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Q&A Dino dos Santos

We have a fabulous selection of international guests critics visiting us at TypeParis Summer23. We wanted to find out a little more about each of them, so have presented them with a series of questions which they have generously taken the time to answer. Discover Dino dos Santos' interview.

Biography Dino dos Santos, born in 1971, Porto — Portugal. In 1994 founded DSType, an independent type foundry. Since then, we’ve worked with some of the world’s most recognized companies, brands, and publications while creating an extensive and comprehensive catalog of high-quality typefaces. We have received numerous awards, including a Certificate of Excellence in Type Design by the Type Directors Club and several Awards of Excellence by Communication Arts.


Interview

What is your favourite way to start a day?

Dino dos Santos I always get up before 7:00. Have breakfast, have expresso, feed my four cats and smoke a cigarette. Then I feed the six cats I have on my porch. The work starts by checking my emails, reading the news online, and start preparing for the workday.

Do you prefer a permanent/dedicated workspace, separate from home or at home or do you like to keep mobile?

Dino dos Santos I always work from home. We started doing that when we quit our physical space in downtown Porto in 2017. We have all worked from home since then.

Favourite kind of music to listen to while working?

Dino dos Santos There might be music, but when I’m working —and as you will realize, I’m always working— I don’t pay much attention to the surroundings.

What do you do to evade yourself from work? Do you practice any sports?

Dino dos Santos Why should I want to evade working? I totally love what I do! Of course, some physical exercise is always welcome, but in the last couple of years, I must admit that my principle sport is design scripts I don’t understand the language.

“Why should I want to evade working? I totally love what I do!”
– Dino dos Santos

What drives you to create new typefaces?

Dino dos Santos We always work on more than one typeface at a time. Some are problem-solving fonts for a very specific purpose that we define in our initial brief, but some are for fun, for trying new approaches to type design, and programming, and in a very selfish way, for our joy.

You have been running your own type foundry for nearly 30 years. The context seems very different now: there are atypical foundries that offer their fonts at very low prices or for free to students; and there is font access facilitated by integration with large subscription services. How to position yourself in the face of this?

Dino dos Santos I try to be very aware of what’s happening in the type world and think about all the possible solutions for type distribution. If there’s something my career showed me is that nothing lasts forever. When things around you are moving this fast, and there’s too much type noise, maybe you should play dead. That’s what we’re doing right now. Although this is just a play dead prank, because the fact is that we’re working on a side project that will introduce new typefaces for a variety of scripts, along with a new font licensing model and a open, trustworthy, relationship with the client.

“If there's something my career showed me is that nothing lasts forever.”
– Dino dos Santos

One of your latest commissions was the official typeface of the controversial FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Can you tell us some details about this project?

Dino dos Santos Leaving the political and controversial aspects aside, the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 project begun with an invitation to take part of a group of people trying to find the better way to communicate the first Word Cup in an Arabic country. We did a workshop where graphic designers, type designers, and calligraphers explored possible solutions for the design of this event. After a few hours working on several possibilities, I took the word Qatar from a piece of lettering by Hussein Alazaat and started exploring the Latin, starting from the Arabic. The Arabic letter “qaf” was the key to the typeface design. The "qaf" had the exact tension and texture I wanted to include in the Latin, starting by the lowercase “a”. The logo for the event was already approved by the Supreme Committee of Qatar. Inspired by a sort of infinite symbol that resembled the World Cup trophy, but rotated in a three-dimensional way, would become a circle. And so the letter “Q” was born from that loop. With these in mind, the project could follow its own path, because we already had the two main letters “Q + a”, along with a draft of what the Arabic could look like.

“I took the word Qatar from a piece of lettering by Hussein Alazaat and started exploring the Latin [...] from the Arabic.”
– Dino dos Santos

What is your ratio of self-initiated typefaces vs. typeface for clients? Which do you tend to be more passionate about making?

In the past 2 to 3 years, the ratio has been around 50-50. I love designing fonts, but I consider deadlines a relevant aspect of our profession. In a way that even when no deadline is defined, we establish specific schedules for releasing new typefaces. I can be more passionate for self initiated projects, yet we always define the purpose for our fonts before even start drawing them. This kind of procedure brings us close to the bespoke projects, so we don't feel much difference.

“I can be more passionate for self initiated projects, yet we always define the purpose for our fonts before even start drawing them.”
– Dino dos Santos

Are you rather one of those who draw or redraw type classics (what's the definition of a type classic?), or those who seek to totally invent new forms?

Dino dos Santos Besides the fonts we designed to be revivals, usually named after the original designer (Ventura, Andrade, Torio, etc.), I don’t think we ever redraw type classics. Some might disagree, but I can try to explain. What we have in mind when designing a font that somehow resembles a classic typeface is to have a starting point and then redefine the purpose and shape of such typefaces. When I say: “Let’s do a Caslon”, I don’t mean we’re doing a Caslon per se. Our Quase started with Caslon but ended differently. The same applies to Logica, a font that started with Fell, although the result has nothing to do with the original. And the same for so many of our fonts. I never believed in epiphany. We are visual beings, made of what we’ve seen, our memories, our life, our experiences, shape how we deal with the creative tasks in everyday life, and that obviously applies to designing fonts. This concept is not only about interpretation of historical sources, but also for possible new shapes of letters. I think I never invented a single form, yet we have some typefaces that introduce distinct ideas for what we call type family. A font that ranges from vertical to horizontal stress when it gets bolder (Haste), mixing several styles in a random way (Diversa), these are probably the most important thing for me: rethink the traditional type family idea.

“What we have in mind when designing a font that somehow resembles a classic typeface is to have a starting point and then redefine the purpose and shape of such typefaces.”
– Dino dos Santos

Is it possible (or desirable) to draw a typeface for a language or writing whose language we don't know? Nor culture? What are the prerequisites conditions?

Dino dos Santos That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I like to believe it’s possible, but it has a prerequisite: no preconceived ideas. I love to explore all the possibilities when working on a script that falls beyond my knowledge. Learning from that try and error is such a rewarding experience. I even might look for the opinion of a native, yet the final decision is mine. Our upcoming project is about multi-script fonts that not always start with the Latin and then expands to other latitudes like we usually think. Experimenting with Arabic, Armenian and Hebrew in unexpected typefaces is something that makes me want to go to work everyday. Yet there's nothing particularly extraordinary in this. If you look at some well known specimens from the 1700's and 1800's, you'll see several attempts to be universal, yet not always successfully. As probably myself.

During your creative process, do you sketch–draw on paper before moving on to the digital workflow?

Dino dos Santos I can start with a rough sketch, but usually, I go straight to the digital. Then I might get back to sketching as part of understanding the shapes, but normally I work on the computer.

“Experimenting with Arabic, Armenian and Hebrew in unexpected typefaces is something that makes me want to go to work everyday.”
– Dino dos Santos

Do you have words of wisdom for someone who wants to become a graphic designer, art director or type designer?

Dino dos Santos Always question any words of wisdom.


Thank you very much, Dino!  

– Interview by Gina Serret

Learn more about TypeParis courses and conferences!

Type & graphic designers interviews
Summer23 programme
Reports
Attendees feedback series


Sponsors

Thanks to Monotype for being our steel sponsor for TypeParis23
July 5, 2023
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