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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. Tools, techniques, 

    and innovation 

    (in typographic design)
    Gerry Leonidas

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  2. What is easier to talk about, 

    or sounds more fascinating, 

    or appears obvious,
    may not be the most 

    useful thing to consider.

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  3. “Doing design” is three discreet aspects:
    > how people think about stuff,
    > how they make decisions,
    > and how they make that stuff.

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  4. 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)

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  5. > the “designers, learn to code” mantra
    > tension between form-making

    and encoding
    > the overlapping roles of people
    > design as a process to create meaning 

    and enable understanding

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  6. These are all aspects of the same thing.
    Like Berger’s “Ways of seeing”, 

    we want to make making visible.

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  7. Four routes into this:
    1. effects of dematerialisation*
    2. language of describing and specifying
    3. tension between models and encodings
    * not “immaterial”, because the physical paradigms survive

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  8. (the elephant in the room)
    4. the space for innovation and invention

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  9. An example:

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  10. Typecon 2013, Portland
    Kevin Larson & Matthew Carter report 

    on reading tests comparing Sitka with
    Georgia, Swift, and Paperback

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  11. Sitka looks like this
    Georgia looks like this
    Swift looks like this
    (Paperback does not look like this)

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  12. “We were not able to find 

    any statistically significant 

    difference between them”
    Which means that…

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  13. …at a line- and paragraph level,
    Well-designed typefaces are not

    distinguished by performance

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  14. !
    but by identity and association, 

    which are extrinsic to the “visible”

    encoding of the design.

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  15. Therefore, the key question is:
    “Is this typeface well designed?”

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  16. Or, better:
    “How can we talk about the design of 

    typefaces in a way that helps people

    make more well-designed typefaces?”

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  17. This is one of the key challenges 

    in teaching typeface design.
    And most common in a type crit, like…

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  18. type crit on the MATD wall, image by Ben Mitchell

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  19. [the objective is:]
    to help the student become conscious

    of how they absorb influences and 

    make decisions, through the narrow 

    medium of typefaces

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  20. This is more difficult when our ways 

    of talking about typefaces are unfamiliar 

    to the designers, like in the…

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  21. Type crit in ATypI Amsterdam
    image from porchez.com

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  22. Here, the objective is:
    To give feedback 

    > without imposing your style or taste,

    > equally across projects, and

    > consistently across sessions.

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  23. !
    So here are some pointers 

    for typeface reviews:

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  24. 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

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  25. Pointers for typeface reviews (2/3):
    > stroke modulation
    > in/out stroke recipes
    > alignments in H and V axes
    > transitions between letter elements

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  26. Pointers for typeface reviews (3/3):
    > relating of inner and outer strokes
    > letter shapes within key patterns
    > integration of exceptions

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  27. !
    No part of this discussion needs 

    to rely on language derived from

    the technology of type-making.

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  28. Ways of looking at typographic design:
    1. objectives
    2. tools
    3. language
    4. evidence

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  29. !
    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

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  30. 1. objectives

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  31. [an axiom:]
    Each new technology answers the 

    problems of the one it replaces

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  32. !
    Each new technology answers the 

    problems of the one it replaces
    so, what we want is expressed in the 

    parameters of the older environment

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  33. The initial brief here is:
    “make me something that looks close 

    enough to a book on a small screen”
    (and not: “what is the act of reading 

    on a portable digital device?” )
    [next slide]

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  35. The initial brief here is:
    “make me something that looks close 

    enough to a desktop pasteboard”
    (and not: “what decisions does the act 

    of document composition involve?” )
    [next slide]

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  36. View Slide

  37. The initial brief here is:
    “make me something that looks close 

    enough to a familiar word processor”
    (and not: “how do we enable text 

    composition for an online platform?” )
    [next slide]

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  38. View Slide

  39. !
    How many user-cycles does it take 

    for new uses to be imagined?
    and the use of a technology to 

    migrate to native paradigms?

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  40. [next slide example]
    Typecast makes text hierarchies

    visible during authoring

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  41. View Slide

  42. [next slide example]
    Kindle’s X-Ray indexes and 

    cross-references the text you 

    are reading

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  44. [next slide example]
    Readmill shows shared highlights 

    and enables local comments

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  46. [next slide example]
    Medium, Quartz, and the Guardian 

    allow comments at a paragraph level

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  48. View Slide

  49. 2. tools

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  50. !
    What is the impact of type-making 

    and typesetting technologies on

    decisions about typography and 

    the forms of letters?

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  51. [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?

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  52. View Slide

  53. [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?

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  55. Which design decisions (or the setup 

    to make decisions) can be automated?

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  56. In other words: 

    To what degree, if at all, are meaningful 

    decisions (the ones that matter for users) 

    possible to systematise?

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  57. [next slide example]
    Accents that are consistent within 

    a typeface may take very different forms

    across typefaces.
    What is topologically “correct”

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  58. across letters, within a typeface, and
    across typefaces within a letter:
    àààà áááá ââââ åååå
    èèèè éééé êêêê ěěěě

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  59. [previous slide example]
    What is topologically “correct” and 

    well-encoded in its outlines, may be 

    stylistically inappropriate, or even 

    culturally wrong.

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  60. !
    Decisions on shapes and space 

    can always be “well-formed” technically.

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  61. !
    Decisions on shapes and space 

    can always be “well-formed” technically.

    They are good or bad, appropriate or not, 

    for a specific context only.

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  62. 3. language

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  63. [next slide comment]
    A 1952 drawing for a Linotype Metro Black 

    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.

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  65. !
    Is the definition of shapes and the
    specification of behaviour enough?

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  66. [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.

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  68. [next slide comment]
    But how well does our “niche” language 

    support design decisions?
    Frank Chimero’s example from a recent 

    blog post is telling.

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  69. Frank Chimero: 

    code as temporary substitute for language
    frankchimero.com / what-screens-want

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  70. View Slide

  71. View Slide

  72. [next slide comment]
    This reminded me of Ewan Clayton’s 

    descriptions of writing motions to the 

    MATD students, a couple of weeks


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  73. Ewan Clayton

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  74. Ewan Clayton

    Rudolf Laban’s 

    dance notation

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  75. [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.

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  76. adhesion for rugby
    adhesions for rugby
    adhesions for rugby

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  77. 4. evidence

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  78. View Slide

  79. [previous slide comment]
    Going back to the comparison of foundry

    and screen type from earlier, we may ask:

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  80. !
    Which decisions add value to the object?

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  81. !
    How are people, places, and conditions

    of document-making captured?

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  82. [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:

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  84. [previous slide comment]
    Monotype’s Drawing Office Image: raises 

    questions of traceability, collaboration, 

    institutional memory, industrial relations, 

    gender bias… None of these aspects are 

    embedded in the image itself.

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  85. !
    Typography and typeface design
    are interesting because they reflect
    the tension between tradition 

    and modernity.

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  86. [next slide comment]
    A spread from Octavo on its own does 

    not tell you much about technological 

    shifts, the typographic context within which 

    this was groundbreaking, why it generated

    discussion, or what the arguments were.

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  87. View Slide

  88. [next slide comment]
    Today an equivalent discussion about 

    innovation is taking place in the rethinking 

    of typefaces, in width (character sets), in 

    depth (family variants) and in richness 

    (the relationship between styles).

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  90. !
    [in conclusion:]

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  91. Design matters because it forms
    the way we perceive and interact
    with our environment.

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  92. 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.

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  93. !
    Thank you


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