Each of our 2019 Ascenders spoke with us about their design inspirations and work. Here is our interview with graphic designer, letterer, illustrator, and muralist Ben Johnston of Toronto.

What schools did you attend?

I briefly attended a college for industrial design back in Cape Town, but dropped out after a year to pursue a career in graphic design.

Did you have a teacher, past employer, client, or colleague who was instrumental in your career?

I feel like I’ve always been lucky to have inspiring teachers and work colleagues over the years and that’s no different from today, where I get to travel and paint murals, meet a lot of other artists, and learn from them.

Did they have any specific advice/words of wisdom that you remember?

My parents always reiterated the phrase, “work hard and it’ll work out,” which seems to be the truest thing.

Experimental mural.

Which of your design projects are your favorites? Why?

I’m pretty happy with most things I’ve created in the last few years, as I’ve focused on experimenting with new materials and styles and making each new project unique.

What’s your worst design experience and project? Why?

When you’re first going freelance, there is so much to learn about managing projects, expectations, and deadlines that there were a few projects that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. You learn pretty quickly after making a few mistakes not to make them again.

Where do you work now? In a studio, independent, other? What’s a typical workday like?

I’m currently working independently, but I’m in a shared studio, so I still have the feel of an agency. Each day can often look a little different depending on whether I’m painting or not,  but I like to start every day with exercise, followed by getting into the studio or painting site before 9am to get an early start. If I’m in the studio, I‘ll generally stick around until 6pm or 7pm and if I’m painting, I might stay much later to get it done. I like that every day is different.  It really keeps things interesting.


What are your hobbies besides typography or design?

Toronto is a great city for biking in the summer and there are a few small hills for snowboarding in the winter. Fortunately, my job also brings about a lot of travel, so I always try to add a day or two on to my trips to explore and track down murals in different cities.

Do you know any of the other Ascenders personally? If yes, whom ?

I know all of their work well, but unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to meet them in person yet!

Do you have any favorite designers and/or artists? Who are they?

The late Carlos Cruz-Diez must be at the top of my list, as well as Ed Ruscha, Barry McGee and Geoff McFetridge. I’m not particularly drawn only to typography, but rather people that are creating unique work.


Do you think you have a design philosophy or methodology? If yes or no what is it?

“Work your ass off. Don’t be an asshole.” – Stefan Sagmeister.

Now that you have had some time to think about it, what does the award mean to you?

I’ve dedicated my career to focus on typography, so it’s an honour to be recognized by such a prestigious organization like the TDC. Receiving this award only wants me to push things further and to keep experimenting and creating unique work.

Instagram: @benjohnstondesign
Twitter: @BenJohnston25

To see the list of all the 2019 Ascenders, click here.