How designers work: Steven Bonner on scripts, styles and finding your niche

Take a peek inside the creative noggin of Steven Bonner, a designer and illustrator widely known for his experimental take on font design.

Steven has worked for the likes of Diesel, Penguin and Nike. His illustrations have also graced the pages of Wired, GQ and Computer Arts magazine. We talk to him about scripts, old school tools and get some steps for design success.

1. What inspires you, Steven Bonner?

I find ideas in really mundane things, and they tend to spring out of the most tenuous links possible.

It's weird how you can look at something completely innocently and it'll pop a little idea into your head that has little or no link to the original thing you saw.

It's always amazed me how that works and I hope it's not just me! These things are so random though, the ideas I get from them tend to be used in experiments and personal work.

Other times though, inspiration is something I find you need to work at. If I've got a deadline on, I can't just sit and wait on lightning striking - I've got to make it happen. So I tend to research subjects quite heavily until I form a link between the subject and how I want to present it.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy pretty much everything about it if I'm honest. I'm always very aware of how lucky I am to in a position where I can do something like this and make a living from it.

There's relative flexibility over working hours (as long as the work gets done on time, of course), and I love the variation that each day brings. No day is ever the same.

3. What's your favourite creative tool?

I'm going to be very clichd and say a pencil. It's true though, if you've got a pencil you can create something. Although very little of my work is finished by hand, it all starts that way.

Steven Bonner's font work. See more at www.stevenbonner.com.

4. What do you think of the current trends in typography?

I'm never sure what the trends are. I just see things I like and things I don't and take it from there. I suppose there's a lot more scripts in use just now, which I personally think is great as a good script adds personality in a world where blandness seems to be applauded.

It's good to see designers embracing fonts with a bit more character.

Steven Bonner's graphic design work.

5. What tips would you give ambitious designers?

  • Try to find your niche and own it. There's no point in being the guy who draws cute characters as there's a long queue of folks doing that. Find something boutique. Is everyone doing vector? Do biro. Is everyone drawing light effects? Go matt. That sort of thing.
  • At the opposite end of that, if you want to make a living drawing lettering, be better than the next guy. The more styles you can do well, the more commercial you'll be. Illustrators thrive on ownable styles, lettering arts (with some notable exceptions) thrive on versatility.
  • Listen to Art Directors. A good art director will take your work and make it better, and in some cases much, much better, so don't be precious, and listen to them.

Of course, there will be bad art directors too. But generally, if you want complete creative control, do personal work - if you want to be a successful illustrator, listen to the people who hire you. They want the job to be great even more than you do and it's their job to make that happen.

You can see the rest of Steven's work, including his latest font 'Muirside', and get in contact him at www.stevenbonner.com.