_Would you say you enjoy type design more than "traditional" graphic design?
I was interested in grid systems at university. I started to examine the text frame options in layout programs; ascent, cap height, x-height, then applying baseline grids and incremental leading. These features encouraged me to look very closely at the type. I wanted to further control the elements on the page. It became a bit of an impasse. All type is drawn on an explicit UPM (units per em) grid. My first design tutor remarked that my approach to layout was like “splitting the atom” and he was correct; if layout can be atomic and precise then type design can be sub atomic and more precise still.
That is type as technical drawing and it is compulsion that accounts for my interest at this level. But glyphs add up to words/sentences/texts and I am compelled by this also. What do you want to communicate? Commercial type designers are not obliged to answer this question, save for the language of type itself. That remains for the customer. The literal emptiness of many type specimens is a matter of function, demonstrating the potential of the product without incurring prejudice. Conversely, commercial graphic designers can expect copy to be supplied to them by an editor or client. But there is a third position, which is that of the self publisher or artist, someone who has something specific to say and who wants to push that agenda through text. It appeals to me to devise the medium and the message and therefore I feel outside of each aforementioned discipline. I am not sure if Rudolf Koch ever achieved it but I think that was his intention with Neuland; to prepare the type, the copy and the page.
_Do you feel a certain responsibility for carrying the craft forward? It's seems to be sort of a dark art, as very few educational institutions offering courses in type design.
Type design appeals to a smaller number of students than design in general. That niche interest, combined with the expense of symposia and postgraduate study does perhaps suggest a small (and magic) circle in which information travels freely. The internet, however, changes everything and will continue to open up the field. There was never a better time to be an autodidact, though I think the institution is probably still the most valuable route.
Programmers are making huge contributions to the craft so my responsibility is to try and take advantage of new technology. I would like to learn more about drawing/coding\coding/drawing and utilise the power of the computer. Interestingly type designers are comfortable looking backward and forward at the same time and new technology can be a good indication to revisit or expand upon pre-digital works.
_Speaking of revisiting pre-digital works – it seems like a popular thing to do these days. The type designers fourth role perhaps, as conservator. By carrying on this tradition you seem very much connected to the previous generations of type designers. Also, when modifying/improving or building upon existing typefaces you are doing something that’s rarely seen, even frowned upon in other areas of design. It’s almost like type design is closer connected to music, musicians interpreting musical scores differently, sampling and remixing?
It’s a very complex subject, to do with authorship, copyright expiration, the passage of time, raison d’être, homage, apprenticeship, plagiarism…
I have been drawing what could be described as a neo-grotesque font based on it’s appearance but it exists as the result of a different process to its forebears, so is that comparison/definition really relevant? For me that project (Corvus) is about exploring the potential of very basic and systematic computer drawing and revisiting the rational mindset of the era in which that mindset was popular. I want to revive the mindset in order to experience it.
One possible analogy to music is that of type designer as record producer. Otl Aicher designed the Munich 1972 Olympics but Adrian Frutiger’s tone is ever present, in the same way Martin Hannett is present on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. In some cases type design is closer to recording folk music, where the core information is apocryphal – it is has no specific author but exists in the collective conscience. DIN has been described by Erik Spiekermann as apocryphal because it was designed by a committee of engineers and I think that is really interesting, especially today where people are acutely aware of who authored what.
_How do you feel about the state of type design today?
I think type design is probably healthier than it has ever been… I can only speculate. There are more type designers than ever before and I am just one that is recently added to that number. Like many in this bracket I am not a dedicated type designer. I have received no type design instruction past an introduction to letterforms at university. I sometimes wonder if that is healthy. Could it be that I am just promulgating bad form? I don’t want to “dishonour printing” as warned by Pierre Simon Fournier…
i Ursus · Early work, exploring parameters
ii Dalston Waste · With Fraser Muggeridge, from a found alphabet
iii Katie · For Fraser Muggeridge, from a typed & photostatted Bell Gothic
iv Corvus · A drawing system
v Corvus · Outlines
vi Sketches from Helligvær
vii Miscellaneous biro drawings