Advice from House Industries' 'self help book for designers'

Iconic American design and typeface studio House Industries has released a monograph of the work produced by the studio in the last 20 years, as the team explore how they find inspiration.

House Industries: The Process of Inspiration tells the story of the studio's small beginnings with Rich Roat and Andy Cruz in 1993, and how, through the accumulation of talented artists and designers, it grew to work for clients such as Jimmy Kimmel and The New Yorker. The studio is know for its commercial typefaces in the US, which appeared on television, film and commercial products. 

"It’s a little bit of a different take on design… a tongue-and-cheek off-balance self help book. A business self-help book, because it’s much wider than design...there are a lot of how tos and a lot of how not tos,” says House Industries co-founder Rich Roat. 

Reprinted with permission from House Industries: The Process Is the Inspiration© 2017

The designers at House Industries show how their personal interests – such as hot-rods, punk rock and later cycling – sparked the origins of some of its famous typefaces, not to mention the odd tongue-and-cheek reaction to industry trends. House Industries maintains it has always incorporated a “hands-on”, craft-making approach to illustration and letter art.

In response to the surge in hand lettering, brush strokes and hand craft, Rich says, "So many people are into hand lettering right now. It was never something we leaned on as a crutch; it was just the way we did things. There was something so organic about that brush," whilst giving credit to "lettering and type genius" Ken Barber, who still starts his ideas on paper. 

The theme for the book came from the amount of times the studio would be asked where it finds inspiration, and by showcasing its work over the last 20 years, it hopes to answer this question by stating "the process is the inspiration". 

Reprinted with permission from House Industries: The Process Is the Inspiration© 2017

We asked Rich to sum up the book in one sentence. It also happens to be the books end statement (spoiler ahead).

"Learn from what you like and apply those lessons to what you do," he says. 

"It’s a very simple statement, and of course, it’s easy to say and hard to do because there’s all these steps that we went through to do that. And we’re not saying those are the steps you or anyone needs to go through, this is just how we did it.

"The last thing you want to do is follow a formula. Because creativity isn’t a formula, that's an oxymoron. Creativity is supposed to be a little randomness and disjunction because that’s what makes it interesting."

Reprinted with permission from House Industries: The Process Is the Inspiration© 2017

Rich says House Industries, although admitting this isn’t always the best approach, created typefaces in a "backward way".

"The root of our type has always been the culture behind it. We created a stencil typeface because we needed to do numbers for a clock project. That’s a really backward ass way to make a font, but that’s the way we look at things." 

He says the team never tried to follow trends in typography, if only to make fun of them.

“We never responded to the market unless we were doing in a sort of tongue-and-cheek way, we wanted to do things typographically that we wanted to do. 

"There was so much Swiss inspired design in the late 90s. We made up the typeface called Chalet and it was named after this fictional Swiss architect (René Albert Chalet).

It was us poking a finger but in the course of it we made a really nice typeface that a lot of people used, it was almost like a lesson for us."

A hobby-led typeface is Velo. Rich is "super into cycling", and a couple of years ago worked on an old typeface idea with Christian Schwartz.

Velo was also presented in a tongue-and-cheek way, as seen in the video below.

Work on the book began in late 2015, and by early 2017 copies were being printed. At the same time as work on the book, House Industries was asked to do an exhibition at the Henry Ford Museum, which has been dubbed Type of Learning, essentially exploring what House Industries learned from type. This ticketed exhibition runs from May 27 to September 4. 

House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration can be pre-ordered from Amazon for £35, or for US$50 from House Industries

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