I hate it when people say this, but it’s completely true: time does fly when you’re having fun (and/or frustrated, which has definitely been a feeling that’s been felt at times). This first week has gone by so amazingly quick that I imagine that it’ll be the end of July before I know it.
This first week has really hammered home to me the importance of history and context in both typography and design. Our mornings have been filled with lectures from Sumner Stone on typographic context and evolution, and how the forms that our letters take rely less on mathematical precision and construction and more on subjective aesthetics and optical judgement.
In the workshops that I’ve held over the past year and half for students looking to apply to the Graphic Design BFA program at Cal State Long Beach, invariably the one question that I get the most is “what is the ‘correct’ way of doing [insert project here]?” and the answer I always give is “there is no ‘correct’ way – you must use your own good judgment in arriving at a graphic solution.” While I have told students this all the time, it’s tough for anyone to really heed their own advice – we all yearn for formulaic techniques so as to streamline our process and minimize failure. There are no formulas. Failure – far from being an exception – is a rule; nothing is given, and we must fight for every solution
Similarly, in talking to Sara Soskolne over the course of the past week, I’m realizing more that each project will define its own parameters. Every typeface will have problems that are unique unto itself, and which are problems that you may never have encountered in the past; solutions to which you have to devise on the spot. Gotham – which Sara uses as an example – is a geometric typeface. However, as well all know it is not at all perfectly geometric, once again driving home the idea that even things that appear “perfect” or “formulaic” are anything but – each typeface requires its own aesthetic judgment calls, and the construction of those faces will have their own unique problems.
Every typeface has a valid reason for being. In re-reading the booklet for Tobias Frere-Jones’ Gerrit Noordzij Prize exhibition, I was struck by how experimental some of the faces were – they are not necessarily “serious” book faces, but more experimentations of form or ruminations on the [then] new groundswell of type and technology; questions on how to introduce the random back into the mechanically reproduced. For someone who has made such well-designed and commercial typefaces, it was a shock to me when I saw how many experimental and seemingly “un-serious” faces Frere-Jones had done in the beginning of his career.
At the beginning of the program I came in with a pretty good idea of what I wanted to draw. Now, though, I’m not so sure – I’m waiting to see where the drawings take me.
A quick compendium of quotes from the week:
“Typographers ultimately design words.”
“You’ll have your whole career to do ‘serious’ stuff and revivals – when will you ever have a chance like this to just go off and imagine something new? I say run wild.”
“Never let technology dictate your final forms – the computer is a tool, just the same as a pen or a brush.”
“If you’re not scared, you’re not learning.”