Independent type designer based in the UK, Maria Geals, speaks about harboring a passion for letterforms and shapes primarily to master them.
Maria Geals is an independent type designer based in the UK with over 20 years of experience in crafting custom logotypes and typefaces. She has many custom typefaces 5o her name, particularly Glenys Evans.
Maria Geals: I’ve always had a love for words. When I was apprenticed straight from school at a local advertising agency, I initially thought copywriting would be my path. However, I was introduced to the art of typography by the in-house typographer, which sparked an interest in how words are represented visually. I subsequently worked in design and print for over a decade.
After starting a family, I returned to education and achieved a BA in Graphic Design. As a mature student, I valued the knowledge and confidence that academic study gave me. My degree was pivotal in my decision to specialize in type design. Inspirational guest lecturers on the course included renowned calligraphers and writers Ewan Clayton and Bruno Maag, who founded the leading independent typeface foundry, Dalton Maag. Bruno set a project to design a typeface and the craft’s rigor and attention to detail instantly resonated with me.
Following graduation, I joined Dalton Maag in London, where I learned the craft of type design whilst working on custom typeface and logotype projects for some of the world’s most significant brands. Much of the work involved creating typefaces for body copy and I loved the challenge of balancing style and legibility to subtly communicate a message or emotion.
I also had the opportunity to contribute designs to Dalton Maag’s library of best-selling retail fonts. It’s a great feeling to see these typefaces still used in branding on train livery, websites, signage, and printed literature. I later transferred into a long and rewarding career as a typography lecturer and creative software educator to postgraduate, undergraduate, and college students. At the University of Brighton, I initiated a dedicated Typeface Design elective, enabling students to incorporate the specialism within their practice.
The students were so receptive to the craft and it was a privilege to help guide them toward success in international competitions, including the ISTD Student Assessment Scheme. Having freelanced for several independent type foundries on custom projects, starting my foundry had a lot of appeals.
A key component of a type foundry is a collection of retail typefaces. The first solo typeface I crafted and published for my retail library was ‘Parvenu’, a high-contrast retail typeface family of 3 weights with a teardrop visual theme, designed for headline use. Designing typefaces can be a lengthy process and, like most type designers, I have several designs which are progressing toward publication.
One of these is ‘Galiot’, a nautically-inspired Baroque serif typeface which I began when I participated in the Typeface Design Intensive (TDi) at the University of Reading. Whilst teaching at the University of Brighton, I also achieved my MA at the same institution. The typeface that I created for the qualification, ‘Glenys Evans’, is a blueprint for expansion into a family of weights and styles, and I’m currently preparing it for commercial release.
What changes has typeface design undergone since the time you started and how did you adapt to these changes?
Maria Geals: Positive changes that I’ve noticed include increased awareness of the design of type, not just from the design industry but also from non-specialists. There is now a much wider range of information available on type history, techniques, and processes of crafting letterforms. An increase in dedicated courses and qualifications has helped introduce more people to the craft. I’m also heartened that educational institutions along with organizations such as Alphabettes and FemmeType have been instrumental in attracting more women to a historically male-dominated industry.
There have also been considerable changes in font technology which have required adaptation not only from type designers but also from software developers and end users. Navigating these changes can be challenging but they open the door to greater typographic choice; ease of use and wider language inclusivity. OpenType technology is one example.
When I started in type design, separate fonts were needed for different language scripts. Characters for advanced typography (eg. small caps, swashes, stylistic alternatives), were also exported as additional fonts. OpenType packages multiple languages and advanced typography glyphs all into a single font file, plus many other features. However, support for past formats (e.g. PostScript Type 1 fonts) will cease soon, so any older fonts need to be replaced or converted, which is an additional workload for anyone who makes or uses fonts. I’ve been adapting my techniques and switching software to keep pace with recent innovations.
Variable fonts are my present focus, which is a relatively new technology but it expands on techniques developed in the 1990s for creating multiple master typefaces. By sliding between compatibly-drawn extremes or axes, intermediate instances become available to the user. For example, a thin weight and a heavy weight will produce interpolated intermediate weights, including regular, bold, and many more. Historically, it was the type designer who selected the specific weights and styles a typeface offered. Still, variable fonts have the flexibility to place the choice in the hands of the user.
Maria Geals: Hold on to your passion! Having been a mature student and also someone who has taught students older than myself, I strongly believe that it is never too late to learn or to achieve your dreams. I also would say that it’s important to dedicate a generous amount of time each week to learning new skills, experimenting, and keeping your finger on the pulse of the design industry.
What kind of a role do your surroundings, personal experiences, people, etc. play in an inspiring typeface?
Maria Geals: Inspiration can come from a broad variety of sources, depending on the kind of project and the research I’ve been able to gather. I find it important that the research contains not just visual cues but also things that provoke an emotional reaction. I’ve noticed that aural influences such as sounds, music, and the spoken word frequently feed into my creative responses.
What are the fundamentals of creating custom logotypes and typefaces?
Maria Geals: The process of designing custom logotypes and typefaces is similar but an obvious difference is the volume of glyphs required to be designed. They also differ in function. A logotype is a word representative of a company with fixed letter order. A typeface is essentially a group of shapes representative of sound with the flexibility to be arranged in a myriad of different combinations. Lettering in logotypes and typefaces must be read at all sizes in both digital and printed environments, ensuring legibility whilst expressing the desired aesthetics is a key consideration during the design.
Consistency is also vital. To ensure consistency and an even texture, the design of the characters should be stylistically related to each other and this is achieved by echoing shapes, themes, and proportions. In a typeface, the first letters I normally approach are the lowercase ‘n’ and ‘o’ (if there is to be a lowercase alphabet), or the capitals ‘H’ and ‘O’. These straight and round letters are known as ‘control characters’ as their design informs the stylistic and global parameters of the entire typeface. Drawing the shapes is just one part of the process.
Similar to sculpture, where positive and negative space creates a balance of form, character definition comes from carefully designing space, both within and surrounding each glyph. This applies to both logotypes and typefaces. Designing a full typeface takes time and requires a lot of problem-solving with several stages of refinements and testing before the final engineering of the fonts.
Maria Geals: I was recently asked to create a logotype for flax.house, a start-up linen retailer that wanted organic, time-weathered themes to be communicated in the design. Although the client was new to commissioning custom type, he wrote the most thoughtful brief I’ve ever received and I was rapidly able to get on his wavelength. Working with a great client helps the ideas flow! It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with the talented creatives at Laetro on several logotype projects, including lettering for Mindstrong, a virtual mental health platform. Designing letters that communicate strength whilst still retaining an approachable feel was a really enjoyable challenge.
Participating alongside a diversity of creative specialists in 36 Days of Type, an annual event on Instagram is a lot of fun and very productive. Creating one letter or number per day for 36 days is quite a marathon but the creative community is supportive and motivational and the sense of achievement on completion is huge. Personal projects will always be close to any designer’s heart and my typeface ‘Glenys Evans’ has stretched my creative thinking and technical skills.
Please tell us all about your new typeface, Glenys Evans.
Maria Geals: ‘Glenys Evans’ is a typeface I created for my MA in Arts & Design by Independent Project. A postgraduate qualification offers a unique opportunity to write a brief that explores personal themes. My Welsh grandmother was a very important figure in my life who brought a love of Wales to our family. I set out on a journey to research and capture a personal creative response to a part of my ancestry through the craft of typeface design.
The Welsh language is an essential part of the nation’s heritage and a typeface is a useful tool to help facilitate the use of the language. The typeface is inspired by my research into Wales and the Welsh and, whilst its aesthetics are culturally expressive, it is also practical and it includes the glyphs required for bilingual typesetting. It also supports other declining languages with Celtic origins including Cornish, Irish, and Breton, and incorporates historical glyphs for modern academic typesetting of Middle Welsh, which was used between the 12th and 15th centuries in early manuscripts.
‘Glenys Evans’ is primarily a text typeface, crafted and tested for optimal legibility during immersive reading in print and screen-based media. Although it’s designed for comfortable reading at small sizes without distracting from the author’s words, its stylistic influences are visible at headline sizes. Expressing a Welsh aesthetic in the typeface without succumbing to clichéd and distracting shapes has been the greatest challenge during the design process.
My research into the theoretical aspects of the project partly focused on documenting existing typographic models to confirm shapes and conventions associated with Wales, including ancient Celtic manuscripts and vernacular types around Wales. Other avenues of inquiry involved experiences to help me respond to Wales emotionally and to understand my typeface’s audience. I took a beginner’s course in Welsh, and studying in Snowdonia was significant to my project.
It enabled me to make a visual connection between the almost primal sounds of the spoken language with the rugged landscape of Wales. The design conveys Welsh geology through roughened curves and asymmetry in the drawing of each character, sharpness contrasts with a weathered softness. The typeface is also infused with calligraphic strokes and subtle Celtic themes, alluding to Wales’ history and mythology. The expansion of the typeface into a family of weights and styles is in progress and it will soon be published for commercial licensing.
What are your professional futuristic plans and current engagements?
Maria Geals: Currently I’m combining custom-type commissions and collaborations with ongoing work on my retail typeface projects. In addition to preparing ‘Glenys Evans’ for release, I have several other retail typefaces in progress which I would like to make commercially available shortly.
What’s your advice to those wanting to get into typeface and logotype?
Maria Geals: The most important thing is to have a real passion for letterforms and shapes. If you find yourself constantly getting distracted by lettering or cataloging vernacular type whilst on holiday, then a career in type design could be calling you. A good understanding of typographic history, processes, tools, and techniques is important. There’s a wealth of printed books, specialist libraries, magazines, and accessible online resources, so enhancing learning in typography is much easier these days.
There are also some great remote courses available.
Even if eventual freelance designing or launching your foundry is your ultimate goal, hands-on industry experience with a foundry or studio will give you a much deeper understanding of this specialist area. Type design is more like a marathon than a sprint and requires endurance. If you’re designing a type family, be prepared that some stages of the process (eg. kerning and bug-fixing) may seem less glamorous than others but understand they’re equally important as the more creative phases.