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Seven years ago, on Thursday evening, August 31, 2008 I punched in the alarm code for the very last time when I left Magelaan, the communication agency I worked at for 13 years. With that, I literally closed the door on a 17-year-long career in graphic design and communication, because half a year earlier Erik Spiekermann made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It all began halfway February 2008 when I visited Berlin for a crash course on FontFont font production and OpenType at FSi. Although… it actually began when I dropped the TypeCon2005 NYC booklet in the mailbox of FontShop BeNeLux. No, it actually began when David John Earls sent me an e-mail at the tail end of 2004, asking me if I wanted a “shit job”.
Actually, it really began in August 2002 when I applied for a job teaching typography at Sint-Lucas Beeldende Kunst, Gent. Even though everything looked great during the selection process, I was eventually told I didn’ get the job because I didn’t have “a name” in Flanders. (To be fair the fact that I don’t have any academic background in typography also might’ve played a role). Whatever the real reason, this left me so frustrated that I decided to do something about that specific problem. If all it took was a reputation then – for the sake of experiment – I’d try to build one from scratch.
So I went online. After some sleuthing I stumbled onto the budding Typophile website and discovered this exciting online community of type and typography lovers. The Type Identification Board was a perfect entry point for me. I learned to know a whole bunch of like-minded people and started to make myself useful as moderator. People noticed I could write decently about type, which led to a chain of events – from writing occasional posts for Typographica, to David John Earls inviting me to join Typographer.org as a regular columnist in late 2004, to Stephen Coles asking me to contribute to the original incarnation of The FontFeed on FontShop.com.
From 2005 on I started speaking at type conferences, and the TypeCon2005 NYC booklet I wrote and produced helped me reconnect with my very first employer: FontShop BeNeLux. To cut a long story short, in spring 2006 I was hired to write and maintain Unzipped, the FontShop BeNeLux blog. This was the beginning of the most thrilling ride in my professional career – but also the most demanding one. From then on I had to constantly juggle three to four jobs and writing assignments plus a rock band, and combine that with family life. Needless to say I occasionally dropped the ball.
Fast forward to Sunday, February 10, 2008. I am sitting in Erik Spiekermann’s cool new house, sipping tea while we’re discussing his Spiekerblog and my Unzipped. We agree that it sometimes can be very frustrating when you can’t update your blog often enough due to other work, and I admit a sense of guilt towards my readers every time that happens. When I explain that I get paid well enough for this, Erik replies: “But not enough to leave your day job?”
After my second (still unofficial) FontShop meeting at Typo Berlin in May 2008, Erik grabbed me by the shoulder and said: “We go a long way back, don’t we?” Only then did it hit me. I always considered myself a fortunate interloper on the type scene (thank you Jon Coltz for coining this phrase), but we do go a long way back. I interned at MetaDesign for a month after I graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in Ghent. I witnessed the very early days of FontShop and was one of the original employees of its Belgian franchise. Even after I left after three years I never stopped being a FontShop kid. Coming back to the fold as an independent contractor seven years ago felt like my life came full circle. Since that day I filled my days with stuff I never studied for: writing, marketing, educating, networking. I have been doing this almost exclusively for FontShop, but still do assignments for other websites, magazines and books, independent type foundries, and do the odd graphic design job. My days have been filled with nothing but type, my first and only true (professional) passion. Most people who near their forties hit a midlife crisis, because they realise this is what they’ll probably do until their retirement. Me, I turned around my career at that age.
The FontFeed has been the culmination of all my efforts since then, which is why the next post has been so hard to write.
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