Talking Typography with Type Designer Justin Ward

Justin Ward designed our SUSPEND letterhead and logo as it appears initially for ISSUE 04. I was introduced to Ward's design work through the issue's guest curator, Neil Bardon of Saint Rita Parlor. Having always been an avid admirer of clean and simple functional design, it was only appropriate to extend the conversation about how one gets into Typography and Design with Ward:

How did you get started with Design and Typography? "I enjoyed drawing pretty much everything when I was younger. Sometimes type would be mixed in and I would find myself spending hours focusing on the lettering. I liked being able to see how close I could come to the original with only pen and pencil. Which led to making a lot of my own type at times. When the work started to resemble something digital, I figured it would be a good time to actually use a computer to create things. Not long after, I decided to try out art school at the College for Creative Studies where I focused on graphic design." 

Who were some of the early influences in your career with regards to Design (or I guess in general, if you were influenced by certain films, locations, etc. to help curate your eye)? "Not sure if it was any specific designer, but having a really creative family probably nudged me in that direction before anything else. Growing up close enough to Detroit where I could go explore was a huge influence too. Also taking a couple trips to Montreal and New York really changed my perspective. To see all types of mixed media, street art and old signage in new places opened my eyes to what design could be. Especially since I was still fairly young, those kind of experiences really began to shape my overall outlook."  

I am particularly a fan of your REYNARD series of work, combining letters with man-made objects in the alphabet series. How do you start off with a concept like this? Do you keep a sketchbook and slowly start to build each letter? Or is the majority of your work done straight with a tablet and on the computer? "Almost all of these typefaces began with sketches. I usually won’t start doing anything digitally until it is close to finished on paper. Reynard started out as a large collection of sketched objects and patterns before I built the type."

UNTITLED typeface and design by Justin Ward.

UNTITLED typeface and design by Justin Ward.

REYNARD typeface and design by Justin Ward.

REYNARD typeface and design by Justin Ward.

Can you explain to our readers your series of work UNTITLED where you draw on Woleai written script, and its relation to Latin characters? Do you study different forms of script and use those as jumping points for your work? "Untitled (which should have a name soon) was a new direction for me. I wanted to take a written script I was completely unfamiliar with and explore without any preconceived notions. Hoping to evolve it into something more recognizable while using the different steps to create new families. I thought it would be interesting to study the glyphs without having knowledge of their meaning. So it is in no way a translation, just a visual study. I like the idea of seeing type as form and shape, and being able to read it can take that away at times."

Going off of the last question, I also particularly like how you marry nature-type photographs and use that as a background image for the typography that you can place over it. When did you first start utilizing photographs and images as a canvas for your letters? "I try and pull imagery from the initial concept that relates to the project as a whole. Usually that ends up being anything that inspired the work from early on in the process. Same goes with a lot of pattern, texture or color scheme." 

UNTITLED typeface and design by Justin Ward.

UNTITLED typeface and design by Justin Ward.

UNTITLED typeface and design by Justin Ward.

UNTITLED typeface and design by Justin Ward.

Your entire collection of projects, while wonderfully different, is also cohesively very neat and put together. Your portfolio reads like a catalog of art in itself. I consider Typography and Graphic Design an art form but I know it also serves a very important function in branding and appearance, (which you know firsthand given that you designed our SUSPEND identity watermark). What is your take on the function and role that Design serves these days, especially with a majority of the content people view as living online? "Thanks! I appreciate that. I feel the role of design is becoming very broad. I like to think of graphic design, in general, as any type of visual communication and often art that solves some type of problem. So I don't think it’s limited to online viewing or even being digital. But I feel the future of the internet will only open more doors for design as new interfaces and products are developed. There will be so many new ways of interacting with the world and each other, that design will have to play a huge part in that. We should definitely embrace the technology and make it a smart, enjoyable experience." 

Do you geek out with other Typography and Design artists like yourself? "Yes I try to! But it seems you guys on the coasts have been stealing them all away these days."

Where do you go to stay inspired? "I definitely like taking long walks or spending a day riding the train to new areas here in Chicago. This town is constantly changing and it’s hard to not find amazing new people and places all the time."

What upcoming projects do you have in the works? "I actually have a couple new typefaces that I'm working on now. One is a somewhat ornate, hand-drawn project inspired by antique woodcarving. The other is in its early stages, but involves a lot of interlocking elements. Excited to share them and can keep you posted!"

SUSPEND identity as it appeared on the cover of ISSUE 04 by Justin Ward. Art by Cole Sternberg.

SUSPEND identity as it appeared on the cover of ISSUE 04 by Justin Ward. Art by Cole Sternberg.

SUSPEND identity as it appeared on the cover of ISSUE 04 by Justin Ward. Art by Cole Sternberg.

SUSPEND identity as it appeared on the cover of ISSUE 04 by Justin Ward. Art by Cole Sternberg.

For a limited time we will be including a combo sticker pack Justin Ward designed exclusively for ISSUE 05 with every purchase. Available here in an edition of 500.


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Diane Abapo Founder and Editor-in-Chief at SUSPEND Magazine.