This week I had the pleasure of speaking with U.K. based designer Sam Parrett – a one-man type foundry responsible for creating a slew of brilliant script typefaces under the alias Set Sail Studios (many of which you have probably already seen and loved). His work can be found on marketplaces like Creative Market, MyFonts and of course his personal site, which also boasts some very generous freebies. Sam’s fonts have been sought after by such high profile clients as Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, Revlon, and Adobe to name a few (and I mean it when I say “a few”). I wanted to take a peek into his font creation process and learn a bit more about how Set Sail Studios came to be. I want to thank Sam for sharing his time and for his thoughtful responses.
Did you always want to be a designer? How to did you find your way to selling through online marketplaces?
I can’t say I did – I had a tough time figuring out what I wanted to ‘be’ when I was younger, and somehow ended up with a degree in Psychology. Graphic design had always been a hobby of mine but never something I had considered as a career.
I started taking it a bit more seriously when I joined a local band with some friends, and we needed things like a logo, website & CD artwork. From that I began helping out other bands & local promoters and somehow ended up with a little freelance gig – I was pretty much instantly hooked. I soon sacked off my retail job I took after graduating and began working as a full time designer primarily in the music industry, out of my mouldy attic flat in Bristol. I made hardly any money but had an awesome time doing it! After a couple of years I was looking for a new venture and decided to make a typeface from a rejected band logo concept. A client and friend of mine pointed me to Creative Market, and the rest as they say is history!
Your speciality seems to clearly be creating high quality brush script fonts and you’ve managed to gain quite a following within this niche. Do you see yourself continuing to perfect this style or potentially branching out to other font / product styles in the future?
I can definitely see myself doing both – I love the emotion you can directly channel into a script font, but I have quite recently been branching out and designing sans & serif fonts. It’s not something which comes naturally to me, and takes so much more patience I think. It’s definitely something I want to work on a bit more in future – I’m always open to new ideas, and I’m lucky enough to just work on whatever I’m currently enjoying the most.
Are you someone who needs to continually out-do yourself or are you content with much of your work?
I’m never content with my work which I think is probably both a blessing and a curse. I think there’s always room to improve for anyone at any level, and I’m definitely always striving to do that. I wouldn’t say I was actively trying to out-do myself but just progress as naturally as possible, be open to exploring new ideas and always maintaining a high standard of work.
Something I appreciate about your work is that it’s not afraid to lean toward the feminine end of the style spectrum despite the fact that it’s designer is male. Do you view the style of your own work and that of other designers with gender in mind or is this irrelevant to you?
I do have a good think about my target audience before I start designing each font, I think that way I can really focus on a specific style and give the font a much stronger identity than if it was trying to please everyone. That means some of my fonts will be much more soft & feminine, and others like they were drawn whilst drinking 12 cans of red bull. I enjoy typography in all it’s forms and it’s fun to mix it up!
About how long would you say a typical Set Sail Studios font (including preview images) takes to complete?
I would say roughly around 3-4 weeks if I was working solidly on it.
What do you find to be the greatest struggle(s) for designers selling online?
I would definitely say it’s finding your niche in an oversaturated market. That’s very difficult to do and sometimes it means hitting the right marketplace at the right time, with the right style. I think I was very lucky to open a shop at Creative Market when I did, and to be putting out a style of work that was just starting to get very popular there. I think a lot of my success as a shop owner has been down to that good timing. I’ve sold my fonts on other marketplaces and had much less success, and I’ve had my work rejected from one certain font vendor.
When settling on a concept, which is more important to you: trending or outside the box?
I think it’s somewhere in the middle – obviously I want the font to be successful and you can’t ignore current trends for that to happen. I think the trick (and also the hard part), is to almost try to predict what might be on the cusp of becoming a new trend – so that’s the thinking outside of the box part. Sometimes it works in my case, but more often it doesn’t! That being said, every once in a while I do like to go a bit wild on a concept just because it’s a style I really want to try out, even if it’s miles apart from anything currently trending. If it’s successful – even better, but if not, I had fun doing it anyway.
Do you love, hate or feel indifferent toward promoting your own work? How do you reach your audience?
I would say indifferent – yes it’s a bit of a chore but it’s pretty much a part of any online industry, it’s also really great to get positive feedback from such an awesome community of designers. I get some really kind words said about my work and I genuinely appreciate that someone has taken the time out of their busy schedule purely to spread some words of encouragement. I would say it’s promoted primarily through Instagram but I also send out a newsletter to my mailing list, and post to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Behance (although I have no idea what I’m doing on the latter two).
Is “Set Sail Studios” your full-time job or a side project? If side project, what’s your day-time gig?
Yep, it’s my full time job – it has been since 2010 as a freelance design studio, but has been operating solely as a type foundry since 2015.
Do you listen to music when you work and if so, what are you listening to?
Definitely! I was quite into heavier music in my youth but it’s definitely not something I can listen to when I’m working. I actually struggle to focus on work (especially writing) when I’m listening to anything with lyrics, so I generally just listen to chilled out instrumental playlists on YouTube or Spotify. I’ve recently been getting really into the chillwave/synthwave mixes by Asthenic, definitely worth checking out if you need some chilled background music to your work. I’m also a big 80s fan and it has that retro vibe to it.
Thanks for having me Mike!