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Q&A with Joseph Alessio

Lettering artist, typographer and designer

Hi! I'm Joseph Alessio, a lettering artist, typographer and designer currently based out of the Detroit, Michigan area. I do a lot of lettering and typography work, and apply it in packaging, branding, et cetera. I occasionally write on design, typography and design theory for Smashing Magazine, Stemmings, and various other design-related blogs. When I'm not drawing letters or designing something, I play viola in a semi-professional string quartet and several local orchestras, among other musical instruments.


I'm currently running on a 2010 15" MacBook Pro. I like the compromise between size and portability – it's large enough to work on (easier to use than a 13"), but small enough that I can take it anywhere quite conveniently (not impossible to carry, like an iMac, or even the 17" MacBook Pro, which I find unwieldy). I also go through a lot of paper, pencils and pens. I use Sharpies quite a it, but I prefer Staedtler liners to Microns for detailed pen drawing. A scanner completes my daily equipment.


I don't use much software. The Adobe Creative Suite contains everything I need right now, although I'm looking into the Glyphs typeface design program, which I will likely end up licensing soon. I keep a recent version of every current browser on my machine for when I do the occasional website, but I vastly prefer Chrome for browsing, primarily because of its handy plugins. I couldn't do without Adblock!

Dream setup

In a dream setup I would own a number of different computers for different situations, particularly a large iMac for when I need to work on detailed files and I'm not going to be traveling, hence no need for a laptop, and a few devices such as iPads, tablets, and various phones for viewport testing when working on a web design. I wouldn't mind some more ram in my computer as well, although I never seem to get around to purchasing and installing it!


Inspiration comes from all sorts of angles. I love history, music, nature, architecture and literature; I have recently read through a number of classics, from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, some Hemingway, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy to Chesterton, Joyce and Poe. As you can see, I am trying to cover a broad range of literary styles! Music, particularly classical music, is also a notable source of inspiration. I'm partial to the Romantic composers, 20th century Russians &c. – Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Shostakovich, Dvorak. Currently I'm reading through a book on philosophy – Frege and the Philosophy of Mathematics – and working on a string trio by Jean Cras, and Samuel Barber's String Quartet with my quartet.