Takeaways on Teaching Type

Left: The organizers! Dan Wong, Doug Clouse, Liz DeLuna, and Aaris Sherin, photo courtesy of Liz DeLuna; Right: The panelists! Juliette Cezzar, John Gambell, Amy Papaelias, Thomas Jockin, photo courtesy of Nina Stössinger

This past weekend, I had the pleasure to participate in Teaching Type: A Panel Conversation on Typography Education, organized by Design Incubation, and hosted at the Type Directors Club in New York. The event attracted a range of attendees: educators, typographers, type designers and even a few students and recent graduates. Armed with only the most comfortable of metal chairs, we set out on a 3-hour journey to explore best practices of typography curricula today.

The full recording of the conversation should be available soon on Design Incubation’s YouTube channel, but in the meantime, here are some of my takeaways from the afternoon.

Surprise! There are many ways to teach typography. Our conversation covered [at least] two distinctly different approaches. The first introduces typography from the perspective of a reader: looking at a paragraph of text and trying to arrange it in a way that makes sense for the content and the reading experience, with some typographic history, classification and “rules” thrown in along the way. The second approach begins with the letterforms themselves: honoring and analyzing the structure and anatomy, then working one’s way up to more complex arrangements of text. Is one approach better than the other? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Reading matters. Well, maybe sometimes. Not always. But it should. Most of the time. Liz and Doug prepared this great question and I enjoyed the conversation that followed: What do you think is the relationship between reading, literacy, and an education in typography? Must a good typographer also be a prolific or invested reader? When is reading important to typography education and is there ever a situation when it isn’t? I became hooked on typography via an undergraduate English degree. I was fascinated with how the construction of the paragraph, the margins, the typeface itself became part of the experience of interpreting and mediating a text. Do my students care as much as I do and does that even matter? And where does writing fit into all of this?

Screen typography is just typography. Educators tend to get a bit queasy whenever the words “screen” and “typography” are placed next to each other. Why? Let’s face it: most folks teaching undergraduate typography courses these days are not the same folks making responsive web specimens or wringing their hands over browser support of the latest font technologies. And though the panel did not come to a consensus on the significance of teaching HTML/CSS as part of a typography education (I’m in the HECK YEAH camp: reveal and explore the what’s behind the curtain, early and often!), we did agree that typography educators need to stop being afraid of what they don’t know. Teaching typography for the screen can happen in many different ways. Start somewhere.

“Good” typography is a loaded term. The question surrounding what is “good” or “successful” typography stayed in the air throughout our conversation. We need to be honest with ourselves and our students when we talk about what we mean by “good” typography. Do we mean “good” as in “works well for the content and audience” or do we really mean “conforms to the aesthetic sensibilities of a hegemonic European, modernist perspective?” Are there certain rules of typography that are categorically, objectively correct? What knowledges and experiences do our students come with (language, culture, class) that might reflect new sensibilities? How can we be sensitive to their perspectives while preparing them for professional practice?

Typography education doesn’t end with one class. Full disclosure: in my 10+ years of teaching, I have never taught the class called “Typography.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t teach typography. Typography is embedded in every design class where language is represented in visual form. We teach typography all the time: when we teach web design, or senior thesis, or branding, or design history, or interaction design or even introductory classes taken prior to the actual Typography course. Our goal shouldn’t be about what happens in that one (or possibly two, if you’re lucky) courses, but rather how students apply an awareness of typography to everything else they do.

Thank you, to Design Incubation for organizing, the TDC for hosting, all of the panelists and attendees for a lively discussion that left me with many more questions than answers. To be continued…

Do you teach typography? Did you attend the panel discussion? Comments are open if you’d like to share any thoughts.

Fonts from the Future 🚀⚡️

Fasten your seat belt and strap on your mind reading helmet, Alphabettes reports to you from the future with a collection of potentially visionary, occasionally dystopian, and totally unfounded predictions for the type industry, and greater humanity, in the 22nd century.

Table of Contents:

Propa by Elizabeth Carey Smith
Global Restructuring Organization for Alphabetical Neolatry by Jess McCarty
The Letter Lady by Meghan Arnold
CLARE by Theresa dela Cruz
The Pixel Museum by María Ramos
Emojiface Design by Liron Lavi Turkenich
XBH-17478-F9 by Luisa Baeta
Variable Fonts: The Film by Amy Papaelias

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Type Days Ljubljana 2017

We are Alja Herlah and Krista Likar, enthusiastic and passionate type designers from Slovenia. As members of the TipoBrda society, we got the opportunity to organize a type design workshop. Type Days 2017 – a one week long workshop – was already the 31th type design workshop organized by Tipo Brda in Slovenia. It took place in Ljubljana in the House of Reading and Writing, Vodnikova domačija Šiška. This year, we invited a guest mentor Adam Katyi, Hungarumlaut, who shared a lot of valuable tips and guidelines he learned while studying at the Type and Media program in The Hague.

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Japanese typography & Motogi

In the context of writing a master dissertation about Japanese culture at the Inalco (Paris), I dived into the history of Japanese typography, focusing on the figure of Motogi Shōzō. As there are only few sources in English about the development of Japanese typography, I want to share here some of the elements I discovered. (This article was first published on the blog of Émilie’s type foundry, www.aisforapple.fr)

In Europe, we learn at school that printing has been invented by Gutenberg, in Germany, in 1460. Johannes Gutenberg, thanks to his strong will and by dint of mysterious research, is believed to have invented from scratch the way of making books on a large scale, and to be at the origin of the democratization of knowledge in Europe. Whereas the city of Mainz keeps the printing technique a secret, it is ransacked in 1462 and printers spread out all over Europe. This is how other printing centers are created, starting with Rome (1465), Venice (1468) and Paris (about 1470). 1
When we say “printing”, it is a shortcut that means in reality “typographic printing”, that is to say printing pages of text using metal letters. This technique is divided in different successive steps : engraving one sample of each letter in metal, reproducing identically these samples dozens of time, setting text using these signs made of metal, et then finally printing the typographic composition on paper.

In 1460 in Germany, the technique of engraving metal was already in use for the making of medals, and the printing press was well known : images were engraved in wood and printed using a press. Gutenberg, pictured in history textbooks as a brilliant inventor, based his invention on existing techniques. His creation has been to bring these techniques together and to finalize the production of metal letters thanks to a specific mould. Furthermore, he did not work alone, but had business partners. 2

In the same way that we turned Gutenberg into a symbol, Japan considers that the “father of Japanese typography” is Motogi Shōzō (本木昌造, 1824-1875). Magata Shigeri 3 paid tribute to this man in a short biography in English, published 18 years after Motogi’s death : “After years of toil and experiment, [Motogi] invented types for Japanese characters and for the first time made printing a business. We owe, indeed, to him alone the success and prosperity of Japanese typography in modern times. He is therefore most deserving of our esteem, as the Father of Japanese Typography.” 4
This idea then spread out.

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News—January 2017

“The Women’s March on Washington. Photo courtesy of Nina Stössinger.
The Women’s March on Washington. Photo courtesy of Nina Stössinger.

Our fellow Alphabettes continued to make the world a better place in the first month of 2017.* Here are a few of their good deeds.

Christine Bateup is the director of business and licensing at Frere-Jones Type. She’s also a lawyer. As part of a team of lawyers working pro bono on behalf of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, she helped free an Iraqi green card holder from detention at Kennedy airport.

With partner Noel Pretorius, María Ramos released Kinetic, a sans serif partly inspired by the mobile designs of Alexander Calder.

After filling in for Tobias Frere-Jones during the fall semester, Nina Stössinger returned to Yale for the spring semester to teach her own type design class in the graphic design MFA program. Nina’s typeface Nordvest received Communication ArtsAward of Excellence, and Fontshop named the face one of the best of 2016.

Lila Symons was also recognized by Communication Arts, and Maria Montes, Marta Cerdà, and Nina shared some of their treasured finds with the magazine.

Ksenya Samarskaya talked to Print.

Adobe invited Martina Flor to take part in a live lettering session in Paris; she also gave a lettering workshop in Berlin.

Hoefler & Co. released Ringside, a sprawling grotesque sans serif family for which Sara Soskolne served as the lead designer. First client? The Obamas.

Laura Meseguer and Nadine Chahine explored public lettering in Barcelona and London, respectively, for the French documentary series Safari Typo.

ATypI posted a series of interviews Liron Lavi Turkenich conducted at the conference in Warsaw.

Alice Savoie served as a judge for the TDC 63/Typography 38 competitions and spoke at the Type Directors Club with Janine Vangool.

Colvert, designed by Natalia Chuvatin, Jonathan Fabreguettes, Kristyan Sarkis, and Irene Vlachou, has been added to the permanent collection of the French National Center for Visual Arts (CNAP).

Veronika Burian and Mary Kate McDevitt served on the jury of Print’s 2016 Typography & Lettering Awards. Ferran Milan and Pilar Cano’s Aurélie took Best in Class for typeface design; Krista Radoeva and Jason Smith’s FS Siena won a merit award; and Maria Doreuli and Katerina Kochkina of Contrast Foundry won a merit award for handlettering.

Louisa Fröhlich released Lisbeth with TypeTogether.

Several Alphabettes made signs and marched in Washington, DC and around the world on January 21 to register their dissent from the new American regime. ✊

* Yes, January. We’ll be back with February’s news before you know it. We’ve been busy!