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/ log / 12th May, 2008 /

Reflecting on Acceptance

Caffe Gusto on Bristol harbour

You might already know that my entries are mostly about design with a few personal perspectives that peep out between the lines of prose. Sometimes the personal might take over. Today is one of those times. Apologies if you’re used to seeing more professional material in my feed, this is an indulgence: I’m celebrating!

Summer has arrived with a smile the last few days in Bristol. It’s humid and bright, and somehow calm in the city. This morning was no exception. Just after rush hour, and before the shops opened for business, I swung my backpack on my shoulders, hitched into my flip-flops and walked through the old town to the harbour. I headed for the Watershed, but it wasn’t opening its doors until ten-thirty, so I wondered along the river with my camera, looking for some inspiration.

The city noise fell away as I walked around a bend past the famous Lloyds TSB building; the only sounds were an occasional river boat chugging by, and people talking on their ’phones as they sat in the sun and smoked. I walked under an avenue of young trees in front of new office buildings and came to Caffe Gusto, nestled at the end of a grassy divide between tall office and apartment blocks called Cathedral Walk. The tables reach out towards the river at the edge of the dock. The wifi extends to the river like the rippled reflections of the morning sun on the water. I sat for a while in the shade then moved out under a parasol. That’s where I’m sitting now. A ferry just passed by, gently bubbling the River Avon with its velvet diesels.

There are some changes in the air; as gentle as this moment, but no less significant. They might take me away from this city where I’ve lived for the last eight years to a different country. It’s an exciting time; all for the good. So, if I seem a little whimsical, forgive me: The breeze of change is blowing.

I would like to share one important event with you: Last Thursday, I got a great email. It was from Freda Sack, type designer, co-founder of The Foundry, and President of the International Society of Typographic Designers. The opening line simply said:

“Welcome to ISTD”

I grinned so much I almost swallowed my ears. I had spoken to Freda on Monday last week to ask about submitting web specimens for consideration. She told me that was fine, the board was meeting the next day, and it would be considering applications if I could submit in time. To do so, I built a web page that mimicked the PDF application form and submitted it that night. I really wasn’t sure I would be accepted. Web typography is volatile: The paper is inconsistent, the printing imprecise, and the opportunities to make a mess of it are manifold. I looked at my specimens the next day (not to mention some of my rushed copy) and winced.

ISTD logo

The ISTD started life as the Guild of Typographers in 1928. It is acknowledged as the authority on typography in the UK, and has international standing. Applicants submit six specimens of work that are reviewed by the voluntary board. Acceptance is by merit, and understandably geared towards print typography, so submitting six examples of web typopgraphy was a slightly nervous experience. The standard required is high. In some ways I felt like I shouldn’t apply; to be accepted was a genuine surprise. It still feels very much like a seminal moment.

I confess, sometimes when I read what others so generously write about my work, I feel like a fake. Such generosity is truly heart-warming to read, but I can’t help feeling sometimes that it’s undeserved. It would be ungracious to say so and detract from the gesture, so I just say thank you, and mean it. The same is true of my application. It might sound like insecurity, but I’m always conscious of how much I don’t know. I’m also deeply aware of my own impatience with false modesty so even writing this is a little tricky for me. The main issue is that I am mostly self-taught, spending time researching my craft alone. There are benefits to this accidental approach, but I never experienced the (presumably) reassuring consensus of formal learning, especially around typography. I never served my time, so to speak, like so many of the incredibly talented people who’s work inspires me every day. However, I believe in my own work, and how I approach my craft. That’s a problem itself: My pedantry precludes me from believing that any piece of work is truly complete. That’s why being accepted into the ISTD is both a cause for celebration and reflection.

Navel-gazing aside, I am honoured to be a part of the ISTD. It’s driven by volunteer members, and I feel privileged to be a part of it. Hopefully, I can learn, and contribute too. Web typography is flourishing. Print designers are discovering the tools to bring their paper skills to the Web. Web designers are re-discovering the elegant beauty of type on the screen. Discussions around the CSS3 fonts and web-fonts modules are in full swing. Sites like I Love Typography are bridging the gap between traditional typographers and web designers. It’s an exciting time!

I’m about to step away from Caffe Gusto, and take a slow walk back to my office. Hopefully this side note in my life has been an interesting read. For me, I’m just happy to be able to share the moment. Hopefully there’ll be more to come!


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  1. 1. By Jon Gibbins on 12th May ’08 at 10:13am

    Once again, congratulations on being accepted into the ISTD, Jon! It’s a real testament to your talents.

  2. 2. By Jeff Blaine on 12th May ’08 at 10:19am

    Jon, when enough peers or semi-peers are appreciative of your efforts in any field, it will sink in that it’s not an accident. I’ve spent my entire self-taught career getting praise of various sorts for things that I considered self-evident. It took a close coworker of mine to illustrate to me that others in our group are not working with a brain similar to mine in this particular field. Eventually I just accepted that, "Okay. I guess I actually DO do this well."

    You definitely need to shed any concept of "validation" from formal education. Insert any quote here about your worth being gauged by your actions. A diploma not an action. The world needs many many more self-taught adventurers.

    I only subscribed to your RSS feed last week or so, but if this level of introspection is what I’ll get from your personal postings here, then bring them on.

  3. 3. By Mike on 12th May ’08 at 12:05pm

    Congratulations on this achievement.

  4. 4. By Winnie on 12th May ’08 at 12:23pm

    Congratulations, I loved how you maximized the use of web type, and inspired me to do the same. You truly deserve it. :)

  5. 5. By David on 12th May ’08 at 13:27pm


    Typography maybe new to the web – but the benefit is you can be sure that you are among the first to devote your talent to the new medium. Just like there was a time in 1928…

  6. 6. By inspirationbit on 12th May ’08 at 14:53pm

    Congratulations, Jon. Well deserved! You’re definitely a gifted designer. Thanks to you I saw that Web Typography can be as beautiful as it Typography in Print.

    I also liked your creative writing skills that enhance even personal posts. Look forward to more writing from you, both personal and on design, both very inspiring.

  7. 7. By Steve Avery on 12th May ’08 at 15:57pm

    Congratulations once again Jon. You truly deserve it mate.

  8. 8. By Arturo Fernandez on 13th May ’08 at 01:23am

    Congratulations Jon!

    I’m a new follower of your blog and I like the stuff you write. It’s interesting and relevant.

    But let me ask you a question: How can it be that the ISTD have a terrible flash site? It makes no sense for me. And I believe you’ll be able to do something about it in the future.

  9. Jon 陳’s profile 9. By Jon 陳 on 13th May ’08 at 03:50am

    Thanks for your comments folks, they are genuinely appreciated. Apparently, according to our friends over at North Temple, this entry contains the nerdiest quote of 2008!

    Jeff, you’re right of course, and thanks for sharing your views. “Adventurers” is a great description. Rather than seeing formal education as something validating, I look at it as something I would have loved to have done, and maybe still will. A few more hours in the day would be welcome. :)

    Winnie: Always great to hear from a Singaporean. Love some of the treatments of type on your portfolio; lovely work!

    Welcome Arturo! You have a point about the Flash site. It’s an indication of an historical separation between the best of the web design and typographic communities. You can also see some of the same characteristics in many typographers’ sites. That’s changing though, and hopefully will do for the ISTD.

  10. 10. By t.Gossm on 13th May ’08 at 07:08am

    Nice… Jon! It sounds like congratulations are in order.

    You should write a fictional novel. Sounds like things are taking a leap for the up and up. I don’t think I"ld heard the expression "grinned so much I almost swallowed my ears."

    Good luck on pushing your dream forward, no being a designer isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life. :)

  11. 11. By James Creare on 14th May ’08 at 05:21am

    Thanks for the info on the CSS3 Fonts, I must have missed that when I read up last week about CSS3. Summer is Here!

  12. 12. By Mac Funamizu on 14th May ’08 at 21:01pm


    I’m also a self-taught designer, always conscious of how much I don’t know like other talented people who have had proper learning do. So I’m always surprised to have positive comments about my works by many people. But by reading this post and the above comments, I think I can be more confident about myself.

  13. 13. By Richard Rutter on 12th Jun ’08 at 03:02am

    Many congrats Jon. As a self-taught information architect/web typography evangelist I too suffer from the self-doubt caused by a lack of formal training. That aside, is there any chance you could link to, or show us, the sites you summitted to the ISTD? Presumably there are fine examples of web typography at work.

  14. 14. By Kevin Creare on 12th Jun ’08 at 09:47am

    Congratulation Jon, Im self taught also, in a way it’s a good feeling ;) Keep up the good work!

  15. 15. By Simon Pascal Klein on 25th Jun ’08 at 04:14am

    Oh, this entry slipped past me. Jon, a hearty congrats mate; I think it’s a truly well-deserved achievement that reflects your talents and subsequent work.

    Definitely something to be proud of. Thank you for sharing. (:

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