Creative Inspirations: Doyald Young, Logotype Designer

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Creative Inspirations: Doyald Young, Logotype Designer
Video duration: 0s 1h 41m Appropriate for all Updated Sep 29, 2011


From humble beginnings in a small Texas town eight decades ago comes legendary typographer, logotype designer, author, and teacher Doyald Young. As elegant as his script fonts and as wise as his set of Oxford English dictionaries, Young set the standard for his craft. Friend and designer Stefan Bucher describes Young as "someone who could easily have done what he does in the Renaissance, and could easily do it 300 years from now." In this installment of Creative Inspirations, we enjoy a window into the life of this accomplished artisan as he works with joyous focus in his favorite spot, his drawing table. We follow Young to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where he shares his talents with tomorrow's designers. He recalls the hundreds of iterations he went through in creating the logo for Prudential, and he puts pencil to tissue creating the pages for his book about script lettering, Learning Curves. Young's story is compelling, captivating, and most of all, inspiring. is honored to host this tribute to his work.

Join us in Bonus Features at a tribute event held at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where Doyald's friends and colleagues speak about their relationship with the gifted designer and Lynda introduces a scholarship fund set up specifically in his memory.


Doyald Young, Logotype Designer

(Music playing) To learn to draw a letter well takes a lot of time. I've been drawing letters since 1948. And I'm still learning how to draw. (Music playing) Jan Van Krimpen, one of my great heroes, he says, "I do not want to draw a beautiful letter. I want to draw a good letter." Now I think that good letters are beautiful.

I love to draw letters. I found out that I did. It pleased me. I think it goes back to basic personality. For instance I have a love of detail. Despite the fact I call myself a logotype designer teacher, I'm delighted to say that my life revolves around typography. It permeates our lives, it permeates our culture. Our history is written with typography.

And it's just something I love to do. I'm happiest when I'm at the board with a pencil. (Music playing) This is the Oxford English Dictionary. It's 13 volumes here. There are 4 more volumes, which I do not have. And the Oxford English is about the, it's about etymology, the history of words. The first time a word was used in the English is recorded here.

I did not finish high school. I didn't complete the 10th grade. And throughout my whole life, I've read extensively. It's how I have educated myself. Dad was a blacksmith who wound up in Kilgore, Texas, shoeing horses or mules for to drill oil, the great Kilgore oil boom. My dad, while shoeing a mule, was kicked in the groin and was sent to the hospital for a whole year.

And my stepmother, Guandina (ph), fell in love with us and took care of us for one whole year while dad was in the hospital. And she took my hand and guided my hand with a pencil to show me how to draw. So I give Guandina credit for my drawing. Dad had three wrecking yards after that, one in Livingston, Texas, one in Houston and one in Orange. We hated the moves. He moved us constantly.

We hated all the moves because we had to make new friends in school. Finally, we wound up in Orange and at age 15 I left home. The only job I could find -- since I had no talent, I had no skill -- I was loading milk trucks at 4 o'clock in the morning in a dairy. I tired of that very quickly, found a job with Fred Harvey, a hotel in a little town called Ashfork, Arizona, where I was a newsstand clerk. Did that for awhile and found out I could make more money working for the railroads.

So I got a job on caboose 2005 with Mr. Stark. He was the conductor and my run went run went from Winslow through Flagstaff to Seligman. Finally, at the age of 22, I realized I must go to school if I was going to make any kind of living at all. So I enrolled in Frank Wiggins, which is now L.A. Trade Tech. And I had a wonderful teacher named Joel Gibby who introduced me to lettering.

(Music playing) I think the reason that I have been attracted to lettering and topography is because in one sense, so little of it has changed. The letters that we look at today are the same letters that we looked at 500 years ago. And I sort of like this stability of that, and I think it goes back to the fact that my dad moved us around all the time. My whole childhood was in a state of flux.

So I look for stability. And typography gives me that stability. There are over 100,000 fonts out there. MyFonts has over 100,000, for instance, they distribute. People say well, if there are 100,000 fonts, why are you drawing a letter? Why not use a font and do something with it? Well, I have very technical reasons of why I do that. But I'll also have a very simple answer, which is it's custom.

I am designing something custom for you. Something tailored to your taste, tailored to your situation. And I think that everyone understands what custom is. There's custom dresses, there's custom furniture, there's custom styling on cars. All of that. It's all custom. We all want something that's unique. We want something to call our own. This has been done for us. Every company truly wants to appear unique.

They don't want to look like another company. And yet they also want to fit within a certain group of taste. And this is one of my basic basic basic rules. That's where I start. First of all, a logo must be legible. Now in order to make it legible, I think that you have to stick with some very conventional forms to begin with. Now once you make it legible, if you're lucky, you can then make it look unique.

And sometimes very subtle changes will make it appear unique. Sometimes just spacing between the letters will give it a certain look. Oftentimes the exact proportion will give you another look. I make lots and lots of sketches. When I was doing the Prudential logotype and its fonts, I had a stack of 1,500 sheets of 8.5 by 11, printouts from that font, and each page might have a dozen changes on it.

I fuss with it. I will move a pixel. Remember that each letter that goes into an alphabet is a 1,000 by 1,000 square. And whenever you make a change, that's 1/1,000th inch of change. And I think that those little details are extremely critical. That's what makes a good font. (Music playing) You know I'm often asked, what out of all the things you've done, what do you like best? What are you most proud of? And I say, "Well, I'm really proud what I did for Prudential." And yet people look at it, and they say, "Well, it's sort of plain.

What is it that you've done that makes you like it so much?" So John March was a former student of mine, and said, "I'm now creative director for the identity program for Prudential," and he sent me this copy. "We've been using this Helvetica for, oh, about 15 years and we'd like to change it." The initial request was to design the word "Prudential" so it was a friendly word.

He wanted to strongly relate to a font, but more tightly spaced than a normal text face and a little bit bolder. So the Century Bold was favored and also the Times Roman Bold was a favorite and the Century 725. And I did 12 versions of these. I did them all in pencil. We finally wound up with the one here at the bottom, which is a condensed Century.

All throughout the whole program, they stressed the fact they wanted the word to look friendly. They kept saying friendly. Well, one of the reasons I sort of focused on the Century is because if you went to school in this country, you first learned to read with the Century Schoolbook. The familiarity makes it comfortable. It's not the forms themselves or the shape of the forms; it's the fact that we have seen Century for 100 years.

We learn to read with it. That's what makes it friendly. And what I've done, I've redrawn it, and my drawing is on the top and here's the actual typeface. I have, as you can see, I have changed, I have softened the tail here so that it doesn't take up so much room, and I've also condensed the P so we can get it a little closer so we don't have a big hole there. And what I did also, to make the T read faster, I made it taller.

I'll also raised the-- The dot of the I is called the tittle. And I raised that up a little bit. Because I thought it was too close to the actual stem there. Legibility is an extremely critical element in any logo design. It's one of the things I harp on. When we read, we read the top of the word. We scan the top of a line of type. They wanted the word to be as legible as possible, and so I showed them this to explain that we do read the top of word.

Whereas the bottom of the word here is not legible. You can read the top but you can't read the bottom. So everything is spaced from the top. And then here is what we started with and then I extended it 5%, then 10%, and then 10 units, and finally 15 units, which they thought was wonderful. After I had done the logo, they said they would like a font. So I developed just this font, caps and lowercase, with a minimum of a amount of punctuation.

And I compared it to the Century Book and Century Bold, so it falls in between, in weight and also in proportion and in spacing. So I truly like what I've done. I have redrawn Century to my liking, for one thing, and it satisfies the goal of many text faces where no one letters stands out, so that you read it easily without stopping. (Music playing) Tink Adams, the president of Art Center, said, "We want teachers in the field, who are professionals, to come in and teach what they know." I don't even have a high school education.

I didn't finish the 10th grade. That's unimportant. As long as I can teach what I do, that's all that Tink was concerned about. (To a student) And then there's a bump right here. And let's pull this in some. And let's add more weight to the N. The rest is good. Student: How about the space? Doyald: That's fine. It can go higher but what you have I think is okay.

I took 4 semesters of lettering from Mort Leach at Art Center. 1953, I think it was. And that Mort had a big class. It was far too many to teach in a three-hour period. And Mort noticed that students were coming to me when he wasn't around for help. And so finally after the 4th semester, he said "Would you like to teach here. Would you like to be my assistant?" And so of course I was flattered.

(To a student) I'm more concerned really about your shape. I prefer to go one-on-one. This time it's summer session and it's always light. I have just 5 students this time. I have them work small. First of all, because if you're designing a complex shape, the smaller you make it, the faster you can go. You can test out your ideas. If it's 12 inches wide, it takes you forever to make this drawing.

So we can make a series of little roughs to solve the basic problems Once we have those solved, then we can then make a tighter version and finally we make a very precise pencil tissue. Once I have okayed that, we then translate it into a digital form so that it becomes a piece of art that can be reproduced at any size. I've always enjoyed helping people learn how to draw.

It is better to give than receive, you know. And so I think that teaching is rewarding. It helps you to decide what you believe in, and what the real principals are that satisfies your aesthetic. I tell my students this. I don't care what the rules are. And there are lots of rules. The ultimate rule is how does it look? Does that 'O' look bigger than the 'N?' Does it look taller? Does it drop too far below the line? And you have to get them to keep on drawing letters until they see the difference.

You have to learn how to see it. (To a student) The T's are a little low. I think this is ideal and I think that is ideal. You've repeated that at the top of the N, which is good. There is one slight problem, but at this scale, I accept what you've done. I think the top of the E gets a little dark. You see your hairline here? Is heavy? So the top of the E is just a little dark, a little chunky.

Um. I'm particularly pleased with what you've done. (Music playing) I love writing books. It's a great challenge. I care a great deal. I want to book to be beautiful. This book took 5 and a half years to do. There's 470 fonts in it.

And I'm writing a new book. The font that I've designed, Young Gallant, anchors the book because what I want to do is to explain to students, beginning students, the basics of formal script. For teachers, for students, for graphic designers to somehow look at all these variations, to get ideas if they're trying to design a script logo, and remember that script is one most commonly used fonts.

Look at all the use of script in wine labels. Any place where luxury is called for, anything that is refined, calls oftentimes for a graceful statement of formal script. I learned formal script from Mort Leach. He had some sheets, lettering sheets, that he passed out to the class. And then when I started to teach, I used those same sheets to teach formal script. I've used those for almost 40 years, and I have modified Mort's original drawings.

It's what I call a basic bare-bones minimal font. It's as simple as I can draw it. What I hope with the book is to show possible variations of these basic letters. Once you make a student draw this exactly, draw this exactly, this is exactly what I want, you pound that into them to the point where they can't think of anything else when you say design a logo-- that now I want some variation.

So I'm showing on the right-hand page, these are same size pencil tissues that I've drawn. What I'm showing is the change of these terminals. Here's a slightly lighter one. Here's a teardrop that's not bracketed. Here is a circle with a lot of white space that rolls around it. Here's one that is spreads like the endings of the capital letters. And then here's one with the little loop that you will also find in my font called Young Baroque.

And here is something a little more flossy. It's the initial letter, where you want a decorative statement. And you don't want a large capital. The lowercase E, in this case, I show a decorative form which we call Gravura. Here is a terminal. This can be used in the middle of the word, and here's one that is a capital letter in shape. I've drawn it very carefully so it matches the E in the Campbell Soup logo.

In this case, there's 7 of these here. There are many many more variations. Remember that there have been many cases where your birth certificate is in formal script, where your coming of age is announced in formal script, where your graduation is announced in formal script. And oftentimes at the end of your life, your passing is noted in formal script.

It permeates our lives. (Music playing) This is my Webster's Unabridged Library edition. It was given to me on my birthday and it came with a brown buckram cover, and it had some leather on the back and it was one of the most homely bindings I've ever seen.

On top of that when I opened it up, it was over-inked. So I call Webster's and I said the book is over-inked and can you replace it for for me? He says, "Well, tear off the cover and send it to me and I'll give you the new guts." So he sent me the new guts, and then I had this binding done. And then I used Cockerell paper on it. This is a English paper. What they do is they take a streak of ink this way, red ink, tan ink, black ink, and then they take little pins and they pull the ink to create this wonderful design. It's all hand done.

Gorgeous gorgeous Cockerell paper. And then one day, I was looking up a word, I was on page 248 and then all the sudden on the opposite page was 253. A signature was missing. After I spent $300 on the binding. And I never told them about it. And I've often wondered what's in those missing pages. Not only do I love letters, I love words.

Somehow at the age of 50, I realized that my speech that I was using words I think correctly, that I had a vague idea of what they meant. Because I think I have a good ear for language. And I then decided that I would look up the word just to make certain that I was using it correctly. And I realized finally that there were a lot of words that I didn't know the meaning of it. Very common ordinary words.

You'd be amazed at the words we use, that if you asked the average person to define that word, it's difficult. So I started looking up words. And my dad, who had a 9th grade education, he says, "Now, Doyald" -- and he's from Texas. He says, "Now, Doyald, you should not use big words, because people won't trust you." Well, we need to speak simply and clearly and accurately.

If you do use a big word, define it. It's okay. One of the words I love is desuetude, and I ran across the word in the Alexandria Quartet, written by Lawrence Durrel. And so I looked it up and it meant old and derelict and unattended. Desuetude, it comes straight from the Latin. Well, I love of the sound of it and it has a precise meaning. So there's some words like nostalgia.

We use nostalgia these days meaning something that reminds us of something else. That's nostalgic. The original meaning of it is homesickness. Well, I think if we get back to the original meaning of words, its word root, oftentimes from the Latin, that we get a better understanding of the word. Another word, here I've drawn formal script all my life and I'd never heard of the word ductus.

And this French man used it, but ductus is a Latin word. It means to lead. That hairline that joins to the next letter is called ductus, meaning it leads into the next letter. Well, I like words like that. Words that define what you're doing. (Music playing) Stefan Bucher: I was never Doyald's student in school, but I very much consider myself a student now.

I first met Doyald through mutual friends at Art Center and wasn't even that aware of his work. I just liked him as a person. I liked his outlook on life. And then it sort of dawned on me, over a period of a number of years, what an amazing gravity-defying person he is. I mean he could have easily done what he does in the Renaissance and he could easily do it 300 years from now. There's just something very particular that the man does that nobody else can.

Doyald: Hello there, Stefan. Stephan: How are you? Doyald: It's good to see you. Stephan: Good to see you. Doyald: Have a seat! Have a seat. Stephan: It's lovely to see you, Doyald. How are you? Doyald: The same here. Stephan: What are you working on right now? Doyald: What am I working on? I'm working on a book as we speak. I've done all the caps for the book. The hand drawn caps. And now I'm almost halfway through. I've just finished the J. And the lowercase.

And I had a wonderful-- Jean Larcher is a calligrapher in Paris that I met in 2000. He is a true calligrapher. He teaches the English roundhand and he has a remarkable book, with all of these drawings in it that explains all the parts of the letter. I sort of want to put that in the book, but I don't know if my editor will let me. Because it's writing and what I do is draw. See? Two distinctions there.

Stephan: You also write. It's your book. Doyald: Well, okay, but writing, for instance, calligraphy is truly, if you go to your dictionary, the definition of calligraphy is beautiful writing. So I do not write with a broad pen, which is a chisel, or a pointed pen. I draw letters meticulously. I sketch them just like that. There's the distinction. Although the calligraphers disagree with that. They say I'm a calligrapher. Stephan: I want to quickly ask you this.

What do you like in terms of lettering and typography, where you're seeing other people do good stuff? Doyald: Well, I greatly admire Frank Blokland in Netherlands. He teaches at the Hague, at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the Hague. He has a foundry called Dutchtype Library. He's very much of classicist. He truly is. So I'm very fond of that.

I like some of Hoefler's work. He's very big these days. Jill Bell is a great favorite. Jill does a lot of brush script. She started out as a sign painter of all things. And I was at a bookstore downtown on 2nd street, April Greiman had a new book, and she was signing the book, and Jill comes up to me and says "Doyald, I want you to get to know me." (Laughter) So anyway, we've been great friends. Stephan: I like that.

Doyald: So, we've been great friends for 10 years now. And she did the logo for Nora Jones' first album. So I'm very fond of that. Stephan: And our friend Marian. You know, she throws out rules, and at the same time, you make and build the rules. Doyald: Well, I truly admire her work. I think that Marian is truly one of the most innovative designers I've ever encountered. I'm always surprised at what she does.

In fact-- and she is not timid. In fact, I call her intrepid. Because she throws all the rules out and she says, to hell with that! Stephan: Have you and Marian actually ever done a project together? Doyald: No. No. Stephan: Really? That seems like a tremendous oversight, doesn't it? Doyald: Well I tell you what she did. She did a Valentine for me last year. It was all laser cut, gorgeous piece of stuff.

So I gave her a "Thank You" note, as fancy as I could make it with all kinds of curly cues. And it was just a pencil drawing. So that's the extent of our collaboration. Stephan: That seems like a cosmic wrong that needs to be righted. So you're getting an award at TypeCon on Saturday? Doyald: Do you know, it's always surprising. I never thought that somehow, with what I do, creates new things for typography. The world of typography.

What I do is really very restrained. Maybe TypeCon, I don't know. Maybe they see my publishing effort and my teaching effort. Maybe that's one big package. I don't know. They haven't really told me. Stephan: My theory is that they would want to be around a Jedi master. But that's just me thinking that. I don't know. What is the award called? Doyald: I think it's called the SOTA award. Society of Typographic Aficionados.

Stephan: All right. Doyald, it's been so great to see you. I'm so glad you invited me and thank you for taking the time. And I'm looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. Doyald: Well, it'll be great to see you. There will be a whole mess of people there, but barge through and say hello. Stephan: You know I will. Doyald: All right. Goodbye. (Music playing) Doyald: We're here at the Century Plaza Hotel and it's a conference called TypeCon, and I've been invited by SOTA, which is the Society of Typographic Aficionados.

Typographers from all over the world come and trade ideas and show what they have done, show their new fonts. Also it's a chance to meet young designers. Remember I'm a teacher too. It's a chance to meet young designers. They always have questions and it's always fun to talk to them. And it's a place to sell my books. Conferences are really-- It's a forum. It's a place where you learn, it's where we explain, where we teach.

And they're very eager. Fan 1: Big fan. Doyald: Are you really? Fan 1: Actually the first and only time I saw you was at the HOW conference in Chicago several years ago. Doyald: Oh, I remember. Yes? Fan 1: And I was hooked. Fan 2. Well, I have to say, you're one of my idols. You and Jim Parkinson and Marian. Doyald: Well, my goodness. Fan 3. Such a pleasure to hear you speak. I've heard so many things about you. And I appreciate this kind of very... Doyald: Well, thank you very much. Doyald: Marian! Marian Bantjes: Doyald! Sean Adams: So things are going well? Are you ready for today? Doyald: Oh never. But I am-- Sean: You're always perfectly charming and fantastic.

Doyald: Well, then the next thing is just to relax? Allan Haley: It truly gives me great pleasure to be able to introduce to you or reintroduce to you one of the heroes of our craft. A kind, gentle, elegant man, who draws incredibly elegant typefaces. Please welcome Doyald Young. (Applause) Doyald: During the time I was going to night school, I was introduced to typography and of course the first thing you want to do is you want design a font.

Well, finally in 1985 Letraset accepted this font, Young Baroque. And I don't consider myself a type designer. I have designed just a few. I'm always impressed with the great number of fonts that you people design. (Laughter) JF this morning, he had 20 or 30 fonts he had designed. He's a young man. I'm really a dilettante. I start a font -- no, it's true, it's true.

I start a font and then I work on it for a little while, and then I put it away for two or three years and come back. I seldom see my fonts used. But the Bianca Studios in New York designed this. Used it for Madonna's reinvention tour. It's when she was into mysticism. (Laughter) I've never thought that Young Baroque was mystic. And uh, Fergie likes it. (Laughter) But Julian Peploe didn't think it was fancy enough so he added more swirls to it.

Here is Eclat. I've never been fond of the name. It means, if you look it up in the dictionary, it means bursting. It also means a certain kind of panache. I had wanted to call it Elan, as in elan vital. But the name had been taken, so I said okay. And Fergie likes it too. (Laughter) (Applause) Someone once called my work scattershot.

My design approach. Well. You never know what a client will buy. I think also that you truly have to explore any problem, any design problem, as much as you can. Nothing is more embarrassing if you make a presentation and the client doesn't like what you've done and someone in the room suggests something else that the president likes. So also, never forget the presidents and CEOs take the logos home to their wives and get opinions from their wives.

I think that logo preference and type preference is strictly personal. People say, "Well, what's your favorite font?" Well, I don't know. It depends... Do you mean a text font or display font? It's like asking a mother which is your favorite children. I was speaking to a teacher at Art Center, and he said how much he hated Palatino. And I said, "Well, I think it's one of the most important fonts of the 20th century." So you see, we all have different ideas about type.

Man speaking: Master of the college. And first we have (inaudible). (Applause) Marian Bantjes: Hello. The other day, Doyald told me he's not interested in making things new, but in making them better. In these days of instant gratification, short attention spans, and the eternal quest for the hot new thing, I feel we desperately need more Doyalds who are willing to work and work with that focused skill and over the years make things better better better.

Sean Adams: Beyond his talent I always found his greatest gift to me is the reminder that giving back, being charming, being gracious, and having patience, are what makes someone a great designer. Not necessarily doing the most out-there, exciting work at all times, but being a good person on top of that. There is a great quote by Oscar Wilde, who I know you like to quote once in awhile, and it is that "It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.

People are either charming or tedious." Doyald is always charming. (Laughter and applause) James Grieshaber: For this year, on behalf of SOTA, I'm proud to award Doyald Young the SOTA Typographer Award. (Applause) Doyald: All these things have always been a surprise to me.

I have never-- I've been accused of being self-effacing. But it's really unexpected and again, I thank you for the great honor. Wonderful to do work all your life, sometimes 7 days a week mostly, and then get applauded for it. Thank you. (Applause) I'll still learning how to draw.

There are no secrets to what I do. All what I do is hard work and observation. Really. And doing things over and over until you're satisfied with it and until you think it's right.

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