Inside Design

A Look Inside the Design Team at Typekit

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We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, inspirations, workspace must-haves and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome. Today, we’re talking to Elliot Jay Stocks & Jake Giltsoff, designers at Typekit.

Typekit, acquired in 2011 by Adobe, are dedicated to providing an ever-expanding library of fonts to designers for both web and, more recently, desktop use. Now a part of Adobe CC, the service is a firm favorite amongst web designers – some of the fonts on this very page are served via Typekit! We chatted to Elliot & Jake about finding a niche, getting a formal education in design, and the future of web typography.

Hey Elliot and Jake. Thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about yourselves and Typekit.

Elliot: So, I’ve been at Typekit for just over a year and half now – I’m the Creative Director here, having taken over from Jason Santa Maria. We got Jake on board about four months ago, so now we have a grand total of two design team heads. A lot of our devs are pretty design-savvy though, so although we’re the only quote-unquote “designers,” we have a pretty design-focused team here.

Jake: Yeah, as Elliot said, I joined quite recently – I graduated from University of Reading this time last year, and I’ve since been working for a small web agency in Bristol, before joining the Typekit team.

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How did you guys get interested in typography?

Jake: I studied at the University of Reading, who are world-renowned for their typography course. I did the undergraduate course there – Graphic Communication – which was basically three years of looking at typography and the history of typography. After studying there for those three years, I very much fell in love with type. It was also at a time when big things were happening in the world of web fonts and responsive web design, so I just ended up putting the two together, which ultimately brought me to Typekit.

Elliot: The point at which fonts started to be a thing – @font-face was adopted by the major browsers, and Typekit and Fontdeck were starting up – I was working independently as a freelancer, and decided to do a printed magazine about typography called 8 Faces. It was kind of a selfish project because I just wanted to make something that was real, that would sit on my bookshelf and not disappear, as a lot of websites do. Having to suddenly do a large-scale print publication – which I hadn’t done before – forced me to learn a lot about typesetting. Every time I did a new issue, I’d learn a lot more, and then when I went back to working on the web again, I felt like I had had my eyes opened to the art of typography. From there, I just got deeper and deeper down that typography rabbit-hole.

Jake: And you can never get out!

InVision really breaks down the barriers of working in different timezones.

So Jake, it’s clear that you benefited a lot from university – do you think it’s important for a designer to get a formal education in design?

Jake: I think that uni may not be right for everyone, but I know it was right for me. Especially with the course I did, university gave me a chance to work out exactly what it was I wanted to do. It also gave me a grounding in the history and principles of design & typography, which ultimately got me where I am now. If I hadn’t gone to uni, I definitely wouldn’t be here. I don’t know where I’d be. I’d be a much worse designer, I’d imagine.

But then there’s the flip side, where you go straight into work, and I’m sure you can make it work that way too. But when I was 18 or 19, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and you don’t necessarily have enough drive at that point to go and do what you want to do anyway. University is a great opportunity to figure out where you want your life to lead.

Elliot: I totally agree – Uni isn’t right for everybody, but it affords you the time to grow up a little bit, and realize what it is you want to do. My university was very hands-off: The best learning experiences I had at university came from the things I did in my free time. I know that had I been stuck at a job, I would never have had the motivation to do those things, but being at uni gave me that extra free time. However, it does seem a bit strange to pay a lot of money just to have three years’ free time. I don’t regret it one bit though.

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Typekit started out as purely web fonts, and is now moving over into the physical space. How does web typography differ from typography elsewhere?

Elliot: I think typography transcends all media. Good typesetting somewhere is good typesetting anywhere. Although there are nuances in any medium that you work in, there are some pretty universal rules that you can follow. As web typography’s grown more advanced, there are more skills that you can learn elsewhere and move over to the web, and vice versa. Looking for influence in other media allows you to bring new ideas into your own medium.

Jake: Originally, web typography was very influenced by print typography, but in the next few years, I think we’ll start to see it breaking off and doing its own things. Eventually, web typography might even start influencing print typography, I don’t know.

The visuals are just one part of the design – the flows are just as important.

What’s the most exciting thing about working at Typekit?

Jake: For me, it’s about building the future of fonts. This is especially true as Typekit moves more into the world of desktop fonts, forcing us to think how to make the experience the best it can be for the thousands of people using Typekit for desktop fonts, as well as those using it for fonts on the web. It’s a very challenging experience, but it’s also exciting. Plus, you get to look at pretty fonts all day.

Elliot: Being part of the larger Adobe family has also meant that we’ve suddenly been exposed to many, many more users than before – and also a different kind of user. A lot of the original Typekit users were type geeks, but now we’re seeing more casual users, and those coming from a print background, or those who just dabble with design in Photoshop. We’re opening ourselves up to a larger audience, and potentially, a lot of the stuff we do with Typekit could change the way people use and buy fonts.

Jake: You don’t think about that when you’re working day-to-day though: You’re just making incremental changes which may result in something bigger.

Elliot: Yeah, that was one thing that shocked me when I first joined: how slowly everything moves. It’s not a bad thing, but when you’re coming from the startup world, you quickly realise that you can’t change things as radically as you could before. You have to evolve things slowly over time. There’s a real care and craft that goes into it, and you don’t get that when you’re in the startup world and you’re just trying to get it out the door as quickly as possible. When you slow down, you’re able to make sure you’re crafting the right experience for your users.

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On the subject of your process, how does InVision fit into the picture?

Jake: We’ve recently started using InVision to show ideas to the rest of the team: Being quite a distributed team, it’s hard to necessarily get feedback from a PSD. For a recent project, we did the entire workflow in InVision, which we then presented to the team and were able to get feedback from them in the comments. Having an actual prototype that you can click through as if it were an HTML prototype makes it ideal, because the visuals are just one part of the design – the flows are just as important. We really go to town in InVision analyzing that stuff.

We chat with our manager, Michael, on Skype regularly, and having the Live Share tool in InVision is awesome for us to be able to chat across the Atlantic and still get visual feedback straight away. InVision really breaks down the barriers of working in different timezones.

Whilst knowing a little bit of everything is useful, the most valuable skill in design is knowing when to turn to others.

What other design tools are essential to your process?

Jake: Coffee. Coffee is number one.

Elliot: Yeah, Bristol is a really good place for specialty coffee, so it’s not uncommon for coffee shops to become my office for the day. If I’m in town, I’ll often do a coffee shop crawl. We’re lucky with the kind of work that we do in that as long as we can get an internet connection, we’re away. Recently I’ve been spending afternoons working out in the garden.

Jake: Sometimes, I actually think not having an internet connection is a good design tool. It’s important to get away from it all and focus, at least for a little bit.

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What advice would you give to young designers starting out?

Jake: I think what helped me was finding a niche – There’s a lot of talk in the design industry about generalism vs. specialism, but I think if you can find your niche – two or three things that you’re good at – and market yourself around those, you’re going to get a lot further than the competition, especially if those two or three things don’t necessarily go together often and are exciting together, or if they go together really well and make you a good prospect for a small company: If you can do the work that it would take two other people to do, you’re going to succeed. For me, the two things were typography and web design. So yeah, that’s my advice: Find your niche.

Elliot: My advice to people graduating now would be to not worry too much about it. Around the time I was getting into web design, I remember being pretty worried about not knowing everything, and thinking I had to know everything to get anywhere. But it turns out that you don’t need to know everything if you’re capable of working with other people. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I can make better work when I stop trying to do every little thing myself and acknowledging that if somebody else can do something better and faster than I can, I should work with them. There is the tendency in web design to think that you have to know every single technology and every single framework, and I’ve found that whilst knowing a little bit of everything is useful, the most valuable skill in design is knowing when to turn to others.

Photography by Amanda Thomas.

Author

Amanda Hackwith
Writer, editor, and lover of words, stories, games, and adventure. Tweets on @ajhackwith and at Google+.

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