9 Typography Designer Alan Ariail Under The Spotlight

Alan Ariail
is a Typography Designer who has created famous logo types such as: Simply Orange and Nut Harvest. He studied painting and drawing in college. But found out soon enough that his real passion and ability was in type designs. Let's have a chat with him!

TSD: Hi Alan Ariail, it's a pleasure to have you here on Think Smart Designs. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you come from and how your passion for typography started?

Let me start by saying I am very impressed with your Think Smart Designs blog. It's truly an amazing site for visual inspiration and I am honored to do an interview with you.

I was born and raised in the Chicago area. I currently work as a freelance lettering artist in my home studio in Palatine located 35 miles northwest of the city. I have always had strong interest in lettering. I remember penmanship classes in grade school and I am certain the early handwriting lessons provided me with interest in the alphabet and letterforms.

(Mini-Wheats (2005) Of the numerous commercial projects I have worked on over years Mini-Wheats was one of my favorites. On this project I worked with Christine Kennedy a phenomenal designer at Schawk! With her direction I created and refined a solid piece of lettering that still holds up as a recognizable image after years on packaging, in commercials, print media and the internet.)

TSD. Did you go to school to get a degree or you are a self taught designer?

I am basically self taught in the lettering arts. I studied painting and drawing in college and earned a BFA from the Univ. of WI, Oshkosh in '80. After college I wanted to be a commercial illustrator but my natural ability with type design lead me to early opportunities at an ad agency and then a packaging company.

In the early mid 80's my lettering portfolio allowed me to get into the Chicago advertising art studios as a custom letterer. Initially as a staff artist and then freelance on commission. The studio environment taught me how to work under the extreme deadline pressures. There were no Mac computers back then with no command "Z" to knock out quick revisions. Every lettering treatment I produced had to be meticulously drawn by hand using French curves, flexible curves, Rapidograph pens and speedball pens. Full color lettering art was created with blue lines, film overlays, rub-down transfers and an airbrush.

While at the ad arts studios I refined both my lettering and business skills. Besides just creating lettering I learned how to work with artiist reps, clients and pricing structures. By the mid 80's the Mac computer with Adobe software had arrived and some of the area advertising arts studios started to go out of business. Times were changing and I learned how to use new technology to create lettering for digital output. By going digital I was able to handle a higher volume of lettering projects. I had an artist rep with accounts for McDonald's, Taco Bell and NBA properties. In addition to my reps workflow I began taking projects from packaging and design firms in Chicago. I produced an unbelievable amount of custom lettering at that point in time. My art rep eventually retired and I was working exclusively with packaging firms producing custom lettering for food accounts.

TSD. You have created some very famous logotypes that are well recognized today like: Nut Harvest and Simply Orange... How do you come up with your ideas?

I have been fortunate for many years to work with very talented designers who use my ability to produce lettering for their design projects. There is always an exchange of ideas and sometimes it takes many versions or refinements to produce lettering that will be successful for the client needs, the product and market place. If lettering is not readable it fails.

From my early days to present I have always made lettering readable for a variety of sizes and media applications. Commercial lettering has to be recognizable for the human eye when it is viewed on the internet, a billboard, television commercial, print media or a package line on the store shelf. When developing a lettering treatment I usually include variations of letterform shapes in an attempt to find the the best visual solution for the human eye to comprehend,

As for generating ideas I often create a lot of quick rough sketches to send to a client as a starting point. I believe it is best to try a variety of quick ideas and thoughts than to put a lot of time in one or two refined sketches that may or may not work. Sometimes a client will send me sketches of their package design and I do preliminary studies which are scanned for use as templates in Adobe Illustrator. All the meticulous refinements and drafting happen while drawing in Illustrator.

(Nut Harvest (2004) After years of creating the Nut Harvest lettering it continues to hold up visually as well designed type treatment. The sketches are good examples of tight and meticulous pencil concepts for presentation to final art.)

TSD. Is Typography one of your main passions or do you work on some other design fields?

Custom lettering is my fine art form and I never grow tired of it. I am now in my early 50's and I'd love to do this another 50 years or more. There is always something new to try and to look forward to.

My other design interest is the botanical garden that surrounds my home. I've been involved with this landscape design for over 10 years. There are textures, colors and patterns that inspire me. The garden always evolves and changes as with life.

(Hey Hey My My Tattoo Lettering has to be readable no matter if it's printed on a commercial packaging line or a personal request for a tattoo. The client for this project wanted an interlocking script with flourishes on top and bottom. A lot of rough sketch studies had to be created to find a readable solution to fulfill the clients request.)

TSD. What programs do you use to digitize your work?

I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for the majority of the lettering that I produce. I also use FontLab Studio and Fontographer when I am requested to design a typeface. What I find interesting at this stage of my career is I now use antique and hand carved writing instruments for some lettering projects. I recently started playing with vintage fountain pens from the 1900's -1930's including hand carved bamboo pens and brushes. I am always searching for methods that are more spontaneous and looser then when I draw with a Wacom pen and tablet.

(Milepost (2005) This example shows the importance of creating variations. A consumer has to be able to read the lettering at a quick glance. It's always a matter of trial and error to find a solution that will work for the package design and market place.)

TSD. Saul Bass once said: "If you want to be a good designer you have to be a good drawer" What are your thoughts about it? Do you agree with that statement?
I believe it is important to draw a lot to communicate ideas. There are so many different drawing styles in the world we live in. Perhaps its best for an individual to develop a style they feel natural with and one that they can do a lot of.

TSD. Are you always happy with your designs? is there anything out there you wish you have done differently?
It's a great feeling when a client is satisfied with the lettering I produced and everything goes smoothly with the package or product. I am accustomed to the ups and downs of the business. There are times when a beautiful lettering piece will not get used due to a focus group decision, a marketing name change, or a legal matter. I honestly can not recall any lettering project I would have done differently.

(Chocolates. My lettering roughs are attempts to find rhythm and flow of letterforms. The rough for Chocolates was created with a then scanned for use as a template in Adobe Illustrato. A single line was drawn over the template, outlined, reshaped for thickness and finessed for final art.)

TSD. Are you involved with any design communities? How important is it to share ideas with some other fellow designers?

In years past I have been very low key. Basically a one man studio working long hours and taking on as many projects as possible. Then about 6 months ago I started putting effort into The Art of Hand Lettering blog. Since then I have had a number of inquiries from young designers and students about lettering. The inquiries turn into discussions about the realities of the freelance business, dealing with deadlines, keeping a positive attitude, reliability, producing high quality work, developing a natural style and being tenacious.

It is very rewarding to help people better understand the business side of the profession as opposed to discussing some lettering technique or a filter in Illustrator. This is something I hope to continue doing as the years progress. Perhaps some day I will have the opportunity to lecture or talk to groups of people about the process of lettering from scratch including concept sketching, spacial relationships of letterforms, legibility, rhythm and flow.

TSD. Is there anyone who inspires you? Any new type designer we should keep our eyes on?

There is so much great lettering talent in the world and very easy to access it all on the internet. The Best of 2009 at LetterCult is an excellent site to view for the best lettering happening at present.


(The Amazing SB (2009). This is a personal lettering piece. After many years of lettering for consumer packaging projects I wanted to create art with no commercial restrictions. What started out as a quick sketch evolved into a complex freeform lettering treatment with all swashes connected to one another.)

TSD. Are there any books you would recommend our readers? like ,"THE MUST HAVE TYPOGRAPHY BOOK"?

Besides viewing a variety of type, lettering, calligraphy sites and blogs I always look forward to viewing Print's Regional Design Annual as well as Communication Arts, HOW and other industry publications. I have looked at many print, packaging, logo and type design books since first getting into the business. The one book that still stands out is MARKS New Directions in Logo Design which goes back to the mid 80's. It showcases the work of Jay Vigon who at that time documented his rough concept sketches and the final art on his projects.

(Simply Orange(2000) This is one of many projects I worked on with Linda Voll of Murrie, White, Leinhardt Associates during a two decade period that began in the mid 80's. Linda would send me her roughs in the evening and I turned over a variety of styles to her within a day or two. My relationship with Linda was the equivalent of Lettering Heaven. I created beautiful award winning lettering for her projects while also refining my skills to a very high level.)

TSD. Besides looking at those well known design labels you've created at every major grocery store, where else can we find you online?
I have a website, a Flicker photostream and the Art of Hand Lettering blog. At some time in the future I hope to have a site that offers prints of custom lettering I create. I might need a slow period to devote some time to this project. At present I am always dealing with new lettering requests and multiple deadlines. That's life in the lettering biz.

About The Author

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Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I find his work to be very inspirational and love typography as well. It's great to see how he develops the logos.PERFECT! Thanks for sharing

Think Smart Designs said...

Thanks Andrea, I myself think that Alan is a great type designer and inspiration. Many thanks to you Alan

type said...

I like this but I would like to know if he sketches a lot
Cheers from UK

Think Smart Designs said...

Well type with all the pictures of the sketches he shows on hey, hey my my. I bet he does!

A2 said...

Hello Everyone,
Thank you for the nice compliments.
As for sketching, I tend to sketch and write words with many different writing instruments. I do a lot of this to learn styles, rhythm and flow of letters. A while ago I posted reference to sketching at my lettering blog. A Sketchbook Page with Suzie Q (Feb, 2010) and A Lettering Practice Session (Feb, 2010) both show images of my sketching.

For commercial lettering jobs I usually sketch a series of quick roughs within 10-15 minutes on tissue. The sketches are scanned and sent to the client. I then call to discuss which direction to render for the project. With deadline pressures of commercial lettering it is beneficial to learn how to sketch fast to generate ideas and to meet multiple deadlines.

type said...

Thank you Alan. I have to get into sketching some more. I know how important it is. Cheers from UK

Anonymous said...

great stuff, thanks for posting

Anonymous said...

Beautiful work indeed!

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