August 6, 1991: Tim Berners-Lee releases his idea for the World Wide Web and publishes the First Web Site with the guidelines on what is WWW, how to install a browser, how to set up a server.

August 6, 2007: John Boardley launches new blog iLoveTypography.com and starts a “Type Revolution”. In one month his RSS feed count gained 2160 subscribers, with each day that number grows by another hundred. That’s an amazing achievement, especially taking into consideration that John didn’t promote his new blog anywhere but his other site Redsil, a blog dedicated to Graphic Design. However the clean and meticulously designed RedsilWP theme for the blog has been featured on various CSS galleries and Smashing Magazine.

Another incredible thing about iLT (iLoveTypography) is the quality and content of the readers’ comments. It’s obvious that John managed to fill the void in the world of Typography and feeds the hungry readers with his outstanding articles about “all things type”, sprinkled with that rare kind of humour that makes you to crave for MORE stories like “Who Shot the Serif? Typography Terms”, “The Return of the Serif. Type Terminology” and “Typenuts, The Funny Side of Typography”

Well, before John Boardley becomes too famous to talk to I’ve decided to grab his attention and steal a couple hours of his super busy schedule, and arranged an interview with Mr. Typography himself.

john boardley

Vivien: How did you end up working as a graphic designer? Where and how did you learn all that design craft?

John: After senior school (high school), I went to college to study design and technical illustration. I then worked as an architectural illustrator and found myself being asked to do non-architectural stuff.

V. When did you get into drawing? Did you take any lessons?

J. I drew as soon as I could hold a pencil – anything and everything. No, not really, a few life drawing classes in college and copying Rembrandt’s etchings hundreds of times to learn technique. The architectural illustration has been very useful to me.

V. So after high school you worked, then studied architecture for 2 years and worked again?

J. Yes, I worked again for a number of years – a mix of architectural illustration and graphic design. Then I suddenly thought, “Oops, I almost forgot university”, so I got saving. I signed up for a degree in Chinese. Just thought it would be a challenge and something completely different. However, on the first day of university they said, “You didn’t receive the letter?” I replied, “What letter?” To cut a long story short: the course had been canceled and they’d sent a letter notifying me of this to the wrong address. So there I was on the first day of university… courseless. They apologized and said that I could choose any degree. I thought Philosophy or Economics, but couldn’t decide. So I flipped a coin, and the coin chose Economics (with econometrics) and I loved it.

V. Why didn’t you chose Architecture or Design?

J. I needed some more intellectual stimulation (hope that doesn’t sound pompous) and I’ve always loved philosophy. I chose economics because I knew nothing about the subject and was terrible at math.
My dissertation was published in a journal, so they asked me to stay on and do some research, preferably a PhD. Sadly, I couldn’t afford it at the time, so I went to work in London (for lots of money). However, I did co-author one more paper (“An Econometric Study of the Behaviour of Real Wages”)
In London I worked as a Junior Economist, analysing markets.

V. How long did you work as a Junior Economist, and what did you do after that?

J. I worked there less than a year. After that I worked as a Media Planner for an advertising agency and it’s at that company that I got into web design accidentally. But then later I had a huge bust up with the boss and left. After the bust up, I thought oops, I’m unemployed, I should have thought that quitting job = unemployment. However, I soon found another job: I saw a web development manager job in the newspaper. All this time throughout the other jobs, I was doing Graphic Design too. So, I applied for the job, and somehow they gave it to me.

V. So you’ve worked there for three years and then you decided to freelance?

J. Well, freelance, then setup a company. However, company sounds odd because it was just me, so although I officially have a company, I still prefer to think of myself as freelance. Although I’m thinking of starting another company in Japan. I freelance from home, but most of my clients are in Europe and I’d like more Japanese clients.

V. Why did you move to Japan?

J. That’s a difficult one… To be honest, I have almost no idea. I came here on holiday and I just thought, “This is home”, no idea why, just felt right. So I sold my apartment and moved… 5 years ago.

V. Wow. Ok, can you please, describe your typical day?

J. My typical day… first thing is make some fresh coffee, before anything else, then check my mail, then I look at my list of things to do and think, “oh dear”, then I get to work.

V. When do you write that list of things to do?

J. Well, I always carry a notepad with me – always. So ideas and things to do go in there, then the things to do are transferred to my computer prioritised. I will often work on 4 or 5 projects on any given day. That way of working is not out of choice, really – my ideal way of working would be to work on a single project. But of course every client thinks s/he’s the only one, though I have one big client that always comes before any other work, even if it means having to turn down other projects, it’s a very loyal client.

V. When did you get into blogging?

J. Relatively recently, in fact – I guess about a year ago, just before starting Redsil launched personal blog Mykagawa. It’s amazing really, as I’ve been developing web sites for ages. David Airey‘s was one of the first blogs I read.

V. How long did it take you to design the theme for iLT?

J. One night. But always tweaking it. I made a sketch in the cafe in the evening. I took ages designing Redsil, and that was with an existing theme! iLT just came naturally, must have been a good day.

V. Wow! I guess then we can say that iLT was born under a lucky star?

J. I guess it was. Conceived in a night.

V. Any idea how did you get all those RSS subscribers overnight?
ilovetypography feed stats

J. Good question. I’d love to tell you I cleverly did x,y and z… however, to be honest, I have no idea. I’m baffled by it actually. I think it just got picked up by a couple of bigger sites.

V. How did you come up with the domain name?

J. I came up with the domain name (and others) in the cafe that same night. Most of the names had already been registered, even some quite obscure ones.

V. What have you been drinking that night in your cafe, some elixir of inspiration?

J. My cafe is my thinking place. I can fill 20 pages an evening with ideas in that place. It’s wonderful – Umie is the best. Must have something to do with the owner be a Graphic Designer.

V. What did you use to design iLT header – Illustrator or Photoshop?

J. Photoshop. I’m a huge fan of Photoshop, and often use it when I should be using Illustrator.

V. In your freelance work, what do you do more – web design or graphic design? What would be your preference?

J. These days, web design, but that will change next year. I prefer graphic design – it’s more creative. Web sites are about design (sometimes versus) code. With graphic design there’s no backend to think about. I don’t need to worry about making a magazine ad safe from hackers.

V. What do you find most challenging in Web design, and what in Graphic design?

J. In web design, the biggest challenge is keeping up: all the new JavaScript libraries, AJAX, PHP4 to PHP5, browsers, IE6 ahhhhhh…. In Graphic design the biggest challenge is… the white paper. What I mean is with the web, we build within quite a restrictive framework, dictated by pixels and by landscape oriented monitors, there are fewer choices. Graphic design has fewer imposed “rules”, more freedom and with freedom comes… well, not so much responsibility but more room for disaster. There’s really not that much variation on the web. Look around and what do we see? 3 columns, header, footer. So in web design, we never truly begin with a blank canvas.

V. What do you love the most about blogging and blogiverse and what do you hate the most about them?

J. I love most the comments and the community. I am overawed by some of the comments. I just read some of the comments on iLT recently; some of the comments are mini-articles. It’s amazing that someone would take the time to write it. If I were the teary type it would bring tears to my eyes. And when someone says they’ve learned something, that’s wonderful.
I hate… well, there’s not much in life that I hate, but I think it’s just not having as much time to blog as I’d like. If I had a choice, I’d spend half my week on iLT, but that won’t pay the bills. I’m not a great fan of things like Digg: they’re too big to be of any use, and people become obsessed with it and page rank, huge, pointless ranking system. I can understand it’s value when one is monetizing a blog.

V. You said that Emigre is your most favourite design magazine, what is your most favourite design book?

J. Actually, it’s a very recent one: Design is Attitude, by Helmut Schmid.

V. What was the very first Typography book you read that made you fall in love with Type?

J. Typographie, by the god of type, Emil Ruder (Schmid’s mentor).

V. What are your 8 all time favourite Types?

J. Oh, boy. Can I choose best 100?

  1. Template Gothic
  2. Helvetica ( it’s almost a cliche, but it’s popularity is deserved)
  3. Univers
  4. Le Monde
  5. Sabon
  6. Frutiger
  7. Caslon
  8. one of Zuzana Licko’s typefaces, maybe… Matrix

I could’ve talked more to John and asked him a couple hundred other questions, but it was getting too late for even John The Night Owl, who goes to sleep around 5am and gets up before 9am.
If you haven’t discovered his blog yet, I highly recommend to check it out. I can’t promise that you will become as obsessed with Typography as John, but I can guarantee that you will find Typography more attractive (even charming) and less intimidating, especially after reading John’s interview with the Serif family.

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13 Insightful Bits in response to “A Candid Interview With Mr. Typography”

  1. Excellent insight Vivien!

    Great of John to take the time to answer your questions too. It’s superb that he has achieved such a huge readership already, and testament to John’s knowledge of typography.

  2. Cool interview. John has got an interesting comedic touch. I really appreciate the way he’s able to describe various terms and concepts so that they’re easier to remember.

  3. Vivien

    Thanks, David. It was a great pleasure interviewing John, it was more of a friendly chat than an interview. He’s one humble erudite, very passionate about design and of course, typography.

    Thank you, Chris. John’s great sense of humour is what setting him apart and making his new blog so popular. Who wants to read raw facts about serifs, ascenders, ligatures, but add a bit of humour to it and you get an easily digestible and in fact, pleasant reading.

  4. That was fun! I’m glad you interviewed him, Vivien! I can’t believe his success with iLT. It’s amazing how many subscribers he’s built up over a short amount of time. I’m happy for John and I’m glad he started iLT!

  5. Vivien

    thanks, Lauren. I too am glad that John has started iLT. It is so rare to find people who are as passionate and knowledgeable about the topic of their blog as John is.

  6. That is a great interview (a confession : I completed reading it only after spending an hour at John’s sites)… Thanks for coming up with that… hope I would get to know about more sites/blogs from you in coming days (and previous posts)…

    Typing a comment here is rather problamatic using IE6 due to cursor color matching the background (firefox renders fine, not sure about IE7)

  7. Very nice interview, Vivien. John’s a good guy. He’s done something commendable: brought a lot of people into an “inside baseball” kind of subject. He’s got a good grasp of the subject and how to make it fun, as well as some design licks. i wish I had his knack for attracting readers to my blog.

    And you’ve got the interesting question thing down pretty well, Vivien. Your questions are good. They allow John to reveal a good bit of who he is and what he’s about.

    Kudos all the way around.

    Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist
    tel. & fax: 631/284/3842
    cell: 631/764/2487
    email: steve@tianodesign.com
    iChat screen name: stephentiano@mac.com
    website: http://www.tianodesign.com
    blog: http://www.tianodesign.com/blog

  8. Vivien

    Jalaj, thanks for the compliments. I have to confess as well – I don’t use IE6, but I’ll check the comment section there and fix the problem – thanks for letting me know about it.

    Stephen, I’m glad that your comment wasn’t flagged as a spam due to all those links. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve seen such a long and details signature on a blog (and even on forums). The only thing is missing is the address :-) (sorry, just couldn’t resist)
    Thanks for your praise. Good luck with your blog. I’m sure that one day you too will find your loyal audience.

  9. Great interview Vivien and great to find out a little more about John.

    John – Congrats with iLT – I am a subscriber and loving it, although haven’t had the chance to drop you a comment yet. Keep up te good work!

  10. Vivien

    Thanks, Aaron.
    there’s another interview with a fellow designer coming soon, so make sure to check back regularly :-)

Pingbacks and Trackbacks

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    [...] turn you into a Typoholic and add you to the list of over 5000 RSS Typenuts on iLoveTypography.com. John Boardley has achieved something that many bloggers can only dream of. In only a couple of months he became [...]

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    [...] Boardley is a graphic designer based in Japan and has been dubbed “Mr Typography”. Probably because he runs two of the best typography focused sites in the universe (did i mention [...]

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach programming, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on