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Origin Story: Positype

Nov 11, 2016 | History

Over the years, I have comfortably chose to hang back, focus on my craft, help and influence the industry when I could. I kinda enjoyed not being ‘public’ and the anonymity and reduced distractions that came from it—this meant I could work more. The longer I hang around, the more people ask questions that I guess I should answer—so, I’ll try to share a bit more and try not to be boring. This piece is meant to open the doors a little, let you know a little about me, why and how I entered the type industry, and the origins of Positype.

I am a lover of type, good food, great scotch, even better wine, and really bad jokes. I always clench up at the idea of putting myself front and center. Like I said, I am more comfortable sitting back, doing the work, talking as little as possible, making things. In a culture that is becoming more increasingly ‘out there’, I’m happier doing the opposite, avoiding the selfies and filters and what not—nothing wrong with any of it, just difficult for me. I can’t spend hours on Twitter. I’m not interested in always promoting my work and would rather let that work serve my clients.

You’ll see me use the word ‘craft’ a lot. That is what I am most focused on. I want to develop my craft and find ways to improve and/or solve letter drawing in a way different than others. I love the flourishes, swashes, and modulations of script and gestural lettering, as much as I do rigid, complex type systems. The dichotomy is appealing to me. I very much try to practice what I preach and produce a wide array of typefaces within my catalogue—some done to sell commercially, some to explore and push it to either failure or success. For me, it’s important to put it all out there. You never know when one of those attempts will inspire someone else (or even me) to produce something wonderful in the future.

I genuinely believe every industry has a subset of people who profit from the hard work of others. I choose not to give them credence. I gravitate to those willing to teach, exchange, and champion. I support the academics and organizations that support my industry. It’s the only way to affect change and inspire evolution. If you’re young, get involved. If you’re old, get involved. Don’t complain, just improve.

Don’t Hustle

So, you now know where I stand about being uncomfortable being public, and I why I don’t engage in back and forth from screen to screen. Check. Now, let’s talk about how I see work. When I first heard the design community incorporate ‘hustle’ as a battlecry, I created my own… “I do not hustle, I work.” My work ethic was inspired by my parents through their example and my observation… it was never forced on me. If you have to force yourself to work, find something else to do. The need, the desire to use my hands and my mind to make my way in life was never fully realized until I found my way into design. That visceral connection to create is intoxicating. Type and lettering satiated that need.

“I do not hustle, I work”

That said, I did not decide in college that I wanted to be a type designer. I do not think many of us back in the late nineties and early aughts said we wanted to be type designers… there really weren’t schools shouting and promoting degrees or certificate programs in type design then. I will admit, I was transfixed by type and lettering when I was young and it only grew as I matured. Once in the Graphic Design program at the University of Georgia, I studied under type designer Ronald Arnholm, but only for typography. Type Design, as a class, just wasn’t taught then. And I voraciously consumed any class by calligrapher and lettering artist, Kenneth Williams. Still, no type design. That came later.

Thanks To A Jerk

In 2000, I was invited back to my alma mater to attend a guest lecture from a then prominent designer (who happened to produce fonts that “people would throw their money at”). His contemptuous attitude towards type and design, coupled with his ego and incessant projection of self-importance got under my skin. It was the antithesis of what I felt a designer should be and the role they should have to communicate, empower, and create. Needless to say, I was incensed by this blowhard. I left the lecture firmly believing that if this guy can make it in the industry, I sure as hell could. Period. It wasn’t about the money (at the time, I didn’t think there was much out there for type design). For me, it was about the craft. I needed, I had to learn the craft. I had to design a typeface. And so, I gallantly ventured forth with a copy of Fontographer, with no clue whatsoever how to use it, and started drawing letters… yes, I’ve inserted brutal sarcasm to the origin story.

Previous iterations of the Positype logotype

Positive Type

I like my last name. It’s quirky and different. Everyone mispronounces it despite their best efforts. Summerour is pronounced ‘Summer-hour’… think ‘winter minute’ and you’ll never mess it up. The problem though, is that it’s still hard to pronounce, spell correctly, or remember. I knew I needed to remove ego from the naming of my foundry and go with something that people positively would never mispronounce. Get it? Positype came from the rather simple mashup of ‘Positive Type’. For the longest time, I always associated a plus sign, craftily drawn in a bubble, shield, crest, etc. alongside the name to intimate my intentions. Before I became a type designer and still to this day, I am a voracious consumer of type. I’m a fanboy. Fun Fact: when I was in school, I was actually gifted fonts from family and friends when they still came on 3.5” floppy disks #IamOLD. I have and will always want to champion type and lettering and anyone who produces it. As corny as it sounds, the mashup of Positive Type, or now, Positype resonated with me.

I’ve never regretted the choice for the foundry name. I have and always will keep my door open to anyone interested in type, interested in lettering, and wanting to advance themselves. It speaks to the fanboy, the educator, the advocate in me. It’s why I am apprehensively stepping out more. It’s why I joined the board of the Society of Typographic Aficionados, and why I was willing to serve as its Chair. In August of 2016, as I prepared my remarks to kickoff TypeCon in Seattle, I reminded myself why I am doing this. When I was learning the craft, refining my skills, and finding my place and voice within an industry that I considered myself an outsider in, I latched on to anyone who would give me advice, be critical of my work, and encourage me along. People like Allan Haley, Carol Wahler, and John Downer gave me what I needed at the time and encouraged me forward. It’s my turn. Now, I’m in a position to guide, to identify new talent and underrepresented people, and do what I can to help them gain footing in an industry that I care very much for. Who cares about the podium, just speak.

That said… I’m Neil Summerour, I’m a type designer and founder of Positype… how can I help?

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