A typographer in the midst of his PhD, Vincent Chan divides his time between design, research and teaching. He drew the typeface used throughout our latest catalogue, which takes inspiration from Re:collection, an archive of Australian graphic design instigated by Dominic Hofstede. Like many Australians, Vincent began his creative career overseas: upon completing graphic design at Melbourne’s Monash University, Vincent moved to New York where he begun work as a type designer.
Photography by Stephen Ward.
You’re currently in the midst of doing your PhD, can you talk us through what it is about?
I’m interested in type/graphic design practices and pedagogies that embody a critical reflexivity, which is to say, designers that exhibit, and teaching methods that promote, a distinct self-awareness about the work they create and its role in a cultural sense. Oftentimes these practices use the tools and processes native to type/graphic design to probe and question the boundaries and conditions of the field. Commonly they also use design to think through, speculate on and propose alternatives to the status quo, whether that be social, political or economical. As a practice-based PhD I investigate and research these tendencies and also attempt to enact or demonstrate these too.
What is about design that excites you so much?
The aspect about graphic design and type design that I like is how it straddles a seeming paradox of being everywhere and nowhere. For me the most exciting parts of design don’t usually come from a formal canon of design but often from the blurry edges in between, the moments that usually have some kind of human resonance that falls outside a strictly commercial imperative.
How does teaching fit into your creative thinking?
Teaching sometimes feels like the best parts of running a studio i.e. sitting around discussing concepts and figuring out how form and content might relate. In part, teaching feels like setting up rules to a game for students to play out or a way to untangle an idea collectively. At the graduate and even undergraduate level, things are usually structured so that people who are already engaged in a topic come together to interrogate it, to ask questions that they might not get straight answers to. I think it’s that feeling of potentiality that is exciting to be around. I like the idea of practice as pedagogy whereby writing and facilitating a class is as productive and crucial as making conventional work.
What is your day-to-day routine?
My wife and I recently got a puppy and kitten so honestly the last couple of months have been a little abnormal: a little less sleep and a little more walking and training. Usually my week involves teaching a couple of classes at Monash University or RMIT, a meeting or two, some writing, reading and mostly drawing typefaces of late.
What has been your career highlight so far?
I had a very lucky break after I graduated where I had the opportunity to work at a small type foundry in New York called Commercial Type. The two principles, Christian and Paul, and my co-worker at the time, Berton, are absolute masters of their craft and just really good people to boot. Any notion of skill that I have, I owe to them. I was super fortunate to be at the right place at the right time and those couple of years living in Queens with my wife and commuting to the Lower East Side are some of my fondest memories.
Favourite font at the moment:
Gosh, this is one of those questions you should never ask a type designer. I’m a little too embedded in drawing letters these days that I haven‘t really been using other people’s typefaces that much. Simply because I’ve been looking at it recently for a project perhaps a typeface called Neuzeit, especially in metal.
What do you love most about Melbourne’s creative culture?
After living in a dense metropolis like New York, sometimes Melbourne can feel a little quiet but I’m generally surprised by how much is going on. Pockets of subcultures seem to pop up all over the place, you just need to look a little harder. The communities that form around obscure things is really nice and due to its size, there’s usually only two degrees of separation when meeting other designers.
What does a perfect day in Melbourne look like?
The fur babies sleep in til 7.30. A morning walk to Short Round for breakfast. A peruse at Perimeter Books. The train to the city to gallery hop between Neon Parc, NGV and West Space. A visit to World Food Books. A quick lunch at Trang Bakery. A catch up with studio mates in Collingwood. Afternoon walk along Merri Creek. Dinner at Estelle. Dessert at Il Melograno. Bed by 11pm.