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?
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.