Focus Forum with Mark Simonson

TYPO Talks takes a few moments each year to chat with some of the speakers you can look forward to at the upcoming conference. We are excited to kick off this year’s blog series, Focus Forum, with designer Mark Simonson.

Mark Simonson is an independent type designer working out of his home in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Over the span of his career he has designed over a dozen typefaces, perhaps most notably the Proxima Nova family.

TYPO Talks: What were some of the influences that lead you to your professional focus?

Mark Simonson: A lifelong interest in type and letterforms. Specific stepping stones along the way include the reading primers I had in first or second grade where I first noticed ligatures; my uncle Knut, a graphic designer, who by his example made me aware of graphic design as a career possibility and told me about things like Helvetica; setting my own type using Letraset and Chartpak run-down letters; lettering on album covers and magazines by artists like Michael Doret and Jim Parkinson; U&lc. magazine, which exposed me to the work of Herb Lubalin, Ed Benguiat, and others… Well, you get the idea. The process is still going on.

TT: How have your creative interests evolved over the span of your career? Or, is there a specific discipline that has always captured your attention?

MS: I have skipped around a lot. I started out with the aim of becoming a cartoonist or an illustrator, but quickly settled on publication design and art direction for a while. After that, I got into packaging and product design, and eventually web design. On the side, I was playing with home computers and dreaming about designing typefaces and, somehow, those two things gradually came together to make possible what I do now.

TT: What’s your preferred environment when it’s time to focus on a project?

MS: Usually, in a quiet room by myself. Although, lately, I’ve discovered I can work in noisy coffee shops. I can’t work and listen to music at the same time. They both seem to want to occupy the same part of my brain. If music is playing, I don’t hear it. If I listen to it, I can’t work. On the other hand, for purely visual activities like drawing or kerning, I can listen to people talking, like podcasts or audiobooks. If I’m writing–either code or prose–I can’t be listening to anything.

TT: Which speakers are you most excited to see and meet at TYPO SF Focus?

MS: The ones who are talking about type, which I guess is most of them.

TT: If you had to choose a favorite place in San Francisco, where would it be? If you’re new to San Francisco, what would you most like to explore?

MS: The Cartoon Art Museum.

TT: Finally, everyone’s favorite question: what’s your favorite typeface, and why?

MS: Favorite typeface for what? I have a long list of favorite typefaces, from those I love because of the way they look (but wouldn’t know what to use them for), to faces that I returned to again and again in my earlier career as a graphic designer and art director because they never let me down. I’ll go with an underrated favorite: Charter, designed by Matthew Carter. It’s beautifully understated and comfortable to read. It’s my preferred typeface choice for reading e-books on my iPad.


Mark Simonson

Type Designer (Saint Paul, Minnesota)

Mark Simonson is an independent type designer working out of his home in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Although he got interested in designing typefaces while studying commercial art in college during the seventies, Mark spent the first few decades of his professional life as a graphic designer and magazine art director. In his spare time, he dreamed up ideas for typefaces and read everything he could find related to type design. Thanks to the availability of desktop font-making software, he was finally able to get a few fonts published in the mid-nineties. By 2005, he had over a dozen font families on the market and was doing type design full time. He is probably best known for designing the popular typeface Proxima Nova.

Register today to see Mark Simonson and the full line-up of inspiring speakers at TYPO San Francisco 2015 – Focus.