Face to Face with Martin Wenzel

Martin Wenzel is a Type and Communications Designer in Berlin, Germany. After earning his degree at the Royal Academy in The Hague, The Netherlands, he worked with Petr van Blokland in Delft for several years while setting up his one-man design studio MartinPlus.com. Originally a Berliner, he relocated to his hometown in 2005 to expand his design and font portfolio. Several of his typefaces are published under the FontFont label, including his award-winning sans-serif typeface FF Profile and FF Duper. In 2010 he has launched his own foundry, MartinPlusFonts.com, with his latest typefaces MPF Ode and the sans serif family MPF Realist.

First of all, we would like to thank you for taking the time to provide LogoTalks.com with this interview. Please tell us more about your type design background and what made you become a type designer?

I became interested in type during my typesetter apprenticeship in the late eighties. At that time home computers were starting to become more powerful than existing typesetting equipment. So in 1987 I sat in front of a Macintosh Plus and worked with PageMaker, MacDraw and MacPaint. The display of type on screen was not as comfortable to read as it is today (it was based on bitmap fonts that came in specific sizes, not on outlines) but working with it was pretty intuitive and you could move text boxes around on the screen using your mouse – not so common in those days.

I became more and more interested in and aqainted with the typefaces of that time, both the early PostScript Fonts as well as the faces from the phototypesetting era. It was a subject that fascinated me so much that I gave type design a try myself with my first font, FF Marten (1991). I met two former students of the well known Royal Academy of Fine & Applied Arts the Hague, the Netherlands who suggested that I should study there if I was interested in becoming a professional type designer.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in type design currently?

With the OpenType font format – no longer limiting a font to 256 characters – the classic type designers job has changed. Twenty years ago the ratio of design to technological aspects was about 80/20, while it is now almost 50/50, depending on how many languages you want to support and how complex your OpenType features need to be…

Can you tell us something about how you design type?

During my studies in the Hague I learned a lot about the connection between writing tools and the typefaces as we know them today, so the principles of writing are always in the back of my mind. Sometimes these principles influence my starting point for a typeface design (Ode) while in other cases they are less visible (Realist).

What makes a good typeface in your opinion?

A good typeface is a determined statement. You get a sense that the letters are drawn with a confident stroke and that there is a strong coherency among the characters without a repetition of the same shapes. That’s a good typeface!

What information do you gather from a client before starting a typeface design?

As in all design disciplines one is trying to make sense – a rubber duck as a logo for a car manufacturer for example, won’t work. So you need to get a sense of who your client is by looking into the company’s history, what it is evolving to and what its philosophy is. Once you understand the company you try to visually demonstrate and support this through the use of typography.

Do you have any tips for upcoming type designers?

My friend Jürgen Huber – a professor for type design in Berlin – always says you need to combine the following characteristics: you need to be both very lazy and very industrious. In other words: designing type is a complex matter that requires you be efficient while at the same time never stopping to invest time and energy into trying something new.

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