Michael Cina: YouWorkForThem

by Kate Andrews | July 2, 2009

Michael Cina
Michael Cina - Cofounder, YouWorkForThem

Michael Cina – Cofounder, YouWorkForThem

Michael Cina is the cofounder of the renowned design studio YouWorkForThem and currently runs the Minneapolis, MN studio. He has experimented with many forms of design and is well known for his remarkable typographic work that can be found at youworkforthem.com. With a current client list including EA Sports, Victoria’s Secret, Pepsi, and MTV, Michael’s passion for custom typography is changing the design landscape in which we all live.

In this interview, Michael gives us a peek into the dynamics of a successful design studio. He also explains why he works under a clay manufacturing building and reveals what, and who, inspires his work.

Notes on Design: Can you describe your studio?

Michael Cina: We work in the basement of a clay manufacturing building in NE Minneapolis. It is very industrial and no frills. It has a service elevator, room to grow, a loading dock and high ceilings. These were all the things we were looking for. Functionality plays more of a role than aesthetics.


Michael’s Desk at YouWorkForThem

A lot of agencies want to appear to be cool, relevant, and exciting. Agencies in Minneapolis will get video games, pool tables, kitchens, etc. They also expect you to live there. When we work here, we work hard, but the atmosphere is light. Normally we are able to leave before 6pm every day as well. Working is not too glamorous and on a visual and surface level is very boring most of the time.

What I try to encourage is creativity and hard work. Being creative takes work and intent. You have to apply yourself to really push your personal boundaries or you just do the same things over and over. I think it is pretty obvious that what we do is effective if you look at the amount and the quality of work we produce.


YouWorkForThem Archives and Photo Shoot

NoD: Your space sounds pretty amazing actually, despite the lack of video games. What projects have resulted in the need for a service elevator, loading dock and high ceilings?

MC: We need it for getting large shipments and storage. We sell books and get big shipments in occasionally.

NoD: Can you describe a typical work day?

MC: It may sound cliché but there is no typical work day. A consistent thread is endless e-mail, post mail, customer service, drink espresso, and address random jobs that pop up all day. One day we are working on books, the next day we are working on custom typefaces for a company.

Our office does concentrate on typeface development and that is normally what we are doing. Right now we just put some books live on the site, shipped product, and I just released a typeface named Mullino. We are working on stock sets for YWFT and Travis has two typefaces in progress. I am working on three personal typefaces for YWFT, interviews, helping interns, and working on an YWFT catalog/magazine.

Mike Cina Poster Design

Michael Cina designed this poster for his first Solo Show at First Amendment Gallery in Minneapolis.

NoD: May we ask what and who inspires your design work?

Sister Corita Kent is extremely inspiring to me in many ways. She was an amazing person, author, and artist. My graphic design inspiration would have to be Emil Ruder. His ideas and work in graphic design are extremely interesting, but he was an odd character in his personal beliefs. The people who usually inspire me are just normal people that do extraordinary things in life, normally not related to work.

Normally I keep a sketchbook with me and try to record as much info in there as I can.

NoD: What projects are you working with now?

MC: We just finished a project for EA Sports, doing a custom typeface for Victoria’s Secret, doing visuals for U2 Concert, last year [we] did a very large project for Pepsi.

Another cool project that we are working on is starting a custom aspect of YWFT called Select. We will be going for more high-end custom and consulting work like we used to. We have not publicly done client work for 5 years now. I just finished the logo for the division and we will start working on the website next week.

We also have a number of magazine contributions in the works. Grafik Magazine just asked me to do a little editorial in the back of their magazine on my favorite letter. I have a ten page feature in Relevant Magazine where I list my top 8 designers right now. Groove Magazine (Germany) is doing a 4 page feature on my album cover art. JPeople Magazine in Japan is featuring my work in a new issue. Digital abstracts just posted an interview also. I am happy with my new typeface and the work I have been doing for [ record label ] Ghostly International.

NoD: So, what is your favorite letter…?

MC: Favorite letter is original drawing of ‘g’ from Gill Sans.

Cina Gill Sans g

Michael Cina’s interpretation of the original drawing of Gill Sans g


Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.


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