Interview with Rutherford Craze
If you've been following the recent posts on Monochromatic, you may have noticed some new glyphs dividing up the type. These were designed custom for Monochromatic by my internet friend, Rutherford Craze, a UK based graphic & type designer. Having been interested in typography for a long time, I thought it would be a great opportunity to hear from another creator in a discipline I know little about, and learn more about his process.
Luckily, Rutherford was kind enough to field my questions. Here's our conversation, only mildly edited.
What is your name? Where are you located? What do you do?
My name is Rutherford Craze — which is, incidentally, why I tend to avoid Starbucks. I'm studying graphic design at Falmouth University, in the Southwest tip of the UK. I try to do more than just commercial design though: I spend my spare time designing type, learning code and playing around with various digital media.
When did you become interested in graphic design? In typography?
I actually started with animation. When I was about eight, I became fascinated by stop motion, and I spent hours making all sorts of short films with plasticine and household objects. Eventually I realized I was spending more time designing the title cards than I was on making the films themselves, so I stopped making the films and just did design. I think I was eleven or twelve at that point.
Both my parents were writers (my mother still is) and I'm obsessed with language, so I had quite a heavy focus on words, and how they looked, right from the start.
Do you remember when you first became interested in type and type design as a potential career?
Five or six years ago, I read an interview with the type designer Matthew Carter, and something just clicked. Type design, at least for me, sits at the intersection of computer science, linguistics, and art — everything I love. Once I discovered it's possible to make a career as a type designer, I couldn't see myself doing anything else.
I think this sort of "spark" moment is common for a lot of creatives. My parents read me 'Lord of the Rings' when I was a kid, and we went to see the films when they came out. I remember being in the theater and being blown away that this place I'd imagined so often was brought to life in front of me. That realization was hugely influential in my step into cinema.
It's interesting to hear about Lord of the Rings being one of your inspirations — both the books and the films were a huge part of my childhood, and as a fellow language enthusiast I feel very close to Tolkien.
What is your first step for designing a typeface? What’s your process like?
Sometimes it starts with just an idea — for Chasmata, that was, "What if every word fit into a rectangle?" Often it's more vague: M74 is just an expression of my love for 1970s science fiction book covers.
Either way, I begin by spending a couple of days collecting references: similar typefaces and lettering, and work from related genres. For me, typefaces are to design what vocals are to music. Sometimes you'll find a genre where everyone sings in the same kind of voice. Sometimes they're nothing alike, and the instruments — the color schemes, layouts, illustrations — are the shared factor. Sometimes what I'm designing is highly influenced by things which have come before. Sometimes it simply needs to look at home on the same background.
I almost always design the minuscule n first, followed by the minuscule o. So much of a typeface's character can be ascertained just from those two glyphs. It's also a good way of getting lots of characters pretty quickly, since the n can be quite easily turned into the m, h and u, and the o will inform half-rounded letters like b, d, p and q. I try to get the s, a and e out of the way sooner rather than later, since they can be awkward. I once got 25 letters into a design and realized that I couldn't make the s look natural without increasing the width of every other letter. I don't plan on doing that again.
Turning a typeface (the visual appearance of the letters) into a font (the tiny piece of software which displays them in a word processor) often happens at the same time — I tend to draw my shapes directly in Glyphs, my font editor of choice. I'm trying to do more paper sketches though, and digitize later on in the process. You get more natural-looking lines that way.
What trends in design and type design right now do you like? Do you not like?
I fucking hate monoline geometric sans serifs. Not the look of them (I think some are really beautiful) but their over-use. Particularly on the web, typography has been getting ever more reductive, with more and more brands moving towards these ultra-modern, inexpressive typefaces. Like singing in a monotone. Take a look at the current Best Sellers on MyFonts and you'll see what I mean: everyone's trying to be like Google.
On a more positive note: I can't get enough of big display serifs. The Outline is using Eksell Display blown up to something like 90pt and I just adore it. The other thing I'm really excited about is ultra wide typefaces becoming more popular: I'm seeing faces like Acumin Pro Wide and Microgramma more often than I used to, which I really like.
Any favorite typefaces or type foundries of late?
I'm using a lot of Linotype Neue Haas Grotesk lately — it's a revival of the designs which later became Helvetica, but it has all the warmth and personality of the original sketches; that got lost with Helvetica itself.
I'm working my way through ITC's catalogue. ITC Serif Gothic is an all-time favourite of mine. Lubalin designed it, so no surprise there. The Freight superfamily, originally by Joshua Darden, is another one I use a lot.
As for foundries, OH no Type Co is doing some really nice stuff. The founder, James Edmondson, has an almost inimitable hand when it comes to drawing letterforms. Anyone who can make Hobo look good is a genius as far as I'm concerned.
Do you have a philosophy for your work? For your life?
I call myself an optimistic nihilist. In essence, life is short and meaningless, but as long as I can spend it drawing letters and writing code and drinking coffee, I'm okay with that. I'm one of the lucky few who can make a living doing what they enjoy, and I try not to forget that.
What are your biggest inspirations?
Devine is my single biggest inspiration. He's had such a massive influence on my work, visually and conceptually — I actually have my old projects categorised by whether they were made before or after I found XXIIVV.
Typographically, I'm really fond of Herb Lubalin's work. The way he used letters is so precise as to be almost scientific, but simultaneously very warm and relaxed.
Beyond that, I'm inspired mostly by my friends and the people around me. I'm counting people I follow on Twitter as part of that. I know so many prolific creators, it's hard to keep up, and at least for me that's really motivating.
What inspired you to make the Monochromatic Glyphs?
I've been following the work of Atticus Bones for a while. His generative writing in particular (glyphs which look like writing, but in reality are drawn procedurally by a computer program) fascinated me. I wanted to learn how to make something similar myself, which is what I ended up doing. I tweeted some of my outcomes, and they ended up getting a pretty good response.
You asked me a couple of days later about typefaces with interesting spacers, fleurons and things for monochromatic, and since I was looking for something to develop the procedural symbols into, I offered to make a custom typeface.
At first I was just going to redraw the generative symbols in my font editor, but I got slightly carried away. I added some which looked similar and followed the same grid, but I hid the initials 'IJB' in them. I drew the Monochromatic logo in the same style, although I changed the proportions slightly so it'd look better when viewed at smaller sizes (narrow lines drawn close together tend to look awkward or blurry; I gave the circle some extra breathing room because of this).
The last three weren't procedural, but were an attempt to fit in a little more with Monochromatic's visual style. The body copy there is set in Anonymous Pro, which is rigidly monospace but still quite rounded, so I went for some less blocky symbols. They're a bit celestial. I can be quite critical of my own work, but I like those glyphs.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of design?
I built a 3D printer a couple of years ago. It's often frustrating, but printing things and tinkering with the machinery (when it works) can be a lot of fun. I'm learning 3D modeling as well — actually, the light fittings in my flat are cast in concrete using 3D printed moulds I designed myself. I don't get out much.
I'm also obsessed with space. I've watched the livestream for every SpaceX launch since the end of 2015, and a few of the United Launch Alliance ones as well. I recently found out NASA has loads of data from its Martian satellites which you can freely download, so I've been getting quite excited over that.
Oh, and I love cooking. I live two doors down from a fishmonger, so I'm going through a phase of making black pasta (dyed with squid ink) every couple of weeks.
What’s your dream?
I don't really have one. Should I have one? I'd like to finish my degree in graphic design, then do an MA in Type and Media at the KABK, and beyond that, I haven't got a clue. I just want to keep making type and playing with code until the robots take all our jobs.