David Jonathan Ross on typeface design and the font SNDCLT helped inspire

David Jonathan Ross is a gifted typeface designer who currently produces fonts for his type foundry, DJR. He also contributes to Font Of The Month Club, the Type Network, and co-curates a blog of cursive LA signage. His love of letters is expressed in his desire to not solely imbue beauty and rhythm to a typeface, but also to make it able to solve a problem. David’s playful yet careful approach allows designers who use his fonts to creatively soar. He spoke with us briefly about his craft and his most recent font, Zenith DJR:

What was the first typeface you ever created?

I think that dubious honor goes to Manicotti, a “wild west” slab serif with a strong horizontal stress (there might have been earlier attempts, but this is the first design that I completed and eventually released). I started drawing it at Hampshire College, and its original use was on a “Wanted” poster seeking writers and photographers for our student newspaper.

How do you measure the success of your designs?

I try to define different goals for each typeface project that I take on, and measure my success relative to those goals. For example, I designed a font called Input, and my goal for that typeface was to create richer typographic options for computer programmers. That goal not only informed the design of the letterforms, but also the size of the family and how I eventually chose to license and distribute the fonts.

Tell us about “Font of The Month Club”

Font of the Month Club is a new project where folks can sign up to receive a font from me every single month (for as little as $6/month). Fonts of the month include distinctive display faces, experimental designs, and exclusive previews of upcoming retail typeface families. I started the service in May, so we are currently in the third month (here are May and June’s fonts, Nickel and Roslindale).

I started the club because I wanted to give myself room to pursue side projects that might not be viable as retail fonts, and to try out ideas without the time commitment of developing an entire family. At the same time, I thought that designers might appreciate getting fresh type in their inbox on a regular basis, and would relish the opportunity to find ways to put it to use and diversify their font collections in a fun and inexpensive way.

What inspired July’s font, Zenith DJR?

I recently had pleasure of traveling to Charlotte, NC to attend the excellent Society of News Design conference. Walking back from lunch with my Type Network colleagues Caren and Claire, we passed a great Art Deco inscription on an old fire station on South Blvd and I was already sketching this alphabet on the plane ride home.


While in Charlotte, NC to attend SNDCLT, David and colleagues Caren and Claire from Type Network walked past this old fire station on South Blvd. The Art Deco inscription on the facade inspired Zenith DJR.

How was the name (Zenith DJR) chosen?

It’s pretty rare that my favorite letters in a typeface are the diagonals, but I chose the name because I thought its celestial nature reflected the Art Deco letterforms, and I really I just love the pointy corners of the Z and N.

What would be the best use for it?

An ideal use case for Zenith DJR would be on a monument, or some kind of timeless inscription that has a list of names or a lengthy quote. I could also see it used for movie titles. The fact that each letter in Zenith DJR only gets one thick stroke (which can be highlighted by color) means that longer passages develop an unusual and interesting texture.

What should every designer ask themselves when choosing a typeface for a project?

Will this typeface solve the problem at hand, and what will it add to the reader’s experience?

A typeface is a tool, and it is important to make sure you are choosing one that is appropriate and well-suited to the job at hand. But I think that designers too often don’t push themselves to answer the second part and go beyond the usual workhorses and the usual formulas. There are so many people doing interesting things with letterforms these days, and I think it is possible to find or customize or commission a type palette that can go beyond just doing its job and offer the reader something truly novel.

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