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Tools, techniques, and innovation (in typographic design)

Gerry Leonidas
November 23, 2013

Tools, techniques, and innovation (in typographic design)

A lecture on the relationship of tools and technique in type- and typographic design.

Gerry Leonidas

November 23, 2013

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  1. What is easier to talk about, 
 or sounds more

 or appears obvious, may not be the most 
 useful thing to consider.
  2. “Doing design” is three discreet aspects: > how people think

    about stuff, > how they make decisions, > and how they make that stuff.
  3. Some ideas from yesterday’s talks: > loss of (or emphasis

    on) materiality 
 (via, not only, Richard Hollis’ “physicality 
 of graphic design”) > imposed frameworks of interpretation
 (via the tyranny of Excel’s matrix)
  4. > the “designers, learn to code” mantra > tension between

 and encoding > the overlapping roles of people > design as a process to create meaning 
 and enable understanding
  5. These are all aspects of the same thing. ! Like

    Berger’s “Ways of seeing”, 
 we want to make making visible.
  6. Four routes into this: 1. effects of dematerialisation* 2. language

    of describing and specifying 3. tension between models and encodings and… * not “immaterial”, because the physical paradigms survive
  7. Typecon 2013, Portland ! Kevin Larson & Matthew Carter report

 on reading tests comparing Sitka with Georgia, Swift, and Paperback
  8. Sitka looks like this Georgia looks like this Swift looks

    like this (Paperback does not look like this)
  9. “We were not able to find 
 any statistically significant

 difference between them” ! ! Which means that…
  10. ! ! but by identity and association, 
 which are

    extrinsic to the “visible”
 encoding of the design.
  11. Or, better: ! “How can we talk about the design

 typefaces in a way that helps people
 make more well-designed typefaces?”
  12. This is one of the key challenges 
 in teaching

    typeface design. ! ! ! And most common in a type crit, like…
  13. [the objective is:] to help the student become conscious

    how they absorb influences and 
 make decisions, through the narrow 
 medium of typefaces
  14. This is more difficult when our ways 
 of talking

    about typefaces are unfamiliar 
 to the designers, like in the…
  15. Here, the objective is: To give feedback 
 > without

    imposing your style or taste,
 > equally across projects, and
 > consistently across sessions.
  16. Pointers for typeface reviews (1/3): > fit of typeset text

    within the brief > key dimensions within the body > stroke thickness range > balance of key strokes and space 
 within and between letters
  17. Pointers for typeface reviews (2/3): > stroke modulation > in/out

    stroke recipes > alignments in H and V axes > transitions between letter elements
  18. Pointers for typeface reviews (3/3): > relating of inner and

    outer strokes > letter shapes within key patterns > integration of exceptions
  19. ! No part of this discussion needs 
 to rely

    on language derived from
 the technology of type-making.
  20. ! 1. through the way a brief are expressed 2.

    through the means of realising the brief 3. through our discussions with peers 4. through the records that connect the
 results to other acts of designing
  21. ! Each new technology answers the 
 problems of the

    one it replaces so, what we want is expressed in the 
 parameters of the older environment
  22. The initial brief here is: “make me something that looks

 enough to a book on a small screen” (and not: “what is the act of reading 
 on a portable digital device?” ) [next slide]
  23. The initial brief here is: “make me something that looks

 enough to a desktop pasteboard” (and not: “what decisions does the act 
 of document composition involve?” ) [next slide]
  24. The initial brief here is: “make me something that looks

 enough to a familiar word processor” (and not: “how do we enable text 
 composition for an online platform?” ) [next slide]
  25. ! How many user-cycles does it take 
 for new

    uses to be imagined? ! and the use of a technology to 
 migrate to native paradigms?
  26. ! What is the impact of type-making 
 and typesetting

    technologies on
 decisions about typography and 
 the forms of letters?
  27. [next slide example: on our way of 
 thinking about

    things] Ikarus, FontStudio, Fontographer, 
 Glyphs, Robofont, FontForge: 
 what is the best way to represent
 a character complement?
  28. [next slide comment] Given how many of these glyphs are

 derivatives (components or automatically
 generated), does this arrangement mislead 
 as to the design problems in the typeface?
  29. In other words: 
 To what degree, if at all,

    are meaningful 
 decisions (the ones that matter for users) 
 possible to systematise?
  30. [next slide example] Accents that are consistent within 

    typeface may take very different forms
 across typefaces. What is topologically “correct”
  31. across letters, within a typeface, and across typefaces within a

    letter: àààà áááá ââââ åååå èèèè éééé êêêê ěěěě
  32. [previous slide example] What is topologically “correct” and 

    in its outlines, may be 
 stylistically inappropriate, or even 
 culturally wrong.
  33. ! Decisions on shapes and space 
 can always be

    “well-formed” technically.

  34. ! Decisions on shapes and space 
 can always be

    “well-formed” technically.
 They are good or bad, appropriate or not, 
 for a specific context only.
  35. [next slide comment] A 1952 drawing for a Linotype Metro

 letter: a snapshot at the end of a series of
 design decisions, that on its own tells us 
 little about the qualities of the design.
  36. [next slide comment] Here’s a proof of a –redacted– typeface,

 with just one set of comments surrounding 
 the letters: We can learn more from these 
 comments than any “production-ready” encodings for making the typeface.
  37. [next slide comment] But how well does our “niche” language

 support design decisions? Frank Chimero’s example from a recent 
 blog post is telling.
  38. [next slide comment] This reminded me of Ewan Clayton’s 

    descriptions of writing motions to the 
 MATD students, a couple of weeks
  39. [next slide comment] So, when we attempt to describe typefaces

 as disparate as Formal, Fenland, and 
 Enquire, individual shapes may be 
 described with precision, but the style is 
 captured by metaphor and association.
  40. [next slide comment] And, a comment on the statement we

 heard that “everything we need to learn 
 is on Google”. Data and some information, 
 yes; but rarely the tools to create knowledge 
 and understanding. For example:
  41. [previous slide comment] Monotype’s Drawing Office Image: raises 

    of traceability, collaboration, 
 institutional memory, industrial relations, 
 gender bias… None of these aspects are 
 embedded in the image itself.
  42. ! Typography and typeface design are interesting because they reflect

    the tension between tradition 
 and modernity.
  43. [next slide comment] A spread from Octavo on its own

 not tell you much about technological 
 shifts, the typographic context within which 
 this was groundbreaking, why it generated
 discussion, or what the arguments were.
  44. [next slide comment] Today an equivalent discussion about 

    is taking place in the rethinking 
 of typefaces, in width (character sets), in 
 depth (family variants) and in richness 
 (the relationship between styles).

  45. And if we don’t consciously talk about
 design interpretations and

    decisions, then the most obvious substitute, 
 the narrower language of making 
 will define the range of our expression.