8 Faces: A Retrospective with Elliot Jay Stocks
Elliot Jay Stocks has been working in the design industry for the better part of a decade. Although Elliot would describe himself as a designer, he has thrived as a creative entrepreneur developing his own approach to design, typography, publishing and business. 8 Faces is a study of typography and the people leading the creation and use of typography in print and on the web.
To the uninitiated, fonts can seem like such an ephemeral thing — they’re easily pirate-able, they come free with software, etc. — so it’s important to show that these are often the result of years of work.
As the Creative Director at Typekit, publisher of Lagom and 8 Faces and an active speaker on the design event circuit, we’re fortunate Elliot took the time to chat about what he’s learned as a publisher and a thought leader in the design industry.
In 8 Faces, you focus on the people making the work and what inspires them. What brought you to the conclusion that the story of the maker needs to be told?
I think it’s always important to celebrate the people behind the products, but especially with typefaces. To the uninitiated, fonts can seem like such an ephemeral thing — they’re easily pirate-able, they come free with software, etc. — so it’s important to show that these are often the result of years of work. Literally years. No one is going to release a decent text family out into the world without spending a year or two of their life on it. It’s just not possible. And I think that it’s important to portray that, even to type converts. Typeface design is a craft in every sense of the word
Did you learn anything surprising about Typography?
I did. Firstly, I learned that the type world is a very small one: everyone knows everybody and it’s very incestuous — in a good way! Secondly, I learned that despite all of our wonderful web fonts, everyone still loves Georgia. And thirdly, I learned how to set type properly, purely because I had to produce a printed magazine. I was lucky to have the guidance of Erik Spiekermann, who has helped to improve my typesetting over time.
Can you touch on some of the non-obvious considerations you needed to make publishing a book like 8 faces?
I learned over time that it was impossible to do everything myself, and I gradually formed a really great team around me, which was wonderful. I didn’t envision that at the beginning — I was naïve. One of my valuable team members was Jamie Clarke, whom I pay to maintain our blog and social media presence. After the initial interest in the magazine waned a little, it was important to keep up the marketing to reach new people.
Besides 8 Faces, you’ve been publishing the Digest magazine and published Insites: The Book. When producing these three very different publications, can you talk about the major differences and similarities in the process?
The similarities are fairly surface level: they’re all printed products and they all require a lot of care when typesetting. The differences are harder to pin down. In a way, they all feed into each other. For instance, 8 Faces is all about Q&A, and that led us to take the same approach with Insites: The Book. But then 8 Faces and Digest are magazines, and so they inherently had a lot of similarities. 8 Faces and Insites are pretty niche in terms of their audience, but Digest is very broad in its appeal, and that’s been challenging, both in terms of marketing it to an audience and getting advertisers on board to fund the thing!
Actually, we’re retiring Digest. Instead, my wife and I are launching a new magazine called Lagom that takes the essence of Digest at its core and then focuses on creativity and innovation — people and businesses carving out a niche for themselves and achieving a good work-life balance along the way.
Can you talk about your method for balancing projects?
Abandoning sleep? Ha! Actually, that’s not true. I do sleep a fair amount. But balancing multiple side projects with my day job can be tough, and I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of projects I have on the go at any one time. Right now, apart from my day job at Typekit, I just have Lagom and my occasional music-making project Skull Tubes. Doing them essentially means a lot of working in the evenings and weekends, but I’m okay with that. I generally find it hard to relax if I’m not creating something. Occasionally I’ll think about playing a video game, but then I think, “well, I could do that, or I could record a new piece of music!”
What advice would you give a designer who wants to publish a book?
Do it. It’s not as hard as you think, and not as expensive, either. I mean, there’s definitely a financial risk, but it’s not massive. Find a good printer. Get lots of proofs. Discuss your options in depth so that you can find out where to save money or where to spend money — spending to make it special and stand out from the crowd.
Now that 8 Faces has come to a conclusion, what are you going to miss most about this project?
I’ll miss the lovely reactions we get from people when their copy arrives on their door mat: the tweets, the Instagrams, etc. But I’m hoping that they’ll be replaced by people saying the same things about Lagom! And 8 Faces isn’t really over yet: we’re working on a book that collects all eight issues into one volume, and that’s a pretty mammoth project. I’m hoping to have that out at the end of the year.
You’ve been active in the design community for the better part of a decade. Do you see any differences in the community dynamics today vs 5 or 10 years ago?
The community is larger now, and in a way I miss the days when I knew almost everyone on Twitter, and it was just a load of web design geeks. I also think there’s a lot of snark and negativity in the community now, which is very sad. It’s especially prevalent in the British web community, too, which makes me feel ashamed. In general I’ve stepped away from engaging with the community a little because of this, and, again, that’s a shame.
But there are — of course — a lot of lovely people in our community, and a lot of designers and developers doing amazing work. I just think we all need to do a better job of celebrating our peers rather than engaging in petty arguments.
Do you prefer designing for print or the web or mobile? If you had to choose one medium, what would it be?
I’d say that I’m happiest when jumping between different media. I’m a web guy, really — I certainly come from a web design background — but I’d go crazy if I could only work on the web, or just on screen. Doing print work is a great antidote to doing web work, and vice versa. The pleasure — the relief, I suppose you could say — comes from balancing one with another. And I also love doing things like music, which is not related to web design, or app design, or print design in any way.
Then there’s the running of the magazines: commissioning photographers, liaising with partners, sorting distribution — none of these things have anything to do with design at all, and I’m okay with that. I have a very short attention span and I hate long projects. I’m happiest when I’m juggling multiple projects across multiple media, and that desire to diversify on a regular basis is becoming stronger and stronger as I get older.