Seattle 12: Seattle typeface workshop
To become a good graphic designer, it is important to understand that a typeface have a purpose and their roots play a role on its connotations. It help to take the right decision about typeface selection in everyday projects, thus to avoid to follow type trends without understanding them. A good design is a clear understanding of clients needs in term of typography; not just typeface selection based on blog’s latest reference about the current type trend. Learning few basic things about how to design a typeface help students to open their eyes, help them to finally visualize the shapes of typefaces and how such letterforms and style can share adequate connotation for a particular project they may have in their forthcoming professional life.
In the past, my way to conduct typeface workshops was more a focus on the mechanics of a typeface design, using calligraphy as great tool to understand how ductus and how tool can influence type structure in use for years. The problem with such method is — despite its very good way to understand delicacy of the letter shapes and how elements relate to each others — the results of the type workshop was always very traditional and somewhat a bit outside of the today world of graphic design. So, it was less easy for students to reconnect what they learnt with what they have to do everyday as graphic designer.
Using more clearly referenced piece of lettering, or typefaces used in their environment is not a perfect approach but much more realistic for a typeface design workshop conducted for graphic designers.
How its started
In 2009, when we’ve discussed the idea of this workshop planned middle for February 2012 with Karen Cheng, I never figured it out how this week in Seattle will be a great, from the first to the last minute. Organizing such thing is complex and take time. Karen accomplished a very good job! The week was full of events, meet up with students, lectures and diners to socialize with new and old local friends.
The main thing was a typeface design workshop to conduct obviously! Beside this workshop, I was invited to review the ongoing typeface projects of Karen Cheng’s type design specific class. We meet two times during the week and this entirely group of students made good progress too.
The type workshop
The audience was 22 students who never designed any typeface before my visit. In fact, we started the workshop before my coming in Seattle, in the middle of January through various emails exchanges along the help of Flickr. Five groups of students have been set up. Their first job was to take photos of signs in their environement as source for their forthcoming typeface to be created during the week. Based on that research, I have selected some of the best images and they finally chosen the one they will use as starting point. The next stage for the five groups was to identify the style of the lettering. Identification is an important step, as it help to understand the concept of a forthcoming typeface based on the few letterforms available. From which, design decisions will be more easier to take in order to expend the only few glyphs they have: An image with only three capitals need a good analyze before to start anything! You need to understand what’s happening and where you can go. Then, the students have been asked to start to design few glyphs based on their sources before my coming in Seattle. A good preparation.
On the Monday when we meet with the students at the University of Washington for the first time, it was already clear for every groups where they need to go. My job was somewhat more “Type direction” — lot more easy thing to conduct, as each group already done their own selection and get used to the shapes and style. At this precise moment, you don’t what will happen, if the main idea of this workshop will works and produce good results or not?
Indeed, I have to share my knowledge and show how to work, how to design, draw shapes, how precise they have to be. So, everything have to be done on tracing paper (Canson velum, transparent and heavy enough to draw correct shapes). It was required that eveything should hand draw without the help of a ruler. The move to the computer was on Thursday only. Its important to me to split the week in few stages, to avoid to have everything to learn in same time. So, a clear separation was made between design process, drawing who require time, skills, human hands versus the easy computer tools who can be distracting and not helpful to keeps overall vision of the collaborative work to be done.
Along the few classes we meet, during the week, each group have to take in charge their own project, to share the work to be done between them, use their best skills depending the stage where they are. By Wednesday they completed the key word in caps and lowercases, ready to scan the finished and inked letters on tracing paper. Ready to expend in parallel the missing glyphs.
On Thursday morning it was the time to explain to them how to use TypeTool and how to figured out the limitation of this cheaper version of FontLab, a standard in the font world industry. Each group have a unique full license, when the rest of students only used the demon version (with its 20 glyphs max saving.) Sadly TypeTool had show its age and quite few bugs pointed by all of us wasn’t helpful during the learning process. On Thursday afternoon, I have explained how to space correctly their font with simple examples on the board, and an easy method immediately put in practice on TypeTool’s metrics windows (similar as in FontLab).
Friday was the last day, by 4 pm they have to complete their typeface, to finish much glyphs as they can and manage to create a specimen to present their work. It was time for a very nice pizza party and many photos! The result was not only nice as seeing a group students with no experience being able to design five fonts, but also very interesting how diversity was present among various projects.
+ More images on Flickr
Workshop organized by Karen Cheng,