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Introduce yourself

I’m Rutherford, I’m a type designer originally from the UK and now based in The Netherlands. At the start of 2020 I founded Mass-Driver, an independent type foundry. I spend most of my time creating typefaces for the foundry catalogue, but I also work on websites, graphic design projects, and small software tools.

What's your background?

My first design job was with a local web design agency. It started out as graphic design, but by the time I left I was also doing a fair amount of front-end. I learned to code while I was there, and that quickly became a big part of my work.

After that job, I studied graphic design at Falmouth University. At this point I was interested in type, but very ignorant about it. The course at Falmouth taught next to nothing about even typography, but by sheer luck, one of the design history teachers was a type designer. We got on well right from the start, and after three years of his mentorship and advice, I was accepted to the Type and Media MA course, along with my friend and classmate Luke Charsley.

That was a pretty life-changing experience. It felt like every week, I was learning more than I had in the previous year. It’s an intense course, made even more so by the fact that everyone else on it is so good — you challenge each other, push each other to create even more ambitious work. By the time I graduated, I had a very different outlook, and a newfound respect for the importance of spacing.

I spent a month after that interning at Fontsmith, a type foundry based in London, which taught me a lot about the more commercial side of type design — from font licensing, to running larger-scale custom type projects. It also taught me that commuting through London every day is not for me — I’ve since moved back to The Netherlands, and got a bike.

Explain your creative process?

A typeface is a system made up of innumerable parts, each of which is connected to every other. You have to do everything at once, because each decision affects all of the other decisions. The proportions, contrast (and contrast model), letter spacing, curve tension, and even things like the intended reading size, all have to balance with each other for the typeface to work successfully.

My process starts with drawing. I’m not good at it, but that’s not the point. The tools you use influence the shapes you make, and drawing things by hand is the best way to keep that in check — otherwise you end up with this kind of ‘Adobe Illustrator look’ (and once you learn to recognise that, you’ll see it everywhere).

Sketching also helps to get a quick impression of how things will look, without sweating the fine details. Your eyes are not perfectly sharp, and screens and printers are not perfectly accurate, so when you read type, you never see the exact contour of each letter. It’s much more important to focus on the _mass,_ the general balance between black and white, since that’s what a reader will actually see.

Once I have a sketch of a few letters, I digitise it, work on the letter spacing, and refine it a little further. Then I take a screenshot, draw over the top, and digitise the result. Repeat the process until I have a dozen or so letters, mostly lowercase with a couple of caps. At this point most of the bigger decisions have been made, and I can start building out the character set, which is what takes the most time. There’s a lot of production and QA at the end of the process, too, but that’s a whole different story.

What does your future look like?

My foundry, Mass-Driver, is only just getting started. Right now the library consists of two typefaces, so in the near term I’m looking to expand that — at the end of this month I’ll release a new design, which I’ve been working on in various incarnations since about 2016.

I often hear this idea that we’re in some way reaching saturation with typefaces, that they’ve all been designed already. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think what we have is a few particular genres which are quite overdone, and a huge number of spaces in-between. Something I’d like to do with Mass-Driver is work on filling those spaces, taking old and maybe even boring concepts, and approaching them in ways which haven’t been done before.

Ultimately I’d like to reach a point where I can work on even more ambitious projects, and particularly collaborate with other designers on things which aren’t purely type. I made an interactive text-adventure game to promote MD Eight — I’d love to do more things like that, and get more people involved.

What tools can you not live without and why?

Glyphs: It’s not the only font editor, and for many things it’s not the best, but it’s by far my favourite for drawing outlines with.

Isolate: I use this for mood boards and references — it’s a tiny, open-source tool which takes a folder of images and displays them all at once. That’s it. It does one thing, it does it perfectly, and I love that.

Python: It’s a fairly forgiving programming language, with all kinds of uses. I wrote the back-end for Mass-Driver’s website in Python, along with a number of smaller tools I use for everything from tracking my time to making typeface specimens.

Procreate: This is my go-to for sketching type, since I can very quickly move back and forth between it and the font editor without needing to print and scan physical papers.

Coffee: Is coffee a tool? That’s debatable. Can I live without it? Absolutely not. The ritual of making coffee is how I start work every day, and I think it genuinely helps my productivity to always keep that routine.

Any other resources you find useful?

In terms of books, The Stroke (Gerrit Noordzij) and Elements of Typographic Style (Robert Bringhurst) were hugely influential when I was starting to get seriously into type. Right now I’m using Dinamo foundry’s excellent Font Gauntlet, which is a website for proofing variable fonts. Special mention also to OH no Type Co’s blog, which has some great writeups about the process of their typefaces and some really good articles teaching type design concepts.

Any advice you would like to share?

Learning to see is most of the work, but it takes a long time. Until then, try to get as much feedback on your work as possible — every mistake you make is an opportunity to learn, and you will make a colossal number of mistakes. It’s really easy to get into bad habits, or to put in a great deal of effort without making any progress, if you just work on type quietly on your own. I still rarely go a day without asking other designers for their feedback on whatever I’m working on.

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