The right kind of support

typeface publishing incentive program

In June 2013 Ampersand conference hosted an exhibition of work by students of typeface design courses, there were submissions from over 30 countries: a reminder that typeface design is an international endeavour, growing in recognition as a career with path for study and recognised professional norms. As with other professions, this maturity brings increasing competition for new designers.

Eighteen months ago Monotype initiated a Mentorship Program for designers under 30. Yesterday, Type-Together announced their Typeface Publishing Incentive Program, for graduating students. This initiative, open to all designers currently studying typeface design, recognises the pressures on designers who may have promising projects alongside financial loans, and the very real stress of “what happens after graduation?”

Like in any established profession, the careers paths of typeface design graduates are not uniform, and the demand by the market and potential employers may not match exactly with the skills and experience of graduates — this is normal, and it is one of the correctives that allows outliers to enter the profession, as well as feedback to education institutions so that they evolve. But anyone with a good understanding of the sector will regret the small number of exceptional projects developed during study that never, or very late, make it onto a foundry’s catalogue.

Type-Together and Monotype are putting their money where their mouth is, and are offering support to a promising designer for those crucial first months after graduation. This support can make the difference between a typeface with potential being developed properly, and it being lost between the Scylla of “I’ll do it when I have more time” and the Charybdis of some “free” service, for peanuts.

People will object and say that this is too little for a growing profession. I’ll counter that this may well be the beginning of a trend in companies supporting new professionals, parallel to many schemes in other sectors. It is not too far-fetched to imagine that most major foundries might soon have a similar scheme: this would allow them to get in early on potentially great typefaces, and check out a new professional (who may well end up being hired, or contracted). More widely, it allows foundries to send a clear message that they recognise and support excellence in typeface design, and — through their selections — what is innovative and worth exploring.

 

Type Compass: pointing ahead

This is the text I submitted for the foreword for the Type Compass: charting new routes in typography book by SHS Publishing. It is an interesting publication, combining reference and notebook; perhaps exactly what design students need: inspiration, with space for sketching.

Type Compass

 

Members of the type world have every reason to be happy. For years we have secretly yearned to be able to mention our discipline without the despondent knowledge that blank stares would follow, without having to play the well-rehearsed tape that explained what typeface design is, and that — yes, imagine that! — some people actually made their living from designing letters.

In recent years we’ve seen a gradual recognition by the general public of typeface design as a discipline in its own right. Thanks to smartphones, ebook readers, internationalised brands, high profile wayfinding projects in cities and transport hubs (and a few journalists with a nose for a good story) fonts and typefaces are now terms suitable for polite conversation. In fact, they downright exciting, since disbelief has been replaced by credulous surprise, and eagerness to discover the ways in which our daily lives are filtered through fonts.
This gradual move of typeface design into the wider stage of public awareness has gone hand-in-hand with a stronger realisation by designers of all disciplines that typeface design matters. With this, come publications, exhibitions, competitions, and events of all scales. At the same time, the development of webfonts is beginning to breach the browser window, arguably the most important area where typographic choices were limited to handling space relationships, and crude font choices were justified on cross-platform predictability and the need to publish text as text, rather than as some poor pixelated simulacrum.

As typographic environments become more refined (the ones that had a lot of catching up to do, that is — because print is doing just fine in this respect) so do our typeface libraries become richer, more varied, and more complex. Richer, because designers continue to invent new ways of making forms, both exploring and abandoning the influences of manual tools (lots of examples of both in this book; notably, Typotheque’s History project manages to do both at the same time). More varied, because a good number of experienced and upcoming designers are publishing new fonts, raising the number of well-designed typefaces higher than it has ever been. And more complex, because typefaces now come in many weights ands styles, offering a degree of refinement in document design that until some years ago only few typographers could hope to expect from retail fonts.

At the same time, typeface design is maturing as a discipline of study and research. There are targeted modules within Bachelor-level courses, and a growing number of dedicated postgraduate programmes in many countries — some in parts of the world where typeface design itself is a very recent area of activity. Many graduates from these courses manage to leapfrog self-educated contemporaries, to found solid careers that pay the rent: this is overdue in typeface design, but the normal state of affairs in pretty much any established professional discipline. And as we acknowledge the elephant in the room, that typeface design is, more than most design disciplines, informed by past practice and context, so does research flourish. This is emphasised by the expansion of design briefs to cover many world scripts as a matter of course: pan-European Latin with Cyrillic and Greek to begin with, and many combinations of Arabic, Hebrew, Indian and Asian scripts. To meet these demands, designers do more research of their own, and make use of other research, to keep expanding their skills.
But the proliferation of typefaces and the texts that accompany them place a new burden on designers: it is now impossible for one person to keep abreast of developments. Typeface design is global, and the scale of output is similarly overwhelming. Publications about typeface design have similarly had to shift their focus. Many publications in the hot-metal and photo-typesetting eras attempted to show all the typefaces in circulation (or, at least, all the ones that mattered). This approach spilled into the early digital period, but is long now abandoned. Instead, publications can let online retailers to function as catalogues of nearly everything, and focus instead on editorship. The selection of work becomes more interesting than the volume; the editor’s perspective more illuminating than any message the inclusion or exclusion of a single work can get across.

This process opens up the space for editors to give each publication a specific depth of field, to borrow a photographic metaphor. From typefaces shown on their own, worthy of study in their own right, to texts in books, on screens, on street signs, where typefaces become enabling tools for other designers, the editor is very much not a silent partner. In putting Eric Olson’s Seravek (a quintessentially contemporary design that manages to be an accomplished all-rounder at the same time) next to Pierre di Sciullo’s inspired T for the Nice tram service, this book makes a robust case for the healthy invention and originality suffusing typeface design, while reinforcing the ubiquity of manufactured and rendered letterforms surrounding us. In this sense, a book such as this becomes a starting point: for inspiration, argument, and another round of informed selection: as good a send-off as any editor could hope for.

 

 

Pencil to Peerless

 

Pencil to Pixel private view

[Preamble]

Reading has a long, fruitful relationship with Monotype stretching back decades. But, whereas “we” have known intimately what makes the company unique (and its uninterrupted presence in large OEM and branding projects), most of the type world held a perception of Monotype as a somewhat monolithic company, that made the transformation from heavy industry to the digital world without shedding the weight of the machinery it scrapped. The expertise of staff, the richness of its library, and the knowhow embedded in its archives (and the staff looking after them) were anything but common knowledge.

Since 2001, when we started directing MATD research towards a global typography, slivers of the archives have started coming to light through the students’ dissertations (several examples here), the typefaces themselves (lots of examples here) but also the PhD and post-doc projects of Jo De Bardemaeker, Sallie Morris, Titus Nemeth, Alice Savoie, and others.

Monotype have also been helping fund postgraduate students in Typography through the Monotype Studentship (tip of the hat to Alan Haley and Robin Nicholas, who spearheaded the establishment of the award in 2006).

A big part of our teaching and research has been enhanced and accelerated by the donation to Reading, in 2003, of the non-Latin drawings held in the Linotype archives in Germany. Otmar Hoefer and Thomas Caldwell were instrumental in this. They shared our vision of turning a historical archive that was opaque to researchers and practicing designers alike into an accessible resource that would cater for different levels of engagement: teaching and research from introductory MA to post-Doc levels, to design support for revivals and new typefaces, and for wider narratives that help engage with the community. The Linotype non-Latin drawings sit well within our Collections & Archives, in the company of world-class collections in printing processes, manuscripts and early printing, ephemera, newspapers, nineteenth and twentieth century posters, type specimens, children’s books, Isotype, corporate and personal archives, and more. (And they are in the room next to one of the best libraries on typography and typeface design,itself an invaluable resource for students and researchers.)

In 2008 we started collaborating more closely with the UK part of the company on a two-year Knowledge Transfer Project. This aimed to recapture know-how embedded in Monotype’s library drawings for key scripts in the Indian market, with a focus on mobile devices, and – later – webfonts (Fiona Ross and myself from Reading, and John McCallum and Robin Nicholas from Monotype; and Dan Rhatigan as the Associate doing the heavy lifting).

Then things started to accelerate: as the company got bigger (much bigger) it got more nimble, open, and imaginative. The same company that supported Doug Wilson’s Linotype the Film, put its weight behind events like the Beauty in the Making exhibition with GFSmith, and the popular BrandPerfect events, aimed at branding agencies. (They’ve also been developing some really neat services, which – I am willing to bet – point to the next big development in the font business.)

[End of preamble]

Pencil to Pixel catalogue

The opening of Pencil to Pixel yesterday made me think that this new confidence is now well embedded in the company. To begin with, the event was a superb example of exhibiting typographic material: just the right amount, and with a broad range of objects; drawings, specimens, books. A collection of films put these objects in perspective, and underlined the transformational effects of digital technologies. The object are not displayed with distanced reverence; on the contrary, these are intended to be seen up close, to help inspire and excite as much as to learn. The cases are shallow, allowing you to come very close to the material, and the lighting ideal for discerning textures and layers. You can easily imagine Bruce Rogers, Frederic Warde, and Chris Brand marking and correcting the sheets of Centaur, Arrighi, and Albertina a few centimetres from your eyes. These objects are typeface design as it really is: decisions and backtracks to get that shape in your head just right, because the inked sketches will turn into letters with the permanence of steel, numbering millions of impressions.

Monotype Recorder

But alongside these are a mesmerising installation by Marcin Ignac, a series of twelve collectable booklets (like this), a tasty selection of specimens, and two very special publications: a celebratory issue of the Recorder, dedicated to Robin Nicholas’ career in the company; and a special issue of Eye, given over entirely to the unique place of Monotype in the type industry, and its contribution to typography. Dan and James, Well Done.

Postscript: I am going to be modest about the Recorder here: I’ve written a piece for it, and will be posting more in the coming weeks. But I will allow myself some hypebole on the special Eye: It is, quite simply, a tour de force of design for a periodical publication. It takes Eye’s established visual cues out for a drink and a spin, then sweet-talks them into all sorts of improbable contortions and surprising twists. Space, scale, contrast, and typography are turned into the best argument for printing things I’ve seen in a long while.

Eye 84 spread

Eye 84 spread

Λυσία υστερόγραφο

[English text below]

Στην προηγούμενη ανάρτηση χρησιμοποίησα την αρχή από τον περίφημο λόγο του Λυσία για τα παραδείγματα. Στην Αναγέννηση, αλλά και αργότερα, οι λόγοι του Λυσία ήταν από τα βασικά κείμενα για τη μάθηση των ελληνικών (δεν τα έλεγαν «αρχαία ελληνικά» τότε, αλλά σκέτα «ελληνικά»). Σήμερα το πρωί προετοιμαζόμουνα για ένα εργαστήρι και μια ομιλία που θα δώσω στο TDC σε λίγες βδομάδες, και έπεσα πάνω στην έκδοση του Λυσία από τον Henri Estienne, του 1570: ένα πανέμορφο βιβλίο (πέντε πόντους πιο ψηλό από Α4, για να πάρετε μια ιδέα από την κλίμακα) με τα περίτεχνα ελληνικά του Garamond. (Συγκρίνετέ τα όμως και με τα γράμματα του Granjon).

(Για το αρχείο υψηλής ανάλυσης: κλικ στη φωτογραφία, και μετά στον υπότιτλο)

1575 Henri Estienne Lucian detail
A detail from Henri Estienne’s 1575 Lucian

Να όλη η σελίδα:

1575 Henri Estienne, Lucian
A page from Henri Estienne’s 1575 Lucian

 

 

A postscript on Lucian

In the previous post I used the opening from a speech by Lucian to talk about some typefaces supporting polytonic Greek. From the Renaissance onwards, Lucian’s texts were considered good sources for learning Greek (n.b. At the time Greek was just plain “Greek”, not “Ancient Greek”). This morning I was preparing some material for my upcoming TDC Salon talk and Greek workshop, and took out Henri Estienne’s 1570 Lucian: a beautiful book (about four inches taller that Letter size, to give you a sense of its scale) set in Garamond’s ornate Greek. (Do compare these types with Granjon’s Greek, though.)

(For the hi-res images: click on the image, and then on the subheading.)