12 Things I Learned in Type School

This essay is adapted from a process book summarizing my year as a student in the Type@CooperWest Extended program. It’s a collection of thoughts, projects, and sketches. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, both big and small, over three terms of studio and history classes, guest lectures, and workshops.

[ 1 ] My love for type

[ 2 ] Positive and negative space

[ 3 ] Digital revivals

[ 4 ] Italic slant angles

[ 5 ] Lettering

I came into this program not knowing much about lettering, and not even realizing that it’s a thing: a practice and artform with its own interesting history. These days calligraphy and sign painting have their fans and are probably still gaining in popularity. You can watch videos of masters showing off their lettering practice on Instagram. My classmate Kel Troughton is big into lettering and researching historical sources, and his interest inspired me to learn more.

[ 6 ] Finding inspiration

Inspiration can come in unexpected places. In the fall term, we had a weekend workshop on script typefaces with Richard Lipton. We began with drawing scripts in different sizes at 45-degree angles, then worked on how to bring them into the computer and turn them into functioning typefaces. Richard was encouraging us to come up with novel ideas for script faces. As I was drawing and starting to fill in my script letter outlines, he said, “You should stop right there!” It led me down a different path, an idea for a script with an inline fill.

[ 7 ] Going wide

In our present-day visual culture, it seems that wide lettering is really only used in one place consistently, in chrome decals on the backs of cars. You’ll see it in a few other applications, like in signs or logos on appliances, but not many other places. Not sure why exactly, but I think it’s because wide fonts are not very efficient in how much space they use to communicate information.

[ 8 ] The importance of counter shapes

[ 9 ] Getting thrown for a loop

In the first class of the final term, Tânia was detailing all the things that were due at the end: three completed font masters, a process book, samples of your typeface in use, a poster, possibly a website. And then the teachers threw us for a loop. They said, “Put your projects aside for a week. You’re going to work on a new type project based on a sample we’re giving you.” They had gone through Frank’s library of photos of street and shop signage from across Europe and picked out a different one for each student to turn into a font. The class was surprised and a bit stressed, but we got to it and showed our work the next week.

I started with the lettering for ‘Gonzalez’ and worked out a set of lowercase letters that could work as a connected script face.

[ 10 ] Not business school

For my final term project I wanted to turn my second term project into a more useful and usable regular-width face. I asked the teachers what they thought about doing a type family with four masters, so I’d have a range of weights for both roman and italic styles. Frank’s advice was that four masters was too predictable and encouraged me to pursue more ideas, not just getting “caught in the loop of endlessly refining.”

My final project was a sans serif family called Peasy.

[ 11 ] Where to go from here

I attended Typographics, a type conference held in New York City in June. The talks were inspiring, and it was fun to meet some of the students currently enrolled in the Type@Cooper(East) program to take notes on the two programs. Some of my biggest takeaways came from a lunchtime panel discussion geared toward type designers who are starting out.

[ 12 ] The long tail

When you tell non-designer friends you’re working on a font, they’re probably picturing that you’re making twenty-six letters. If they think for a moment, they might remember there’s uppercase as well as lowercase, and they look different, so that makes 52. If they’re really smart, they’ll remember numbers, and punctuation. This term it really sunk in that type design is a long tail effort. The further you get, the deeper you dig, and the more you realize is still there to find. Your typeface will never be complete.

Notes

Much appreciation, respect, and love to Tânia Raposo, Frank Grießhammer, James Edmondson, and Grendl Löfkvist for being enthusiastic and supportive instructors.

Founder, YDays. Formerly Design at Pocket, Medium, Google Project Ara, Inkling. Early joiner, late adopter.

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