Bringing back the Ascenders competition for the third time, we caught up with Vincent Chan, one of the winners in 2019.
His typographic practice, Matter of Sorts, is based in Melbourne, Australia, where he also teaches at Monash University. We reached out to Vincent to provide some words of wisdom and inspiration for the upcoming class of Ascenders
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?
Cashier at a local news agency.
First design job?
Designer/researcher at a speculative software development studio called Someones Group.
Did you go to school for design? If so, where and what was your major/concentration?
Yes, Monash University, Bachelor of Visual Communication (Honours).
What was your earliest design class?
Visual Communication in high school.
Name one of your favorite projects from early in your career.
Drawing my first commercial typeface, Kommissar (then called Vertikal), for Fast Company during my internship at Commercial Type under the direction of Christian Schwartz.
Are you embarrassed by your old work?
To varying degrees.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t worry so much about pleasing people.
If you could change one thing about your career trajectory, what would you change?
I wouldn’t worry so much about pleasing people.
What is a barrier to entry facing today’s designers that you might not have?
The ability to travel internationally relatively hassle free.
What is something that today’s young designers have that you wish you had?
A better sense of history and their place in a broader narrative, one that is flawed and requires address.
Are there any up-and-coming young designers you admire?
What top 3 traits are you looking for when looking at young designers’ work?
A point of view, critical thought, craft.
What are 3 things that you hate seeing in young designers’ work?
Poor writing, derivative thinking, convoluted ideas (these are also things I am wary of in my own work).
Name one way in which you continue your education.
Teaching back in to my alma mater, collaborating with people much brighter than me, relearning old ways of thinking.
If you could change careers, what would you do?
I’m super privileged to really enjoy what I do in a capacity that allows me a fair amount of freedom when it comes to hours and clients. I’m also not very good at anything else (not that I’m particularly good at what I do). [But] I like the idea of being an architect or furniture designer.
What is your favorite job you’ve ever had?
Drawing typefaces for the national postal service.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
A copy center at the back of a small news agency where I laminated posters, bound manuals and photocopied anything and everything. Not super inspiring, it gave me the kick up the butt to get some courage to apply for university.
What is a job you’ve had that would surprise people?
Life guard at a local pool. There’s no way I could rescue anyone today.
Which of your peers do you most admire?
What do you wish you were better at?
Clear thinking, programming, finishing typefaces.
What in your career are you really good at?
Asking questions, working swiftly.
How do you define a successful career?
One that allows freedom.
What tools do you need to have a successful career?
Desire, drive, healthy habits.
What food must be accessible to you in order to work well?
Who do you credit most for your career rise?
Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes.
Who do you consider your teachers?
Dan Milne, Christian Schwartz, Paul Barnes, Berton Hasebe, Fabian Harb, my students.
If you could collaborate with anyone (that you haven’t worked with yet) who would it be?
Any books, films, or albums that have defined or changed the way you think?
Dot Dot Dot magazine.
What hobbies keep your sanity intact?
Hanging out with my 16 month old daughter, type design.
Do the above inspire your career/practice, or do you compartmentalize to get away from it?
It’s all pretty blurry, in the best way possible.
How much sleep do you get?
Sometimes 4 hours, sometimes 6 hours. Depends on my daughter.
How necessary do you find “routine”?
Not super necessary, though I’m probably more productive if I have one.
Would you like to retire?
Anything that worries or frustrates you, looking at the future of design?
How will type design help ensure the survival of the human race?
What excites you about the future of design?
How my daughter will help shape that future.