Pen Pals Interview: Typeface Designer Cole Imperi on Death, Life, and Design

An interview series featuring notable people whose lives intersect with the world of pens. Cole is an typeface designer who caters to a very niche audience: companies that provide deathcare and wellness services.

Cole Imperi of

Cole Imperi

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Cole Imperi, I live in Cincinnati (where I’m from!) and I work a few months of the year out of New York City. I own a company called Doth Brands, a creative agency with a very specialized niche: we only work with deathcare and wellness (mostly yoga) clients.

I also own a design studio called Hello Cole, and that is where my typefaces, custom type, lettering work, and other projects live.

Victor is my husband and he works with me — he has a unique specialization in pricing design! I also have two beagles, Ruby and Hairy. Ruby has dwarfism which makes her extra cute and Hairy is my shadow.

As a creative director, I oversee larger design-related projects from start to finish, often working with a team of people. Sometimes I work alone on projects; most of those are lettering-related or custom type. When I develop identities or brands for clients, I work with others to develop and move concepts along. Art is very much a part of my career.

Part of my job and responsibility as a designer is to stay educated and inspired by the work of other artists. I think it is important to always have new ‘stuff’ coming into your brain, because it makes you a better designer! This is why I am always picking up new books, visiting museums, snapping photos of street art and browsing Behance and Tumblr.

Another part of my profession is learning new skills and continuing to practice current skills. If I see something arts-related that interests me, I will pursue it for as long as I’m interested. As an example, I found the art of etegami several years ago. It interested me so much that I wanted to learn how to do it. Years later, it’s one of those things that has ‘stuck’, though it’s not something I continue to practice and develop. I also learned linoleum block cutting a few years ago after seeing some really great work. I found that it wasn’t my thing, but the skills I picked up there directly informed other projects later in my career. It’s important to learn new things, especially in design.

Probably the biggest way that art plays a role in my career is through referencing. The more you know as a designer (artists, movements, places, materials, etc.) the more you can build your individual style. For example, if a client and I are developing an overall identity direction, through referencing I can determine a starting point: are we looking for something urban, maybe New York City in the 80s? Or are we looking for something fluid, striking and emotive; a Degas-meets-Monet-meets-Christo’s-Gates? As a designer, you have to look around you and pay attention and learn!

I have always noticed fonts. I didn’t realize it was a weird thing until I was in high school, and then more so in college. My earliest font-related memory was in first or second grade. I was looking at the manual for a DOS computer game called “Red Rover” and the font they used was really hard to read. I asked my Dad why they made it look like that, rather than the actually legible text that was used in the manual for the computer itself.

As I got older, I was always paying attention to type. I created a family newsletter in middle school and spent as much time selecting fonts for the headlines and the body copy as I did on the actual stories about I wrote about my family. I actually thought I wanted to be a page layout designer but it wasn’t until I finished college that I realized I was actually just into the fonts.

I did my Post-Graduate work in typeface design at the Cooper Union. It wasn’t actually until I completed the [email protected] Condensed Typeface Design Program that I realized I see the font before I see the word. I also think that fonts are like voices — the way your voice sounds is distinctive to you. People know I am Cole by the way my voice sounds and the way I talk. Fonts do that for written words.

My specialties in deathcare and wellness came about from my yoga practice. I began practicing and studying yoga in 2006 and saw a huge need in the wellness world for design services and business help. A lot of yoga teachers and wellness professionals absolutely love what they do, but they ignore or pay little attention to the business side of things.

I began working with these clients because I understood what they did for a living, since I lived that lifestyle too. This gave me the ability to ‘speak their language’ and I was able to help them communicate their messages more clearly and make their lives a whole lot easier.

Deathcare came about through yoga. When you study yoga philosophy, you will find that death is discussed quite a bit. I noticed and became interested in grief as a result of this, and began to find connections among our cultural values in America, our avoidance/fear of death, and our culture’s handling of grief.

I pulled together a bunch of research on consumer behavior as it relates to death and saw a big problem the deathcare profession was facing….and then I saw a solution.
The issue is simply communication, and the way I work to solve that problem is through design.

Needless to say, I felt it was important that I have inside experience in deathcare (after all, how valuable was I really to the deathcare profession without ever having worked a day in a funeral home?). So, I spent some time working and touring funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries (for both humans and animals).

First, I will say that I have dozens of unfinished typefaces in my physical files and on my computer. I think I am like most people who work with type. You come up with an idea, work on it a bit and then it either ‘sticks’ or it doesn’t. Most of the time it doesn’t. Typeface design is TEDIOUS and would drive most people absolutely nuts.

When designing a non-display typeface (like Georgia, Arial or Times New Roman) you often start with a letter or two. I start by hand, drawing on vellum with black paint. After I get a few letters (I always do the letters (I always do H, a, n, d, g, l, o, v, e and s), I scan them into the computer and build out the rest using Robofont. After I get most lowercase letters and a few of the uppercase letters, I start to work on spacing. Then I fiddling with the design, filling in missing letters and then adding in language support, figures and punctuation.

If I’m working on a display face (like a handwriting font or special use font) I usually start on paper with a few letters, digitize them in the computer, and then build out the rest. The only difference is that you often work with fewer ‘rules’ when designing a special-use font.

A recent project I’d like to share is Yoga International has been around a long time and is heavily respected in the yoga and wellness world. They were a print magazine only for a couple decades and felt it imperative that they move the complete teachings of yoga online (along with all of their archives). They wanted people to be able to take yoga classes online, learn all about yoga philosophy online, read articles, listen to audio, get recipes……everything.

I worked with Yoga International on the creation of their website and brand. I made some adjustments to their logo to make it more readable on the screen, and after a few months of testing fonts I selected the typefaces used on the site. I spent hours and hours testing different font sizes and leading. The body text on that site is set in a very dark blue, which has a higher readability rate than black or grey text. I also designed the website and Victor, my husband, developed the tagline. This was a deeply rewarding project to work on. Since the site launched last summer they’ve had great success, and I am very proud of the work we did.

Otherwise, a few current projects include a complete identity for a new yoga company, complete design services for a pet funeral home, and 2 or 3 eBook projects in yoga and deathcare. I’m also in the middle of a rebrand for my own company, Doth Brands.

I do! I write about most of them on SimplicityEmbellished when I have time. I am really into what I call ‘traditional crafting.’ That refers to things like writing letters, calligraphy, crewel work and leatherwork. I also garden, am a big tea enthusiast, practice yoga and paint etegami.

For type design, I am currently using:

Pentel Pigment Ink Brush Pen - Extra Fine
Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Marker
Palomino Blackwing Wooden Pencil
Pentel Sharp Drafting Pencil - 0.9 mm
Palomino KUM Pencil Sharpener

For my etegami artwork I use:

Akashiya Etegami Postcard Size Paper - Hongasen
Kuretake Little Red Gift Set - Watercolor Palettes and Waterbrush Pen
Pentel Pigment Ink Brush Pen - Extra Fine
Kuretake Disposable Pocket Brush Pen - Medium

I also regularly use gel pens and a lot of fountain pens, with these being my top three favorites right now:

Pentel Slicci Gel Ink Pens
Sakura Gelly Roll Stardust Gel Ink Pen
Kaweco Classic Sport Fountain Pens
Pilot Cavalier Fountain Pens
Platinum Carbon Desk Fountain Pen

You can learn more about Cole and her work over on her personal site, Hello Cole. You can also find her company information at Doth Brands.

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