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[email protected]: Weeks 4 & 5

by Jack Curry. Average Reading Time: about 4 minutes.

I figured it would go fast, and so it did: the first Condensed class of [email protected] has graduated. These past five weeks have been a fantastic experience, both in terms of strengthening my skill-set, as well as spending time to get to know a talented group of designers. My worldview on design and branding has really been broadened thanks to many a late-night conversation over dinner and drinks. For a designer my age, it has been an honor to be with such a diverse group that has been more than willing to share their experience, as well as give their advise on a field that I’m deeply interested in getting into.

Continuing from my last post, Week 4 was when we all really put the hammer down. From the time we got into the studio at 9am until we left at 9.30pm (and sometimes even later), it felt as if the entire room was just buzzing with a kind of electricity.

It was truly a privilege to work with Sara Soskolne on a one-to-one basis everyday. After experiencing her no-nonsense approach to design, I feel like I got a very small taste of what it would be like to be on the design team at H&FJ. I realize that they can only produce the caliber of work that they do by being completely ruthless in their editorial process, and Sara’s never-ending critiques prove the point (a quick note to Sara: I fixed my ‘o’…you were right). I used to think that I was pretty good at examining a typeface, but after a full two weeks of working with Sara I realized that I had only been “looking” and not seeing. I still have a lot to learn in this respect, and I hope that one day I will begin to see the way that she does.

Our work was accelerated mid-week with the announcement that both Matthew Carter and Jonathan Hoefler would be critiquing our work the following week. When I found my mind wandering away from my work in the late afternoon, I would just recite four words: “Matthew Carter / Jonathan Hoelfer”, and get right back into it – a good motivator, indeed.

The majority of Week 4 was really spent honing in on the colour and spacing of the control characters (‘n’ and ‘o’ in the lowercase, ‘H’ and ‘O’ in the uppercase), and then slowly beginning to design out the rest of the character set. In reality, we would be spending probably about quadruple the amount of time on perfecting the control characters before moving on.

I wrote last week that it’s best to start small and work slowly – that if you change anything about a single character, it will tend to require changes throughout the rest of the character set. With the control characters, this is even more crucial: these glyphs are the ones that will determine the spacing, colour, and weight of the entire typeface. They are the DNA of the typeface, and as such their characteristics should really and truly be nailed down before moving forward to the rest of the alphabet; one change here will have a ripple effect throughout the entire typeface.

At the end of Week 4 I had a moment where I realized that every typeface has two very distinct voices. The first, and most obvious, is the visual voice. Some faces are sober and serious, others are neutral and good for everything, while even others are brash and whimsical. This visual manifestation is the result of the execution of basic principals on the part of the designer: “I want it to look like [insert adjective here].” This is the voice that we all see, and is the most obvious to even the layperson.

The other voice is quieter than the first; more personal. It might even be too much to call it a voice – spirit is a more apt word. This is the whisper that one can only hear when the typeface is being made. During the creation of the first few glyphs, the type doesn’t say much; because you are still shaping the key characteristics, you are doing most of the talking. But you find after a while that your typeface will begin to speak to you. It will tell you when it does not want the cross bar of the capital ‘H’ at that height; it will let you know when the horizontal stroke of the ‘G’ is too low. It’s a very soft whisper, and is extremely easy to overlook. Listen closely enough, though, and the typeface will begin to tell you what it needs rather than simply what you want.

It is very difficult to sum up the past five weeks. I feel like I learned so much, but that this is merely the tip of the iceberg – worlds are still yet to be discovered.

As for my typeface, I will be putting together a post in the coming days which goes into a little detail about its genesis and progress throughout the course (my fear is that I won’t be able to say all much – it is only 17 days old, after all). Until then, I’ll leave you with a little animation of its progress from the beginning of Week 4 (July 11th) up until its critique with Jonathan Hoefler in Week 5 (July 20th) – as you’ll see, a lot happened in the short span of nine days.

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