Type & Page
There is a 10-year gap between me and my older brother and when I was about 14/15, he was just starting his career as a Cartographer. He went to work in the Middle East for a couple of years and just before he left, he brought all of his belongings back home to store in the loft. This included a portfolio of work along with many ‘Letraset’ transfers and boxes of beautiful ‘Rotary ‘pens. I had never seen items like that before, I was fascinated and wanted to use them all. I will never forget the smell of the ‘Letraset’ transfers either, they smelt like scotch tape and every time I wrap a present; it takes me back to my parent’s loft!
At the same time, I was at school just beginning my interest in Graphic Design and it wasn’t long before I picked up my own ‘Letraset’ catalogue to use for inspiration in my own projects. I had completely forgotten about ‘Letraset’ until Kristopher Soelling from ‘Regular Practice’ mentioned it in this week’s lecture on the history of typography.
I still have my original catalogue from 1989/90 and posted about it on the ideas wall this week. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who remembers using it and also to read other peoples memories.
I had two weeks work experience with a local print company while I was at school, where I spent a lot of the time ‘pasting up’ different designs and using ‘dry rubbing’ transfers for the type. I remember just laying out the type for the information on that page – never really thinking about how type could be used to become part of the design.
When I was completing my Art & Design Foundation after school, one of the projects was similar to this week’s challenge. We had to take a well known saying and design it just using type. I designed ‘A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss’ and made the ‘Rolling Sone’ into a circle! My first proper attempt at typography!
I also copied a diagram to understand the meaning of typography terms and instead of seeing the letters, I began to see the shapes they made and noticed the negative space for the first time.
Around ’94, whilst I was studying at Plymouth College of Art & Design, typography was huge. Ray Gun magazine had first been published in ’92 and everyone on the course owned the latest edition, along with the book ‘Typography Now’. It was then that I realised that typography wasn’t just abouts words on a page used in books or in a newspaper, but that it was actually beautiful and could be used in many different ways to add interest, depth and meaning to design work.
Plymouth Art College also had a print room and use to produced work for the local area and for the college itself, prospectuses, stationery etc.
One of our projects was to design a college magazine. From designing the overall look and feel, providing the content, all the way through to the final printed product. Each student had a spread to design, using just 2 colours. I have a copy somewhere, but I remember it was very influenced by David Carson (Ray Gun) and the typographic trends that were around at the time.
I loved the whole process and still do – if I wasn’t a designer, I’m pretty sure I’d have a job in a print room!
Listening to Kristopher in the lecture this week, it’s amazing how far printing and typography have come in the last 50 years or so. I watched the film he mentions, ‘Farewell Etaoin Shrdlu’ about the New York Times printing room and its transition from Linotype printing to modern computers.
To see the process and skills involved in putting a newspaper together in the ‘70s was fascinating. It was also quite sad to know that the skills the workers had gained experience with over 20 years were no longer needed and they had to retrain to make way for new technology.
There is no doubt that todays processes are much better, and the invention of the computer had made things easier, but it’s more interesting to see how people’s skills and craft have adapted in that change.
Where once skills lay in creating lines of type based on typefaces dating as far back as 14th century and typesetting newspaper spreads, today’s technology allows designers to create and design their own typefaces, not just to deliver information, but to produce exciting designs and use typography as a means to make a statement.
As Kristopher says in referring to typography in today’s digital world “Well why would I need a designer if ‘Word’ has a template or it has a guide, or it has a general array of setting type that already looks so good out of the box? In some ways the designer’s role is to push, is to propose new exciting ideas and not so much to just be a person that provides a service.”
It is amazing at how many different typefaces there are available now and you can almost search an emotion like ‘angry’ and ‘sad’ or subjects like ‘Christmas’ and ‘Halloween’ and find a list of possible typefaces that match.
But just as we can search for typefaces that match emotion, typography is used to evoke our emotions and we can base a lot of our buying decisions purely on how something looks. Without even being fully aware, we can make decisions on whether a product is cheap, affordable or luxury just by looking at the typeface used on that product.
This is an interesting area of typography and one that could be researched to find out about how typography affects human behaviour.
I was able to pick a song quite quickly for this week’s challenge and think of some initial ideas. I chose The Stereophonics, ‘Traffic’. My husband took me to see them at a concert on our 2nd or 3rd date and they have been a favourite ever since!
The song is about being stuck in traffic and being bored. Kelly Jones writes about the strangers in the cars next to him and what their lives might be like.
I wanted my piece to focus on what see when you are stuck in traffic rather than the actual words Kelly writes about.
I thought about having the word ‘traffic’ made out of the letters of a number plate, as you are surrounded by them on the roads, and took photos to spell out the word.
I also thought about the roads themselves, roadworks, cars, road signs, road markings, brake lights, head lights etc.
When I was doing some research and looking at images, I noticed the electronic signs that you get along motorways that update you with any traffic information. These signs are made of LED lights and use letters that are made up of dots. I liked the idea of letters as a series of dots and so went about recreating the dots to use as the title for my piece. I painted dots using a cotton bud and I also used a hole punch on coloured card. The painted dots had more character and so I photographed them to use in my design.
I wanted the text to feel like it was on a road heading off into the distance. As I started to design the piece, it was difficult to decide which way to layout the text so that it was easily readable.
In the western world, we normally read left to right, top to bottom – so I decided to keep the text in this format, but I think I could play around with it more to see if there were other possible alternatives. Just thinking about it now, writing this, I could have the text on the left facing in the direction it was heading – so flipping it horizontally. It would make it harder to read but would it make more sense in the context of the road?
Even though I got my initial idea quickly this week, I feel I have left it to the last minute to try and put my ideas together and the final piece could do with more work and further development.
It is amazing how typography has become its own design practice over the years and not just part of a designer’s skills. As a designer, you can now solely focus on typography and go about designing your own typefaces, to be used by clients or sold to other designers.
Today, there are endless options of typefaces to choose from and I do love using typography in my work. I tend to stick to old favourites for body text etc. but if a project allows me to use typography as its main way of communicating (a business using their name as a logo for example), then the possibilities of what I can create, can make it an exciting fun project.
Typography is used to communicate in so many ways all over the word, in many different languages and it has a fascinating and interesting history. I am not sure as humans we realise how much if affects us, how much we interact with it on a daily basis or even allow it to determine how we shop for things. This would be a really interesting area of typography to explore further, maybe at a later date!
(1997) Ray Gun, Out of Control. London. Booth-Clibborn Editions
Poynor, R., Booth Clibborn, E., Why Not Associates (1991) London. Booth-Clibborn Editions
Soelling, K. Typography. 2020. GDE710 for MA Graphic Design. Falmouth University.
Image – FarwellEtaoinShrdlu – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MGjFKs9bnU&feature=emb_logo Last accessed 29th November 2020