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Job Description: Typographer

Published

Typography is the art of arranging text in a way that makes it not only legible but aesthetically pleasing. It involves font, structure and overall appearance, and works to catalyse a specific emotion in the reader. It brings the text to life and the person bringing soul and depth to that text is the typographer.

From the time we check our phones first thing in the morning to the precious minutes we spend tucking into our favourites novels before nodding off the sleep at night, we’re always digesting the written word. Everything from retail shop fronts to billboards and televisions - all of them are made up of images and words. But while we might spend some time digesting the design of the former, we rarely consider the designer’s role in the latter.

Job Description and Benefits

Visual effects and packaging play significant roles in product branding, and the job of a typographer is to create a typeface that graphically reflects the brand’s true story. The layout of the text as well as its size, colour and associated font compose an item’s typeface

A typeface can set the visual mood of items for which it is associated. For example, typographers can craft a typeface for wedding invitations that exude elegance, or they can create a typeface for a children’s book that evokes feelings of fun and excitement.

The responsibilities of a typographer could include:

  • Designing and creating artful typeface designs that enhance client brands as well as fit within certain physical layout parameters.
  • Generating prepress proofs in digital or other formats to approximate the appearance of the final printed piece.
  • Entering, storing, and retrieving information on computer-aided equipment.
  • Proofreading and performing quality control of text and images.
  • Entering, positioning, and altering the text size to make up and arrange pages.

A typographer should have:

  • An innate artistic expression and firm mastery of that skill.
  • The ability to draw upon artistic expression to turn their fundamental knowledge into customised masterpieces for their clients.
  • Keen creative problem-solving skills.
  • Computer literacy and the knowledge of the latest desktop publishing software suites.

There are usually just a handful of open typographer jobs in the UK on Creativepool, which reveals just how rare a position it is.

What is the work like?

Typographers are experts who design or style type for online and print publications. They are sometimes referred to as desktop publishers and layout artists. The main career opportunities for typographers are found in publishing companies, advertising agencies and printing establishments.

Book publishers call upon typography experts to create textual designs for book covers and other promotional materials. Large businesses that develop and manufacture products for sale often work with advertising agencies to create promotional packaging for new or improved products. Individuals and business customers rely on typographers who work for printing companies to help design flyers, business cards and special invitations.

Hours and Environment

While they get to make use of their creative talents, they often experience the stress of having to meet deadlines, which may require having to work long hours.

Salary and other benefits

Starting salaries for junior typographers are in the region of £15,000 to £19,000. Once you've gained some experience, salaries can rise to £27,000. At a middle level, you can expect to earn £25,000 to £35,000. Salaries for senior typographers range from £35,000 to £55,000.

Skills and Personal Qualities

The best typographers should have:

  • Active Listening - Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Critical Thinking - Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  • Complex Problem Solving - Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
  • Writing - Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
  • Quality Control Analysis - Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.
  • English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
  • Design - Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principles involved in the production of precision technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and models.

Interests

It is important for typographers to have an interest in:

  • New technologies and software
  • The creative industries
  • Global and industry-wide trends
  • Recent design trends and production techniques
  • Photography and the visual arts
  • Pop culture, and counterculture
  • The zeitgeist of social tastes and current affairs
  • The written word
  • Current trends and techniques

Getting in

Typographers often prepare for this occupation by earning associate's degrees in graphic design or a related field. Less commonly, people meet the training qualifications by earning bachelor's degrees or non-degree awards, such as certificates. Associate's degree programs in and related to graphic design introduce students to the fundamentals of graphic arts as well as the most current technology. Coursework typically covers topics in computerised design and page layout, digital media, studio art, and of course, typography.

Entry for young people

Many employers prefer typographers who have experience preparing layouts. Students preparing for typography jobs can gain entry-level experience by participating in internships during university. Degree programs in graphic design typically include some form of internship or field training. These experiences can help students build a portfolio.

Entry for adults

Graduates of graphic design programs can pursue employment in the publishing industry, which is one of the biggest employers of typographers and other desktop publishers. Advertising firms also employ these workers. After getting hired, typographers continue to learn occupational skills and typography techniques on the job by observing other, more experienced professionals.

Training

Due to ongoing and rapid changes in computer technology and desktop publishing software, typographers usually need continual training to stay abreast of advancements in graphic design applications. Individuals might pursue continuing education through typography courses and seminars.

Getting On

In the typography field as in the graphic design field in general, a portfolio can be the determining factor for getting hired. Employers often favour applicants who provide proof of quality work. During college, aspiring typographers can assemble their strongest samples, acquired from class projects and work done during internships. In fact, graphic design degree programs typically offer courses that help students create impressive portfolios.

Further Reading

Typography: A Manual of Design by Emil Ruder - This book is the legacy of Emil Ruder, one of the originators of Swiss Style, famous throughout the world for the use of asymmetric layouts, use of a grid and sans-serif typefaces. His holistic approach is still recognised as fundamental for graphic designers and typographers all over the world. This volume represents a critical reflection on his teaching and practice and a lifetime of accumulated knowledge. 

Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico - Aimed at all those who use type, whether by hand or on screen, and selected by the world’s most knowledgeable and well-connected graphic design commentator, Steven Heller, this survey gets into the minds of designers who create typefaces, word-images and logos through their private sketchbooks.

An Essay on Typography by Eric Gill - Eric Gill's opinionated manifesto on typography argues that 'a good piece of lettering is as beautiful a thing to see as any sculpture or painted picture'. This essay explores the place of typography in culture and is also a moral treatise celebrating the role of craftsmanship in an industrial age.

Advanced Typography: From Knowledge to Mastery by Richard Hunt - Once you have learnt the fundamentals of typography, there is still a wealth of knowledge to grasp to really become a master in the art and craft of working with type. In Advanced Typography, expert practitioner and instructor Richard Hunt goes beyond the basics to take your understanding and usage to the next level.

Typography: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Luna - In this Very Short Introduction, Paul Luna offers a broad definition of typography as design for reading, whether in print or on screens, where a set of visual choices are taken to make a written message more accessible, more easily transmitted, more significant, or more attractive.

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