Words, Words, Words: Jason Santa Maria on Why He Loves Print and The Web

With An Event Apart Atlanta less than a week away, we took a few moments to talk about print and web design with one of the event’s star speakers, and one of our favorite designers and people, Jason Santa Maria.

How and where did you get your start in design?

I got my start in college after changing majors away from illustration and to graphic design, where I learned all about design history and print design. Just before graduation, I discovered web design and was instantly transfixed. My first job was split about 50/50 between print and web design, so I got to learn a lot about the web while still exercising my design muscles.

The web appealed to me for the same reasons as many of us; it’s an immediate way to publish and talk with others. But it also proved to be a fertile environment for design experimentation and learning. I bounced around at a few different agencies before going freelance and later contracting with Happy Cog. The rest is history!

You worked for Typekit, co-created Typedia, co-founded A Book Apart, and co-founded Editorially. What is it about type and the written word that calls so strongly to you?

Everything! The written word has always proved to be not only a sturdy means of communication, but one that transcends its medium through the ages. The written word sits behind so much of history. It’s mind blowing. It’s transportable, translatable, and the very stuff we use to talk to one another across time and space. And type and typography are the vehicle for it all. It gives those words a presence and voice. It’s an art form on top of an art form and consistently magical.

What’s a normal day in the life of Jason Santa Maria look like?

Nothing too irregular. I usually wake up early and go to the gym to really wake up. I head into the studio where I get to sit near and bother some of the smartest and talented people I’ve ever known. Depending on what’s going on, I move between working on our next A Book Apart title or the website, some design comps and code for Editorially, giving feedback for progress on the Typedia redesign, write a bit for an article or my book, or just peck away at some side projects. After work, I head home to cook dinner with my girlfriend, or when the weather is nice, out for a bike ride or drinks with friends. I usually close the day with a few pages of whatever book is on the night stand.

What do you love most about Brooklyn?

I love that it’s a massive city (bigger on its own that my hometown of Philadelphia), but also a borough of the cultural craziness that is New York. I love that I can ride my bike across Brooklyn in an afternoon and see people (and food!) from all over the world, as well as huge bridges, beaches, and parks. The city and the friends I’ve made here constantly push and inspire me. I didn’t know if another place could ever feel like home, but Brooklyn does. This place is just incredible wherever you look. I don’t know if I’ll always be able to afford to live here, though.

Your talk in Atlanta is all about the design process. What are people going to take away from it?

The best thing to take away from my talk is that there is no single process we should all be following. And that can sometimes be painful to go through (like it was for me), but inevitably great on the other side. Being flexible to adapt to whatever your situation calls for allows you to get to the kind of output you want. And it makes you a better communicator and team member for those you work alongside.


Jason Santa Maria will present his hour-long presentation “The Nimble Process: Think Before You Design” at An Event Apart Atlanta next week, along with eleven other brilliant designers, developers, and strategists.