San Francisco, California

Notes on Adventures

After more than a year of working on Adventures in Typography, a weekly newsletter that I write about typography and design, I’ve figured out what it is or really what I want it to be. And so now I thought it’s as good a time as any to make a record of why I’m working on this side project, what’s successful about it, what I messed up and what I hope to accomplish in the future.

Audience: Who do I want to read it?

Typically I think design writing is mostly a garbage topic for two reasons: first, it’s a field that encourages writers that are only interested in fame and fortune rather than serious research or good writing. It’s not just a problem with the sort of stuff you find on Medium, but almost everything that makes it to print, too. I often find that writing about design is treading well-worn and familiar ground or is boastful and arrogant instead.

Second, I think design writing is hot garbage because it encourages boring writing. The technical side of design, the really useful stuff like how fonts actually work, makes for extraordinarily dry reading which happens to be written without any charisma or flair for a group of readers with seemingly infinite patience. And I know that I’m not one of them.

So with Adventures I wanted to avoid the fame-riddled, Medium-esque writing and the boring stuff I read in books about typography. I want to welcome everyone to the world of typography, from amateurs to professional and experienced type designers. And that’s a tricky sort of balancing act.

Timeline: How long should it take to read?

The best constraint about the project is that I have to publish an adventure each Saturday evening or Sunday morning. This deadline gives me the incentive and the kick in the butt that I need to continuously write. After long enough it began to feel like exercise, in a good way until now it feels genuinely weird not writing Adventures. However, in the beginning my Saturday mornings were really quite frightful because I’d open up my laptop without a single clue as to what would be good enough.

Anyway, whenever I think of the ideal Adventures experience I think of someone reading their inbox early on a weekend morning with coffee in hand. The post should take no longer than ten or fifteen minutes to read, even if they happen to follow all the links that I scatter through it. Typically that means I hope to write about one story, or have a single continuous thread, running through it instead of a bunch of links dumped into a list. At the beginning of the project I constantly made the mistake of writing giant essays that tried to accomplish everything and that simply wasn’t scalable, or fun.

With Adventures in Typography I often think about what Reggie Fils-Aimé said about the design of Mario: if it isn’t fun, then why bother?

Voice: What should it sound like?

I experimented with the tone for the longest time. At first I expected it to be serious and rather stately, but I found that it’s far too difficult to write something serious in the timeframe that I give myself. Plus, I know that if it was a Sunday morning I wouldn’t rush to my inbox to find a giant essay about type sitting there. But if there was a lighthearted story with a bunch of links to surf through then heck yes I most certainly would.

This leads to my second set of rules for Adventures: keep it jovial, lighthearted and brief. It took me yonks to learn that my voice in Adventures should sound just like I speak in real life; fast-paced, optimistic-as-all-heck and full of bumbling errors.

I then found myself enjoying the posts that were more like a stream of consciousness or an open notepad of all the messy thoughts bumping around in my head. With that, I began to take myself less seriously, and be less critical when it comes to the editing process. It’s okay if the posts have spelling mistakes and it’s okay if they don’t quite lead anywhere. This isn’t homework. It’s a clunky, excitable email sent to a close friend.

My general goal is this: if a single intelligible and kind word can be wrenched out of me as I write that particular week’s letter than that’s a fine adventure for me. And I hope it is for you, as well.