In case you have been hiding under a rock for the past 18 years Rudy is the co-founder of Emigre. Along with the Macintosh in 1984, Emigre revolutionized Desktop Publishing, Graphic Design and Font Publishing and Design. Today they strive to voice their own and unique views on Design through their magazine and typeface design.
On this interview I harped a bit on my impression that Emigre’s changes reflect a need to please us [designers] to continue subscribing to their publication and purchasing their fonts. Rudy cleared that matter, and put my concerns to rest that Emigre was “selling out.”
RV: To set the record straight. Template Gothic was not designed for Emigre. It was designed by Barry Deck while he was a student at Cal Arts in the early 90s. Under the auspices of Ed Fella and Jeffery Keedy there was a lot of exciting type design experimentation going on at CalArts in those days. I remember that particular graduate class came to visit our studio in ’92 or so. That’s when we first saw Template Gothic. We liked the font and asked Barry if he would let us release it commercially. We had no idea it would become so successful. Although we did promote it quite a bit. We featured an interview with Barry in Emigre 15, an issue which also featured the first interviews with Jeffery Keedy, Zuzana Licko, John Downer, Max Kisman, etc. Barry had an interesting story to tell about Template Gothic which helped create a little bit of an aura around the font. We’ve always tried to tell stories to show that these fonts don’t just appear spontaneously. We do this with all our fonts.We also used Template Gothic prominently on the cover and inside of Emigre #19, which was a very popular issue. David Carson used Template Gothic quite a bit in the mid 90s, and that didn’t hurt. The movie Dazed & Confused used it in its posters and movie titles. And then Rick Poynor wrote an article about Template Gothic for Eye. The font received a lot of exposure within a short period of time. But it still doesn’t explain, to me at least, what the inherent qualities are that made it so desirable.If I knew why Template Gothic became so popular, I could turn every font release into a success. But I don’t know how it works. Whenever we release a font we have no idea how it will be received. We give them all the same kind of exposure.
It’s perhaps also interesting to mention that Template Gothic didn’t sell nearly as well as many other Emigre Fonts. A font like Mrs Eaves has out sold Template Gothic many times over. I see Mrs Eaves everywhere. It is financially probably the most successful font that Emigre has released to date. Yet it doesn’t have that same aura as Template Gothic.
I’m equally stumped about Emigre’s influence, if there is such a thing. I’ve often heard people refer to an Emigre style, but no one has ever spelled out what that is, what it looks like. So if we have been influential, as you say, I’m not sure what and who we have influenced. I hope we have shown people that it is possible to follow your own compass, so to speak, and be successful in this very competitive type market.
RV: Again, I don’t change Emigre magazine simply to satisfy the readers. There’s too many of them, and I don’t really know what their preferences are anyway. And I’m not sure if people don’t read Emigre. Emigre gets flooded with reader mail. Particularly when we publish design theory and criticism. That tells me that people do read it.And perhaps it’s a myth that designers don’t read. Like Jeffery Keedy once said. Designers do read, they just don’t read design magazines. And who can blame them? In most design magazines the emphasis is clearly on the visuals, and the editorial is secondary, it’s just there to support the visuals. On the other hand, perusing the visuals is a kind of “reading” also. It requires a certain visual literacy to appreciate looking at reproductions of graphic design.The reason we often change the magazine is because we can. We’re not a newsstand magazine, and we’re not a weekly or monthly, and we don’t rely on advertising. We’re not restricted in that sense, like other magazines. So there’s an opportunity to reinvent the magazine every time we publish it. And I think it makes complete sense for a graphic design magazine to explore different formats. We don’t just talk design, we practice it! We have gone from a two color, oversized sheet fed format, to the cookie cutter full color web offset trade magazine format, to a cardboard CD packaging format including actual CDs, and next we’re tackling the pocket book format. It’s a challenge. It keeps me intellectually and creatively busy, and hopefully the results engage our readers.
But when I’m working on Emigre magazine I rarely think about how it will be received. I try to be honest and truthful to my own convictions and ideas, and not make too big a fool of myself, which on rare occasions I succeed at. We are often criticized for being self-indulgent. And we probably are. Emigre magazine provides a view into what we like and what is important to us, and it’s often very subjective and opinionated. If you are looking for an objective view of graphic design you should not read Emigre magazine.
RV: Actually, in terms of content, the original vision for Emigre magazine had very little to do with graphic design. But that’s a long and boring story, although it would explain that funky name of ours. But as far as our future plans go, we are returning to making Emigre magazine far more exclusive again by dramatically reducing our circulation. In that sense we are coming full circle. At one point, with Emigre #42, we were giving the magazine away to nearly 40,000 Emigre customers.With Emigre #64 there will be three major changes. First, Princeton Architectural Press will become the publisher of Emigre. Second, we will discontinue our free subscriptions. And thirdly, as I mentioned before, the new format will be a pocket book.The first issue in this new format will consist of a series of “rants” by a number of past and present Emigre collaborators about the state of Graphic Design in 2002. I’ve noticed a lack of critical investigation of today’s graphic design scene, and very few if any new voices are writing passionately about graphic design. There’s all these new design styles circulating, but they all seem to exist independent of ideology or any kind of conviction, and it has generated very little in depth analysis or opposition. With Emigre #64 we hope to correct that.