The Design Conference interview

“I am not entirely convinced that a typeface can embody an idea. Sometimes I think it’s pure form, other times not. All I know is that anything made today will always be of this time.”

783 words by Kris Sowersby
13 March 2018

First published for The Design Conference Brisbane, 2018.


How would you describe your work and your influences?

My work is purely typographic: I design new typefaces. I am influenced by historic letterforms and contemporary media and culture. I try to make the old work for the new.

If you could pick one and one word only to describe your work, what would it be?


What is your vision for the future of design?

The principles and processes will largely stay the same, but the context and actors will hopefully change. For example, I want to see the dominant European/American visual landscape give way to more diverse visual cultures.

What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face during your career journey?

Deciding how I should deal with web fonts. It’s obvious now because the @font-face technology is in place and commonly understood. In 2012/13 it still felt a bit shaky, like it might not get the necessary uptake. At that stage I had a pretty large font catalog. To properly turn a “print” font into a “web” font was time consuming and expensive: each letter in each font needed to be manually fitted to the pixel-grid, a process called hinting. I couldn’t afford to get them all hinted at once, so slowly did it font by font. Now, as part of every general release, my fonts are expertly mastered and hinted by Noe Blanco for desktop, web & app use.

What is the best piece of advice you have heard, which you would like to pass on to others?

Don’t spend your tax. Get an accountant.

Where do you find your inspiration?

[My answer is here]

What originally influenced you to pursue design?

I was always interested in drawing, painting and sculpture as a young fulla. I naturally took art and design classes at high school. During my last year in 1999 I had to decide between art or design for tertiary study. My art teacher advised that I pursue design because it offered a more stable income. “You can always make art in your spare time”, he said. So I chose design.

What are some of the methods you employ to staying motivated and enthused on the daily?

The work is the motivation. There are no special methods.

What do you think are some of the most exciting things currently happening in the industry?

In the type game, the most exciting thing is the explosion of small foundries and type designers around the world. I love seeing a new foundry launch or new typeface released. The industry feels like it’s getting more diverse and therefor more interesting, especially outside of the “Latin” typeface scene.

How do you keep your ideas fresh?

I am not entirely convinced my ideas are fresh. I am also not entirely convinced that a typeface can embody an idea. Sometimes I think it’s pure form, other times not. All I know is that anything made today will always be of this time. I take great comfort in this explanation of style by Dennis Dutton from “the Encyclopedia of Hoaxes”:

The style in which a forgery is done of of great importance. In order to succeed, a forger will have to study the brush techniques, typical subject matter, and stylistic qualities of the artist to be forged. Many forgeries are pastiche works: paintings what draw together miscellaneous elements from a number of authentic paintings in a way that will seem to fit perfectly into the established oeuvre of the older artist. Style, however, is where even the most technically accomplished forgers usually fall down. It is almost impossible for a modern painter, no matter how intense the attempt, to think himself fully back into the representational conventions of a previous century. Thus even so cautious a forger as van Meegeren produced from the very beginning of his forgery career paintings which, though they were supposed to be by seventeenth-century hands, displayed elements of twentieth-century style: for example, the faces in his 1937 Vermeer forgery, Christ and the Disciples at Emmaeus, are strongly influenced by photography; one of the faces even resembles that of Greta Garbo. These stylistic features were much less apparent to the trained eye of the 1930s, precisely because they seemed so “normal"; in retrospect, they appear today quite obvious. (Accordingly, we may expect today’s successful forgeries to appear more obviously fake to our grandchildren.)

Featured fonts

More blog posts

Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial: Beauty

On occasion of the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, we discuss approaching typeface design, style, historical inspiration, geographic location and beauty.

Man of Letters

You’ve seen his work everywhere. You just don’t know it. The stunning global success of typeface designer Kris Sowersby of Klim Type Foundry. Interview by Ashleigh Young.

Arts Laureate interview

An interview between Josephine Granese & Kris Sowersby for the 2019 Arts Laureate.