You Have To Get Your Hands Dirty: An Interview with Jason Santa Maria

We’ve long been fans of Jason Santa Maria and his work; in fact, not many people know that Jason was one of three speakers at the very first An Event Apart, way back in 2005. Since then Jason has distinguished himself as one of the best designers working on the web today, and he’s recently published On Web Typography with A Book Apart. We spent a few minutes talking with him about the new book, how to sharpen one’s typographic skills, and what he’s excited about these days.

What’s been keeping you busy recently?

The earlier part of the year was spent finishing up my book, On Web Typography, and then after that I started a new position at Vox Media as Senior Designer. Beyond that, mostly getting back to reading the stack of books on my desk and trying to resuscitate my awful handwriting.

Congratulations on the new book!  What was your primary goal in writing it?

I wanted to write about typography for web designers out there. It can be a topic that feels impenetrable to folks that don’t come from a design background, but it needn’t be. Many people come to the web from different backgrounds, so not everyone will have exposure to these topics. And I wanted to tackle the subject in a practical way that would present the world of type as an accessible place. We use type every day in our work, it should be approachable for everyone to learn about, and a powerful tool for anyone to use.

You talk about finding typographical harmony in the book.  What’s your go-to method for getting into a harmonic frame of mind?

Really, finding harmony is all about making connections. And humans come wired to do that already. The best way to have the material you need to make connections is to be informed. So, harmony comes from immersing yourself in the subject you are designing for, and reading and collecting all the relevant material you can get your hands on. Once you do that, your brain will already start asking questions and discovering relationships between things.

Are there any hands-on exercises you recommend to people who want to sharpen their typography skills?

I always enjoy making little projects for myself to try new things. Sometimes I take a poster or an advertisement from a magazine and try to redesign it. And sometimes I see how typography could change the tone of a piece. Can I make it darker or lighter? Can I make it funny or serious? Other times I just try to set the title and first page of books I like. That’s an easy way to play with rhythm and spacing in running text.

Whatever the case, the best exercise is just doing something. Reading about typography will only ever take you so far. You have to actually get your hands dirty and see how type looks and responds under different conditions.

What are you super excited about right now, and what’s next for you?

For a while there, any writing time I had I put towards finishing my book. So, I’m very excited about just getting back to writing about more stuff. I’m also very excited about my new job at Vox Media. It’s the first time in a decade that I’ve had a full time job at a big company. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to acclimate, but I’ve found it to be just the opposite. The position basically brings many things that I’ve worked on separately throughout my career—like editorial design, art direction, typography, and more—together under one roof. Once I realized that, it all just clicked for me.

Thanks, Jason!