Mark Simonson: The Romance of Offset

Mark Simonson reminisces about offset lithography, gives us a glimpse of his mischievous past and shares the value of making things without computer.

Photo by @pstypelab
Photo by @pstypelab
Mark Simonson is a typeface designer based known for designing Proxima Nova. One would think his talk would revolve around designing one of the most successful web typefaces or perhaps the future of typography. Instead he looks to the past. The result would be a delightful series of stories about his love for offset lithography, editorial design and hilarious teenage antics.

The beginnings of this romance began at an early age. As a kid, he would constantly draw, often winning the “Best Drawer” in school. Inspired by his love of the National Lampoon and Mad Magazine, he would later convince his high school to let him take over the school’s newspaper, The Trojan. This would be the star of his talk and a showcase of his mischievousness, sharp wit and passion for editorial design. Using rub-down type, Letraset and photo collaging, he would use it as his playground to be funny. Each issue had a theme while the content and advertisements were completely made up. Some highlights include promoting one issue as being lemon-scented, purposefully misspelling “The Trojan” to “Trogen” and constantly messing with people via the page numbers.

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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.

While in good fun, it was invaluable experience as the skills would follow him throughout his career. In college, he would become a production manager for the Metropolis and later an art director for the Minnesota Monthly. There he would refine his skill and gain an even deeper appreciation for offset lithography. The letterpress revival was occurring and he dedicated some time talking about how he felt about it all. While being appreciative of the medium, there was an inherent comfort in the free form nature of offset. Letterpress to him felt like a straight-jacket and didn’t grant him the photographic detail he wanted. “Offset was the way of the future” and it is still the go-to method to printing.

Towards the end of his talk Mark jokingly admitted that he wasn’t really sure what his point is. However, one point was clear: “Making things with your hands is magical.” Whether it’s simply nostalgia for an era long passed is debatable but the results are apparent in the present. Perhaps Proxima Nova, as well as his other typefaces, wouldn’t have the personality and charm they do without his experience in offset.

Written by Tim Kim