Michael Parson is the man behind Typogama Digital Type Foundry in Geneva, Switzerland. Life is pretty much known for taking people in rather unexpected directions from time to time, something that Michael experienced firsthand when he found his way into typography as a career. He had always been a graphic designer first and foremost, working without a computer during his earliest years in the profession. He spent time drawing letterforms on paper for logos and flyers, but never actually gave much thought to type design as an activity.
All of that changed during a year spent at the Ecal university in Switzerland. Michael had a teacher who encouraged the exploration of fonts through the use of Fontographer, the only software available at that time. It was a revelation, to say the least. “I was amazed at the technology behind typeface design and how this little program could then command the various letterforms I had created,” Michael told us. “I got more involved in type design the following years and explored typography as code during my final graphic design course.”
Following his studies in typography, he took the plunge and contacted foundries to inquire about their interest in publishing his work. “Linotype accepted my fonts as part of the TakeType contest,” Michael said. “This was huge for me and in my mind, a small encouragement that maybe there was something more for me to explore in type design.”
Between studying the extensive history of type design, and exploring the visual forms of letters and the meanings they convey, Michael became absolutely fascinated by the art of typography. As he has progressed through his career as a typographer, his obsession with type design eventually surpassed his passion for graphics. Type design “felt, and still feels, like there are so many different ideas to explore and discover, it is never ending!” Michael observed.
He feels that every font has its place, which means that any font can be fantastic in its own way. (Yes, even Comic Sans.) “A font is a solution to a given need,” Michael explained. “If your choice suits that need, then it is an amazing font.” When it comes to font selection for a project, he focuses on the exact message he’s trying to convey through his work, and selects the perfect font accordingly.
One of Michael’s most recent releases is Mensrea, a powerhouse family of 32 fonts with a decidedly urban edge. The inspiration for Mensrea actually sprouted from Michael’s frustration with the formulaic approach of any average police television show. With every program presenting itself as a simple variation of another, he wondered what sort of typeface would be used if they ever did a spin-off centered on Geneva.
Curious, he began working on a condensed, bold form that could work as a display typeface. While exploring stroke weights, he decided to create a mini-family of five weights ranging from light to black, although he soon discovered that it was just not enough. His work resulted in a simple industrial-style sans serif that lacked expression.
Michael then considered the growing trend of multilayered type designs and themed font bundles. With his base design of five weights and the addition of stencil and grunge effects, he took himself the rest of the way down a long concept road to explore an entire range of styles that could work together or stand entirely on their own.
“The more involved in the project I became, the further I wanted to push the number of weight solutions,” Michael told us, adding that the project felt like a never-ending task at the time. Considering the number of styles included in the Mensrea family, the design process was rather swift, taking just seven or eight months to complete once he had defined the letterforms.
Given the font’s motif of city life and police forces, Michael began to research legal terms in search of the perfect name for his design. The word, mensrea, eventually grabbed his attention. “In English law, ‘Mensrea’ is the state of mind a person has when committing a crime,” Michael explained. “It comes from the Latin of Mens, meaning ‘guilty’ and Rea meaning ‘mind’.” The name perfectly captured the essence of the typeface while sounding bold and strong, just like the structure of the letterforms.
Mensrea offers variations that evoke just about every aspect of city life, including the basic sans serif in five weights ranging from Thin to Black with corresponding italics for each, along with Bevel, Bevelshade, Bubble, Bubblelight, Bubbleline, Bubbleshape, College, Contour, Dirty, Dots, Duoline, Gradientdown, Gradientop, Graffiti, Inline, Innercontour, Inshape, Line, Neon, Pictogram, Stencil, and Shadow.
“I think the main challenge creating this family was trying to think about how other users could understand and apply the design, and also trying to keep to styles that seemed relevant to my concept,” Michael told us. He also knew that he wanted the superfamily to have a contrasted style to add extra vocabulary and design choices. He briefly considered a script, but came back full circle to Mensrea’s original concept. “I finally settled on a handwritten, graffiti inspired form that was loosely based on my own handwriting. A simple, nearly monolinear yet random script that could be used as a signature with the principal styles of the typeface family.
To Michael’s surprise, quite a few people have actually mentioned feeling as though Graffiti doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the family, but he’s seen several layouts that have proved otherwise. They work quite well together in the right application.
“On a technical level, the biggest challenge I gave myself was on the Dirty weight,” Michael explained. “I knew I wanted a rugged and worn out effect but I also had to be careful to not create letters that were too heavy on vector points, as this will slow down the performance of the fonts.”
“From a simple, bored night of television, this initially-basic project spiraled out of control to become one of the most complex and complete typeface families I have created,” Michael observed. Preferring to describe the superfamily as a collection or style bundle because of its themed approach, Mensrea offers something wonderful for just about any urban or city-themed project.
Michael Parson currently offers 39 products through his portfolio at YouWorkForThem, with a wide range of styles to suit designer’s needs. You’re going to want to keep an eye on this one because he’s got some great things in the works, including a single weight script typeface that should be released in the coming months, a sans serif family for text and display by the end of year, and he’s just begun a decorative serif display style, as well. We wish him all the best with his upcoming work and we certainly look forward to seeing it!