Tiffany Wardle Memorial Liveblogging™ of a presentation at ATypI Brighton 2007 (q.v.)

Teaches at University of Washington. Type design is kind of an unusual subject, I think, in an all-purpose graphic-design program. You have tree hears with them after their freshman year, and most graphic designers do no end up designing working, usable fonts. Since you have such a limited time, it may seem impractical to teach them type design. With font programs getting so complex, it would be difficult to have a true type-design program with technical and æsthetic aspects.

But I still think it’s important for general design students to learn about type design because it’s a way of learning visual sensitivity. They notice small details, positive and negative space, and they’re just more visually sensitive. I may be overly fond of this particular aspect, but many of the design students are drawn to design because of so-called happy experiences in the arts, where people are encouraged to be creative and free. So it’s a shock when I show examples from the Basel school, or we’ll just draw some lines for a while. That doesn’t seem very appealing if you were drawn to design because of these “free” activities. (Meier:) There’s a kind of disenchantment when precise work is required.

They can see that discipline is a way of discovering certain relationships. Add more restrictions to guide you, as Sagmeister said in Helvetica. You’ll probably be abetter designer if you know how letters are shaped. You’ll make better compositions, you’ll make better layouts, so to speak.

I have type design taught t the sophomore level. That means the students are basically 19 or 20, so they may or may not have had drawing foundations, or they may have learned computer sills and there are various æsthetics you have to unlearn probably in order to understand type design. Ten-week course. Capital letters with serifs first. What are the differences between even though a number 1? How do you want the tip to be shaped, especially compared to l or i? Lower-case g, one of the few fun letters that I sort of encourage them to play with. And they’re not things they have thought about previously.

25 students or so. Some days have wall crits. It’s always a shock to realize your capital letters area bit dark, and the shock of spacing, realizing that spacing will make a considerable difference. An interesting day, because there’s sort of walls of type. Are you teaching those students the alphabet? a painting teacher asked. In a way, I guess I am.

Culminate in a letter board of 15 inches square, with two-inch-tall letters. Characteristic or unique letters, spaced evenly, displayed on a board. (Shows three.)

The course was missing the personality of type: Physical attributes, designers, time period, use, geographic origin. A lot of your work as an educator is finding a simple way to explain things. Some fonts look a certain way because the designer has that certain æsthetic signature. Time period makes some difference. Certain fonts get associated with use, like banknotes or magazines.

We do some lectures, but it’s not a history class. You might be able to tell a 20-year-old who grew up in eastern Washington by the strawberry farms about old fashion magazines, or Bodoni, or thicks and thins echoed one in the other. Not that I have classic fonts I sort of “approved of,” but that they would have a basis to evaluate typefaces. Start with type and place. There’s such a sense of place to the Johnston typefaces here. It seems very British to me as a kind of mongrel Taiwanese/Philadelphian who moved to Seattle.

I get the students to break into groups. I always allow some students to work individually, because there are always students that no one likes or who don’t like anybody. There’s kind of a psychology there. If they’re working alone, they don’t have to do the numbers, say. Has to be legible, so not a dingbat or some crazy display font. But not have to be optimized for signage, screens, or whatever. And must epitomize the attributes of the city. They selected their own cities first.

One started with Moab, Utah. Showed her photos of the desert and rock formations. How can a typeface possible encapsulate that kind of place? And I guess I was slightly turned off by that slightly New Age quality she was describing. In the beginning she did exactly as I feared. She looked at out and shapes and formed this awful rocklike typeface. Then we talked about the fact that there were those cave croppings, so maybe I could use that broad pen. W were still with the rocks a little mid. IT looks more mediæval or Celtic rather than prehistoric.

What if we make it sansserif, and not think of the rocks as serifs, and see if the rocks could have asymmetry or present themselves that way. More fun in lower case, but a lot of trouble with those diagonals. Hard to resolve those ideas and have legibility and balance. (Shows finished Moab Sans.)

The next year, I assigned the cities. Started with San Francisco. They thought a small x-height would show the classic part of Sn Francisco, but sansserif, but that’s really because its’ easier to draw in a limited time. It’s kind of disappointing, because as they worked through their process, it’s kind of a condensed-contrast sans. They have to working groups, since one student might be assigned to work on diagonals.

The next year, there could be this lively or young version of San Francisco. I had this group of skateboard-type guys this year. The Buffalo Paddock has ten bison, so they made a typeface with that name. They tried to make it slightly rustic.

The last example is Minneapolis. They though one of the most interesting things is the skyway system. It’s not uniform in design. And of course it’s the land o’ lakes. Lots of water there. Long ascenders and descenders for skyways and depths of lakes. Slightly modular to allude to technical or digital aspects. I think it almost worked better for them because it’s almost a fixed-pitch font, so the spacing is smoother than some of the students’.

(Shows evaluation card.) You really get to show them there is this microscopic world below what they usually see that they can explore. They’ll come p to me and say: I see type everywhere! They told me they wished they could turn it off as much as they’d turn it on. They can begin to be self-critical: Is the font good, or was it even appropriate in the first place? (Student comment card: “I learned a lot more about typography than I ever thought there was to learn.”)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.09.15 13:24. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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