T-Files 027: Dan Cassaro

Dan Cassaro is a talented designer and typographer who operates under the moniker YoungJerks. I recently got in touch to see if he’d be interested in doing an interview, and if you read on, you’ll see he’s not a jerk at all, not even a little bit. Far from it. Aside from having an incredible portfolio, which features tons of impressive work for everyone from cable networks to beer breweries to newspapers & magazines, he also has a commercially available typeface, and a strong interest in music. His personal work is amazing. And to top it off, he certainly had some interesting things to say in response to my typically poor questions.

Where are you today? Brooklyn, NY.

What are you working on? Right now I’m working on something very ambitious and nerdy.  It’s a large scale map of New Jersey, based solely on Bruce Springsteen lyrics. Every bit of imagery and type on the map is a direct reference to a Bruce lyric or song. It’s becoming a bit of an obsession, though. I’ll have to cut myself off at some point. Hopefully before “Lucky Town.”

Where have you been finding inspiration lately? It’s hard not to find it when you live in the city. Everywhere. But I think for me it’s important to be surrounded by energetic people who want to make things. My roommate and I call it the “creative musk.” I have a lot of designer friends, but I also live with two writers and I’m dating a scientist. We’ve started meeting once a week and we take turns teaching a lesson in our respective fields or working on a group project. Lots of creative musk there.

When did you decide to pursue freelance design as a career? 22 maybe? Around the time I got tired of waiting tables. I had taken various fine arts undergraduate classes, but never really with any intent or purpose. Graphic design seemed to make sense: it was so open-ended. I liked how design touched everything: movies, books, television, music. For a non-committal person like myself it all seemed very appealing. Of course, I eventually fell in love with letters too.

So why “Young Jerks”? Well, it’s sort of a joke and sort of not. The Young Turks were Ottoman revolutionaries, so it’s kind of a bratty take on that – but I’d be lying if I said the Rod Stewart song didn’t have something to do with it too.

What are some of the themes you’re exploring in your work (or are you just meeting clients’ needs)? Well a huge part of being a designer for hire is solving problems, visual or otherwise. And all elitist artist statements aside, there is something very satisfying about that for me. But, as far as personal work, I’d say it’s about contextualizing our language in new ways through expressive typography. When you put words in print, you make them accountable for themselves. I’m interested in figuring out ways to make words and phrases powerful in uncommon ways. I’m also interested in having an exciting life outside my job so that my work remains fun, inspiring and challenging.

How much of that work is based in typography? All of it. I always try to start with good type. It’s much easier for me to make other things fall in line when I have the voice down pat. Trying to find a typeface to go with something pre-existing always seems a bit disingenuous. It’s like those wanted ads for bands who need lead singers. You’re not really a band if you don’t have a voice yet.

Ha! When it comes to typography specifically, do you have any influences or any typographers you admire? I just took a sign painting class with John Downer at Cooper Union. That was pretty humbling. He has been painting price tickets for 40 years and it definitely shows. I gained a new admiration for the sign painting trade when I realized how bad I was at it.

You offer the McCartney Typeface on your site – is that your first commercially available typeface? Yep. I’m working on another one now though. Slowly. I never really intended for McCartney to be sold or for it to even become an actual typeface. But there it is. I saw someone had used it for a CD cover and that was kind of cool.

Bit of a Beatles fan? Why McCartney? Yes! The Beatles are a special band in that they are always changing for the listener, like some sort of magic prism that shows you where you are at in your life. At least that has been the case for me. Right now I’m in a “Apple rooftop, cold wind blowing through your mutton chops, stomping out chugging 70’s rockers” type of space in my life. I think that speaks volumes. Just kidding. Sort of. But yes, I am the eternal McCartney apologist. People will forever give him a hard time for not hiding inside a beard full of pretension and LSD like some other band members, but those people will never know the joys of listening to Ram on a summer day. I like McCartney because his music is a vessel. It can confirm or expand your own experiences without telling you what those experiences mean or what they should have been.  You’re already in love- you just need a good tune to sing about it in, you know? That makes sense to me in relation to design. We already have the information and the idea. We just need to find a way to examine it or become engaged with it.

Anything on the horizon you want to mention? Hopefully health insurance.

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