Let’s Talk Letters with TK Price
TK Price is a talented designer with a drive to use his skills for the betterment of others. When he’s not designing, he’s cultivating a thriving community of creatives in Wellington, New Zealand!
To begin with, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I predominantly work in print — My main gig is in a publishing house called Huia, as the in-house designer there. As always, there’s a side hustle so I do freelance on the side, and run The Design Kids Wellington!
So how did you get into design in general?
In my gap year, I made a drunken commitment to go to Melbourne to study design. A couple of months later there I was. It went super quickly. At Shillington you only studied for three months.
I picked design over any of the other creative fields because I could sort of visualise a whole bunch of stuff but then command+Z all the bad stuff I did, which was more suited to me! Analogue freaks me out. So that’s how I got into it, and I stuck at it and stayed!
Three months is quite a compressed studying situation, what was that like? What did you learn and how was it being so compact?
It was the only way I could have done it — it suited the way that I like to learn. In the morning, they would give us a brief and a bit of a lecture and then at the end of the day we’d have gone through the whole design process and be presenting the final product. It was set up similar to how a studio environment might roll. I couldn’t be too precious about my work, but I had push the ideas so they were ready to present and critique later on.
It was bananas — for 10 weeks, we did that, a project a day, and then we spent the remainder of the course setting up our portfolio and getting ready for the design world. We would have mock interviews and set up our websites and I didn’t sleep for those last two weeks. It was nuts but I did it really quickly. The content was all still fresh and current as they rejigged it each 3-month cycle.
If you do a 4 year degree, when you think about what design was like 4 years ago, you look a bit sideways at it, but three months ago? Not so much has changed.
It was good because it taught you all of the things that a university degree might teach you but under duress. University can be a bubble sometimes and you get to learn all of these things but you have opportunities to perfect your work over a long period of time. It taught me how to get a project rolling and off the ground, and how to maintain that momentum.
Before you’d made your drunken decision, did you do any design at high school or anything? There must have been some kind of inkling!
Totally, I was a massive art nerd at high school — I took all the art and design subjects, but the design was like, have a jam on Photoshop. Everyone starts off like that, they want to do CD covers and movie posters and that kind of stuff. I sort of learnt all of the design principles from painting. I enjoyed that but I was a shitty painter, so I tried to blend the two joys together!
So what does your current job as an in-house designer at a publishing company look like? What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I have a lot of projects on the go at once — being in a small place, I get to have a finger in all of the projects. I’ll do things outside of design as well. Some days I’ll be doing concepting, proofing, presenting to clients. Other times I’ll be doing content development: interviews, photoshoots, art directing, planning new projects and bugging the printers but most days I’ll do all of them together.
Have you done all of that since you started your job?
I came in pretty entry level so I only had a few projects to find my feet with first, then I just attached myself to more and more little things in the process and now I’m like “ah, I have so much to do!” So it started off small, but it’s progressively getting bigger and bigger.
What is your favourite part about what you do at the moment?
I actually love collaborating with illustrators and typographers! Whenever we do a kids picture book, it is just gold. You just feel like you’re at Disney.
I like having tangible design, that’s probably why I’m at a publishing house. Digital can be fickle and always updating — I like creating something that’s permanent, I can’t do anything after it’s headed to the printers and into the stores. When something’s done, it’s done, no one is going to retouch it, it’s out there — I like that.
In publishing, typography is involved in quite a big way — how does it fit into the process?
It’s the main part of the job. If we’re doing kids books, then your text has to match the content, but there’s all sorts of typefaces for different age groups, in terms of the letterforms that they’re actually seeing. So kids under the age of 8 shouldn’t see double-storey g’s or a’s because it’s weird for them — through to novels and long-form stuff that we do, we have to pick the right body fonts so that it works commercially. Even long form text in Māori looks so different! At the moment, it’s still very functional and we don’t really go right into the detail what sort of serif we should use.
Do you think that’s because of the difference in publishing houses, and maybe between traditional, commercial ones and more creative, design-led publishing?
For sure — we’re first and foremost a commercial publisher. I’m the only designer there, so I have to evangelise for those sorts of details, I figure design-led publishing probably has more capacity for experimentation.
How do you try and sell typography? Why do you think it’s important for book designers and/or publishers to consider it and how do you convince them?
It’s important because of legibility and hierarchy, functional things, but it’s got to be beautiful too, obviously you want to avoid having books with Comic Sans or Lobster or something ridiculous. In terms of selling it back to the client or the wider business, I have to justify what the purposes of the project are, how the fonts match up to that and who it serves. There are so many levels, it’s a rabbit hole.
I hate it when people say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” because that’s my job!
Can you tell me a little about your involvement with TDK and how that happened?
After moving to Wellington, I put it off for ages but then finally went and it kind of just fit like a glove. The whole vibe was great — Kelsey, the previous host, ran it before me and we clicked really well. After a bit, she asked me if I wanted to take the reigns, I’ve been running it ever since and it’s been rad!
What do you love about the design community in Wellington?
There’s a lot going on here, some strong tight knit groups. The Design Kids has pushed me more towards the students and recent graduates. I find it really important, just having something in the community who has an eye on that group.
In some towns and cities there might not be a heap of that kind of infrastructure. It’s daunting when you leave school or uni find your feet, so I like that The Design Kids is pointed in that direction. It’s a good little community — that’s been the fun part, trying to figure out how community works and doing something meaningful to start it up.
It’s cool to have something separate and impartial from universities supporting young creatives!
For sure — The Design Kids doesn’t have any targets or KPIs , it’s really just to be there for whoever needs it and to be fun. Each TDK chapter has it’s own flavour. I like that it’s removed from everything else, doing it’s own thing.
How do you decide what the events will be?
It’s a bunch of different things — I like to split it up so that there’s something practical that we can learn, like a craft, things that take us away from the computers. Then I’ll try and balance it with someone from the industry who can share a bit of knowledge. Where we can we want to show people that environment in a fairly relaxed way. Other times we just like chatting over beers! I try and organise it so that they all balance out and it’s not heavy on one thing every time.
What has been your favourite TDK event that you’ve run or attended?
I would say screen-printing with The Neighborhood Studio first, followed by your Black & White Studios brush lettering one actually! I really enjoyed both of them because they are crafts that I hadn’t had anything to do with before. It was really cool to see the process behind both of them and get a handle on them — it’s exciting when you learn something new!
How do you incorporate your love and passion for design and specifically, typography, into The Design Kids?
On one side of things, all of the typography in our marketing is shmick! We’re all type-heads at heart and we champion that. It’s got to look playful and appeal to the audience.
In terms of the events that we do, there always has to be typography events every so often because it’s one of the pillars of design and so that people can nerd out! Typography has a really cult following within design so we’ve got to service that.
Why do you think it’s important to get the creative community talking and learning about typography?
Short anecdote — I interned at a studio in Melbourne and what they impressed on me was understanding the history behind the design, then, coming to the work I do at Huia, there’s a Māori spin, they have that same sort of generational thinking behind things.
The importance of typography in the community is that there’s a lot of things that people take for granted, like system fonts, understanding where they came from and having that context will enable you to use all of the fonts properly in typography.
From a handmade perspective, really getting into the nitty gritty of the forms teaches you an appreciation of it and I think that’s important so that you don’t take typography for granted because then you make boring and/or terrible work.
It’s a struggle though, there are fonts everywhere and they’re expensive as, so depending on the stage of career you’re at, you have to work with a certain type of fonts and if you have an appreciation, understanding and context of all that, you’ll use your tools properly. It makes you resourceful too!
Definitely — they say a good photo is not because of the gear, but due to a good photographer, and typography is the same. You can make amazing typographic designs with the cheapest fonts and tools if you’re a good typographer.
Yeah absolutely — I’ve been to Semi-Permanents where they’ve only used one font and it’s a ‘shitty’ font but it still looks rad. You treat it with care, no matter what one it is and it tends to look good in the end!
What advice would you give to creatives looking to find their community?
Jump in the deep end — no doubt it is super daunting going into a room full of people you don’t know and trying to have yarns, but jump in.
Before I took on the TDK role, I’d hate talking to people I didn’t know, I’d have to be introduced — jumping into it now and I can make conversation with people and you end up with some cool stories and cool contacts. I would just say dive in — take a mate if you need, that’s always handy but just be enthused about it! It’s important to have a community.
So what does the future look like for you? What’s the dream?
That’s so freaky, it changes all the time! I’m really torn because I like pursuing the uber creative side of things; at the same time I really want to use my design for the betterment of people — do meaningful work — something that feeds the soul. I still love print, but at the moment I’m loving the art-directing, mentoring stuff as well. So I’m being pulled in all of these different directions! I haven’t found a blend of them all yet, but I’m not ready to commit to just one either. Ideally I’d like to find something that encapsulates them all, but in the meantime, I have all of these side-hustles going on to feed all of those needs!
My last question, which might be the most important question, is what is your favourite typeface?
That changes every day too! I’m feeling serifs at the moment. Something like Baskerville — I like the gs! Contradicting everything I just said about using typefaces properly, if I could use it for everything I would, it’s so pretty.