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From Illustrator to Font Designer: How I Transitioned to a New Creative Career

Creative Market July 26, 2021 · 6 min read
With 2016 behind us, the new year brings an opportunity for a clean slate for those who want a fresh start on their career. Although it may be much needed, the idea of change can be a scary thing for many people. The thought of not knowing what could possibly happen as a result of your actions is terrifying, but in life, risks are worth taking for a higher reward. Paulo Goode is a freelance graphic designer who transitioned from being a technical designer to typeface designer and went through all the ups and downs of changing career directions. In this post, he will touch on:
  • When it’s time for a change
  • The resources for transitioning into type design
  • How to transition seamlessly
  • Ways to find work in your new field

Time for New Beginnings

For Paulo, his specialty change was forced when his old design studio offered up an ultimatum that didn’t suit him. Though, even before that happened, every now and then, he got a gut feeling that said, “things could be better trying something else.” He took that as a sign to move on. As is true while making any important life changes, there are many things to consider when determining if a career transition is the right move. When it comes to financial security, Paulo advises, “you would be wise to guarantee certain work before you embark on a self-employed journey.” He recommends having up to six months of savings in the bank as well. For those of you who may not feel like you have the right technical background or skills that would transfer to a new specialty area, Paulo encourages you not to give up. He emphasizes that skills are not the only important part of the equation, “it’s imperative that you have the skills, [but also an] interest, and passion, because talent appears only when you try something (and succeed!), while skills can be mastered over a period of time.” Being truly passionate and interested in the area you’re hoping to transition to will give you the patience you need to spend time mastering the required skills.

Resources Galore

Becoming a freelancer wasn’t a part of Paulo’s original plan, but it gave him the freedom to explore other fields. During this time, he came across a blog post by Tyler Finck that inspired him to start creating his own typefaces. However, since he spent most of his career as a technical illustrator, Paulo was new to the world of typeface design. With so much to learn and practice, he relied on design resources to catch up. For those who are considering a career in type design, Paulo strongly recommends these helpful books: These books show the potential of how typeface could, and should, be used, while also providing the basic foundation for font creation. Paulo says these books, “serve as both a guide and a goal of what you should be aiming for in terms of quality and style.” When it comes to font creation applications, Paulo is a huge fan of Glyphs. In fact, it’s so important to him, he claims, “it’s the best software I’ve ever used and I would gladly pay 10 times the price that it is—it’s that valuable to me right now.”

Smoothing Into the Transition

Depending on your prior work experience, the transition period can be rough. Here are a few ways Paulo made the process easier for himself:
  • Never stop learning
One thing that Paulo found extremely helpful was continuously learning. He notes, “I usually bury myself in typography and type design books, but I’ve always been the type to educate myself and thrive on it.” Books may not be your go-to, first choice for learning a new skill, but don’t let that hold you back. There are other options out there, such as online courses, or even apprenticeships. It all comes down to personal preference and how you know you’ll learn best.
  • Get feedback from the right people
As a newbie, it was crucial for Paulo to receive constructive feedback to see if he was headed in the right direction with his typeface designs. Since Paulo had over 30 years’ experience before he shifted his career, he had already formed relationships with people in the design space. This gave him a place to bounce his ideas around, but he soon found that it wasn’t very effective. People were either too busy to offer feedback, or they would say something along the lines of “this is great, nice work!” Paulo says, “it is better to get your work critiqued elsewhere–specialist online forums, for instance–and take in the impartial responses.” He insists that this continuously leads to strides of better progress than listening to shallow, surface level feedback.
  • Make mistakes
To the perfectionists out there, it’ll be hard for you to stomach this, but make mistakes. According to Paulo mistakes are “absolutely the best way to learn and grow.” He also urges you to learn how to recognize your own mistakes, so you can find those learning opportunities. Nobody is perfect; no matter what you’re doing or working on, those mistakes, those opportunities, are there. They may just be hiding. Again, Paulo notes, “you will look back at your previous work one day and think: that’s wrong, that could be better, that’s a fraction too wide, that should be rounder. That is what comes with learning and gaining experience.”

Bring on The Clients

As he reflects back on the beginning of his transition into typeface design, Paulo believes the liaisons he had with a number design studios were what enabled him to find work as a newcomer in an unfamiliar field. Because of these old relationships, Paulo says, “I offered my services as a freelancer, taking any projects that were offered, as a way to better my craft in the beginning.” This goes to show how important it is to continuously grow your network and leave a good impression with everyone you meet. With a new specialty, you need to create new work to showcase your skills. Since you may not have much to show at the beginning, Paulo suggests, “build your own website and show off your personality with it.” Most new inquiries Paulo gets actually come through his site in this way. Not only will having a gorgeous website help boost your online presence, it’ll also bring clients straight to you!

Keep the Conversation Going!

Are you currently thinking about transitioning into a new career and feeling anxious about the process? Do you have questions about changing careers that we didn’t cover? Leave a comment below, Paulo looks forward to talking with you! Products Seen in This Post:
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  • Thank you very much for share this! 5 years ago
  • Great article, Sometime it will help to explore something different, Thanks for sharing! 5 years ago
  • This is great stuff @Paulo Goode ! I'm a huge Glyphs fan as well :) and I love your work! Keep creating amazing fonts! 5 years ago
  • This is such an insightful post @Paulo Goode! Thanks for sharing what you've learned 😃 I've got one question for you. You mentioned that feedback is really important, especially when getting started in a newer focus area, but you said people who you're close with just tend to give feedback like “this is great, nice work!” which isn't very helpful. You said you had more luck elsewhere, like online forums. Do you have any forums or sites your would specifically reccommend for people who might need feedback on their work. I just know it's such an important step in the process, I'm sure people would love some more specific direction on where to get feedback 😃 5 years ago
  • Hi Kelley, no problem, for those font designers wanting to improve their craft, I'd recommend posting to forums at Typophile, TypeDrawers and TypoGuru. It's quite a challenge to bite the bullet and put your work in progress up for critique, but the feedback you get will be of great value. May I suggest that a private critique forum for all shop owners be set up here at CM? I am sure many would benefit and many would be wiling to offer their experience too. 5 years ago
  • @Paulo Goode Man, i'm really love the stories. I have the similar story to this one. I gave up as an Illustrator and moving into Font Design things, the bad thing is i'm really broke and have no money in that time, but font designing save my life till now. Thanks for the story, i really feel that i'm related to it ;) 5 years ago
  • Thank you @Ian Irwanwismoyo – I’m glad the story resonates. I am still a novice/part-time type designer and would like to become full time soon (with a bit of luck!). I am relying on my regular graphic design/branding work to pay my bills until then :) 5 years ago
  • @Paulo Goode Yeah man, it will be really hard to convert those things into a full time money source but believe there's nothing impossible, man. I already stop to work for commissional work since 2014 and now here i am, everything's good and i'm really enjoy the font-designing things till now. I hope you'll be success in font designing man, and i really love your stuff! thats really technical and pretty good! you're pretty strong at path/vectoring things. Keep it up! 5 years ago
  • Thank you @Ian Irwanwismoyo – I trained as a technical illustrator, so the precise lines and bezier curves suit my style. I would be hopeless at the freehand, brush style work that you favour. Good luck to you too! 5 years ago
  • @Paulo Goode, that's perfect! Thanks for the in-depth answer with all of the specific suggestions! I love your idea about product feedback on CM too. Would you say you're unlikely to use this area for some reason: ? 5 years ago
  • @Kelley Johnson Forgive me if I’m missing something, but that section is for completed work that is already on sale at CM. What I am proposing is a critique area to help those that are seeking advice on their work in progress, i.e. before they try to sell it on CM so that they can make it better. 5 years ago
  • Hey @Paulo Goode, I can totally see the confusion surrounding that area of the discussions. It's actually meant to be a place where designers can get feedback on whatever design projects their working on (whether they're working on CM projects or not). We just made some updates to the topic areas in the discussions to try to help clarify some of this. Instead of “Product Feedback," that area is now called “What Are You Working On?," and we changed the description to, “Share the designs & creative projects you’re working on and get feedback from the community!” Hopefully that will help make the discussions a more useful and productive area for feedback 😃 You can see more about those discussion updates in this thread: 5 years ago