Ian Brignell is a Toronto based lettering designer. His clients have included notable brands such as Burger King, Estée Lauder, Pantene, Harvard, Leffe, Duracell, Captain Morgan, Caramilk, Puffs, and Secret.

How did you get into lettering and type design as a career? Did you receive formal training?

I started in lettering around grade 9, when my art teacher introduced our class to calligraphy. I bought a few books, including a Speedball Text Book, which had lots of great historical lettering samples with instructions on how to construct them. During high school I did certificates for the graduating classes, as well as sign painting for local businesses.

I went to Sheridan college for Graphic Design where we had lots of typography courses, which included the technical side of drawing accurately with ink. We were encouraged to be expressive with type, but we weren’t really tutored on the creation of original forms. So I guess my training was fairly informal.

How long have you been working? In what ways has your process evolved over time?

I’ve been working as a lettering specialist for 26 years. During that time, my process has changed mostly because of the introduction of the computer to our industry. This has allowed for much more exploration in a tighter format, which is good. One problem when you work in pencil sketches is that the transition from graphite grey into solid black doesn’t always work as you’d hoped. It’s also easier with the computer to test things out in their true setting, on top of photos or whatever. I still do lots of sketches, but the lettering tends to get really developed and fine tuned on the computer.


What are your major influences? What inspires you?

I’m influenced by just about everything, but I especially like the work that was done on packages from the 19th and early 20th century. I also enjoy amateur hand-lettered signs, since they often contain very quirky and original details that I would never think of. I have to mention that during college I saw a book with some examples of Herb Lubalin’s lettering work, and this was one of the moments that really made me want to pursue lettering for a living.

How do clients normally approach you? Do they have a specific vision in mind or do they work with you to develop the finished lettering? (Do they ask for a range of options to choose from?)

Almost all of my clients are designers or art directors, and the projects they send me arrive at my door in many different forms. Sometimes the client has a very good idea of what they want, but need me to work out the detailing and final execution. Other times they call me and give me a 2 minute brief on the phone with no visual reference and say “go”.

With some projects I get very thorough briefs where the client has specific directions that they want to explore, and they supply samples and supporting reference to guide the work. In almost every case I’ll show the client a number of options, and then we’ll develop the lettering based on their feedback.

How do you typically take on redesigns when the company has an extensive history (such as with a brand like Bell or Smirnoff)?

I take my cues from the client. Most projects that involve big brands tend to be evolutionary, in which case the history of the mark must be considered carefully. When I worked on the Smirnoff mark, for example, I had to maintain the arched baseline and colour scheme, but the client wanted me to create letters that were a bit softer and more broadly appealing.

Occasionally the brand needs a complete overhaul, and then I have to explore a range of possibilities based on the clients visual concerns and marketing objectives.

You have so many projects under your belt; do you have any favorites, or ones that you felt came together particularly well?

I’m very happy with the Miller High Life redesign, because it had everything; a brand with an impressive design history, decorative caps, formal script as well as various bits of supplementary type. All of these elements contained lots of tasty details which ended up working very well together.