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Q&A with Tim Brown of Typekit and NiceWebType

O.M.G. people. I have a very exciting post this week. Following up my last post about my favorite font combos of the moment, I present to you an interview with Tim Brown of Adobe’s TypeKit and NiceWebType.

I had an opportunity to see a talk from Tim at Adobe Max’s “Universal Typography”, which you can watch here on Vimeo! This guy knows his stuff, especially when it comes to type in the digital realm. I highly recommend checking out work he’s published. He does a great “pocket guide” about combining type faces that you can pick up here on Five Simple Steps and his blog, NiceWebType, has a bevy of useful posts and resources.

Want to see some beautiful and inspiring examples of typography? Tim has put together a lovely gallery here on Dribble. Besides being an amazing master of type, he is also luckily super kind and agreed to a little interview with us at Aesthetic Crit!

Tell us a little about yourself and Typekit

Sure! I’ve been a web designer for ten years. I worked for Samsung briefly, and then Vassar College. Four years ago I started a blog at http://nicewebtype.com, and as a result I connected with Jeff Veen and Jason Santa Maria, who were getting ready to announce Typekit. I kept writing my blog, I wrote for A List Apart, and I kept in touch with Jeff and Jason. A few months later, Small Batch Inc. offered me a job. Since then I’ve been Type Manager for Typekit. I help type designers prepare their fonts for web use, and I help web designers with typography.

Q: Where did your love of type come from?

A: MS Word and SUNY New Paltz. As an art major writing college essays, I was frustrated by how difficult it was to control margins and spacing in Word. I knew there had to be a better application for controlling these details, and I later found out that QuarkXPress was that application. The graphic design program at SUNY New Paltz is also typographically rich, and I was introduced to many excellent resources.

Q: Before services like Typekit were available for web designers, what was your favorite font combo? On the flipside, what is your favorite type combo available on Typekit now?

A: Before Typekit, I used mostly Lucida, Verdana, and Georgia on the web. In print work, and in web images, there were a handful of faces I used repeatedly (I was interviewed for 8 Faces — these are seven of those eight): Scala Sans and Cronos (both of which are used on Nice Web Type now), Unibody, Shelley (my wedding font), Goudy Swash, Adobe Caslon, and Aldus (a relative of Hermann Zapf’s Palatino).

Successful font combinations all depend on context and design goals, so I don’t have favorites … but as it turns out, I just wrote a short book about combining typefaces: http://www.fivesimplesteps.com/products/combining-typefaces

Q: Looking around at the state of typography today, it’s more than obvious that slab serifs are huge right now. It seems like everyone is using a Museo Slab or an Archer ,etc. Why do you think this is? Do you think it’s being used inappropriately?

A: In college, a classmate of mine tried to characterize the overall design aesthetic of our time as “having mass”, citing products like the iPod and Audi TT. Slab serif typefaces feel massive. They also tend to render well on screen, because their serifs are as thick as their strokes.

I don’t notice much inappropriate use, aside from the fact that all-purpose typefaces are being used for body text (where they are not readable enough) and headings (where there are often more interesting choices available).

Q: As a designer myself, the idea of web fonts changed everything in how I design. Also, I feel like it is such an exciting space to be in right now. What excites you the most about design on the web today?

A: I want to help us figure out typesetting on the web. My new talk, Universal Typography http://universaltypography.com, is both extremely basic and deeply complex. Fundamental aspects of typesetting that have existed for hundreds of years are being challenged right now, and in facing that challenge we need to strike a balance between our traditions and this new environment.

Q: What’s the best advice you would give to a young designer about typography?

A: Read the text you’re typesetting. Have business reasons for choosing typefaces. Make time to study typefaces’ texture, rhythm, proportion, and shape. Look at how other folks are using type.

THANK YOU TIM! From one Type nerd to another, I thank you for championing the way for great typography on the web and in digital!

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