Lost for words


A couple of years or so ago I started discussions with Linotype on student bundles for typography students.My first sketch at a very compact set was this: 

DIN Next  Light, Regular, Bold, Black  |  Light Italic, Italic 

Malabar  Regular, Bold  |  Italic

Really No 2  Light, Regular, Medium, Demi  |  Italic, Medium Italic

Trade Gothic   Light, Roman, Bold, Condensed #18 and #20  |  Oblique, Condensed #18 Oblique

(You can tell I’ve got little use for bold italics…)

The company responded positively, and expanded on my initial proposal with many more fonts, producing eventually a Type Designer Education Pack Catalog that has been a hit with our BA students. The typeface combinations are great for the kind of text-intensive, hierarchically-rich typography we require in our projects. It has also been great to be able to offer incoming students a legal way to begin building their font libraries. 

A few weeks ago Dan and James asked me to write a few words for a specimen featuring typefaces from this collection, on the theme of classic typefaces. (They typeset the text in Harmonia Sans by Jim Wasco, one of the nicest people in the type industry).

This is what I sent them:

[End of preamble]


The typographer’s pack

Typeface designers are not short of analogies for their work: bricks to build two-dimensional buildings with, clothes to dress texts with, culinary ingredients to cook documents with. All of these metaphors are helpful as starting points, but a well-designed typeface will also hold up a mirror to its time, reflecting the space within which communication happens. It will also add a gloss: reinforce or subvert a trend, introduce a new set of forms, suggest a fresh take on familiar problems. Classic typefaces inform our visual environment for decades, and the best revivals extend this relationship to new forms of communication and successive generations of designers.

But the typographer is rarely concerned with single typeface families. At the heart of informed, responsible typography lies good typeface choice. A designer who respects the content and makes decisions with the user in mind will strive for a balance between identity and efficiency. These choices happen on a sea of type choices, where (for anything more than a simple sign) several kinds of information need to be visually differentiated, yet balanced and coordinated.

The best typefaces for text-intensive documents have subtle individuality. The balance of counters and blacks might sit comfortably within that ancient sweet spot of typographic density for reading, yet the texture of the paragraph will be delicately self-conscious and subversive. One or two letterforms might step out of line (like the Neo Sans “g”, and the giddy “s” in Trade Gothic). Others might keep to the overall rhythm of good typography while whistling to a tune you can’t quite place: the rootless Really No 2, the deeply rooted Malabar. Yet others stake a claim and own that space forever, marking any interlopers as imitators: DIN and Frutiger, and Swift.

None of these typefaces can be described as indulgent, save for the occasionally too-wide family. But in their combinations they offer an exceptionally rich typographic palette.And this is where the type-fun begins: give me the millions of possible combinations, to discover the ones that not only do the job, but make the document memorable, and a pleasure to read.

Od „Ala Ma Kota” Do E-Matury slides

These are the slides from my presentation at the Od „Ala Ma Kota” Do E-Matury conference in Warsaw, on 18 April 2012. The talks were 16 minutes long, so this is a fairly condensed deck. As always, my slides are starting points for each idea; there’s about a minute’s worth of elaboration for the key ones. I’ve been asked to write the talk up, and I’ll link to that when it goes public.

Ala Ma Kota conference slide 1
“It’s typography, Jim, but not as we know it…”

Six observations, four challenges, one conclusion, and five predictions…

Ala Ma Kota conference slide 2
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 3
People run out of time faster than they run out of options
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 4
There’s no such thing as “new media”, only new users
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 5
Internationalisation and geography matter
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 6
The permanent and ephemeral are reversed
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 7
Materials become precious
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 8
The market does not wait for teachers to write lesson plans
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 9
Physical properties are no help in predicting potential uses
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 10
Challenges for designers
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 11
Support for text and typography is not Good Enough
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 12
Support for text and typography is not Good Enough
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 13
Typographers lose the reassurance of familiar, visible, tactile structures
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 14
(A conventional structure is defined by spreads and sequence in the bound object)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 15
(An e-publication’s structure relies on content sections…)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 16
(…which are not differentiated without reference to external navigation)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 17
(…and therefore rely on the root-level navigation for the publication to explain itself)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 18
We lack great models for integrating inline and immersive content
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 19
Texts are becoming nodes in networks, but typography has been volume-bound 
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 20
(A single of the sections we identified has four aspects that traditional typography has no solution for:) 
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 21
(links within the text to other texts,)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 22
(annotations by the user,)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 23
(annotations by other users,)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 24
(and links within the annotations.)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 25
(Developments in literature, which is easy to parse, show some ways forward) 
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 26
(uncovering meaningful connections in the text)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 27
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 28
This emerging typography is traditional at the paragraph level, and potentially innovative at the semantic level 
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 29
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 30
Three to five years of conservative solutions: just ‘digital books’
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 31
Local interfaces will adopt traditional solutions
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 32
Personal aggregators will threaten traditional authorship models
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 33
Knowledge platforms will push beyond ‘digital books’ when trust systems mature
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 34
Authors, publishers, and students will continue to adapt much faster than teachers (and schools, and education authorities)
Ala Ma Kota conference slide 35
Thank you


Sans serif options

An impromptu Venn diagram to help explain a point about styles for a sans serif student project, from earlier today.

The three circles are Systematic / Elegant / Quirky. The typefaces fully in each are Univers, Ideal Sans, and MT Grotesque. The Systematic/Elegant one is Candara, the Systematic/Quirky is Capucine, and the Quirky/Elegant is Maple. Nothing in the centre.

Explaining typeface design

This morning Fiona, Peter Bil’ak and I visited the UBA to see some of the work of the postgraduates on the UBA course (see the Typography at Reading blog). One of Henrique Nardi’s images captured me sketching an aide memoire for the session, which is worth linking to here to have handy for the sessions next week.

The axes describe a simple framework for talking about typeface design projects. At the top of the diagram is the Designer, and at the bottom the brief (and the client, who represent the requirements of the users). The left of the horizontal axis represents the Functional requirements in the project, and to the right the expression of individuality and Identity through the design of the typeface.