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Archive for the category ‘education’

The Briem Report


Last year, after a highly entertaining turn as the keynote speaker at the ATypI conference in Reykjavík in 2011, designer and lettering artist Gunnlaugur SE Briem asked around 100 practitioners of lettering or typography to contribute a two-page spread each to a new compendium, The Briem Report: Letterforms 2012. I was pleased to be among those invited to participate. The resulting volume was published earlier this year as a freely downloadable PDF, and recently Briem sent printed copies to all the contributors. (I recommend the print-quality PDF, as the hard copy is a black-and-white print-on-demand edition; you can order it from Amazon and it’s wonderful to have, but I consider the core edition to be the digital one.)

Briem did something similar once before, in 1986, when he edited and produced a book for Thames & Hudson called Sixty Alphabets, asking sixty noted calligraphers to introduce themselves and their work and to contribute a design of their own choice. That in turn had been inspired by a much earlier compendium, Dossier A–Z 1973, which had been put together in 1973 by Fernand Baudin for that year’s ATypI congress in Copenhagen, on the theme of “Education in the Design of Letter Forms.” Both Baudin’s 1973 volume and Briem’s 1986 one examined the place of written letter forms in a world dominated by print. The Briem Report takes this one step further: what is the place of both calligraphy and type design in a world that’s becoming thoroughly digital? Baudin was looking at the changing nature of type and letter design in 1973; Briem is asking much the same question today.

The answers are all over the place; there is no one thesis to be found in this anthology. But as a snapshot of current practice and ideas, it’s invaluable. The contributors include most of the people you might expect, and many that you might not be aware of; Briem drew from many different streams of practice. Some are artists, some are technical experts, many are educators. As Briem describes the book, aptly (and in thoroughly Briem fashion), on his Operina website: “Inspiring ideas, firm convictions, lovely dreams.”

Hong Kong images


After an absurdly long delay, I have finally put some of my photos from last October’s ATypI Hong Kong up on Flickr: here. Although I didn’t take a lot of snapshots, there are few images there that ought to be interesting to people who weren’t there – and to some of the people who were. In particular, I got to the very first letterpress workshop at Zi Wut, which contains the type and printing press from a former printshop in Kowloon, now operated by three women as a teaching resource, with the original owner of the printshop offering examples and showing how the processes worked. Zi Wut has a presence on Facebook, and there’s a nice short write-up, with more images, on the Metropolis magazine blog.

Funny shapes


At TypeCon in Milwaukee at the beginning of this month, Cyrus Highsmith gave a witty, illustrated talk about spacing in text typography, which served as an introduction to his new book, Inside paragraphs: typographic fundamentals (published by Font Bureau). It startled me, because I hadn’t been aware that he’d been working on such a book, and because it dovetails with what I’ve been talking and writing about for quite some time: that typography is all about space. Appropriately enough, though without any planning on my part, my former colleagues at Microsoft had brought stacks of one of my little typography booklets, Arranging fonts: it’s all about space, which is about exactly that.

Cyrus focused on the paragraph as the basic unit of text typography, which is a sensible way of looking at it; that neatly separates what Jost Hochuli calls “microtypography” from the “macrotypography” of the page. And Cyrus can draw a lot better than I can, so his illustrations – both in the book and in his talk – make his points brilliantly and lucidly.

The book itself is small, light, and oblong – very easy to carry around and read, with long paper flaps that you can use to mark your place. Cyrus wrote it because he wanted it for the typography classes that he teaches at RISD; and because he wished that he’d had it when he was studying design. It’s probably a good introduction to the subject for graphic-design students, but even more than that, it’s a basic explanation for anyone who uses type and wonders why it sometimes looks right and sometimes doesn’t.



If you’re in Seattle in mid-February, you might want to come to one of these events to hear and meet Jean François Porchez, who is probably the most widely-known French type designer today. JFP will be giving a free talk on Wednesday, February 15 at Kane Hall at the University of Washington, as part of a week-long symposium: “Letters From France: On Designing Type.” He will also be speaking the following day at the Good Shepherd Center (4649 Sunnyside Avenue North, Seattle), with a Q&A session in both French and English. And I hope to entice him to our monthly typographers’ pub, on the second Tuesday, which will be February 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day), at the Pub at Third Place (6504 20th Avenue NE, Seattle), from 8 p.m. on; anyone interested in type is welcome. (Look for the table full of obvious typographers.) A bientôt!

[Update:] Videotape of Porchez’s talk at Kane Hall is available online. Below, a very poor snapshot of JFP (L) at the type pub, looking over sketches of a type design by Andrea Harrison (R).

Jean François Porchez & Andrea Harrison at Seattle typographers' pub

ATypI Reykjavík 2011


By all accounts, this year’s ATypI conference was a notable success. People kept coming up to me and telling me how much they were enjoying the event, how impressive the venue was, how well everything was organized, how intelligent the talks were, how much they liked the food. I kept telling them that I couldn’t take any credit for these things, that it was the organizers, both local and from ATypI, who had brought all this together. But it was certainly gratifying to hear.

The venue was spectacular: a brand-new building, Harpa, built right on the edge of the waterfront in the harbor of Reykjavík, which houses the national symphony as well as serving as a state-of-the-art conference center. Harpa’s irregular geometry and fishnet-over-glass windows all around highlighted the location and gave us a light, airy interior to inhabit and meet in. Its various meeting spaces were easy to configure for both talks and meals. And when the weather got bad – Sunday saw a good bit of wind and rain – it was satisfying to sit snug in Harpa and gaze out at the wind-whipped harbor.

There were fewer attendees than usual this year (no doubt a reflection of the dismal economy, and of the fact that while Reykjavík is easily accessible from both North America and Europe, it’s not exactly local to anyone but the Icelanders). But those who came were excited and stimulated, and came away talking about ideas.

How often do you have a head of state opening a typography conference? The President of Iceland, H.E. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, not only welcomed ATypI to Iceland but gave a twenty-minute talk about the Icelandic language and its typography – an intelligent, eloquent commentary that set a high standard and neatly prefaced our keynote speaker, Gunnlaugur SE Briem. Briem spoke wittily about type, letters, and language. Together, they kicked off the main conference brilliantly.

The theme of the Icelandic letter “eth” (ð, the voiced “th” sound found in English too) led naturally to a rich track of talks on other special characters, and on a wide range of non-Latin writing systems as well. We heard about the typography of Indic, Korean, Arabic, Mongolian, Chinese, and Khmer scripts, not to mention Danish, Irish, German, and Turkish letters within the Latin alphabet. The number of presentations on Indic typography on Sunday was particularly appreciated; and there was talk of making a proposal in a few years for holding an ATypI conference somewhere in India.

The structure this year seemed to work quite well: two preliminary days of workshops and technical and educational items, in two parallel tracks, followed by the official opening on Thursday night and then a single main track of programming on Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday. This allowed for specialization in the preliminary days, but a common experience during the main conference – and no running around trying to switch from one track to another, or worrying about coordinating the timing between multiple simultaneous talks. Our program structure is partly determined by the venue, but I think we’ll try to repeat this success in the future.

Saturday night we clambered into city buses for a short ride out of town to a penthouse restaurant with wide views in all directions, where the restaurant’s staff were quickly accommodating when they discovered that we had more people for dinner than we had planned. That was followed by a crowded party back in town at the Icelandic Design Centre, and the usual dispersal to the bars of downtown Reykjavík.

The city is so small that it was easy to keep running into each other; at one point, one of the pleasant local bars was entirely filled with typographers. This also meant that no matter where you were staying, it wasn’t more than a walk away from the conference venue. So not only did Harpa provide excellent spaces for talking and mingling, but the city itself contributed to this lively interpersonal dynamic. Reykjavík is a very cozy capital.

For a flavor of the event, check out write-ups by Roger Black on his blog (“We are all one culture, here on Œŧħ. We’ve just taken different glyphs”) and by Dan Reynolds on ilovetypography (“Font editors & a book steal the show”), and scan the photos from various attendees on Flickr. (I’d be happy to hear of other reports that I’ve missed.) And take a look at the impressionistic, kaleidoscopic videos put together by a group of young Icelandic filmmakers who were roaming the conference, cameras in hand.

[Photos, top to bottom: the exterior of Harpa, with pool in front; the interior of Harpa, looking out; the bar before Saturday’s gala dinner; Thomas Phinney and Dawn Shaikh, at the pub; Mark Barratt and Dave Crossland, suitably out of focus, at another pub; Nick Sherman’s sartorial splendor (what, no hoodie?); and one of the images from the Typographer’s Guide to Iceland.]

Talking about fonts


Now download my other Dot-font book

Four years ago, Mark Batty published a pair of books by me, Dot-font: talking about design and Dot-font: talking about fonts, which were intended to be the first of a series of small, handy books on typography and design. Last year, I made the first one (on design) available as a free download. Now, I’m posting the second book (on fonts) as well, also as a free download.

Please download the text of both books and enjoy them.

You can download the complete text of Dot-font: talking about fonts as a PDF, designed and formatted for onscreen reading; as a Word document; or as a text file. The illustrations that appear in the printed book are not part of these downloads; I don’t have rights to reproduce and distribute all of the images in digital form, so for the full visual effect you’ll have to buy a copy of the physical book (which of course I encourage you to do). Some of those images appeared online at Creativepro when the original columns were published, but there are quite a few original images that were created for the book: for example, the series of photos that Dave Farey made from scratch, to illustrate the process of cutting a letter by hand out of Rubylith in order to create a Letraset font in the 1960s.

This book, like the last, is published under a Creative Commons license. Please do not distribute it without that license information.

The Creativepro columns that seemed worth collecting into a book broke down naturally into three categories: design in general, typefaces or fonts, and typography or how type is used. So I’ve still got the material for a third book, Dot-font: talking about typography. Is there a demand? You tell me.

Download dot-font

Madame Wahler’s Lucky Serif Dream Book


There are always plenty of reasons to be a member of the Type Directors Club, the New York–based organization that fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and really great typography. But a particularly wonderful reason arrived in the mail just the other day: a little 16-page booklet called Madame Wahler’s Lucky Serif Dream Book.

This invaluable guide, written and designed by Gail Anderson and illustrated by Bonnie Clas, could set you on the road to a better life. “This book will make you a winner!” exclaims the back cover, and who could doubt it? As the introduction explains, “The Type Directors Club is the first international organization to make public a genuine and authentic guide to the connection between typography and dreams.”

The contents include a list of dream types (“To dream of ligatures denotes popularity with the opposite sex”), a typographic horoscope (“As the most sensitive sign of the zodiac, Pisces is easily devastated by poorly drawn characters”), and small ads for everything imaginable (“Miracle Open Type Necklace,” “Go Away Comic Sans Cologne,” and “PROFESSOR INA’S Tattoo Type Removal Cream”).

Remember: “Madame Wahler’s Lucky Serif Dream Book will prove itself valuable as a reference because it uses small words and lists the meanings of many popular lettering dreams.”

American type design revealed


I spent last Friday at the School for Visual Concepts, where a full day of talks about American type design was part of the two-day Type Americana conference. (The second day was hands-on workshops; they filled up and even had overflow sessions, but I didn’t participate in that aspect of the event.) We were shoehorned into a small, cozy space, the SVC gallery, but that made it easy to see and hear.

The individual talks all seemed to be carrying on a conversation with each other, as topics and historical people overlapped and interacted. Patricia Cost’s talk about Linn Boyd Benton fit naturally with Juliet Shen’s talk about his son Morris Fuller Benton; both of them shared references and contexts with Thomas Phinney’s talk about the American Type Founders (ATF), where both Bentons had worked. Steve Matteson’s talk about Frederic and Bertha Goudy intersected with Paul Shaw’s on W.A. Dwiggins, since Goudy and Dwiggins shared a home and a studio for two years in Massachusetts. Shelley Gruendler, talking about Beatrice Warde, said she had learned a fact she’d never known about Beatrice during Paul’s lecture. Jim & Bill Moran’s talk on the Hamilton Wood Type Museum didn’t directly impinge on the earlier designers, but it was part of the same hundred-year history. All in all, this was a remarkably concentrated dose of information and anecdote about the history of American type designers.

The final talk didn’t intersect quite so intimately with the others, but that’s because it was about a more recent period: Sumner Stone’s days as the first typographic director of Adobe, and the creation of Adobe’s program of original typefaces. Sumner said this was the first time he had spoken about that period publicly; it had been too close before. He not only told us tales of how Adobe hired him and how he developed the type program, but he set the stage by explaining the state of the type business and technology at the time Adobe started up. Most of it wasn’t new to me, apart from some of the anecdotes, but it was fascinating to hear Sumner put it all together. I hope he writes it up, or otherwise records it for posterity.

That could be said of all the talks: they all cried out to be expanded and recorded in more permanent form. The information communicated in that room last Friday could not be found anywhere else, at least not all together; it was the fruit of several people’s dedicated research, and much of it doesn’t exist anywhere online. (At least not yet.) Everyone spoke well, and the audience was rapt. Juliet Shen, who spearheaded the effort, and the supporting staff at SVC, put on a fine event.

[Photos: (top) Thomas Phinney & Sumner Stone; (middle) audience during a break; (bottom) Thomas Phinney, Michelle Perham, Kristine Johnson.]

Type Americana


On November 12 & 13, the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle is hosting a two-day event on the history of American type design, called Type Americana. The first day features eight talks; the second day is workshops, one by Sumner Stone and one on wood type. You can attend just the day of lectures, or both days (spaces in the workshops are limited).

The talks: Thomas Phinney on American Type Founders, Paul Shaw on D.A. Dwiggins, Jim & Bill Moran on Hamilton Wood Type, Patricia Cost on Linn Boyd Benton, Sumner Stone on the early days of Adobe Type (Sumner was Adobe’s first Type Director), Shelley Gruendler on Beatrice Warde, Juliet Shen on Morris Fuller Benton, and Steve Matteson on Fred & Bertha Goudy.

The workshops: “Vintage Letterpress with Hamilton Wood Type,” taught by Jim Moran and Bill Moran; and “ThinkWrite,” taught by Sumner Stone.

In addition, Friday night will be the Northwest premiere of Richard Kegler’s film Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century, about the work process (and the personality) of the late Jim Rimmer, working and talking at his home-based type foundry outside Vancouver. I’ve seen an unfinished version of this film, and it’s amazing.

Download my book!


Do it now! Act without thinking! Do it now!

Inspired by the success of Cory Doctorow in giving away the texts of his books in every conceivable electronic form, and yet ending up selling more copies of the printed books than his publishers would otherwise expect, I have put together a digital version of Dot-font: talking about design, which you can download for free.

This PDF is designed for easy onscreen reading – or for printing out two-up on your laser printer and reading in a comfy armchair. I am also including the full text in a Microsoft Word file (.doc) and in a “plain text” file (.txt), for those who prefer either of those formats.

This electronic version is published under a Creative Commons license; you’re free to share the files, though not to claim them as your own or make money off them. (For the details of the license, look here or see the copyright page of the digital book.) I haven’t included the right to create “derivative works” based on this book – but hey, if you’ve got an idea for a stirring adventure series set in the “dot-font” universe, or if you have an uncontrollable urge to make “dot-font” action figures, let me know.

Unlike Cory’s novels and essay collections, the print version of Dot-font: talking about design is illustrated. The electronic version is not. I can’t give away other people’s images, but I can freely distribute the full text.

So go ahead, download the book. Pass it on. Let me know what you think. And let Mark Batty, my excellent publisher, know too. Let a hundred dot-fonts bloom!

Download dot-font