This week’s theme is Type and Page: Constructs of Typography, Systems and Theory. The content this week looks at the history of typography, and how typographic conventions and design can be used to inform meaning in a text, culminating in a workshop challenge putting these skills into practice. I have found the course content so far to be particularly illuminating for me in terms of typography design, an area which my prior knowledge was somewhat limited. At the beginning of the week I am reflecting upon Sam Winston’s point from last week’s lecture; how typographic design can be used in picture books, for example, to illustrate another layer of meaning, rather than simply depicting the surface-level message of the text.
Kristoffer Soelling of Regular Practice gave this week’s lecture on Typography. The lecture comprised of two sections, one titled Type and Press, which considered how graphic design and type are intertwined with technology, whereas the following section explored the more dominant forms of expression, looking at type more aesthetically and design-wise. The lecture provided a brief but informative history of typography, considering printing and type creation, and how language is represented and communicated.
Kristoffer starts the lecture stating how before we had the technology we have today, if you wanted to create any form of type, you had to do it manually yourself. Likewise, the only way to reproduce something was to write it again, which he notes puts a dampener on the spread of ideas. In contrast, at the end of the lecture Kristoffer notes how everyone nowadays has access to a piece of software that can set type on their computer, whether it be online or offline, Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Working with type has a low barrier to enter both in terms of setting type and designing.
This leads us to consider; what does this mean for type designers and expert typographers? If such accessible software, with built-in guides and tutorials, allow everyone to begin designing type? In response to this, Kristoffer offers the suggestion that perhaps the role of the designer is changing; a theme we have explored throughout the course of the module. He says, “Maybe 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”.
In discussing some of the interesting ideas surrounding typography that came from The Bauhaus, Kristoffer touched on the work of Herbert Bayer. In 1925 Bayer was tasked with creating a signature typeface for all Bauhaus communications, resulting in the creation of the ‘universal alphabet’ (MoMA, 2020). His approach was to simplify the typewriter keyboard layout, deeming an uppercase and lowercase version of each letter, and serifs, to be unnecessary (Design History, 2011). Bayer sought to eliminate the archaic Gothic alphabet that was frequently used in German printing at the time, instead opting for a modern approach. The universal alphabet played an important role in the social and political reform that was taking place, both at the Bauhaus school and beyond.
Herbert Bayer was not a trained typographer, and was quoted saying “it was much easier to undo traditional concepts since most of us had not received traditional training as typographers and thus were not limited by received ideas” (Dezeen, 2018). It is clear that Bayer’s approach was to deconstruct the limitations of traditional typography, with Kristoffer highlighting in the lecture how Bayer believed it to be inherently classist. In consideration with Kristoffer’s end point of the lecture regarding the changing role of the designer, Bayer’s work demonstrates a desire to make design more accessible to all. As a designer, Bayer was able to push, propose and execute his typeface, whilst enabling the lowering of the barrier of entry to typography.
This week’s challenge was to collect an excerpt from a poet or writer’s work, and translate it into a new typographic form. We were tasked with considering how meaning is affected by interpretation, in addition to the relationship of the page as a whole.
In researching the work of Herbert Bayer this week, I was inspired to use this week’s workshop challenge as an opportunity to focus on a writer who also challenges tradition, investigating the presence of classism and elitism in design and media. Scottish poet, Tom Leonard, was the obvious choice. Leonard was well known for his poems often written in the Glaswegian dialect. His poem, The Six O’Clock News, has resonated with me since I first became aware of the connotations my own Glaswegian accent had amongst my peers at a Southern English school.
I considered Kristoffer’s point about the growing accessibility to type setting with the digital age, and how I could incorporate this into Tom Leonard’s 1976 poem, The Six O’Clock News. The poem is written as if it is being spoken by a newsreader, using the Glaswegian dialect, in which words are written exactly as they are spoken. The poem states how a newsreader with a Glaswegian accent would not be taken as seriously as a person in the same role with a ‘BBC accent’, nor thought of to be as credible or truthful.
Ironically, despite the poem’s meaning, critics often ridiculed Leonard’s poems for being in bad English, whilst others for being in bad Scots (The Guardian, 2019). The Six O’Clock News highlights the London-centric nature of UK media, and that regional dialects are underrepresented, or misrepresented as untrustworthy. Leonard challenges the reader, forcing them to consider whether a newsreader, who’s job it is to deliver facts on current affairs, needs to speak in Received Pronunciation in order to be trusted.
In my first drafts (above), I wanted to capture the London-centric nature of the media in the background, whilst offering an alternative voice, Leonard’s poem, in the foreground. I created two draft versions, one with a photograph of Canary Wharf as the background, the other with a London newspaper. With regards to the typography and type design, I was keen to incorporate the lecture’s teachings about how typography design has become more accessible, in response to Leonard’s inclusivity of non-traditional speakers in the media. I considered how to display type in a way that would’ve been possible at the time of writing in 1976. With the label maker invented in the 1930s and the popularity of the typewriters only winding down in the 1980s, I opted to combine the two. My use of ‘labels’ was important to me in highlighting the poem’s implications that we label people as untrustworthy, liars, or less than, based on their spoken accent.
Upon posting my drafts to the Ideas Wall, I received helpful feedback from other students. Overall, the design and inspiration behind it was well received, but echoed my own concerns that the page was too cluttered, and drew attention away from my interpretation of the poem’s meaning. I had suggested combining both elements in some way; the photograph of London, and the newspaper clippings, which both Tramaine and Hollie expressed support of. The feedback of other students in this workshop challenge was extremely beneficial, and I took it all on board in developing my design. With the poem having such significance to me personally, I hugely benefitted from fresh sets of eyes feeding back how they interpreted my work.
My final response to this week’s workshop challenge took on board the feedback of my peers, and ultimately is one of the pieces of work I am most proud of this far in the module. I collected a photograph of Big Ben, thinking this would be one of the most iconic and recognisable signifiers of London, using this as a clipping mask for the original newspaper background. I altered the colours of the label-styled type, instead opting to have the lines looking as though they could have been cut directly from the newspaper. Leonard notes how there’s a ‘right way of talking’, and this is hugely variable depending on where we live.
This module has taught us how collaboration knows no bounds in the digital age, allowing us to connect with and be influenced by individuals from all corners of the country and globe. Our different voices bring different perspective and allow for better creative outcomes, and that is what I have endeavoured to highlight this week.
Design History. (2011). Typography Teachers at the Bauhaus – Experiments in Idealist Typefaces. [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.designhistory.org/Avant_Garde_pages/BauhausType.html. [Accessed 28 November 2020].
Dezeen. (2018). Herbert Bayer: designer of the Bauhaus’ universal typography. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2018/11/06/herbert-bayer-bauhaus-100-typography-universal-typeface-font/. [Accessed 28 November 2020].
The Guardian. (2019). Tom Leonard obituary. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/04/tom-leonard-obituary. [Accessed 29 November 2020].
Museum of Modern Art. (2020). Herbert Bayer. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.moma.org/artists/399. [Accessed 28 November 2020].