Featured Typographers

Australian Type Foundry

July 2014

Huzzah! We chat with Wayne Thompson, the man behind ATF and the Type by Hand workshops with Gemma O'Brien. We ask him about his love of type, his home town of Newcastle and what makes a good CV. Spot the M dash and you have yourself a job! (Jokes)

When did you fall in love with design and how did you get started?

Looking back, I think I always had a natural attraction to type, even as a child. For instance, at the age of about 12 my Dad gave me a battered second-hand Letraset catalog (pics attached). I adored that book, and copied letters from it on to old bits of wood with a paintbrush. I wasn't thinking about a career at the time, I was just enjoying myself. After school I studied Communications and decided on Graphic Design as my profession, but still didn't have a consciousness of typography.

In the early part of my career the digital revolution happened, and I started to see the possibilities of designing typefaces which weren't there beforehand. So, between 1996 and 2002 I designed as many display typefaces as I could manage, mostly in my spare time outside my agency jobs (but also sometimes at work), with a view to selling them on the web. Ten years after designing my first face, I decided to go full-time with my own type foundry.

How do you think your surroundings affect your creative process?

On the micro level, I used to work from a spare bedroom but I found the lack of separation between work and home to be troublesome. It just felt like I was always at work. I've since built a separate studio in the backyard which is bright and sunny, and feels creative, as well as being separate from the house, which helps my creative process.

On the macro level, being Australian means dealing with a certain amount of isolation in my profession. I'm self-taught, because access to type design training is very difficult here. And despite what anyone says, the internet doesn't make it possible to be at the centre of a professional community. So there's a self-sufficiency which has crept into my approach which I think is borne out of simply being Australian.

Which three people in the design industry would you pick as mentors and why?

I really admire Stephen Coles (USA) (typographica.org) for his lack of fuss and get-on-with-it attitude, and his sheer volume of knowledge. I would sit and talk type with Stephen all day. Within Australia, I love the work of Keith Morris (keithmorris.com.au) for his unparalleled experience in handlettering. He somehow achieves a flow and ease in his brandmarks which is appealing and extraordinarily difficult to achieve. I also admire the work and attitude of Jessica Hische very much.

What qualities and skills to you look for in a graduate?

That's easy: the ability to write, and attention to detail. If I see a CV which has spelling errors, it goes in the bin immediately. How can you work with words every day, as your profession, if you can't use them well? I look for attention to detail because that's what design requires—it's the details which makes the difference.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

Absolutely no idea? I thought the hipster handlettering phase was a fad, but it's still going strong. I think there will continue to be a strong demand for authenticity: design which appears to be hand-made. I think this is a reaction to the increasing digitisation (and associated de-humanisation) of our everyday environment.



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