Kate Vasey Article By Kate

The Designer Behind The Typeface: An Interview With Aoife Mooney

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Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Aoife currently resides in Akron, Ohio. Previously working for Hoefler & Co. She has a BA in Visual Communication from Dublin Institute of Technology, a masters in Typeface Design from University of Reading and is the coordinator for the International Society of Typographic Designers’ Student Assessment Scheme in North America. She now works as an Assistant Professor at Kent State University teaching graphic design, identity design, typography and typeface design. She is a type design consultant for Google & a freelance graphic and typeface designer. I spoke with Aofie to find out more.

We know you are originally from Dublin and currently reside in Akron, Ohio. Had you always wanted to live in America? 

Actually, it was a total accident! I had intended to stick around Northern Europe, and hoped to potentially move to Holland or the UK after my MATD at Reading, but just as I was finishing my thesis, I was offered a job at Hoefler & Co. and decided to take the leap and move to the US.

How does Dublin compare to Ohio in terms of design?

Well, geographically the contexts are quite different and I think this influences both the community and the content of design practice in both regions. The design sensibilities of North America are a little different than what I grew up with, as Ireland’s design scene is heavily influenced by Danish and Dutch designers who migrated to Ireland in the fifties, where the North American design aesthetic would be more populist. However, in CLE, which is the biggest city near to me, I see a lot of similarities in the kinds of grass-roots, small design firms with big hearts and locally owned screen-printing workshops that I see in Dublin city. Akron and Kent are also really great design hubs, and the School of Visual Communication Design at Kent has alumni all over the country from LA to NY, which is similar to the centres of design education in Dublin, who send their graduates far and wide. Paul Sahre is a graduate of Kent, for example, and we recently held a retrospective of his work in our new gallery space.

What was it like to work in house for Hoefler and Co?

Super-super educational. I worked in a small team of 6 excellent designers under Tobias Frere-Jones' amazing mentorship and guidance. I continue to refer to what he taught me there, and understand more nuances about what he showed me as I teach and work on my own typefaces. That was the richest introduction to type design practice I believe I could have wished for.


Mallory type family (Source)

You worked on the Mallory typeface by Tobias Frere-Jones, what was your role in the creation of that particular typeface?

I worked on the Lightest master of Mallory, which included all parts of the character set, open type features, and kerning.

Did working there influence how you create typefaces in any way? And did that influence the style of typefaces you create?

Absolutely—No doubt. I’m really not sure how it couldn’t have influenced both my methods and my tastes. The environment was very careful, and meditative, and I Hoefler & Co. are well-known for taking time to craft a family of typefaces, often taking years on the same typeface. This level of care and attention to detail is something I have a great deal of respect for, and do my best to continue in my personal work.

I noticed you previously mentioned you attended University of Reading, like a few of my colleagues. Do you think Reading is essential to those who want to get into type design?

I don’t think Reading is essential, nor do I think a masters degree is necessarily the definition of skill. However, I do think Reading and KABK and programs like Type @ Cooper provide more than just time on task, they also provide access to a network of type designers and enthusiasts with whom to share and learn from. I do not believe I would have been able to immerse myself in type design in the same way that I was able to by enrolling in the course and taking time out of my life otherwise to pursue this.

I know you are an Assistant Professor at Kent State University where you teach, write and research type design, typography and graphic design. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ha—what’s that? =) I really like what I do, even when I’m exhausted, so I regularly spend my ‘spare’ time working  on something or other, design or not. I just like making things. But sometimes it’s good to stop, and let other stuff wash over you a bit. I love music, film, and being outdoors, eating, writing, and making things (food, scribbles, furniture). I live in a little hippie town called Akron, which is walkable and super close to the Cuyahoga Valley National park, a giant natural wilderness that stretches from Cleveland to Akron and is a warren of hiking and biking trails.

What was it like to work for such a big company as Google?

Great! I have visited the Google offices in NYC a few times over the years to consult as part of a team as well as to meet with Dave Crossland, which was fun. The Montessori-originated ethos of Google is one I really appreciate. Get a bunch of smart people in a room and see what they can do.


BioRhyme type family (Source)

You designed BioRhyme as a free type family for Google Fonts, how has working for Google been beneficial to your work?

Working with Google has been beneficial in a variety of ways. I love working with the font development team, and Dave Crossland is really fun to work with and learn from. I worked on BioRhyme for Google, but this past summer also worked with Dave to bring some fresh faces into the type design world and mentored a group of students on revising and expanding some of the Vernon Adams group of typefaces in the collection. The project is still ongoing and it has been a fantastic experience to watch the students blossom and gain confidence, while also learning more about the font directory and Google’s approach to development within the web fonts realm.

Do you create type families with the commercial end product in mind?

Yes, like most typeface designers I believe it is almost impossible to design a typeface without a clear brief and picture of who will be using the type and for what, even if it is just a theoretical premise. For example, BioRhyme began as an experiment to see how far I could push width and weight in a slab serif before losing legibility. This then became the starting point for a display typeface. I developed a narrower width to give the family more flexibility and to be more useful to the user through combining the wide width as display with the narrower for longer lengths of text in combination. All while staying within the display category.

Has your commercial practise improved your understanding of potential customers?

I combine making type with teaching typography and typeface design, consulting on typeface design projects and using type in graphic design projects. I focus primarily on the idea of typographic voice in my graphic design work, where I do a lot of logotypes and identity systems built out of letterforms. All of these things combine to inform my work as a typeface designer. In teaching typeface design within our undergraduate and graduate curricula at Kent, I have received a lot of feedback over the years about how making typefaces makes students feel more confident in their selection and use of types, and I think a large part of the idea of ‘potential customers’ is about education. There are so many aspects of typography that have the potential to improve our communication and yet these often go unnoticed by the average graphic designer. Working as a typeface designer in-house at Hoefler & Co. (previously Hoefler & Frere-Jones) allowed me to engage with the requirements of different contexts of typography and user needs. Watching the divergence between the kinds of typefaces that I find interesting, and the way types are selected and used has been very informative in formulating my understanding of potential customers.


Aoife Mooney presenting Typographic Dissent at ATypl Warsaw 2017 (Source)

What was it like to present your research to TypeCon Seattle and ATypl Warsaw? Was there much difference between the two conventions?

It was fun! Yes, they are quite different. TypeCon is more populist, I would say, and a little more accessible to graphic designers who love type, rather than solely typeface designers. ATypI seems to be a more type and type technology focused conference. Both are fun, and both are super informative, but there is a different atmosphere. TypeCon tends to be more domestic in its audience and ATypI is more international, but both attract participants from large distances.

What are the advantages when working remotely from America with The Northern Block team?

Working remotely affords me the opportunity to work with an international foundry like Northern Block, while remaining embedded in my community as a researcher, teacher and practitioner within the School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State. The ability to multitask, organise my own time, and balance design work with my other commitments is a huge benefit to working remotely, not to mention the proximity it affords me to my kettle and fridge, and the lax dress code.

Do you think meeting The Northern Block team face to face would have been beneficial to the communication between yourself and the team?

Yes, I would love that!

And lastly, any advice for those thinking of working with The Northern Block that you’d like to share?

Since this is my first go-around, not yet! But so far, I’ve felt really supported and welcome.

A big thank you to Aoife for taking part in this interview. Thanks for reading. Want to see the typeface designed by Aoife? Make sure to check out Sprout type family.

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