In a talk at the Type Directors Club in New York last week, Victoria Rushton confessed that she doesn’t like to keep a sketchbook. Which begs the question: if you’re a designer, how do you stay sharp—and become even sharper—if you don’t maintain some sort of regular sketching practice? If you’re Rushton, you surreptitiously fix other people’s stuff. You fix stuff you see in your everyday environment that, for one reason or another, just doesn’t seem to work. You fix it to understand why it doesn’t work. And you make it “as right as it can possibly be in that particular situation.”
Rushton has been doing this for years. From the Shipley Do-Nuts logo of her Texas childhood to the alphabet of the LED signage she had endless time to study while riding the MBTA to work at Font Bureau every day, she has systematically deconstructed and reconstructed forms that, to her eye, fall short. If something seems “off” to her, she plunks it into RoboFont and digitizes it. And then refines it. No aimless sketching: “It has to have a job before it’s really fun,” Rushton explains. She chose the ideal vocation—or, rather, it chose her. “To design type,” she says, “you have to like to fix stuff.”
The refinements are subtle. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice them, Rushton admits. “But I notice.”
Does everything need to be fixed? No. Some artifacts, like protest signs issued from the heart, can’t be improved on.
And Rushton herself questions the impulse behind her continual drive to refine. “Is this necessary?” she asks. “Am I helping? Or is this just a self-aggrandizing exercise? Maybe a little bit of both.”
Nevertheless, these exercises shape a daily practice that helps Rushton think about the kind of type she wants to design. She describes her process delightfully and well. If you have an opportunity to see her speak, go for it. And don’t let Rushton’s offhand style and perfect sense of comic timing fool you. She is an ambitious, committed, and whip-smart designer whose mind is constantly at work.
Caren Litherland is a designer and editor in New York.