Alex Haigh: We Are Our Own Worst Clients

For designer and art director Alex Haigh, an early obsession with type was the first clue that letters would take a leading role among his design devotions. The second came in the form of Miyagi and BAQ Rounded, two buzzed-about typefaces (released in 2008 and 2007, respectively) that solidified the UK-based designer’s own typographic talent. Finally, fed up with the dreary selections offered by the traditional online font foundries, Alex’s infatuation found level playing ground in HypeForType, a web-based type boutique launched earlier this year that offers work from today’s most compelling designers.
H

ot on the heels of Volume 2, a new round of exclusive typefaces by adept designers like Matt W. Moore and Non-Format, Alex filled us in on how his obsessive devotion to a typography side project resulted in one of today’s most promising new font shops.“I’d often sit back wondering whether the people behind big foundry names were actually passionate about type,” says Alex. “Designers didn’t have something unique to feed off large font foundries were just throwing as many typefaces on the website as they could, basically saying, ‘We’re in it for the money.’ I felt like they had died.”

The action of building and delivering HypeForType presented two large obstacles to overcome: the personal importance of the work and the technical requirements of the site itself.  Says Alex of the process, “If you are designing for a client, there is a clear brief and a clear understanding of where the middle ground is. With personal work, the client is yourself, and everyone knows we are our own worst critics.”

In order to stay on track and ensure he was meeting the needs of his future audience, Alex enlisted fellow designers and close friends to provide feedback and advice throughout the site’s development. Of critical importance was usability; the swift and clear communication of the artistic and commercial purposes of the site, and the supporting functionality that made acting on that purpose as painless as possible. Art directing, copywriting, and designing three graphics for over 200 individual typefaces amidst a steady flow of freelance projects was no easy feat, but Alex didn’t rest until he truly felt the design “worked.” That day finally came about ten months in, when Alex launched a public, 30-day countdown to the launch of HypeForType in the form of a teaser Flash game called King Pong, masters of which received £50 font vouchers.

With personal work, the client is yourself, and everyone knows we are our own worst critics.

Little did Alex know, the design was the simple part of the project – the part that he could control. Next came the coding. As he admits, “I knew there was still a lot to do, but I didn’t realize exactly how much.” The build was taking shape with the help of a developer working close to 18 hours a day, who was confident about finishing the site in time to meet the declared deadline. Yet, as the launch day neared, the developer reported that he would not be finished in time. “It’s a strange feeling when you feel like you’ve climbed a mountain only to fall back down,” says Alex of the despair he felt at the time. “The one thing I have learned from working with freelancers is that you need to schedule in twice the amount of time you’d estimate. It’s not just about handing over the designs, it’s about project managing and working closely with the developer to make sure they know exactly what is expected.”

Though he was discouraged enough to think about putting the whole project on hold, encouragement from friends and family convinced Alex to crawl out of bed and into the capable coding hands of a London agency. Six weeks after the planned launch date, the site was live and – as many visitors noted – it was gorgeous.

The one thing I have learned from working with freelancers is that you need to put in twice the amount of time you’d estimate.

Still, Alex states that he “can’t really judge whether it’s been successful or not.” However, given the cozily warm reception of the foundry by Alex’s design contemporaries, that might just be the shy artist in him speaking (or equally likely: the artist questioning whether to measure success in creative value or monetary gain). “The successful part for me is when I receive an email from a designer showing me what they have produced with the typefaces, that’s what I enjoy most.”

With a freshly released series of exclusive fonts by outfits like Research Studios, Richard Perez, and SUPRB on display, the site appears to be on track for success regardless of Alex’s personal measurement metrics. But more importantly, HypeForType’s planning, development and launch bumps and all served as another solid case study of the designer’s endearing (if not slightly masochistic) mantra: “Work like an idiot until you’re happy.”

More insights on: Clients, Interviews, Perseverance

Carmel Hagen

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Carmel Hagen heads up brand partnerships at OneRiot, a realtime social advertising network.  A TEDx speaker, SXSW Web Awards finalist and former Pillsbury Bake-Off dominator, Carmel is a sought after strategist and thinker.  She is an ongoing contributor to many art, design, and trendspotting publications.
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