Typography and type design in NYC, take 2

A detail from a test setting of the letter Tau
A detail from a test setting of the letter Tau

Five years after the first Greek Week-End in New York, I am returning to the TDC.

By 2007 Greek was already becoming a central part of most large typeface projects, especially international branding applications. In the intervening years Greek has become a key aspect of professional designers’ skills, and a regular expectation in job postings. Just as importantly, Greek represents a particularly rewarding challenge for designers, combining a long and complex development with a relatively wide space for designers to experiment.

The two-and-a-half day workshop will start with a hands-on research session, and include seminars on aspects of Greek typeface design, in-depth reviews of reference contemporary typefaces, and design critiques of work by participants.

I will also deliver a lecture at the TDC Salon on the design of a major forthcoming Greek-English lexicon by CUP. This Lexicon takes advantage of recent developments in typeface design, and offers insights into a particularly challenging typographic brief.

DeL 2012 paper: Distance learning in archives-rich environments

Proposal for the paper delivered at the Designs on eLearning 2012 conference in the University of the Arts, London, talking about the g MA (Res) TD programme. The description below is in academic-speak, but is useful for those interested in how we’re approaching this.


Developing a New Model for Distance-Learning in an Archives-Rich Discipline

This paper describes the challenges in the development of a new programme targeting distance learners in a domain where conventional literature is not easily available, and engagement with original artefacts is essential for the research skills.



Typeface design is a design field that has experienced considerable growth in the last decade. Central to this growth have been the strategy of OEM suppliers to support global markets without localising instances of their products, and the shift to region- or worldwide branding by major companies. The specialised skills required for high quality multi-script typefaces exclude autodidacts, and underline the need for structured education in multi-script typeface design. The University of Reading has pioneered teaching in this area through a very successful full-time residential MA programme in the Department of Typography & Graphic communication, whose graduates occupy dominant positions in the industry. The programme has inspired similar initiatives at postgraduate level, most notably in Argentina, Mexico, and Switzerland. Teaching relies heavily on the use of artefacts from the Department’s Collections & Archives, and particularly the Non-Latin Collection. The Collection comprises around 10,000 drawings of letterforms, commercial correspondence, and material relating to the technology of typesetting non-Latin typefaces. The artefacts are unique and irreplaceable, and generally sensitive to repeated handling. Student work on the MA is split evenly between practical and academic work. The main academic output takes the form of a rigorous dissertation based on original research. The better examples are of publication quality, and contribute to the nascent scholarship in the field.


Objective, and a Challenge

We surveyed the field and identified a community of practitioners transitioning to teaching careers, and educators seeking to gain higher qualifications in a research-intensive environment. Unlike early-career designers, this community does not require practical skills building, but is characterised by a lack of engagement with the literature in the field, and a lack of understanding in specialist areas, most notably working with archival material, documenting artefact-based research, and integrating artefact-based research into practice. We have also identified a broader lack of academic writing skills. Seeking to capture this audience, we designed a new MA programme: we expanded the academic elements to occupy the full credit weighting, and strengthened particularly the research methods elements. However, our target community is international in location, and limited in mobility: professionals cannot interrupt their practice, and educators cannot easily take out a full twelve months. This represented significant challenges for three reasons: firstly, because the print literature in typeface design is not generally present in university libraries, even if these institutions run graphic design programmes. Secondly, because our methodology for building research skills is founded on intimate engagement with original artefacts. And, thirdly, because we place considerable expectations on group-based learning and peer engagement.


Programme Development

In response to the limitations to student mobility, and the three challenges we identified, we developed a hybrid mode of study. Our model combines a part-time, distance-learning mode for the majority of the 24-month registration, with three full-time residential periods of two weeks each. The aim is to combine self-directed learning through guided study, discourse development through engagement with an online community of peers, face-to-face feedback on presentations and discussion, and hands-on experience with sensitive artefacts. The programme follows a three term per academic year structure. Students will start the course in October of Year 1, with the first residential period towards the end of the the first term (late November – early December). The second residential period will take place in the summer of the first year, at a time that coincides with the vacation period of most HEIs. The third residential period will take place in the autumn of Year 2. Currently we intend  to recruit only one cohort every two years.


Online Presence

We audited the literature we intended  students to have access to, and identified only partial coverage by our institutional provision, especially for a worldwide cohort. We are addressing this by making available online ex-copyright material in an environment that allows shared use and annotation, and working with our institution to enable global access to copyrighted print resources, in electronic form. We will be employing collaborative tools for asynchronous seminars, and building a knowledge base around the core texts of the programme. For the second residential period we will run parallel student-led blogs on predetermined areas of study. All material will be shared amongst the whole cohort and staff, and final states of texts made available more publicly.


Gerard Unger on national trends in typeface design

Only a couple of weeks to go!

We planned the TDi course as a complete short course on typeface design, not [just] an introduction to the subject or a tutorial on software. We started by cramming the best elements of the full-blown MATD programme, then cranked the staff-student ratio to a level closer to private tuition than class-based learning. We have a lot of flexibility to customise what we deliver to fit each participant’s interests, and structure sessions on active learning principles; this means we get you to ask the questions, and find the answers through guided research.

We focus on type, but from a wider, typographically rich perspective. We consider the documents typefaces are used to typeset, the technologies used for typesetting or rendering, the user conditions for reading, and the historical and cultural context of their development and use. For example, if we are discussing the optimal texture for reading paragraphs with a Latin typeface, we don’t just tell people ‘this or that proportion or pattern’. Instead, we start by looking at a table-full of material that spans time and genre (from some Estienne books from the 1570s, to Modern books from the late 1700s, to some 19C publicity, to a range of 20C material, to articles parsed on Instapaper on an iPad. We then guide the group’s observations until people arrive themselves at valid conclusions. We use this approach especially strongly in our sessions for non-Latin scripts, when developing an understanding of how the script works is essential. For that we discuss (and try out) tools, and examine a lot of archival material that sheds light on why some scripts have the forms they do, today.

The days of the first week are full of alternating practical sessions, and hands-on seminars, often in groups of two or three students per staff member. We make Fiona Ross, Gerard Unger, and Gerry Leonidas (the three main contributors to the MATD) available all week, all the time, and bring in a number of additional contributors for specific sessions. The practicals are both in group crits (on the wall) and one-to-one. We have a few evening lectures in the first week, usually to round off the day’s teaching, shared by Gerard Unger and Gerry Leonidas. A typical day starts with the cohort having a common session, then splitting for smaller group sessions, then reconvene. The small group sizes allow us to run the tutorials and seminars very informally, and trust people to experience material from our collections and archives intimately. From incunables, to original type drawings, and from Otl Aicher’s original posters for the Munich Olympics to a full run of Octavo and Emigre issues, participants have unprecedented access to typographic treasures. (It is difficult to describe the impact on a designer contemplating the forms of their italic of being presented with Giovannantonio Tagliente’s original writing manual. At the same time, we can answer questions about the current state of typeface design in a range of areas, with our own work and case-studies of flagship OEM projects. By the end of the first week, we aim to have helped participants develop a deep understanding of typeface design, a solid set of skills for type development, and a good research-based process for expanding your knowledge and practice in new areas.

The second week takes these foundations, and focuses on developing the practical work started in the first week, guided more by the objectives set by the student for their own project. (Often people come with a specific typeface to work on, or a script they want to build experience in, and so on.)

Most of the participants are international: the past three years saw people from 21 different countries coming to Reading. A small number coming during or after their MA courses in other institutions, or to help with type-related PhDs. Most are mature professionals, designers and typographers, or educators.

Full details in the PDF on this page.

p.s. We’ve got two places left for this year’s course. Get in touch if you’re interested.