Kate Vasey Article By Kate

Meet The Team: Malcolm Wooden

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Over the last few months there have been some big exciting changes been made to The Northern Block going on behind the scenes. Beginning with the launch of our brand new website back in March. During this time the excitement has continued with the expansion of our team, as we have welcomed three new additions to The Northern Block. This month we are introducing you to Malcolm Wooden, our Font Developer who joined us back in October. Let’s find out a little more about him:

When did you first begin working in the font industry?

I started working in the Monotype Type Drawing office in 1973 at the age of 17. At the time I thought it would just be a stop-gap job until I could get to college or university, but I stayed and I had the privilege of working with some of the big name designers through my years at Monotype.

Had you always wanted to work in the creative industry?

I had dreams of becoming an architect, but as the second son of a working class family a university education funded by my parents was just not possible. My older brother got that.

Do you think that a degree is essential to the role?

No, but then I’m biased as I don’t have a degree. But unless you have worked in the type industry from an early age a Masters in Type Design will probably help.

What is your process when developing a font?

I see the font development as the process of creating a usable product. Keeping in mind what the typeface designer has created and building the required files so that the typeface design can be rendered in print and on screen. Build — Check — Test and Test again.

What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of working remotely for The Northern Block? Why?

I can work anytime of the day or night. I tend to work quite late into the night sometimes.
 It can get a bit lonely without face to face interaction. It’s good to bounce ideas off of a colleague in an informal way which is difficult in a remote working situation.

What three pieces of advice would you give to those starting out in type design?

If you want to earn an income from type design, don’t think of it as a precious art form. It’s a commercial product.

​Don’t be scared to take on projects outside your comfort zone. Push yourself to learn about the subject.

Don’t be suckered into doing work for free.

What has been the biggest change to the type industry you’ve noticed over the years?

That’s got to be the change to digital typesetting in the 1980’s. Although we didn’t know it at the time it was like graphic design, typesetting and type design coming out of the dark ages.

What is your favourite era of design?

Too hard to pin down just one era of design. In type and graphic design I would go for late 1970’s and early 80’s just as new technologies and mediums are making an impact. The works of Lubalin, Carnase and Benguiat are particularly special at this time.

I hear you are an avid guitar player, what is your favourite music or song to play?

The easier the better — I’m close to nailing “Home On The Range”.

After a few years of playing in bands in my 20’s I now only play for myself, I very rarely play to others now. I’ll pick-up the guitar to any tune that catches my mood at the time, could be a Megan Trainor song or perhaps Metallica, although I usually fall back to the blues, Clapton, or a bit of jazz.

You’re also a big architecture fan, what is your favourite building and why?

It’s difficult to pin down a favourite across the whole of architectural design. Every era has some classics that will make you think how and what was the motivation behind it? Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Renaissance, Gothic, British Victorian and Modern are all interesting to me. I do have an appreciation for the work of Victorian architects such as Barry, Pugin and a bit later, Edwin Lutyens mostly because of their well documented career paths of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies.

You have previously mentioned you are into English and Roman history, what is your favourite historical moment and why?

That’s a bit easier. It’s the Roman conquest of Britain. It laid down the blueprint of todays’ town and cities and opened our little island up to the rest of the known world bringing benefits of trade and immigration.

What is your greatest achievement so far in your career?

I like to think that the best is yet to come. If not then it was helping to build a production system for making non-Latin fonts.

What three lessons have you learned from having worked in the type industry?

Don’t think of type design as some sort of precious art form. It’s a commercial product, a communication tool, and is getting more and more transient.

There’s a lot of opinionated rubbish talked about type design, be careful whose advice you take.

Don’t do work for free and don’t expect others to do work for you for free.

What advice would you give to aspiring font developers and type designers?

That depends on the path you have in mind for yourself. As a font developer you would probably be required to have some coding experience so get to learn a bit of Python and find out how it fits into type design and font development.

If you want to be the boss of your own type foundry you will need a broad experience of type and general graphic design, technical knowledge of how type works, plenty of determination and a good business brain.

As a type designer you need good shape appreciation. Keep studying typefaces from all eras and get to see how even the subtlest changes in the shape of a glyph can alter the feel, balance and expression of a typeface. Also take a care from whom you take advice. Don’t take advice from a hundred different designers, have confidence and trust in your own ability and a few close advisors.

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Want to know more about Malcolm? Make sure to check out his profile page here. Thank you for reading and make sure to give a warm welcome to Malcolm over at @northernblock

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