Every designer hopes that his or her work will one day reach widespread popularity. It’s a dream that rarely happens for most of us, but when it does, the experience is nothing short of magical. For Mark Simonson, lightning struck the instant he created Proxima Nova, one of the most popular fonts available on the market today. In fact, as of this writing, Proxima Nova is currently used on more than 31,000 websites.
Yeah. Our jaws just hit the floor, too.
His success is an incredible stroke of luck, but it’s also a reflection on Mark’s tenacious work ethic and his refined skill set. He studied graphic design in the mid 1970s with an intention to become a professional illustrator; however, what actually followed was decades of employment in art direction for magazines, and some graphic design projects for brochures and packaging.
While he had taken quite an interest in type design during a lettering class in college, Mark didn’t explore its career potential until he was in his forties. His very first letter sets were published in the early 1990s and he didn’t fully commit himself to type design until the early 2000s, in large part because he wasn’t sure if he truly wanted to get serious about that line of work. Perhaps one’s temperament changes with age, but when Mark discovered that type design suited his enjoyment of illustration and problem-solving, there was no looking back.
Mark’s favorite part of the design process is the planning stage, because he feels it provides the most fun with the least amount of work. Elaborating on that thought, he says, “I can dream up something that might take years to actually finish. I realize that it’s deceptive. The brain fills in all the details. So when I decide to proceed with something, it better be worth all the work I know it will take to actually do it.”
That process often entails scaling back an idea to ensure that it can actually be completed in a reasonable amount of time, resulting in an effort that’s both practical and profitable. Mark greatly enjoys the moment when an idea is successfully implemented, even if it’s a simple one, because it doesn’t always happen. What he pictures in his mind may not always come together once he attempts to draw it, which is why the culmination of his artistic vision and hard work is so incredibly rewarding for him.
It’s a feeling that many designers can relate to.
Mark’s studio is a cozy, repurposed bedroom space within his 1920’s era bungalow in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Laboring in short, intense stretches in his home office allows him to work odd hours that often run late into the evening. While many people struggle with the numerous distractions of working from home, Mark prefers to blur the lines between “fun” and “work.”
Given his illustrious portfolio, it’s plain to see that his creative process is a highly effective one. Mark has experienced an impressive amount of success with his type design so far, most significantly with Proxima Nova. He says, “For every typeface that rises to the top, there are dozens that are just as good but for whatever reason never go anywhere. So I feel incredibly lucky. When I was working on it, in my mind, I thought it had that kind of potential. But you always think that. You don’t seriously think it will happen.”
Coquette has seen a fair amount of use as well and it’s Mark’s favorite design to date. It took several attempts over several years’ time to bring it to fruition, even though the design had been nearly fully formed in his subconscious from the beginning. Of the design process that eventually produced Coquette, Mark says, “It taught me to trust my eye and not depend so much on measurements and geometry. It was fun to do, because it’s such a whimsical design.”
It’s hard to know what the future holds for typography and font design, but Mark thinks that perhaps new font formats will eventually emerge, and that a new and better approach to type design will come along one day. Such is the way of technology, after all. As he says, “We’ve been using basically the same 1980s font technology for thirty years. That’s longer than film-based phototype was in use. In a way, the ubiquity of outline font technology is what holds it back.” Whatever technological advances come along in the future, Mark feels that type will continue to move away from print and toward digital media.
When he’s not hard at work in his studio, Mark can be found watching movies or learning new things, as he’s always reading at least one book at any given time. He dabbles in programming and occasionally draws cartoons, and he also enjoys playing and listening to music. Many of us are all-too-familiar with the compulsion that leads to falling down rabbit holes on the internet, a distraction that Mark himself is often plagued with. He says of the addicting habit, “It’s amazing I get any work done on fonts at all.”
We’re sure that his work will continue to see great success as time goes on. Contact us today for more information about Mark Simonson’s fonts or if you have questions about our font licenses and purchasing options.