I’ve been running and living Dalton Maag for a little over 22 years. The company has changed a fair amount over that time and I now find myself the Chairman of a business that employs more than fifty people in various roles. I’m getting further and further away from being a hands-on type designer as I’ve had to take on more responsibility for the overall vision of the business. I’m certain that I’m not the only designer turned manager who has gone through this, and I’m often asked: do I miss designing letters?
Yes, I do. There are often times I would like to get my hands dirty, muck around with curves, marvel at the shape of a serif, and even get bored over kerning and hinting. That is not to say that I haven’t been enjoying growing a business and all that comes with it: fretting over cashflow, threatening clients to pay up, encouraging my wonderful staff to do ever better things.
To fulfil my desire for creating letterforms I often doodle for myself, or I start drawing up a few letters on the screen. It allows me to make sure that I can still practice what I preach when I give lectures and presentations. But managing the growth of Dalton Maag, together with my team of directors, is consuming. As much as seeing one’s own typeface used in the world is highly satisfying, so is seeing the growth of a company and the people within it.
I started Dalton Maag out of necessity. I simply didn’t have a job to go to after returning to London from Chicago, where I had been working for Monotype. And type designer jobs didn’t really exist at the time. In the beginning, going ‘freelance’ was simply a means to make a living. It was only after a while that I realised that, with the right focus and determination, I could actually make this into a successful enterprise.
Like many others, I did the boring bits of running a business: collecting receipts and doing VAT accounts, chasing clients for money, cold-calling. These were mixed in with the exciting bits of clinching a project, coming up with great conceptual work, drawing typefaces, and meeting people. Today, I am managing a company that lets me be more creative again. Not so much in the sense of drawing letters but by evangelising about my passion: type. It lets me think about the next great project and how we deal with the challenges; it lets me help young people make a start in their life by giving them training, either as interns or as staff. It lets me realise that I must have one of the best jobs in the world.
No doubt, I have had dark days when I wanted to throw in the towel, when I asked myself why I am doing this? Why don’t I just go and draw letters for someone else? And then I remember the excitement that comes from managing my own business. Do I miss designing letters? Yes I do. But not as much as I would miss running my own business.