Lessons in Type is a series of posts covering my time spent at Cooper Union’s Type@Cooper program. You can learn more about CooperType here. Here’s the first post in this series. Here’s the second post in this series. Here’s the third post in this series. Here’s the fourth post in this series. Here’s the fifth post in this series. Here’s the sixth post in this series.
In this post, I’m going to talk about specific details: how I found type design, what I learned about type design (woah) and things that helped me in one way or another in completing the program.
First, let’s talk about type design and how it has been a part of my life.
Prior to landing at Cooper Union, I was working professionally as a graphic designer (still am!). Most of my work centered around branding and identity (still does!). The most common project over the past 6 years has taken the form of:
Business comes in, I give them a complete visual identity, sometimes even including naming. The visual identity is color, logo and most importantly, typeface selection. Lots of research. Pricing design is almost always a component. A website is too.
Type has always been a part of my workflow. It has always been a part of the branding and identity work I’ve done and I always felt (feel) that anyone that overlooks type in a rebrand or refresh or a start-from-scratch endeavor is overlooking the very heart. Type to me is what an organization, product or service ‘speaks’ with. I liken it to people. Much like President Obama has a particular, noticeable and unique way of speaking, so too do organizations, products and services. Your typefaces are what they ‘sound’ like. And, they all should not sound like Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana and Georgia.
Before that, type design was what I was interested in as soon as I was old enough to draw connections between interests and ‘careers.’ I was in high school and recommended to the school newspaper by my English teacher, Mr. Tinsley. From the paper, I ended up at a multi-week program and worked with part of the team responsible for the redesign of USA Today. That was where I first learned about usability testing and eye-tracking studies. I learned about ‘readability’ and page layout design. I felt that little zing in my heart and began filling a red binder with whatever I could find on the subjects. I thought I would be a page layout designer. I thought I was going to save newspapers!
After high school, and into college, I realized that what I liked about page layout design was the type. It was the type that had the most impact and it was the type that held the most interest for me.
Almost overnight, I was balancing the demands of a new company and finishing college. I was well on my way in my chosen field.
Six years later, I finally got the chance (thank you clients for giving me the summer!) to focus entirely on type design for awhile. You see, I needed to tie up those loose ends. How do you make an industry standard font? What’s OK? What’s not OK? What makes a font good? What makes it bad? What is the best workflow? What are things I should avoid?
Second, let’s talk about some things I specifically learned in the Type@Cooper program.
- Process | There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to design a typeface. Some people start on paper and move to the computer. Some never touch paper at all. The important thing is that you have your own process. I learned about the processes other people have and, like everyone in the program, I will take bits and pieces from here and there and create my own process.
- Definition | Basically, a typeface is just a lot of details. Like, hundreds of details. As type designer, it’s your job to curate all those details in a way that tells a story.
- Starting Out | I learned that most people start with the same basic letters, plus or minus a few. Ever see ‘handgloves’?
- Protecting Your Vision | I learned that feedback and critiques are a vastly important part of the type design process. But, you must be able to discern out of all the feedback what the changes you’ll make are and are not. If you were to make all the changes suggested by everyone you talked to, you will end up with a typeface that is not only not yours, but it won’t be anybody else’s, either.
- Interpolation | I learned how to interpolate.
- Software | I learned FontLab, RoboFont and Glyphs pretty well. I also learned a little Python.
- Vocabulary | I learned a lot more words; my type design vocabulary is probably 3 times larger today than it was in June 2012. I know many, many more type designers by name, and I know their typefaces. I know new definitions for words like ‘chin’ and ‘ear.’ I know much more about the history of writing, the development of the alphabet, and the history of printing.
- Kerning | I know best practices for kerning.
- Calligraphy | As someone with a background only in Modern Calligraphy, I really took a lot from my training in classical calligraphy. I would argue that to appropriately understand type, you need to understand calligraphy.
Most importantly, I know what I like and what I don’t like when it come to type design. I have my own standards for my own type design work now. And, I have a lot more confidence in myself and my ability.
Third, I’m going to address things that got me through the program and things that I consider indispensable tools. I realize most of the readers of this blog are not here for the type design, but are here for all the other things I talk about here on Simplicity Embellished, so hopefully this section will be of interest to you.
- The Typographic Desk Reference by Theodore Rosendorf
- Printing Types by D. B. Updike
- The 26 Letters by Oscar Ogg
- The Book of Letters by Lawrence Kushner
- Creative Lettering Today by Michael Harvey
- Designing Type by Karen Cheng
- Inside Paragraphs by Cyrus Highsmith (so, I got this after the program, but I recommend it)
The type community is wonderful. First, everyone is generally pretty intense. I think to design type you have to be. One incident in particular is a great example of this. When I was starting work on my typeface, I contacted James Puckett through Twitter because he had done a revival of the same thing I was working on. Just like that, I found myself sharing a coffee with him talking about type and then browsing a bookstore with him. He is the one that pointed out Printing Types by D. B. Updike and The 26 Letters by Oscar Ogg to me and I bought those books because of James. I have yet to meet a type designer I didn’t like.
And then there’s my own personal type community. ;) I’m talking about all of my fellow classmates in the Type@Cooper program. They are Sian Binder, Raymond Bobar, Etienne Aubert Bonn, Alison Bours, Lara Captan, Tom Conroy, Laura Coombs, Emily Davidson, Mark De Winne, Gilad Fried, Rolando G. Alcantara, Ron Gilad, Rob Gonzalez, Jordan Gushwa, Henrik Kubel, Camila Labatut, Edgardo Lopez, Marcelo Magalhaes, Roseanna McGuick, Bruno Mello, Maria Montes, Manuel Olmo, Kevin Paolozzi, Maggie Putnam, Sara Shaaban, Chavelli Tsui, Matthew Wyne, Zeynep Yildrim and my instructors Jean-Francois Porchez, Stephane Elbaz, Just van Rossum, Hannes Famira, Sumner Stone and Cara Di Edwardo.
As I texted a friend asking where I was very, very late one night: “I’m with my people.”
These are the albums I listened to the most while in the type program:
- Tea | I bought an electric tea kettle and served tea basically daily. This was seriously one of my favorite parts of the day.
- Coke Icees | My classmates like walking to grab a coffee, I liked going to Seven Eleven to get a Coke Icee. The girl can leave Ohio, but Ohio just won’t leave the girl. ;)
- iPod Shuffle | It is tiny and perfect. I used this daily for many hours. It provided the soundtrack to this program for me.
I also want to list out the field trips we took and the critiques we had.
- New York Public Library Main Branch, Rare Book Room
- The Grolier Club
- Columbia University Butler Library
This concludes the fifth post in the six-part series. Thanks for reading! One more to go! ;)
[I also want to add a note about what Simplicity Embellished is. I chose to write about my Type@Cooper experience here because this blog has the largest readership, moreso than my company blog at Doth Brands and my blog at my personal website, HelloCole. The blogs at Doth Brands and Hello Cole are also more professional places and I wanted to write in depth about the program beyond just what would go on a resume. I wanted to write about the experience. Finally, much of the readership here at Simplicity Embellished has an interest in calligraphy, penmanship and type design but very few are type designers and I wanted to publish something here that would be of interest to all those folks. I started Simplicity Embellished in 2009. I have a lot of interests and am a very curious person. This blog is the home for all my interests. ]