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An emerging typographer tells us about working with TikTok

A typographer tells us how he discovered a love for type by going back to his roots

Illustration by Jael Umerah-Makelemi

Typographer and illustrator Kevin Rooi is just starting out but has shot to the top of D&AD’s rankings thanks to his work on the Yellow Pencil-winning Bookcase of Tolerance — an AR app that serves as a portal for users to step inside the true-to-life rooms of Anne Frank.

Born in the Caribbean, he moved to Amsterdam to study graphic design, and got his first job at MediaMonks before securing his current role as a designer at Dentsu Creative. Rooi has worked with brands that include TikTok, Acer and Porsche. Here, he tells us about how his native language inspired his love for typography and why networking is important to build a community.

Leave your comfort zone to make a career

I was very into art when I was a little kid, to the point where my school teachers were always like, “Kevin should go to art classes.” I stuck with it and eventually thought I should take my hobby and transition it into work. I am from the Caribbean, where we didn’t have art schools, so I came to the Netherlands to study graphic design and illustration.

Advertising has always been interesting to me but honestly, I think I just fell into it as a career after studying to become a graphic designer. I used to look at graffiti when I was a kid though and I loved the idea of my work being up in public like that, for everyone to see. 

Go back to your roots to discover your passion

It wasn't until I got really deep into my roots that I realised that I loved typography. I went back home to the Caribbean on vacation and found a project I had done in my native language of Papiamento. Inspired by graffiti, I had tried to illustrate words in a way that made them easy to pronounce — so I wasn’t simply designing text, I was trying to communicate its meaning.

I realised then that the way I design text really affects how it is digested by the person reading it and that's what is interesting to me — how much impact a word can have when presented in different ways. I fell in love with typography because it's a means of communicating that I love. I like making these words come together and then adding design to it and making it whatever I want. It's like I'm taking the text and dancing with it. 

Climb the career ladder step by step

I recently moved from production company MediaMonks to advertising agency Dentsu Creative. I am still a junior, but I am making more money. Before I joined MediaMonks I was freelancing for two years before I found a job. I'm relatively new in the industry, and I was applying for jobs for a while before I got my first job. It took a while to get the position I wanted but I worked on a lot of great projects on the way. I am still learning and enjoying it.

Turn your creativity to your purpose to find your passion

A big turning point for me was the TikTok ‘Free to Be’ project I worked on in support of the LGBTQ+  community. I don't think it launched my career, but I did feel the importance of it because it was for a huge brand like TikTok. I love this project because it was for the LGBTQ+ community, part of the team was based in Brazil (which was cool since I’m from the Caribbean), and much of the team were also women. The project manager was amazing (I called her Captain America), the art director was a woman, and the design director was a woman. I was chosen for my personal typography style, which is quite free-flowing. This project gave me confidence — plus it was shown on a huge billboard in LA. 

Embrace the unknown

As a typographer, you come on to a project once the concept has already been defined, so you are realising the vision of what everyone has been working on and getting it ready to present or pitch. Someone might come and say that they need a logo for something we are pitching right now, and then I design the logo and from then on, I’ll make all the visuals that they need to present. A normal day for me is just coming to the office and seeing what is happening. It could be anything and that's what I love about the job that I do, each day is very different. I don't know what to expect which makes it very exciting.

Build a community

The most important thing I have learned so far is how important it is both to network and to have people in the industry that you can trust to support you. In the financial climate we are living in, a lot of young creatives struggle to secure their first jobs, which means you are either freelancing or doing another job during that time. It was so important for me to have people who could let me know about jobs or just remind me that I was a part of the industry.

It’s important to remember that if you are not feeling confident you can bring someone with you to networking events or speak to one person at a time. Most people will have also come on their own and are also looking to connect with others. You need a community around you, when you're building a network, you're also building a community around you because I feel like that's the thing that helped me during hard times and got me to where I am today.

D&AD’s Foot in the Door series asks creatives to share their unique route into building a creative career. Read more interviews with the likes of a design director who just launched his own studio and an art director who got a job during a hiring freeze.

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