Page 1


Peter Balak Experimental Typography: Whatever that is. Peter Balak Peter Bilak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam

Experimental Typography: Whatever that means. unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘to

experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be help-

ful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also

have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by

crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just

an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response.

In a scientific context, an experiment is a test

of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this

sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that The Good and Bad Typography Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

lays a foundation upon which others can build. It

requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the

procedure to be repeated by others, thus provng

that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action.

An example of a famos scientific experiment

would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two

objects of different weights from the Pisa tower

to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In

this sense, a typographic experiment might be a

procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how.

A scientific approach to experimentation,

however, seems to be valid only in a situation

where empirical knowledge is applicable, or in

a situation where the outcome of the experiment can be reliably measured. What happens

however when the outcome is ambiguous,

non-objective, not based on pure reason? In

the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type

Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven

13

internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions

couldn’t have been more disparate. They are

marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While

Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that:

‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are

such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

Among the designers’ various interpretations,

two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is

something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and

several other designers suggest that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of

the result. There are many precedents for this

opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have

achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim

a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to

‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new

typography of his day — and his work was

an appropriate example of such an approach

today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse

accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests

that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than

being guided by conventions. This is directly opposed to the scientific usage of the word,

where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a

tendency to go against the generally accepted

base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design

experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — conventional — solutions. In this sense,

it would be impossible to experiment if one


were the only designer on earth, because there

would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-

language. The most frequently used letter (e)

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the

represents the highest density of population. The

French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds

styles, which is perceived as conventional. If

the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a

and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo

similar fashion, the scale would change, and

Another example of experiment as a process

conventionalism requires going against prevailing most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to more designers joined forces and worked in a the former convention would become anti-

conventional. The fate of such experimentation is

Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape. of creation without anticipation of the fixed

result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of

a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom.

Does type design and typography allow an

experimental approach at all? The alphabet is

by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by

convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire

many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the

Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the

eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an

online application of a typeface designed to be

recognizable in three dimensions. In each view,

letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of

the alphabet, free of all the details and optical

same sound are made redundant. For example,

the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in

Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading.

Quantange is another font specific to the

pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading.

the model. The user can also generate those

variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font.

Although this kind of experimental process

commercial activities. Once assimilated, the

down in size results in simplification of the

30% percent when multiple spellings of the

rotation, and generate multiple variations of

length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and

his project of size-specific typography. While close to conventional book typefaces, each step

with an average book being reduced by about

French language. It is basically a phonetic

has no commercial application, its results

the letters for regular reading sizes are very

stresses the economic aspect of such a system,

the viewer can set any of the available variables:

limits of legibility while phsically reducing

the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is

which distinguish one word from another)

may feed other experiments and be adapted to product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of

curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have

been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

Following this line, we can go further

alphabet which visually suggests the

Every letter in Quantange has as many different letter c for example has two forms because it

can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful

to foreign students of French or to actors and

presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the

Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading

corrections which are usual for fonts designed

to suggest that no completed project can

process, when he designed a typeface for setting

upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis

experimental only in the process of its creation.

(Perec has written the longest palindrome on

for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds Emile Javal, who published similar research at

the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the

physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the

constraints of legibility within which typography

be seriously considered experimental. It is

When completed it only becomes part of the

body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final

form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec

record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/

ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be

read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s

An experimental technique which is frequently typefaces are very playful and their practical

functions.

used is to bring together various working

aspects are limited, yet like the other presented

in The Typographic Experiment was formulated

rarely combined. For example, language is

works points to previously unexplored areas of

The second dominant notion of experiment

by Michael Worthington, a British designer and

theh portr

shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the

methods which are recognized separately but studied systematically by linguists, who are

educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation chiefly interested in spoken languages and in means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a

the problems of analyzing them as they operate

ask what is at stake and what typographers are

however, venture into the visible representation

to the risk involved with not knowing the exact

and thus secondary to spoken language.

examples of experiments in typography, his

interest which enlarge our understanding of the field.

As the profession develops and more people

statement is of little value: immediately we would at a given point in time. Linguists rarely,

practice this subtle art, we continually redefine

really risking. Worthington, however, is referring

of its moving boundaries.

of language, because they consider it artificial

the purpose of experimetation and become aware

outcome of the experiment in which the designers Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned are engaged.

with the appearance of type in print and other

Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on

substantial knowledge of composition, color

Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created

cartography, which takes into account the

density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so

reproduction technologies; they often have

theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack

knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought

that when typed they lock into each other. The

together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a

the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch

research in a wide variety of media.

filling of the letters however varies according to

French designer who pursues his typographic

14


13

Peter Balak Experimental Typography: Whatever that means. Very few terms have been used so habitually

and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography,

experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy

categorization, or confounding expectations. As

a verb, ‘to experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly

by the experiences of the designers. While

Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that:

‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are

such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

Among the designers’ various interpretations,

be helpful, considering that all design is a result

two notions of experimentation were dominant.

can also have the connotation of an implict

designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is

of the design process. The term experiment

disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility

for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say,

‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response.

In a scientific context, an experiment is a test

of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this

sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It

requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the

procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action.

An example of a famous scientific experiment

would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two

objects of different weights from the Pisa tower

to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In

The first one was formulated by the American

something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and

several other designers suggest that the nature

where empirical knowledge is applicable, or in

a situation where the outcome of the experiment can be reliably measured. What happens

however when the outcome is ambiguous,

non-objective, not based on pure reason? In

the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type

Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions

couldn’t have been more disparate. They are

marked by personal belief systems and biased

experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom.

Does type design and typography allow an

conventions. Type design that is not bound by

faster than ever before and when we have

achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim

a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to

‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new

typography of his day — and his work was

an appropriate example of such an approach

today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse

accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests

being guided by conventions. This is directly

however, seems to be valid only in a situation

become anti-conventional. The fate of such

opinion, but in an era when information travels

the result. There are many precedents for this

the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it A scientific approach to experimentation,

change, and the former convention would

experimental approach at all? The alphabet is

that the essence of experimentation is in going

does, how.

and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would

of experiment lies in the formal novelty of

this sense, a typographic experiment might be a

procedure to determine whether humidity affects

Peter Balak Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

against the prevailing patterns, rather than

opposed to the scientific usage of the word,

where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a

tendency to go against the generally accepted

base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design

experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of

by its very nature dependent on and defined by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire

many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the

limits of legibility while phsically reducing

the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is

his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very

close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the

letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of

the alphabet, free of all the details and optical

corrections which are usual for fonts designed

for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at

the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the

physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the

constraints of legibility within which typography functions.

The second dominant notion of experiment

other — conventional — solutions. In this

in The Typographic Experiment was formulated

one were the only designer on earth, because

educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation

sense, it would be impossible to experiment if there would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as

conventional. If more designers joined forces

by Michael Worthington, a British designer and means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we

would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is


14 referring to the risk involved with not knowing

and thus secondary to spoken language.

designers are engaged.

with the appearance of type in print and other

the exact outcome of the experiment in which the Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created

Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the

density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so

Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned reproduction technologies; they often have

substantial knowledge of composition, color

theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack

knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought

that when typed they lock into each other. The

together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a

the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch

research in a wide variety of media.

filling of the letters however varies according to language. The most frequently used letter (e)

French designer who pursues his typographic His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the

represents the highest density of population. The

French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds

the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a

and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo

most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to

Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape. Another example of experiment as a process

of creation without anticipation of the fixed

result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of

authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and

Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the

eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an

online application of a typeface designed to be

recognizable in three dimensions. In each view,

which distinguish one word from another)

stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the

same sound are made redundant. For example,

the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in

Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading.

Quantange is another font specific to the

the viewer can set any of the available variables:

French language. It is basically a phonetic

rotation, and generate multiple variations of

pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading.

length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and the model. The user can also generate those

variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font.

Although this kind of experimental process

has no commercial application, its results

may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the

product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of

curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have

been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

Following this line, we can go further

alphabet which visually suggests the

Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it

can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful

to foreign students of French or to actors and

presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the

Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading

to suggest that no completed project can

process, when he designed a typeface for setting

experimental only in the process of its creation.

(Perec has written the longest palindrome on

be seriously considered experimental. It is

When completed it only becomes part of the

body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final

form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

The Good and Bad Typography

Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

thehonor Portrait using type

the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec

record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/

ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be

read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s

An experimental technique which is frequently typefaces are very playful and their practical

used is to bring together various working

aspects are limited, yet like the other presented

rarely combined. For example, language is

works points to previously unexplored areas of

methods which are recognized separately but studied systematically by linguists, who are

chiefly interested in spoken languages and in

the problems of analyzing them as they operate

examples of experiments in typography, his

interest which enlarge our understanding of the field.

As the profession develops and more people

at a given point in time. Linguists rarely,

practice this subtle art, we continually redefine

of language, because they consider it artificial

of its moving boundaries.

however, venture into the visible representation

the purpose of experimetation and become aware

Experiment of Typography by yienkeat


13

Words: Peter Balak

Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment.

OPINION PETER BALAK

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography, experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘to experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response. In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how.

As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: ‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used? Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result. There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions. This is directly opposed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted A scientific approach to experimentation, however, base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical knowledge is applicable, or in a situation experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — where the outcome of the experiment can be conventional — solutions. In this sense, it would reliably measured. What happens however when be impossible to experiment if one were the only the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not designer on earth, because there would be no based on pure reason? In the recent book The standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in

requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional. If more designers joined forces and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, and the former convention would become anti-conventional. The fate of such experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom. Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate.Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions. The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language. The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape.

venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned with the appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent.

Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font.

These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media.

Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony. Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing. An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which are recognized separately but rarely combined. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken languages and in the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, however,

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading. Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s

14

typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field. As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of experimetation and become aware of its moving boundaries.


13

Words: Peter Balak

OPINION PETER BALAK

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography, experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘to experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response. In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. A scientific approach to experimentation, however, seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where the outcome of the experiment can be reliably measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized

designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: ‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used? Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result. There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part. Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions. This is directly opposed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — conventional — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible to experiment if one were the only designer on earth, because there would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional. If more designers joined forces and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, and the former convention

would become anti-conventional. The fate of such experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom. Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate.Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions. The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language. The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape. Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony. Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing. An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which are recognized separately but rarely combined. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken languages and in the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, however, venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned with the appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French

designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media. His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading. Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field. As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of experimetation and become aware of its moving boundaries.

14


13

Words: Peter Balak

OPINION PETER BALAK

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field

As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have

Does type design and typography allow an

been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the

experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by

designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every conventions. Type design that is not bound by type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: convention is like a private language: both lack ‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly

constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas

used?

Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two

of graphic design and typography, experiment notions of experimentation were dominant. The as a noun has been used to signify anything new, first one was formulated by the American designer unconventional, defying easy categorization, or David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t confounding expectations. As a verb,‘to experiment’ tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and is often synonymous with the design process itself, heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest

alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading

that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result.There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions.

which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response. In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects

sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt)

Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that

The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take

the essence of experimentation is in going against

risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little

the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions.This is directly opposed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design,

value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in

of different weights from the Pisa tower to where results are measured subjectively, there is a demonstrate that both would land at the same time, tendency to go against the generally accepted base proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a of knowledge. In science a single person can make

which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl,

valuable experiments, but a design experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist

an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population

against the background of other — conventional — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible A scientific approach to experimentation, however, to experiment if one were the only designer on seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical earth, because there would be no standard for knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires

in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies

typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how.

the outcome of the experiment can be reliably measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirtyseven internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment.

according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language.The most frequently used letter

going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as (e) represents the highest density of population. conventional. If more designers joined forces and The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a and the former convention would become anticonventional. The fate of such experimentation is

Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape.

a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom.

Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors,


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

14

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading. Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has

The Good and Bad Typography Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’.

challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar

languages and in the problems of analyzing them as practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, purpose of experimetation and become aware of its however, venture into the visible representation moving boundaries. of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned with the appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which

Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered

they represent. These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who

experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to

and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography,

An experimental technique which is frequently used his works points to previously unexplored areas is to bring together various working methods which of interest which enlarge our understanding of the are recognized separately but rarely combined. field. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken As the profession develops and more people

giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

formal solutions have been adapted by commercial

written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left

pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media.


13

Words: Peter Balak

designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions couldn’t

OPINION PETER BALAK

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography, experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘to experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response. In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. A scientific approach to experimentation, however, seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where the outcome of the experiment can be reliably measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized

have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: ‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used? Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result. There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part. Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions. This is directly opposed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — conventional — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible to experiment if one were the only designer on earth, because there would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional. If more designers joined forces and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, and the former convention would become

The Good and Bad Typography Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

anti-conventional. The fate of such experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom. Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate.Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

Experiment of Typography by yienkeat

of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette

language. Typogaphers on the other hand are

of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of

concerned with the appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color

use of the letter in the Dutch language. The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest

theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent.

density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens

These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide

representation of the Belgian landscape.

variety of media.

Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors,

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the

Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception,

compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent

a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by

thehonor Portrait using type

14

French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and

when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading. Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate

commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on

limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-

Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously

experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan

Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions.

considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it

Tschichold.

only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized

Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading

The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation

and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

(Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/

An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which are recognized separately but

ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be

means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density

rarely combined. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken languages and in the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, however, venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken

process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec

read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field. As the profession develops and more people


13

Words: Peter Balak

designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions couldn’t

OPINION PETER BALAK

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography, experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘to experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response. In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. A scientific approach to experimentation, however, seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where the outcome of the experiment can be reliably measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized

have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: ‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used? Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result. There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part. Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions. This is directly opposed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design experiment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — conventional — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible to experiment if one were the only designer on earth, because there would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional. If more designers joined forces and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, and the former convention would become

anti-conventional. The fate of such experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom. Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate.Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, HuotMarchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions.


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam. The Good and Bad Typography Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

Experiment of Typography by yienkeat

14

thehonor Portrait using type

in time. Linguists rarely, however, venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned with the appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media. His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and

The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette

a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of

Following this line, we can go further to suggest

use of the letter in the Dutch language. The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently

in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it

used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape.

that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only

was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

Another example of experiment as a process of

Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out

An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which are recognized separately but rarely combined. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly

and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of

interested in spoken languages and in the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point

creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors,

compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading. Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest


13

Words: Peter Balak

OPINION PETER BALAK

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field

As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have

Does type design and typography allow an

been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the

experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by

designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every conventions. Type design that is not bound by type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: convention is like a private language: both lack ‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly

constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas

used?

Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two

notions of experimentation were dominant. The as a noun has been used to signify anything new, first one was formulated by the American designer unconventional, defying easy categorization, or David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t confounding expectations. As a verb,‘to experiment’ tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and is often synonymous with the design process itself, heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest

alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading

that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result.There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions.

of graphic design and typography, experiment

which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by crating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response. In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made objectively under controlled conditions, which allows the

sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt)

procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, the essence of experimentation is in going against and that the phenomenon does not occur in the the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by

The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and

conventions.This is directly opposed to the scientific

what typographers are really risking. Worthington,

absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects

usage of the word, where an experiment is designed however, is referring to the risk involved with not to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in where results are measured subjectively, there is a which the designers are engaged.

of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, tendency to go against the generally accepted base proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a of knowledge. In science a single person can make typographic experiment might be a procedure to valuable experiments, but a design experiment that determine whether humidity affects the transfer of is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — conventional ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how.

Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter

— solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible

is identical, so that when typed they lock into each

A scientific approach to experimentation, however, to experiment if one were the only designer on seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical earth, because there would be no standard for knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires the outcome of the experiment can be reliably going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as

other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language.The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population.

measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirtyseven internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment.

conventional. If more designers joined forces and The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a and the former convention would become anticonventional. The fate of such experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a

Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape.

circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom.

creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors,

Another example of experiment as a process of


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

14

the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media. His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud returning the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading.

The Good and Bad Typography Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial

Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold.

of its creation. When completed it only becomes

Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading

part of the body of work which it was meant to

process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see

challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing. An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which

http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah

are recognized separately but rarely combined. or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and For example, language is studied systematically their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken presented examples of experiments in typography, languages and in the problems of analyzing them as his works points to previously unexplored areas they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, of interest which enlarge our understanding of the however, venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and

field.

activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial

thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers on the other hand are concerned with the appearance of type in print and other reproduction

As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of experimetation and become aware of its

giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

technologies; they often have substantial knowledge moving boundaries. of composition, color theories, proportions, paper,

Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process

etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought together in


1. baorboe 2. the good and bad typography 3. portrait Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.


13

Words: Peter Balak

‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

OPINION PETER BALAK

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t Very few terms have been used so habitually and tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest of graphic design and typography, experiment that the nature of experiment lies in the formal as a noun has been used to signify anything new, novelty of the result.There are many precedents for unconventional, defying easy categorization, or this opinion, but in an era when information travels confounding expectations. As a verb,‘to experiment’ faster than ever before and when we have achieved is often synonymous with the design process itself, unprecedented archival of information, it becomes which may not exactly be helpful, considering that significantly more difficult to claim a complete all design is a result of the design process. The novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt term experiment can also have the connotation Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the responsibility for the result. When students are definition of the new typography of his day — and asked what they intend by crating certain forms, his work was an appropriate example of such an they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they approach today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse don’t have a better response. accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part. an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that the essence of experimentation is in going against lays a foundation upon which others can build. It the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by requires all measurements to be made objectively conventions.This is directly opposed to the scientific under controlled conditions, which allows the usage of the word, where an experiment is designed procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, where results are measured subjectively, there is a and that the phenomenon does not occur in the tendency to go against the generally accepted base of knowledge. In science a single person can make absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment valuable experiments, but a design experiment that would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist of different weights from the Pisa tower to against the background of other — conventional demonstrate that both would land at the same time, — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a to experiment if one were the only designer on typographic experiment might be a procedure to earth, because there would be no standard for determine whether humidity affects the transfer of the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. conventional. If more designers joined forces and A scientific approach to experimentation, however, worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical and the former convention would become antiknowledge is applicable, or in a situation where conventional. The fate of such experimentation is the outcome of the experiment can be reliably a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a measured. What happens however when the circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on chasing whom. pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Does type design and typography allow an Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary experimental approach at all? The alphabet is Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty- by its very nature dependent on and defined by seven internationally-recognized designers to define conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the been more disparate. They are marked by personal constraints of the alphabet which inspire many belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: type-design who investigates the limits of legibility

while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions. The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language.The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape. Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial


Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

14

thehonor Portrait using type

Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself. 1. Experiment of Typography by yienkeat 2. The Good and Bad Typography 3. thehonor Portrait using type

its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony. Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves

average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to An experimental technique which is frequently used the simplest representation of their pronunciation is to bring together various working methods which — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood are recognized separately but rarely combined. only when read aloud returning the reader to the For example, language is studied systematically medieval experience of oral reading. by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken Quantange is another font specific to the French languages and in the problems of analyzing them as language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace however, venture into the visible representation of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many of language, because they consider it artificial and different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers the letter c for example has two forms because it on the other hand are concerned with the can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that appearance of type in print and other reproduction Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign technologies; they often have substantial knowledge students of French or to actors and presenters of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which language not indicated by traditional scripts. This they represent. project builds on experiments of early avant-garde These contrasting interests are brought together in designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who and Jan Tschichold. pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds written the longest palindrome on record, a poem which distinguish one word from another) and of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ten.renarg//:ptth). the economic aspect of such a system, with an The typeface is a combination of lower and upper


13

Words: Peter Balak

OPINION PETER BALAK

Experimental Typography: Whatever that means

‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer Very few terms have been used so habitually and David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and of graphic design and typography, experiment heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest as a noun has been used to signify anything new, that the nature of experiment lies in the formal unconventional, defying easy categorization, or novelty of the result.There are many precedents for confounding expectations. As a verb,‘to experiment’ this opinion, but in an era when information travels is often synonymous with the design process itself, faster than ever before and when we have achieved which may not exactly be helpful, considering that unprecedented archival of information, it becomes all design is a result of the design process. The significantly more difficult to claim a complete term experiment can also have the connotation novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that responsibility for the result. When students are no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the asked what they intend by crating certain forms, definition of the new typography of his day — and they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are don’t have a better response. more aware of the body of work and the discourse In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part. disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It the essence of experimentation is in going against requires all measurements to be made objectively the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by under controlled conditions, which allows the conventions.This is directly opposed to the scientific procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving usage of the word, where an experiment is designed that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment of knowledge. In science a single person can make would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects valuable experiments, but a design experiment that of different weights from the Pisa tower to is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist demonstrate that both would land at the same time, against the background of other — conventional proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible typographic experiment might be a procedure to to experiment if one were the only designer on determine whether humidity affects the transfer of earth, because there would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as A scientific approach to experimentation, however, conventional. If more designers joined forces and seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where and the former convention would become antithe outcome of the experiment can be reliably conventional. The fate of such experimentation is measured. What happens however when the a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic chasing whom. Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirtyseven internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that:

Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas

Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions. The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language.The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape. Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has


14

1. Experiment of Typography by yienkeat 2. The Good and Bad Typography 3. thehonor Portrait using type

Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony. Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media.

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words An experimental technique which is frequently used for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to is to bring together various working methods which the simplest representation of their pronunciation are recognized separately but rarely combined. — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood For example, language is studied systematically only when read aloud returning the reader to the by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken medieval experience of oral reading. languages and in the problems of analyzing them as Quantange is another font specific to the French they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which however, venture into the visible representation visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of language, because they consider it artificial and of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: on the other hand are concerned with the the letter c for example has two forms because it

can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field. As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of experimetation and become aware of its moving boundaries.


13

Words: Peter Balak

Experimental Typography: Whatever that means

‘Experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulated by the American designer Very few terms have been used so habitually and David Carson: ‘Experimental is something I haven’t carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and of graphic design and typography, experiment heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest as a noun has been used to signify anything new, that the nature of experiment lies in the formal unconventional, defying easy categorization, or novelty of the result.There are many precedents for confounding expectations. As a verb,‘to experiment’ this opinion, but in an era when information travels is often synonymous with the design process itself, faster than ever before and when we have achieved which may not exactly be helpful, considering that unprecedented archival of information, it becomes all design is a result of the design process. The significantly more difficult to claim a complete term experiment can also have the connotation novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt of an implict disclaimer; it suggests not taking Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that responsibility for the result. When students are no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the asked what they intend by crating certain forms, definition of the new typography of his day — and they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they his work was an appropriate example of such an approach today things are different. Designers are don’t have a better response. more aware of the body of work and the discourse In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part. disprove a hypothesis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It the essence of experimentation is in going against requires all measurements to be made objectively the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by under controlled conditions, which allows the conventions.This is directly opposed to the scientific procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving usage of the word, where an experiment is designed that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base absence of the action. An example of a famous scientific experiment of knowledge. In science a single person can make would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects valuable experiments, but a design experiment that of different weights from the Pisa tower to is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist demonstrate that both would land at the same time, against the background of other — conventional proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible typographic experiment might be a procedure to to experiment if one were the only designer on determine whether humidity affects the transfer of earth, because there would be no standard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as A scientific approach to experimentation, however, conventional. If more designers joined forces and seems to be valid only in a situation where empirical worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, knowledge is applicable, or in a situation where and the former convention would become antithe outcome of the experiment can be reliably conventional. The fate of such experimentation is measured. What happens however when the a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic chasing whom. Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirtyseven internationally-recognized designers to define their understandings of the term experiment. As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that:

Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the ability to communicate. Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas

Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibility while phsically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process is still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions. The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British designer and educator based in the USA ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged. Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language.The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape. Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ‘an exercise in perception, a stimulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-dimensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font. Although this kind of experimental process has


14

1. Experiment of Typography by yienkeat 2. The Good and Bad Typography 3. thehonor Portrait using type

Modern, digital desktop publishing could be accredited as much to the innovators of operating systems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as much as it can be accredited to the long standing history of the written word, printing, and Typography itself.

Peter Balak writes for Émigré is married with two dogs and lives and works in Amsterdam.

no commercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilated, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosity, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony. Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent. These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media.

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to xx characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words An experimental technique which is frequently used for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to is to bring together various working methods which the simplest representation of their pronunciation are recognized separately but rarely combined. — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood For example, language is studied systematically only when read aloud returning the reader to the by linguists, who are chiefly interested in spoken medieval experience of oral reading. languages and in the problems of analyzing them as Quantange is another font specific to the French they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which however, venture into the visible representation visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of language, because they consider it artificial and of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many thus secondary to spoken language. Typogaphers different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: on the other hand are concerned with the the letter c for example has two forms because it

can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold. Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways, see http://graner.net/nicolas/salocin/ten.renarg//:ptth). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s typefaces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited, yet like the other presented examples of experiments in typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field. As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of experimetation and become aware of its moving boundaries.

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