Bruno Maag is MD of one of the world’s top custom font foundries – and even he believes typographers are all a bit strange.

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It’s curious how certain creative people are obsessed with how words and letters look. Bruno Maag is one of those people. Managing director, designer and founder at Dalton Maag, one of the best custom type companies in Europe, Maag has dedicated his career to typefaces, creating fonts and logos for dozens of top brands from Tesco to Smash Hits! magazine. 
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Maag admits that typographers are a strange breed. “I just love type,” he says. “I am not interested in colours and all the other new-fangled stuff. To me, the stark world of lines and curves is enough. I could design serifs until I am blue in the face. I guess typographers are all a little weird.”
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He discovered this obsession in the space of a few weeks when he was 16. He expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather and become a mechanic. However, an apprenticeship put him off that idea. “I walked into a hall the size of a football pitch with tons of people filing and hammering away. That was when I knew mechanics was not for me.” 
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Luckily, a few weeks later, Maag got an apprenticeship as a typesetter at Switzerland’s largest daily newspaper – Tagas Anzeiger in Zurich. “That was it,” says Maag. “It was 7am on a Monday morning, and I knew I had become addicted to the printing industry.” 
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He says he never really planned his career, but he made a big decision in 1988, when he chose to concentrate on type design. He joined the Basel School of Design to study typography and visual communications, and spent four years learning his trade.
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After his student days, he emigrated to the UK, where he ran the custom design studio at Monotype. After a short stint at Monotype in Chicago, he returned to the UK, and set up Dalton Maag with his partner Liz Dalton. 
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“Coming to England was an eye-opener,” says Maag, “professionally as well as personally. It took me at least two years to get used to the way the English do things as opposed to the Swiss.” He says design is approached in a more emotional, loose way in England than it is in Switzerland.
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Now, he’s his own boss, running a company that he founded and really believes in. “We always design from scratch for every client. We don’t recycle past jobs or work from other people’s designs. This is something we are very proud of. All out custom fonts are unique.” Maag says he relishes being the MD of such a creative company.”
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“Being my own boss is the most rewarding thing. I also enjoy meeting others in the industry. Despite the stresses that are involved with running a business, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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Dalton Maag has grown to a business that employs five other people, and the MD says this brings its own stresses. “It only takes three months of no work coming in and you’re out on a limb. I was raised with an understanding that we have a responsibility for society and for the people we employ.”
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”I don’t think the hire and fire attitudes are a good thing. They create a disparate society and work environment. And in a micro-business like ours, everything becomes personal.”
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He sounds like the perfect boss, and the mission of his company is carefully considered too. He says there is little money to be made designing type for fun and selling them on.
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“Type that is sold for retail will never pay for itself,” he says. “You have to be very lucky, and design a great typeface that plus into the zeitgeist. We make a living from type because we design custom fonts for corporate clients. We also offer all the technical expertise and the tech support that corporate clients need.”
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Maag puts a great emphasis on the business side of the creative industry, and says that the best advice for fledgling type foundries is to get the business side of the enterprise sorted. “Find a good business advisor who can help with all aspects of running a business,” he says.
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“Type is a small industry, so it’s unlikely you’ll become a big business – that means you end up doing everything yourself – design, production, research, VAT returns, tax. The problem with that is that after a while you can’t see the wood for the trees, and impartial outside help is invaluable.”
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As MD of the company, Maag has taken an overseeing role, but he’s still involved in the creative process. “Generally, I’m involved in the early stages of the project,” he says.
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Maag takes part in the briefing, initial sketching and brainstorming process. “I leave the day-to-day grind to my colleagues,” says Maag. “My part is to oversee timing, budgets, quality control, and smoothing the waves when something goes wrong.”
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However, Maag is still a hands-on typographer at heart, and is glad to indulge in his love affair with letters.
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“The beauty of type is that, besides design skills, it demands a high level of craft skills. Because type is so simple in its forms, every mistake and flaw is instantly recognizable. Type is taken for granted, like other things in life – a light switch for example. People only become aware of it if it doen’t do the job it is supposed to do.”
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