Bringing back the Ascenders competition for its third edition, the Type Directors Club extended jury invitations to members of our community outside of the Advisory Board for the first time.

Selected by the board for Ascenders 2018, New York-based Tien-Min was a logical choice for this year’s jury. Ascenders’ Chair Paul Carlos writes: “I have seen her work flourish in the past few years, which is just incredible to see.” Tien-Min also worked directly with Zipeng Zhu on the lettering for this year’s Ascenders graphics.

We sent out a questionnaire out to some of our judges and past Ascenders as a light-hearted Proustian exercise. This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

What was your very first job?

My first full-time job was a graphic designer at a branding agency. The very first time I got paid was designing some labels for my uncle’s products.

Did you go to school for design? If so, where and what was your major/concentration?

Yes, Communication Design (MS) at Pratt Institute and Type Design at Cooper Union (Type@Cooper).

What was your earliest design class?

A photoshop workshop in 2006.

Name one of your favorite projects from early in your career.

I don’t like my old work anymore.

Are you embarrassed by your old work?

Yes, most of them!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Exercise more and eat healthy.

If you could change one thing about your career trajectory, what would you change?

I would have quit full-time job earlier.

What is a barrier to entry facing today’s designers that you might not have had?

No in-person mentors due to the pandemic.

What is something that today’s young designers have that you wish you had?

New apps and their new features.

Are there any up-and-coming young designers you admire?

John Sampson, Shivani Parasnis, o.oo studio, Adrian Zhang, Klio Peng.

What top 3 traits are you looking for when looking at young designers’ work?

Craft, originality, critical thinking.

What are 3 things that you hate seeing in young designers’ work?

Plagiarism $×$ 3

Name one way in which you continue your education.

Type@Cooper Extended Program

If you could change careers, what would you do?

If I don’t do design any more, I would like to become a rare book conservator or work in museum.

What is your favorite job you’ve ever had?

Being an independent type designer. Nothing is better than working for myself.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

Working on boring projects for a financial company for almost one year.

What is a job you’ve had that would surprise people?

(I don’t think I have one.)

Which of your peers do you most admire?

Ryan Bugden, Ying Chang, Juan Villanueva, Lynne Yun…there are too many!

What do you wish you were better at?

I wish I were better at Python and programming.

What in your career are you really good at?

I think I am very patient. I don’t feel bored in tedious type production process.

How do you define a successful career?

Do the thing you love/enjoy and get paid from it. Then do it better and better.

What tools do you need to have a successful career?

Be humble, grateful, and patient.

What food must be accessible to you in order to work well?

Coffee + almond croissant

Who do you credit most for your career rise?

YG Wu, my professor in Taiwan, who encouraged me to study design abroad.

Who do you consider your teachers?

Sumner Stone, Christian Schwartz, Berton Hasebe, Troy Leinster

If you could collaborate with anyone (that you haven’t worked with yet) who would it be?

I would love to collaborate with people in music industry (no specific ones).

Any books, films, or albums that have defined or changed the way you think?

The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel.

What hobbies keep your sanity intact?


Do the above inspire your career/practice, or do you compartmentalize to get away from it?

I usually bring some questions with me when I go taking a walk. For instance, I am taking some hard questions from this questionnaire with me now and hopefully I will find the answer when I am back.

How much sleep do you get?

Average 6.5 hours, according to my Fitbit app.

How necessary do you find “routine”?

I don’t have a routine other than a wake-up coffee. Everyday is similar but different.

Would you like to retire

Maybe 30 years later? I don’t know yet.

Anything that worries or frustrates you, looking at the future of design?

Many type foundries are now owned by one company.

What excites you about the future of design?

More independent talented type designers.