Each of our 2019 Ascenders spoke with us about their design inspirations and the type of work they are doing now.

Here is our interview with typeface designer Sean Freeman of THERE IS, a design studio in London.

What schools did you attend?

After Art College in North Oxford, I went to Uni in a place called High Wycombe, just outside London. When I went there it was called Buckingham Chilterns University College, and has sadly since been renamed Bucks New Uni (which sounds about as legit as getting your degree from collecting coupons off the back of breakfast cereal, but there we go). Name aside, it was a truly fantastic Uni, with an incredible letterpress facility.

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

I had a teacher at college who was very instrumental actually. Can’t say I liked him all that much at the time though. He instilled in me a pretty full-on work ethic, and often I’d be a little irritated that he’d give me quite a lot more grief than the other students. However, looking back, he was actually just being a really good teacher and pushing me to be a better designer. Sadly, I don’t think I ever really told him how much of an impact he made on my work, but I should probably let him know. Dave Thornhill – if by chance you’re out there reading this – thanks for all the grief.

While on the topic, I’d also like to take the opportunity to give a big hug to my very dear Liz Leavitt, for the endless support/push and good vibes on tap.

Decemberists poster.

Which of your design projects are your favorites? Why?

I have favorite projects for different reasons, so it’s hard to really put my finger on just one. For instance, the poster for Mac DeMarco is one I’m really happy with as it was technically quite a tricky one, and I love all the textures going on in that. I love the “Bloodline” piece for Wired, that was a lot of fun too, and totally experimental. The Decemberists floral gig poster is also a big favorite, as well as being a catalyst for a lot of really exciting projects.

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

What a tricky question… Due to the nature of the work being so varied from a project to another, as well as being somehow experimental, there’s been a few hurdles we’ve had to climb here and there, but it’s either hard or rude to give specific examples. I’m an Englishman, so I only really complain about the weather. The way I see these situations is inspired by a quote from one of my favorite TV shows – “a problem, is just a solution waiting to happen”.

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

I now work as one half of THERE IS Studio, with my creative partner in crime, Eve Steben. A typical workday starts with making a coffee with blurry eyes (I love coffee), sitting down, and trying to get an hour or two of personal work done before the day properly starts. What follows depends on what we’re working on – alternating between researching, planning, sketching, making, shooting, and general pixel pushing –peppered with calls, meetings, snacks, coffee, wine, and petting the cat.

Bloodline piece for Wired.

What are your hobbies besides typography or design?

In reality, as corny as it sounds, my hobby turned into my career, so hobbies are a bit thin on the ground. But when I’m not working, I do love smoking salmon – if that counts – and traveling, which is not quite a hobby unfortunately, but still the best thing in life to recharge the batteries and get inspiration – two birds, one stone.

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

I do indeed. I know the super-talented Juan Carlos Pagan. We worked together on a few projects many, many (too many) moons ago now, but have stayed in touch. He was, in fact, the one to break the news to me about winning the award.

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

As I studied more modern art than design, I don’t have so many favorite designers as such. There’s so much good stuff out there. Favorite artists though…I’ve always loved the work of Marc Quinn. In fact, I love most of the work from the YBA’s, Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin…  Love all those guys. I’ve also been a fan of Francis Bacon for as long as I can remember.

Mac DeMarco poster.

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

Nothing beats the real thing. With that I mean, for instance, those happy coincidences and richness you get from just going out and making something, exploring materials, and photographing textures to create libraries of materials to play with digitally is second to none. Since the beginning, that has been a big theme throughout all of the work. Needing an interesting image for a book cover project at college, I have vivid memories of scanning an old mackerel in crazy hi-resolution on the campus scanner while my friend kept guard. Wherever possible, keep it real.

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

Apart from of course feeling extremely humbled and proud, it’s just incredible to be recognized by such an institution – especially for retrospective work, with pieces that are very close to my heart. Makes all the midnight oil burnt totally worth it.


Instagram: @There.is.studio

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