

When we were finished drawing letters, we placed them on a table and admired our work. A week or so later, Rod sent us the working typeface for us all to remember the workshop.

Using Type to Improve Our Product

After the workshop, we picked Rod’s brain about Addepar’s use of Univers, an expansive font family that lends itself well to a variety of uses. A font family is the entire system of styles for a typeface that encompasses bold, thin, italic, etc.

Our issues with Universe are that a) the rendering of the dot on the lowercase “i” sometimes makes it look more like a lowercase “l”, and b) the rendering of bold text causes legibility issues. Ideally, the font family should remain legible no matter the weight. Rod pointed out that the owner of the font (Monotype) will generally work with clients to fix these kind of issues. If we’re unable to fix them, we’ll look into creating our very own font.

Overall, the workshop was a success. We had a lot of fun while learning more about an integral part of our work. We hope it was just as rewarding for those who attended, and we look forward to hosting more events like this in the future.

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