Young Guns 17: Tré Seals
By Brett McKenzie Posted on Nov 04, 2019
Shining a light on the amazing class of Young Guns 17
What happens when you take a jury of 60+ respected creatives, more than 500 entries from all over the globe, and mix them all together for two months of serious consideration, debate and decision-making? Eventually you get the winners of Young Guns 17! This year, The One Club for Creativity is honoring a creatively diverse class of 28 winners, including animators, designers, photographers, illustrators, film directors and editors, all of whom came out of this process as true champions of their craft.
Ahead of the Young Guns 17 Ceremony + Party taking place on November 20, we are featuring the various superstars who will be taking the stage that evening.
First of all, congratulations! Now how did you first discover Young Guns?
It was 2014, and I was going into my senior year of college when I interned for this design studio that had a shelf of ADC and One Club trophies. That’s when I started to look more into the organizations and discovered their programming and the Young Guns competition.
Now this wasn't your first attempt at winning Young Guns...
No, this was either my third or fourth time entering. However, this was the first time that I felt like I was truly ready to win.
Which of the projects that you entered is your personal favorite and why?
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. With that in mind, I’d have to say the Khoi Vinh project is my favorite. My favorite book is “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho. There’s a phrase in there that reads, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I think this project is an excellent demonstration of that.
It began in October of 2018. I was trying to come up with a fun project that would stretch my type design skills. I started thinking about how so many companies were rebranding themselves and having custom typefaces made. That made me wonder what would happen if I made a full typeface based on the iconic Adobe 'A.’
About a month later, as I’m working on this, I get an email from the phenomenal Dian Holton about creating some social media graphics for an upcoming lecture. I did this previously for a talk Gail Anderson gave at The Washington Post, so it was a no brainer. This time, the graphics were for designer, blogger, former Design Director for The New York Times, Adobe principal, and Adobe XD lead, Khoi Vinh. So I’m thinking this is the perfect opportunity to put this “Edoba” typeface to use.
Long story short, the project turned out beautifully, the lecture was great, got to meet Khoi, everyone’s happy. Maybe a week later, I get an email from Khoi talking about how much he loved the designs and would like to have them made into a poster. So, I made him a poster. Next thing I know, he’s introducing me to some of his co-workers, I’m freelancing for Adobe, and end up branding World Interaction Design Day.
It just goes to show how one pro bono project can become a greater opportunity.
One of the highlights of entering Young Guns is the ability to submit personal projects alongside professional ones. Did you take advantage of this?
In a way, yes. What started as a personal project turned into a full-blown company. It's a long story, but in short, graphic design became boring for me. Everything started to look the same, and I realized that was because the design industry, in terms of demographics, isn't very diverse. And when a single race and gender dominate an industry, this not only creates a lack of diversity in people and experiences but ideas and creations as well. I wanted to figure out a way to add some diversity to design, so I decided to start at the root of all good design — typography. So I started a font foundry that crafts typefaces based on the history of different minority cultures. It was meant to be a side project but turned into its own company called Vocal Type Co.
What was it like to learn that you finally won Young Guns?
I didn't know what to do. I stayed in my seat, just staring at the email, with no clue what to do next. It was like mind-numbing joy. On top of that, I got the news just a few days before my birthday. Best birthday gift ever.
How would you describe your creative style?
I would describe my style as thoughtful and stylish. Let's say I have created a fantastic concept for a brand identity, backed by tons of research and thoughtful consideration. If the logo for that identity was on a t-shirt, and I wouldn't want to wear it, then I won't present it to the client.
What is your favorite tool when it comes to making what you do, something you’d feel naked without?
I can't do anything without my Moleskine sketchbook. I first heard about them in this song by Lupe Fiasco, and I've been hooked ever since. No matter what I'm using to sketch (pencil, pen, crayon, marker, etc.) it's just smooth, and it puts less strain on the wrist.
What do you do when you hit a creative wall, when you are stuck for ideas and solutions?
Outside of my studio is this spot where I go lay down and stare at the clouds for about 30 minutes. And for some reason, by the time I go back inside, my thoughts are clearer, and I'm full of ideas.
Who are some of the biggest influences on your work and career?
Scott Thares, Bobby Martin, Andrea Pippins, Dian Holton, Gail Anderson, Maurice Cherry, and Dr. Cheryl Holmes-Miller have been huge influences on how I design and, more importantly, where I fit in the industry.
I attended college at Stevenson University and majored in Visual Communication Design. Every year, the department would host an Aristocrat’s-In-Residence program, where a creative (designer, coder, photographer, etc.) would do a lecture and host a three-day workshop. In 2014, the A-I-R was Scott Thares, the owner of a design studio called Wink. After doing his workshop and sending a thank you note, Scott offered me an internship. I jumped at the opportunity, moved to Minneapolis for the summer, and got 65% of my design education in two months. However, what he said to me on my last day had the most significant impact on my career. He said, “wherever you work, don’t be a wrist.” He explained that a wrist is a designer who’s creativity (ideas, voice, etc.) is controlled by their boss. They are hired to move their wrists and nothing more.
Now, whether or not Scott is a sorcerer, I don’t know. But since that day, every time I took a design position where I was unknowingly becoming a wrist, my wrists would start hurting. And the longer I’d stay, the worse the pain would get, eventually turning into carpal tunnel. But once I finished that three-month contract or quit that job, the pain would immediately go away. I can’t thank him enough for that gift (or curse).
It was also because of Scott that I learned about Bobby Martin and OCD. I’ve only had the opportunity to meet Bobby once, but he was the first designer I heard of that looked like me, that was doing the kind of work I wanted to do and reached the career heights I wanted to reach. Like I said, I’ve only met him once, but he’s been a huge influence when it comes to my work.
Then there’s Andrea. She was one of my professors at Stevenson University, and while I was only able to take one of her classes, it was in that class that I realized that type can convey different attitudes and emotions and that designing from a cultural perspective that most of the design industry doesn't understand is an advantage.
And it was because of her that Gail Anderson was also an artist-in-residence at SU. While I did attend her lecture, I didn't actually get to meet her until last year, when I designed some promotional graphics for her talk at The Washington Post. She's been a great help ever since, and I can't thank her enough for nominating me to be a Young Gun.
I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to design those graphics for Gail if it weren’t for Dian. She’s given me so many opportunities through AIGA DC, and I can’t thank her enough for that.
As for Dr. Cheryl Holmes-Miller, aka “auntie,” she’s the person that inspired me to start Vocal Type Co. When I first started learning more about diversity in design, I came across her 1986 article “Black Designers: Missing In Action.” Not long after that, I read the sequel released in a 2016 issue of Print called “Black Designers: Still Missing In Action.” I was so inspired after reading that article. So much so, that I contacted her a week or two later to get her opinion on the idea of Vocal Type. I’ll never forget, she said: “you better do it before someone else does.” I can never thank her enough for that.
Last, but definitely not least, Maurice Cherry. When I started Vocal, I’d asked creatives of color and designers involved in diversity and inclusion for their opinion on the idea, and the responses varied between “try it, see what happens,” and “you don’t know enough about diversity and inclusion to do something like this.” But Maurice was different. After Cheryl, he was the first person to see the value in what I was doing and the first person to give Vocal any real press. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done, and for also nominating me to be a Young Gun.
Now that you’re in the Young Guns family, are there any past winners that you look up to and admire?
Definitely. To name a few, I'm a huge fan of Faust (YG12), Ashley Jones (YG11), Kerby Jean-Raymond (YG14), Roanne Adams (YG9), Silas Munro (YG5), Juan Carlos Pagan (YG11), Wael Morcos (YG11), Natasha Jen (YG4), Mario Hugo (YG7), and James Victore (YG1).
Name a creative dream that you have yet to fulfill.
Long term, I want Vocal to be more than a font foundry. I want Vocal to become a branding agency for progressive movements, political campaigns, and companies. For example, in regards to working with progressive movements, I’d like to make a custom, more ownable, font family for March for Our Lives. As far as companies go, I’d love to design a custom typeface for Nike’s Black History Month collection, or better yet, design the entire collection.
WORDS FROM THE JURY
“When we talk, we employ tone, accent, volume and inflection to help us get the feeling of the words across, not just the message. Good typography can help us do the same with design, providing a nuanced and conceptual voice to printed words. It was the authentic, and nuanced approach to typeface creation that most impressed me about Tré’s work. It’s easy to make a typeface that looks like an era, or references historical ephemera, but it’s different altogether to have it truly carry the feeling and spirit of that source material, and Tré’s work does that incredibly well.”
Young Guns 11 Winner
"It was a boost of radical inspiration to see Tré Seals' work. His work is an example of how amazing it is when graphic designers move the boundaries of our discipline into a more diverse perspective. Tré Seals aims of creating typefaces as a way to tell untold stories with such amazing quality it's already an excitement! But it's the icing on the cake when his work has the potential to inspire others and bring more points of view to this industry."
Art Director & Graphic Designer
The Young Guns 17 Ceremony & Party takes place on Thursday, November 20 in New York City.