My Minnesota: Mark Simonson's little secret

  • Updated: March 9, 2013 - 6:49 PM

Just about every week, people look at something Mark Simonson made.

They pick it up; they take it home and eat what’s inside; they might pour milk on it, or pour it over salad.

Mark makes letters. Alpha-bits? you think, confused. No. Let’s start with the basics: So, what does he do all day?

“I make and license fonts,” Mark says. “My daily life consists of trying not to look at the Internet too much, keeping my nose to the grindstone and making fonts.”

He started out as a graphic designer and created something that ended up in the homes of Keillor fans across the land: the “Prairie Home Companion” box set.

It had a distinctive Minnesota look. “I tapped into my own memories of what things looked like when I was younger — a small town where they had lots of old signs, where things really hadn’t changed. I didn’t have to look at pictures — I just knew.”

You may not think much about typefaces, but they speak to you, whether you hear them or not. “They’re like different voices, different ways of talking,” Mark says. “You make associations with a certain time, or where you saw it used, and the font starts to take on baggage, impressions, associations.”

And that’s why one of his fonts will always be associated with standing in the aisles of Target, trying to decide if you want the Market Pantry or the Archer Farms. He designed Coquette, a lovely, curly font on the front of every Archer Farms package.

“That’s one of my personal favorites. It just kind of bubbled up out of my subconscious. I started obsessively drawing this alphabet, and it came out fully formed.”

It has its roots in 1930s fonts, he notes, but goes back to French script styles and some prewar European sans-serifs.

None of which people think when they see it, unless they’re font geeks.

What does he think when he’s shopping, and, hello, there’s his baby?

“It’s like you have this secret. You get a little thrill. If someone asks me what I do for a living, I point to a font on an ad or magazine and say, ‘I do that.’ ”

That he does.

His marvelous — and reasonably priced — work can be found at marksimonson.com, where you also can read the story of how Coquette came to be.

Not saying you can impress a stranger with the inside story next time you’re at Target, but you’ll have a little secret, too.

 

James Lileks

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