One Minute With…
Hannes von Döhren
Hi Hannes, thanks for taking the time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Hi Conor, glad to be a part of One Minute With. I am a type designer from Berlin/Germany. I run my own type foundry – HVD Fonts – where I create retail typefaces, custom typefaces and logo & lettering stuff.
How did you get into design? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
Like many designers, I have always been fascinated by nice visual things and by the use of type. Typography was my main reason for becoming a graphic designer. Gradually, my love of typefaces has become more and more of an addiction. I started by designing experimental typefaces for fun in my spare time, alongside my job as an art director, making them available as free fonts on the Internet and using them in personal projects. Playing around with type was such great fun that I became seriously interested in the workings of fonts: their technology, rules and background. I got more and more into type design – it was a kind of floating process until I decided to concentrate on type full time in 2008. Since then, I’ve done this everyday: It is both my job and my love.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
When I look back, I have the feeling everything went like it should be. My first years of trying to be a professional type designer weren’t that easy – I put so much work in it and there wasn’t very much coming back. There was even a time where I had doubts about my decision. Type was always my love and I would have never stopped it – the doubt was about the decision to try to live from it. Fortunately the bigger part of me was convinced of my vision and I didn’t give up.
Today, I think it was good that the success didn’t come directly. It was also good that I had my doubts, and it was good that I nevertheless stayed on my route.
So, as well as your hugely successful typefaces like Brandon Grotesque and Pluto, you’ve also made a bunch of more lighthearted display faces, such as Blow Up and Shelton – How do the two differ? Do you enjoy the creation of these display faces more? Are they easier? Harder?
When you are doing a big type family with 20 or 30 styles it is always a very long process (6-12 months, sometimes even longer). It is very challenging but sometimes also grueling. I did several big families and when I had finally finished the project, nearly every time I thought: “Oh man, I am happy this project is finally done and I will never do such a big project again!” This feeling lasts for two or three days, then I am back in business – I still have so many ideas I want to realize.
To make a small typeface – with one or two weights – is like a little holiday from the “big stuff” for me. I still love experimental small projects and I don’t want to limit myself to just developing big serious type families. So it is a fun-thing which I enjoy a lot. But when I’ve finished a small fun font, I often feel like taking on a new bigger challenging project again.
To do both is a perfect variation for me.
At what point do you know you’re ready to ship a typeface? Is it ever a struggle to let go, and to what extent do you continue to work on it after the release?
I can let go when I have the feeling that everything fits. The typeface has to be homogeneous and bring out the attitude I had in mind. To finish a typeface always takes longer than planned. When I am in the end of the process and I think: “Yeah, just one more week – then I am done!” It always takes three more weeks to have all the little things perfect. But then I can let it go – when it is released I see it as a finished project – People are using the typeface, so I think it would be confusing to do a lot of updates or release new versions of it.
Earlier in your career, you released a load of fonts for free – How important is it, do you think, to give back to the community that fostered you? Would you ever consider releasing free fonts these days?
I am really happy that the type community supported me as an independent young type designer. I always think of ways to give something back to the community, like giving some weights away for free or giving a discount when a typeface comes out, so every type nerd can afford my fonts if he keeps his eyes open. On the other hand, I want to make it clear that my work has a certain value and that I put a lot of time into it. I live from selling my fonts and I also see it as an act of respect to buy fonts when you use them for commercial purposes.
Free fonts and retail fonts are generally two different things for me: You don’t have to pay for free fonts and they are nice to set a private postcard or a birthday invitation in. Sometimes you will even find a little free font gem. If you want to have a professional quality product with all its advantages – language support, well drawn forms, OpenType features, cross platform working, clarified user rights … etc. – you should go with retail fonts.
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
I haven’t thought about this in recent years, because I enjoy my job so much at the moment. At the beginning of my career, when I was younger, there were times when I thought about this – I had my heroes that I would love to exchange shoes with for one day, like Erik Spiekermann, Adrian Frutiger, Zuzana Licko or Stefan Sagmeister … to name just a few. I still really respect all of them, but I’ve found my own way now.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
I always set goals for myself which I wanted to reach. My first goals were to create a font I could sell or to to have my own type foundry, then I wanted to win in the TDC and worked several years for this, or I wanted to reach the #1 for at least one day at MyFonts. I worked towards those goals thinking everything will be different when I am there – but the funny thing is: Nothing changes. It stays like it was before, so I recognized that there isn’t a point in life where you are finished and have success. It is more like a never-ending journey – the feeling of success is good – it is a kind of an engine. You can either have a small success just to help someone at the bus stop and earn a smile or a huge success you worked for half of your life for. I am happy how I live my life – that is my daily success.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
Always be curious. Try things out. Work hard and you will be good. Be brave. Follow your ideas when you are convinced of them. Be positive. And most importantly: Have fun!
Many thanks to Hannes for sharing his thoughts with OMW. I genuinely had a lot of fun interviewing him, and I hope you enjoy the interview as much I do!
Why not check out Hannes’ site, and follow him on Dribbble and Twitter?