Expanding the Character Set

Hello, My name is Steve Ross, and I am happy to be joining the Adobe Type Team. There’s nothing harder than writing about yourself, but here’s my best effort:

I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, but I grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. Luckily, the move also brings a great change in climate, so I can now switch from snow boots to sandals.

Growing up in Nova Scotia allowed me to take advantage of the French immersion school system, and one of the region’s most successful sports: sprint canoeing. I spent most of my teenage years actively involved in the sport, and competed internationally for several years as a member of the Canadian junior national team. This allowed me to travel to various competitions and training sessions around Canada, the USA, and Europe. When an injury forced me into premature retirement, I decided to get more serious about my studies. I enrolled at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where I received a Bachelor of Design. By my final year I was becoming more and more drawn to typeface design. My interest was further piqued after visiting the home studio of type designer Rod McDonald, who encouraged me to pursue type.

After graduating, I moved with my lovely then-fiancé, now-wife, Linda, to her hometown of Mérida, in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. I lived there for a year, learning Spanish and working full time at a local design agency. It was at this time that I became interested in the mysterious culture of the region’s indigenous Maya. I was lucky enough to explore some of the ancient ruins, and have several visits to the small village of Sudzál, where the primary language remains Yucatec Mayan. It was at this time that I first became interested in the logosyllabic writing system of the ancient Maya.

I returned to Canada in 2005, and began working at various design agencies in Calgary, Alberta. I worked on various print projects, from stakeholder materials to publications, alongside as many brand and identity projects.  In 2007, I eventually ended up as the Creative Director at the print and identity arm of Stem Limited (now Sajak + Farki). It was a great job with talented people, but I still couldn’t shake my interest in type design. My interest increased steadily until 2009, when I left my position at Stem to go study in the University of Reading’s MATD program.

My time in Reading was both very challenging and rewarding; challenging in that I was forced to leave my family behind in Canada for a year; rewarding in that I was bombarded with fantastic type knowledge each and every day by world experts like Gerry Leonidas, Fiona Ross, and Gerard Unger, among others. On top of that we had great access to metal types, specimens, and the amazing reading room’s countless typography books. Over the course of the year, I worked to create my typeface Yukatek. The typeface was designed as a solution for several issues that plague texts set in modern Mayan languages. In the end, several custom glyphs were created, in consultation with the Yucatan State Institute for Mayan Cultural Development to maintain legibility. My masters dissertation also deals with Mayan language, more specifically the historical shift from logosyllabic to alphabetic writing systems.

Despite my interest in such an ancient culture, technology has always been a geeky passion of mine. I am a frequent reader of tech blogs and magazines, and closely follow advances in the world of font and display technologies. For these reasons (among others) I am delighted to be now here at Adobe, where I can fully combine my love of typography with my interest in technology. It is a great opportunity to learn about both, and work alongside world experts.

As Frank so eloquently stated, no blog-bio would be complete without mentioning a few interests outside of typography. Like any good Canadian, I am a massive hockey fan, so I am hoping to take in a few Sharks games here with our son, Ethan. I also enjoy skiing, hiking, and single-malt whiskey.

17 Responses

  1. Frank Griesshammer says:

    Hey Steve, I am really happy we are in this together!
    Let’s have a great time!

  2. Paul Bazay says:

    Mr. Ross. Your statements here have filled a fellow Canadian with syrupy joy. I hope your travels and successes bring you and your family all the best. You deserve it and couldn’t have picked a better place to glyph out. Keep in touch Rosco.

  3. Linda Ross says:

    Happy to be in snow-less San Jose in this new adventure for the Ross family, Ethan and I are very proud!

  4. We have a foot of snow in the backyard, and neither Edmonton or Calgary are going to make the playoffs. You’ve chosen wisely, with your talents being put to far better use. Nonetheless, we still miss you up here.


  5. Melissa MacKay says:

    Congratulations Steve and family on the move and exciting new path! Wonderful bio- it was great to read what you’ve been up to. Best wishes!

  6. Erin says:

    Congrats, Steve!! Mexcellent bio!

  7. Octavio says:

    Esteban! Niceee. Keep in touch dudeee 🙂

  8. Shannon Ross says:

    I’m so proud I could just burst!

  9. Karen Ross says:

    Well said and well done!
    Enjoy this next chapter life is offering.
    We are very proud of you.

  10. Rosy Hugener says:

    Hi Steve: My name is Rosy Hugener. I am from Mexico but I live in Chicago. I noticed that you know a lot about Mayan culture. A have a question for you. I wrote Xtabentum: A Novel of Yucatan. I have a lot of problem with the word Xtabentun because is a liquor and some people advice me that it could have copyright problems. (But the word works for my book, because of the legend) So doing some research I found out through The University of Yucatan. That the Mayan word Xtabentum(n) at the end has a sound between the ”n” and the ” m” and for that reason is OK to write the word with m. Any comments?
    Hope you can read my book. It’s historical fiction about Merida with Mayan legends and the story of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

    1. sross says:

      Hola Rosy,

      Mucho gusto conocerte. I don’t claim any great knowledge in matters related to spelling or copyright law, but what you’re describing is fairly common in Mayan orthography, and I think you should be fine. It’s actually an interesting situation when historical context is examined.

      Today, a word can be spelled one way in Yucatan state and another in neighbouring Quintana Roo. This can be traced back to the Yucatec language reforms of 1981 and 1984, in which a proposed standardisation was ratified by a handful of Yucatan-state academic groups. Neighbouring states with large Yucatec-speaking populations, such as Quintana Roo and Campeche (for reference, here’s a map of Mexican states), were not invited to the table. After being snubbed in such a way, these neighbouring states were not overly keen on endorsing the proposed standardisation. The reform even met resistance within Yucatan state, as the inidigenous Maya (who were also largely left out of the discussions) felt it was a case of Spanish-speaking academics telling them how to write their own language. Needless to say, today’s Yucatec language is an interesting mix of varied spellings. For example, the word ts’ib (scribe) is just as commonly written dzib. The word nohoch (huge) is also written nojoch. In many ways, it is a typesetter’s dream, as it introduces variation and texture to the text block. For academics, however, it can be a real headache.

      Your particular example relates to an m being substituted for a finial n. This is a great nuance of the Yucatan region, more related to the spoken accent of the local population. For those not in the know, it is easy to pick out a Spanish-speaker from Yucatan, as they will often pronounce a finial n as if it were an m. For example, ask a Yucatecan where they are from, and they may give an answer that sounds like “Yucatam.” For all we know, the correct pronunciation could actually be the m, as today’s orthography remains based on the original transcriptions done by 16th- and 17th-century missionaries, all of whom were trying their best to relate the spoken sounds of Yucatec Mayan to the contemporary orthography of Castillian Spanish.

      As for your case of n versus m, Rosy, it is totally understandable, and perhaps even endearing, to use the spelling Xtabentum.

      Espero que mi respuesta te haya ayudado,


  11. Gail says:

    Congrats!…May you have Many Happy and Productive Days 🙂

  12. elena says:

    hey!! wonderful bio. Enhorabuena por este gran cambio, que te vaya estupendamente en tu nuevo trabajo.
    besos para la familia e.

  13. Well done Steve, and good luck.

  14. Rosy Hugener says:

    Steve: Thank you so much!I feel better. I will use your comets if is ok. I just went to Holbox for Spring Break and I took my book for sale. It was hard with the locals to explain, because of course everybody knows about the liquor. I was hoping to find some people that spoke Mayan, I was unsuccessful. I did find out the some towns near Merida are teaching Mayan an hour a day(Schools).

  15. Bendy says:

    Yukatek rocks! Love the solution to the apostrophes.
    Good luck at Adobe.

  16. Hi Steve, thanks for contact us via Twitter. Congratulations on the new blog and keep in touch.

Comments are closed.

Steve Ross

Product Manager for Adobe Typekit. Lover of type, Mayan epigraphy, and the Montreal Canadiens. He has a BDes in graphic design from NSCAD University in Canada, an MA in typeface design from the University of Reading in the UK, and always spells colour with a 'u'.

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