Tré Seals, Multidisciplinary Designer

Our very first interview is with Tré Seals. Tré has creativity in his veins. He started his first design business in 5th grade and designed his first font by senior year of high school. It's no surprise he is now an award-winning designer. He runs his own studio, Seals, as well as a font foundry, Vocal Type Co., that makes fonts based on historical references from minority cultures. We see very big things in his future. Thanks Tré!

What do you do?

I run my own design studio based outside of Washington, D.C., where I work on large branding projects that require brand strategy, illustration, web design, editorial design, and (on occasion) type design. I also started a font foundry called Vocal Type Co., back in 2016.

Vocal was inspired by the lack of diversity in the design industry, which is approximately 84% white (in America), and mostly male. Because of this lack of diversity regarding race and gender, there’s a lack of diversity regarding experiences, perspectives, and ideas. From this, I started a font foundry that makes fonts based on historical references from minority cultures (i.e., protest signs from the Civil Rights Movement in America, or banners from the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Argentina), because fonts are the basis of all good design.

Bayard Typeface | Vocal Type Co.
Bayard typeface, Vocal Type Co.
What did you want to be when you were a child?

I always wanted to create, but I never knew what that meant. I never saw myself becoming an artist, but I felt that there was more. That’s all I knew.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.

I grew up watching my parents run their business, and they always taught me that the world won’t just give you what you want. So when I was in the 5th grade, I started graffitiing people’s names on index cards and selling them for $3 a piece. Then in high school, I designed tattoos for people. And finally, I started developing my first font during my senior year of high school. But as far design goes, I really started freelancing during my sophomore year of college.

I made a pact with myself that by the time I was 25 I’d be an internationally renowned designer, so I worked to make sure I had an excellent portfolio for when I graduated. So because I started freelancing so early, people were impressed by the fact that the majority of the work in my portfolio wasn’t from class projects.

I started putting my work out there on Behance, and from that, I graduated with 8 job offers. One them was even for an art director position. I also turned down a job from Pepsi, because I didn’t want to be shaped by a single experience. So I ended up taking a job at a staffing agency called The Creative Group, where I became the first full-time creative hire in DC, known as a Creative Specialist. At this job, I’d be loaned out to different companies for 1-6 months, do almost everything design related, so I got a lot of experience.

After a year and a half and 8 companies later, I said my goodbyes, with friendships intact, and started my Vocal Type while going full-time freelance.

When you first started, how did you find clients?

At first, it was family and friends, then friends of friends, and so on. Outside of that network was Behance, and to this day, the majority of my clients find me on Behance.

Carpe Serif Typeface | Vocal Type Co.
Carpe Serif typeface, Vocal Type Co.
Generous Typeface | Vocal Type Co.
Generous typeface, Vocal Type Co.
Tre Seals | Markee Diamants Cards
Markee Diamant business cards, Tré Seals
Tré Seals
As long as you stay true to yourself, then you're set for life.
Do you have a motto that you work by?

It’s a semi-long story, but I have 2 actually, and they’re both based on the history of my brand.

During the time of kings, queens, knights, and kingdoms, people didn’t have last names. But as these kingdoms grew, and all of a sudden there were 5 guys named John, they needed a way to differentiate people with the same first name. So, along comes the need for a surname. Many times, these last names came from the persons’ occupation, like Smith, Taylor, Cook, Carter, and so on. Seals is the occupational name of someone who made wax stamps and signet rings.

So based on this wax seal theme, my mottos are “Crafting Authenticity” and “Make Great First and Lasting Impressions.”

How do you stay productive?

I don’t stop. This is my job and my hobby, so I just do it. But I will admit that when I feel stuck, just going for long walks helps a lot.

What are you working on right now?

I have three pretty big projects I’m working on right now. One is for a luxury gift wrapping service (imported and handmade papers, gold foil embellishments, etc.). For them, I’m making the identity, website, illustrations, and a bespoke font family. For Vocal Type, I’m working on a font family based on some infographics from 1900 with some really interesting reverse italics. Lastly, as I mentioned, I made a pact with myself that I would be internationally renowned by the time I was 25. Well, I just turned 25 at the end of September, so I’m putting together a portfolio book about my journey and things I’ve learned along the way.

Daash Typeface | Vocal Type Co.
Daash typeface, Vocal Type Co.
What is your dream project?

My dream project would be to rebrand Children’s National Hospital and redesign their interiors. I know this project seems pretty random, and I don’t mean to just throw this on you, but I’m a 2x brain tumor survivor. While I’m all good now, I had to go for checkups every 8-12 months, and when you’re a 21-year-old sitting in the waiting room with 6-year-olds, it can feel more uncomfortable than it already is.

That’s why with this redesign, I want to, hopefully, remove some of that awkwardness and make things a bit more comfortable for everyone.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given?

I was going into my senior year of college. It was during the last week of my summer internship, when my boss, Scott Thares, left me with the most significant piece of creative advice I’ve ever received. “Don’t be a wrist,” he said. Anyone can sit at a computer and be told what to design. But that’s not creating, that’s being a wrist.

I’ve worked for nearly a dozen companies in the past five years, and I always knew that it was time to go when I realized that I was becoming a wrist. Besides that, ever since Scott gave me this fantastic piece of advice, my wrists would literally start hurting whenever I stopped enjoying my job.

What one piece of advice would you give to a freelancer just starting out?

Don’t be a wrist.

Tell us about a time in your career when you struggled.

I struggled to find a place where I belong. I’ve worked for some great companies and made some great friends along the way, but to be honest, I never found where I belong. And I’m okay with that. I think having that understanding of where you do and don’t belong just means that you know yourself. And as long as you stay true to yourself, then you’re set for life.

What are you listening to, reading or watching that is inspiring to you lately?

I have this playlist called “theme music,” where I literally listen to the background music from different films (and some TV shows). I’m not really sure how to describe it, but there’s a mixture of opera, jazz, and more. It has a lot of dramatic twists and turns that keep me focused.

As far as reading goes, most of it is devoted to learning the history of different cultures for Vocal. Even though I already have 2 font families in the works, I’m always thinking about the next one.

Lastly, I’m slightly addicted to this show called “Adam Ruins Everything.” I sometimes wonder why things (culturally) are the way they are, and that’s what the show talks about. For example, there was an episode about how most marriage traditions are the result of advertising campaigns from the early 1900s.

What is your favorite piece of clothing?

Per my love of graffiti, I used to wear this navy blue jacket to every design class. On the back, in large white patches, it read “DROPOUT OF ART SCHOOL.” On the front was a spray can that read “SPRAY PAINT STOPS RUST,” and a cartoon character carrying a giant paintbrush with “Vandals for Hire” written underneath. It’s gotten a bit too big for me now, but I keep it for the memories.

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

That’s a terrible question! I feel like I’m choosing favorites, but I’d have to say my friend Jon Key.

How can we find out more about your work?

To see more of my work, please check out my website www.sealsbrand.co because I update that more than anything else. Find me on Behance where I have almost everything I’ve made in the past 5 years, or follow me on Instagram @official.seal. If you’re interested in learning more about my font foundry, please go to www.vocaltype.co and follow on Instagram @vocaltype.co. Thank you!