Designer’s block: A Q&A with Matt Braun

Categories Inspired Talks, Web Design

To say that Matt Braun is dedicated to letterpress in design is an understatement. Clearly. When you look at his portfolio you’ll see loopy ampersands, whimsical descenders, ’50s-diner-inspired iconography and an attention to detail to keep your eyes wondering, mesmerized.

The senior designer at Pittsburgh-based design and development agency Bearded has done design work for Campfire’s chat app Briquette, biodiversity promoter The Sprout Fund Spring Program and bestselling confessional book series Post Secret’s “Confessions on Life, Death & God.”

Most notably, Braun co-founded the Wood Type Revival, an historic wood type face rescue-and-recovery project and successful Kickstarter we profiled on Inspired Mag in the past. So we touched base with him to chat about this project (post success), which company he’d love to do redesign work for and that fine line between letterpress printer collectors and hoarders.

[infobox margin_bottom=”0″ margin_top=”0″ border_radius=”all” color=”white” title=””] This is a series of interviews created in collaboration with our friends from Doejo – a new kind of creative agency, powered by an amazing collective of talent and technology. [/infobox]


1. Where do you look for the Wood Type Revival fonts and what exactly are you looking for?

As letterpress and type enthusiasts, Matt Griffin and I are always on the lookout for unique fonts and equipment. Most of our personal collections were acquired by finding old shops that were closing, but that often takes some luck and a lot of patience. Fortunately, we did find a shop in Pittsburgh that was closing after more than a century of owners. We also looked on ebay and found that once we contacted some sellers and told them about our project they were more than willing to offer some rare faces, even some in their own collections.

As for the specific faces, we were looking for stuff that was truly unique and not represented as digital fonts. We were especially looking for any that were hand carved, chromatic, or outlined. It worked out quite well because we ended up with a little bit of everything.

Matt Braun's workspace

2. What were/are some of the challenges of bringing the Wood Type Revival project into fruition?

One of our first concerns was being able to find the type that we wanted. Once we got a hold of it, we then had to do some experimenting with the process of recreating these faces for digital use. Our goal was to try and stay as true to the original contours and forms as we could. Once we got the creation process down then there’s the whole other world of font software and trouble shooting.

Another issue was locating any missing letters in incomplete fonts that we bought, which is how a lot of type is now. For the most part all the faces that we purchased were complete but there were some we had to do research and find a specimen that would fit the font.

3. While working with Bearded, what has been your proudest work done for a client to date? What makes it so special?

It’s difficult to narrow it down to one project but I would have to say the work we did for the Sprout Fund Spring Award was one of my favorites. It was a small project done in effort to promote local initiatives in biodiversity. Matt Griffin and I both collaborated on the design due to the tight timeline. We used a letterpress feel to emphasize and represent the grass roots part of the project. We had to then carry this over and apply it to all the different mediums involved. To follow it up we did a letterpress poster that combined plates and some wood type from our collection.

One of the great aspects of this project was the amount of collaboration in the work. I can’t say the design is solely mine, nor do I think that Matt would tell you it was his. However, we worked together to produce something that really suited the goals of the project.

4. Where do you start in your creative design process? (Doodles on bar napkins, stacks of Moleskins, straight to Illustrator?)

My process usually begins with headphones, a Dot Grid Book, and a lot of failure. I try to avoid evaluating what I start with but focus on some of the different avenues that could be taken. Sometimes I will work back and forth between illustrator/photoshop and sketching. I find this is helpful and effective when you want get a variety of thoughts and look at them comparatively.

5. What company logo (any company) would you love to redesign or work with that you think would outshine your portfolio?

Like all designers, I love doing great work and having a killer portfolio at the end of the day. However if I could choose any company’s logo to redesign I don’t think I would pick it based on what would produce the best work for me. The longer I am in the design field, the more I find that what’s fulfilling is doing great work for companies and organizations you really can get behind. One of the aspects about Bearded that I enjoy is that a good amount of our work is for non-profits. With that said I would love to work with the Make-A-Wish foundation or ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

6. What do you personally collect or feel you constantly look for in shops?

I am always on the lookout for type, printing equipment or presses. I am pretty sure that most letterpress printers are secretly hoarders. All of the old shops I have seen and my basement can attest to this. However, I also am constantly looking for old packaging, design, and anything I can fit in my car from the 60’s and back.

7.  Aside from the letter press and printing press, what functional object is better left low tech, and why?

There are a lot of processes that can be left in the “low tech” realm. I think the key is not what the technology is but how we plan on using it. Letterpress is an extremely skillful trade, especially when the form is handset and the process is taken from beginning till end using no digital aspects. Craftsmanship like that will never be obsolete to those that can appreciate it for the artistry it involves. It’s not better or worse to remain “low tech,” it is just a preference of how one likes to work and to what end.

8. Who is your favorite designer that you’ve never met? And what is it about his or her work that inspires you?

Well this might be a somewhat common answer, but I have admired Aaron Draplin’s work for a long time. He is able to communicate a great deal with very simple forms which is evident in all his logo work.  His style is also extremely approachable while at the same time very professional and unique. I have never met Mr. Draplin but would be honored to one day.

Matt Braun


John Lendman is the copywriter/ scribe of interactive web agency Doejo. Chicago-based Doejo is a creative hub of designers, developers and a bastion of ingenuity and imagination. The company has launched more than 300 web sites, marketing campaigns and applications since its founding in 2007. Follow us Twitter or check out our blog―if you can keep up.