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Vox Product Learns to Letter, Together

Sharon Wong working on some letters.
Sharon Wong working on some letters.
David Zhou

"Or, imagine being magically whisked away to...Delaware. Hi...I'm in Delaware." — Wayne Campbell

We all didn't have cell phone service. That was one thing I was happy to notice as we drove up Yorklyn Road, appropriately in Yorklyn, Delaware, winding up to a two story building across the street from an abandoned factory. The signs read House and VELO. In three separate cars, 16 of us crawled out into the famous Delaware morning air, fresh with the sting of some particularly harsh Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee.

House Industries has been around since the early 1990s, specializing in delivering clients and designers workhorse fonts we all know and love, along with meticulously executed lettering and logo work. Led by Andy Cruz and Rich Roat, the latter of whom greeted us warmly with more coffee, and pastries, have picked the unassuming locale of Yorklyn to operate out of since 2000. Along with an entire team of talented folks, they have cultivated a place worthy of any design pilgrimage, if not to learn—which we were there to do—then to at least make yourself the envy of all interior design blogs with all their beautiful housewares. Don't think I wasn't constantly eyeballing a variety of type flourished pottery to impress all those that graced my apartment.

Drawing materials provided by House

David Zhou

David Zhou

But as I said, we were there to learn. Learn what? Lettering. Lettering? Hell yeah, lettering. From the gawd of lettering, Ken Barber. For some of the designers in our group, the awe and reverence was immediate towards Ken. He had laid out for us two pencils, a stack of tracing paper, grids, a ruler and one exceptional looking Sharpie to help us learn how to craft together 26 of our favorite characters into individual word marks. Words like, "modulate," "handmaid," and "emotions" were given out to all 17 folks in the class, only two not from Vox Product. So, when you hear people complaining that Vox is taking over everything, it's really true. I've seen it. I live it. I love it.

Ken led us through the lettering process, which comprised of primarily 3 procedural phases.

  1. We learned to frame our words.
  2. We learned to give them contrast and color.
  3. We worked with new tools and retracing to create fuller, richer, more dynamic word marks.

Framing is the sketching process. This could be akin to making wireframes, wherein we are applying ideas of space, and balance of elements, to create the framework for which we'll build out the design further. That's where Ken showed us tricks on how to create, in pencil, the appearance of working with nib pen, giving contrast to our initial framing. This phase, as in most design and development, took the most amount of tries and reworkings. Sometimes folks had to readjust their initial frames, or saw something that made them rethink the spacing of what they had created initially. Essentially, lots of hand cramping from folks much more accustomed to tick-tacking on keyboards all dang day. It made us all feel pretty alive!

Constance Watkins working on her frame for "escalate"

Constance Watkins on Instagram

Explorations by David Yee

David Yee on Instagram

We broke for lunch before diving into the final process of bringing our words to life, which were sandwiches generously provided by House. Amongst the munches and crunches, we all commented on the difficulty of what we were doing, all finding it rewarding to see gains after even just a few first hours. Many folks who feared their chicken scratch would oust them as being incapable of lettering were producing incredible scripts. Everyone agreed: we're really good at this and totally the shit. Delaware didn't dispute.

Walking in from lunch, Ken greeted us again with his final demos and presentation, then cranked back up his '70s R&B/Disco Pandora (according to him and others, this is a "dad thing" but I was stone grooving, so guess I'm a dad now!), as we got back to drawing and testing out new tools. Ken would come around and provide great, critical and helpful feedback, often listening and working through with each person their specific concerns in what they were doing. As we fleshed out from frame, to contrast, to final form, the entire room started to grow really comfortable with the discussion and sharing of what we were making. It also helps when everyone is lit off Sharpie fumes, but that's possibly another story. We had a friendly vote amongst the entire room as to who produced the best piece of the day. Known ringer and letter demolisher Jen Mussari won by a landslide with her work.

Lettering from Jen Mussari and David Zhou

Jason Santa Maria on Instagram

Dylan Lathrop's versions of the word "modulate"

Jason Santa Maria on Instagram

The day ended with some wine, beer and cheese in the House studio, flanked on all sides by wonderful design inspiration and even a Crow from MST3K, which for anyone born before 1988 was a true delight to behold. Ken said his goodbyes, and we shortly thereafter said ours to the entire House crew, all of whom had shown us an incredible day, and as we grabbed gobs of cheese for the road, we wondered, "Why don't more people live in Delaware?"