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Student Spotlight: Seven Years of Type Design Graduates

We’re celebrating Type West alumni and 125+ original typefaces since Letterform Archive opened the first yearlong type design program on the West Coast.

As we embark on a new year of Type West, our certificate program in type design, we’d like to share some major milestones.

In 2020 we added Type West Online, welcoming students who couldn’t join us in the classroom at the Archive. Since then, graduates have hailed from every hemisphere on earth, representing 15 different countries. In 2022 we graduated 32 talented individuals from our local cohort in San Francisco and 17 other cities around the world. These add to the dozens of past grads who produced an original typeface family in the yearlong course. Their typefaces can be seen on the websites below, which will soon be updated with Class of 2023 graduates.

A selection of graduate typefaces by Type West students.

That makes over 125 original typefaces created by Type@Cooper West and Type West graduates since we opened the first type design program of its kind on the West Coast. With that much talent coursing through Type West there are many stories of students doing remarkable things during and after the program. They have gone on to start their own studios, release fonts through major foundries, pick up full-time work in the field, and give back to the community through teaching. Here are a few highlights.

Đức Cao
Portrait of Đức Cao

Đức Cao is a graphic and type designer based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He is also a core member of Luu Chu — a Vietnamese typographic archive project. His project for Type West 2021 was an ambitious casual sans-serif typeface in five weights with an italic and innovative display style. Initially entitled Homecooked, the family explores the warmth and expressiveness of the flat brush — how the twists and turns of such a physical tool can create a dynamic and humanistic texture. Shortly after his graduation, Cao’s Swirl was published by the popular international foundry, Blaze Type.

Homecooked, Đức Cao’s family for Type West, later publicly released in a single style called Swirl Display.
Clara Cayosa
Portrait of Clara Cayosa

Clara Cayosa was deeply involved in the Filipino design scene before she moved to San Francisco and joined the Type West in-person Class of 2023. Her enthusiasm for spreading her local design culture, which included co-founding the Tipong Philipino exhibition series, earned her a Malee Scholarship from Sharp Type in 2020.

For her first Type West term project, Cayosa chose to revive Herbert Horne’s Montallegro, a typeface commissioned in 1904 by printer and historian Daniel Berkeley Updike. Her version stays true to the source bringing a Renaissance-era lightness to paper and screen. Her deep research and accomplished design won her the prestigious Updike Prize from the Providence Public Library.

A page from The Life of Michelagnolo Buonarroti, a book set in Montallegro, compared with Clara Cayosa’s digital revival of the metal type.

Cayosa recently flew back to Manila where she will use what she learned from Type West to teach at Ateneo University, her alma mater. She’s also planning to release several typefaces this year while continuing her branding and graphic design projects.

Schessa Garbutt
Portrait of Schessa Garbutt

As they were establishing their own studio, Firebrand Creative House, Schessa Garbutt wanted to deepen the type skills they could offer to a client base of activists, non-profits, and social impact initiatives. After taking the Archive’s 10-week Introduction to Modern Type Design they enrolled in Type West 2021.

“The program has strengthened my lettering and logotype skills, deepened my passion for type history, and helped me make more conscious decisions around when and where I use certain styles in my brand identity work for clients. Surprisingly, it has also strengthened my illustration work! In type, the micro interactions of positive and negative space are so key to legibility on the macro level.”

FCH Aaron, a font created by Schessa Garbutt after graduating from Type West, revives the lettering of Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas.

In June 2023, Garbutt was recognized as a recipient of the Los Angeles Design Festival’s EMERGE award. She also ran several community art workshops, and lectured on diversifying design history and co-design practices.

Chalermpol Jittagasem
Portrait of Chalermpol Jittagasem

As a Thai immigrant, Chalermpol Jittagasem joined the in-person Class of 2022 with the goal of utilizing typographic systems as a tool to support and empower other English learners. His typeface Vaja aims to improve pronunciation for non-native speakers with the addition of IPA characters that represent speech sounds in written form. The project won him a STA 100 prize and the Society of Typographic Aficionados’s Catalyst Award.

Jittagasem’s Vaja includes IPA characters to help pronounce English words.
Chris Skillern
Portrait of Chris Skillern

Completing a type family for the first time is already a challenge for any Type West student, but Chris Skillern, Class of 2021 and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, doubled his effort by adding support for the Cherokee syllabary in his typeface Meli

“Type West taught me so many things that took my type design skills to the next level, from the calligraphic roots of type to making a variable font, but the most important thing it did for me was to help me train my eye so I can see and design type properly. It was important to me to include Cherokee in my original project—and in as many of my projects as possible—because I’m invested in expanding the currently very limited typographic palette for the syllabary. On a personal level, it’s a way for me to connect to culture and to reclaim a language that my family no longer speaks fluently.”

Meli, Chris Skillern’s graduation project for Type West 2021 that includes Latin and Cherokee character sets.

After graduating Skillern went on to present his work at TypeCon2023 and Ezhishin, the very first conference on Native North American Typography, and he is currently working on Cherokee type for the Typotheque foundry.

Kel Troughton
Portrait of Kel Troughton

Kel Troughton is a Type@Cooper West grad whose long association with the Archive began way back in 2016 when he took a workshop with veteran designer Carl Crossgrove in our old space. He went on to work alongside Crossgrove in a stint on the type design team at Monotype. Last year, Troughton started his own foundry, Overlap Type, which publishes fonts by himself and collaborators, such as Type West grad Libbie Bischoff.

Troughton has since joined the Type West faculty as a co-instructor, and has led several installments of our popular 10-week Introduction to Modern Type design, including the upcoming course held January 31–April 10, 2024. Troughton has also contributed significantly as a curatorial consultant for our growing graffiti collection, and he co-curated the Subscription to Mischief exhibition that closes this week.

We’ll have more Type West news soon, such as the website showcasing typefaces from the Class of 2023, and news about the faculty leading this year’s incoming class.