Archive for November, 2009

Can Conceptual Typography Remain Legible?

November 24, 2009

Ok so I haven’t made a post in quite a while, but I have come quite a long way with my projet proposal and learning agreement, here’s a re-cap on my journy so far…

The main catalyst for my project proposal has been online type foundries and the way they market typefaces, which portrays them as a fashion statement or must have accessorie. This got me into thinking about the correllation between fashion and typography and how I could represent this visually. This was the basis for my initial project proposal when I first applied for the MA in graphic design.

This then evolved into a new way of thinking into legibility, the majority of typrfaces affiliated with the foundries I was looking at didn’t have an apparent agenda regarding legibility, where as some designers I had looked at such as font smith had addressed the issue of legibility within the typefaces they designed. To me this seemed like a more worthwhile practice regarding typeface design, producing letterforms which where practical and tackled issues regarding legibilty, which wasn’t apparent in other modern typeface design.

From this i began talking to my tutor and researched into emigre magazine. From this research and discussion I came to the conclusion that legibility within typeface design was perhaps not so much of an issue in today’s world (people read best what they read more etc) as when it comes to creative design the choice of typeface comes down to the issue of whether it suits the mood of what the designer is trying to provoke from their audience. This then brings up the issue of the application of type, it is generally believed by most designers that typefaces with an apparent mood or distinctive style will be used as title text or background text to emphasize a particular style. Everything else with in the design is likely to be copy text, which would incorporate the services of a recognised copy text typface such as times new roman or sabon. Much of what I read in Emigre directed towards a way of thinking that legible copy text was something that had already been conqured and that it wasn’t so much the choice of font, but how well it was executed regarding basic typography skills such as the use of kerning and leading.

This mentatlity that copy text has been conqured opens up the focus on heading text, can that too be conqured?

During the nineties and the advent of computer aided design prompted a boom in conceptual typography with journals such as emigre and fuse as well as designers such as neville brody and johnathen barnbrook making a name for themselves. Much of the work they where producing was based around an idea or theme and produced some fantastic work with interesting concepts but often at the cost of legibility. This was not always an issue however as the concept would always prevail within the design and it’s application could strengthen the look and mood of a piece of design work. To reinforce this ethic Fuse magazine in particular would always produce a magazine for each typeface to exhibit the concept and style of the typeface.

I want to extract elements from all of the subjects I have identified so far and with that produce a magazine which is targeted at modern graphic designers. The magazine will be based around conceptual typography, similarly to the fuse and emigre magazines of the nineties, however I want to design the magazine in a similar style to modern graphic design magazines such as computer arts to give them a contemporary look and in some way to feed off this mentatlity of  ‘fashionable’ graphic design falling short of actually utilising or promoting this heard mentality of recreating the same styles over and over again.

Similarly to Fuse and Emigre I would also like to develop a monthly theme for each magazine, for example fuse had themes such as runes or science and generated typefaces based on those concepts. Therefore I have been thinking about a theme that I would like to begin with.

The Two themes that have interested me so far have been ‘broken britain’ and ‘exiled’.

For broken britain I completed a brain storm which threw up some of the aspects of britain which have been the focus of the media in recent months such as knife crime, recession, drug abuse, teen pregnancies, STD’s and also football hooliganism which has had bit of a revival over the past 6 months with rangers fans rioting in manchester and west ham / millwall fans clashing in london and invading the football pitch. I chose to investigate football hooliganism a little further and discovered some interesting government statistics about arrests per stadia and which clubs had the worst reputations. I really like this idea of organised crime and hierachy as well as the culture that surronds hooliganism and how this could be interperatated into perhaps a magazine which uses gorrilla tactics to sell itself. I also read about a firm which named themselves the plastic chair brigade highlighting the plastic chairs usage as a weapon by football hooligans. Using this symbol of rioting I took an image of a plastic chair and broke it up in photoshop to make up letters. I like the concept of this design, but it has very limited application and legibility issues which is something I want to introduce to conceptual typography and raise my initial question, can conceptual typography remain legible?

My second topic of research was ‘exiled’ which refers to the avant garde and bauhaus designers of europe who where exiled to america during world war two in a bid to escape the nazi regime. The main reason this was brought to my attention was previous research into a czech graphic designer named ladislav sutnar who was basically the god father of information designa and installed many of the rules we use as graphic designers today regarding continuity and flow of information. Alongside him there was an influx of european practioners into america such as el lisitzky, maholy nagy, gropius and tschichold. They in turn brought with them a plethora of art movements including european modernism, russian constructivism and the new typography. america was moving into an era of the machine age and mass production opened up an new outlet for creative indiviuals in the form of advertising and consumerism. I want to look back at some of these art movements and research into how they where utilised and absorbed into a new consumer driven world.

So there you have it, an outline of what I want to produce and why I want to produce it. i have also investigated two themes in which to get my idea moving and help me produce some design ideas and concepts.

Tutorial Feedback 2

November 24, 2009

For my second tutorial I was asked to create a mood board to help me recognise my target audience and visualize what it is I actually want to produce. The images where generally of journals from the 90’s based around conceptual typography such as fuse and emigre, as well as modern design magazines such as computer arts and design week.

Ideally i would like to marry together the two main aspects of these designs. I want my magazine to be based around conceptual typography so this needs to be apparant in each edition, perhaps by devising a theme for each edition. I want to market my magazine however in the same way modern design magazines are and to give them a similar look to make them appeal to modern graphic designers.

Since my last tutorial I have also been looking a lot into Emigre journals, one that particulalry stood out for me was the ‘Rant’ edition which highlighted the issue of a vast majority of designers absorbing popular trends and styles of the moment and just reproducing them, this is something that I believe is being promoted and encouraged by modern design magazines such as computer arts which include monthly tutorials on how to recreate the styles and techniques of existing designers, which I belive must be having a negative effect on the ammount of individual work that is being produced.

I want to identfy whether this is happening in the typeface market as well. Many of the current font foundries I have identified so far appear to be marketing new typfaces in a way that deems them to be popular, trendy and the latest style. Is this causing designers to download these fonts and create their designs based around them? Rather than developing a style and concept and then identifying a font to match the design?

Tutorial Feedback

November 24, 2009

Despite turning up almost an hour late for my tutorial on Monday I actually got some really good feedback from Andy on my project proposal and I identified that the first thing I needed to do was to realize my target audience. We had a quick discussion on how typography is used today and part of what we talked about was the fact that especially with the current economic crisis, many companies or small business are designing and producing their own letter heads or business cards with a limited design knowledge. Therefore, my target audience could be people who aren’t actually design trained.

Lecture With Entente

November 24, 2009

I found this lecture very helpful and inspiring, to see 2 guys the same age as me successfully setting up and maintaining their own design company and font foundry. Some of their concepts and ideas, as well as ideas and designs i’ve seen in a few Emigre and Fuse journals have changed my motivation slightly and re-ignited my interest in concept typography, which was something I based my final major project on in the final year of my BA. I still want to investigate the impact font foundries are having on designers by fueling this consumerism and fashion based business and does it affect what typeface designers can do in order to survive? I want to find out if typeface designers are truly free to design typefaces with the essence they had in mind, or are they designing typefaces that they know the font foundries will be interested in marketing.

Returning to the guys from The Entente I want to talk about a typeface they produced as part of a design campaign for an artist. The font was designed in 3 different variations all with inspiration from times and caslon, each variation intended for a different aspect of the artists business. However, when the artist began to produce new styles and different collections, the fontesque typeface was adapted so that it evolved with the artists changing style.

I think this is a fascinating concept and got me thinking into perhaps creating an ‘easy edit font’. What I mean by this is creating a typeface in illustrator with the bezier curves plotted in such away that when the font is created and then expanded again into illustrator the designer can pull the bezier curves to customize the typeface in a style which is unique to them. This i realize though, is not particularly practical, as once the letters are expanded within illustrator to retrieve the bezier curves, all typographic information is lost, such as kerning and leading. I could however look at producing this font as a vector package, it would therefore be more suited for title application rather than display text. Any graphic designer using this vector package could then customize the font each time they come to use without having to purchase a different typeface for each piece of work they produce. The advantage of producing letters as vector packages could also be that certain elements of a letter could be created in separate sections such as ears or serifs which are drawn individually, this way they could be manipulated without affecting the rest of the letter form, or simply deleted all together to turn a serif letter instantly into a sans serif letter.

Backwards Brief, Typosperma, By Oden Ezer

November 18, 2009


Page 114-115, Oded Ezer, The Typographer’s guide to the galaxy. ISBN 978-3-89955-242-3

This is an experimental piece of work by Israeli graphic designer and typographer, Oded Ezer. It’s part two of his Biotypography series and marries together human and typographic elements.


I think that the background to this experiment is the focus in the media surrounding genetic research and experimentation in regards to human cloning and stem cell research. I don’t believe that there is a particular market or competition to this work, as it’s a piece of experimental typography which is an expression of  of Ezer’s reaction to medical media stories.


I believe the target audience here is mainly other typographer’s and graphic designer’s, the piece is playful and has a clear and concise concept behind it. I believe the purpose of the piece is not only an outlet for Ezer’s creativity and experimental ideas, but also a reminder to us graphic designers to be more creative and imaginative as well emphasizing that concept is immensley powerful and is the key to good design.

Executional Guidelines

The most obvious mood here is a sense of mutation or genetic experimentation, the design imedietly highlights controversy in the medical world regarding human cloning and stem cell research. The process behind designing the typeface clearly must have involved a lot of research into the molecular make up of a sperm cell, which is highlighted in the lableing of the individual parts of the cells on the medical diagram. Ezer also used 3-d modelling using computers and plastecine models to help visualize the forms of each cell.

The creative steps go a litle further as well, in that Ezer has looked into how he can present this typeface with one design creating the effect that the cells are being looked at under a microscope.

Page 119, Oded Ezer, The Typographer’s guide to the galaxy. ISBN 978-3-89955-242-3

Research and design Process

Obviously this is a piece of work which is personal to Ezer and a concept / theme that he has developed himself. If I where to devlop an experimental typeface I would look into what interests me and the elements in life that I feel passionately about. I would then follow a similar research methodology and immerse my self in that theme and completely forget i’m a grpahic designer. By getting into the mentality of a scientist Ezer has established the steps and processes involved in genetic research and then applied them to his design process create a solid concept and design.

So for example if I wanted to create a typeface around carpentry I would need to get into the mindset of a carpenter, and ask myself what are the steps in producing a piece of woodwork? How is the wood aquired? is it treated? how is it cut? etc etc.

These steps could then be interpretated into a design process for a typographical design. Finally I would then look at how to present this design similarly to how Ezer has used medical charts and microscopic slides to present Typosperma.

This process relates to my own research because I want to create a magazine / journal which is based around typeface design which is both conceptual and legible, The design process Ezer has exhibited here is a direct influence on how I can go about my research and design process.