“Respect Thy Typography”
Edward Fella Interview
typ·og·ra·phy /tīypägrOfē/ :noun: The art or process of printing with type. The work of setting and arranging types and of printing from them. The general character or appearance of printed matter.
One of the many great designers who echoed Warde’s ethos was Jan Tschichold. His most well-known work is found in the legacy he created during his time working for Penguin (1947-1949), refining and redesigning the former book covers and creating the rulebook for the Penguin covers that followed him.
Centuries of working with movable type has left us with principles on which to base our typography, and it’s our duty as designers to understand them.
Take a snapshot of the visual culture that surrounds you—magazines, movie posters, packaging, websites—how much of it relies on typography? How much of the typography around you is actually well considered? Chances are you’ll find a handful of beautifully crafted typographical designs competing with an avalanche of visually “rich”, image-heavy creations. Typography is then relegated to the role of “necessary evil” in order to display text, or illconsidered typographic pieces, where the meaning of MS WordArt has been interpreted a smidgen too literally… Why?
us have done—even the briefest throwback into the annals of typography and design history will help. Consider Milton Glaser’s “I love New York” logo from 1977, commissioned as part of a marketing campaign by the New York State Department of Commerce. Glaser, who did the work pro-bono, wisely avoided skylines, figures of people holding hands, or flowery ornaments by using only a simple heart shape to represent the key word of the mark: love. We all know the subsequent success of the logo, as it has been brandished on millions of white t-shirts, inspiring countless knock-offs since its inception. And if the heart-symbol of Glaser’s work seems too pictorial in this context, how about Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture? Originally created for a Museum of Modern Art Christmas card in 1964, this iconic piece of type shuns imagery altogether, relying only on the power of letterforms (arguably based on Clarendon) to ignite our compassion.
Of course, this kind of admiration for type didn’t just start with 60’s advertising. Typography is a craft going back thousands of years—to the birth of writing, if you wished to go deep enough—and has evolved and developed a great deal since that time. Theories have been postulated and developed as to how to best communicate through letterforms, especially when an idea needs to be transmitted as easily as possible. As Bringhurst explains while introducing the first chapter of his timeless “The Elements of Typographic Style”: Typography exists to honor content.
But with such power comes great responsibility. And even though modern tools give us the opportunity to do so many things, doing a great deal of these things isn’t always a recipe for beautiful design. Just because we have many options opening up to us doesn’t mean we need to employ every single one of them in the hope of developing a design that stands out—and most likely for all the wrong reasons. That’s not to say typographic design can’t be ornamental, complex or even illustrative. But centuries of working with movable type has left us with principles on which to base our typography, and it’s our duty as designers to understand them (at least if we’re aiming to break them). A good place to start is to look at what those who came before
Beatrice Warde’s well known essay “The Crystal Goblet” beautifully explains the role of the typographer and his or her type, and she reinforced this point during an address given in 1930 to the British Typographers Guild in London. Advocating the idea that type was not there to be admired, or even noticed, that it existed only with the purpose of communicating an idea, she proclaimed; “I have a book at home of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris.” I wonder how many us have the same consideration for content when we browse through MyFonts or Typekit in search of the perfect typeface.
Looking at these covers one will see that the focus is unequivocally on the communication of a book’s title and author, and the result is truly magnificent. The covers are not beautiful because of particular ornaments or images, or even the individual shapes of the letters, but for their clarity of message. It’s not by accident that a clarity of (and focus on) typography has stuck with Penguin until the present day, which is beautifully demonstrated by David Pearson’s designs for the “Great Ideas” series from 2004, 2005 and 2008. The approach advocated by modernist typographers is one of clarity and legibility. Scientific methods (let’s call it early “A/B testing”) were utilized in the quest to find the perfect typeface—not in terms of aesthetic, but rather efficiency for communicating— and rigid systems were developed to achieve ideal reading conditions. In the strictest sense, typographic beauty is not to be gained from the letters or ornaments themselves, but should come as a natural result from an “invisible” type that unselfishly honors the words and content. However, movements of any kind invariably inspire counter-movements, and the modernist ethos was to be thoroughly challenged towards the end of the last century, most notably by David Carson (b. 1954), Peter Saville (b. 1955) and Neville Brody (b. 1957). While earlier designers sought to communicate the messages they were setting as clearly and cleanly as possible, these young contenders wished to push the boundaries of legibility and normality, so that the emotion and idea wasn’t delivered via what the words represented, but how the words were seen as objects separated from their meaning. These three designers were to shape the face of contemporary typography with their groundbreaking work spanning magazines, newspapers, film titles (Carson and Brody) and record sleeves (Saville). They helped pioneer experimental typesetting in the 80′s and 90s’, throwing the modernist rulebook out the window, yet retaining the communicative authority for letters and words. Extract from “Respect Thy Typography” Espen Brunborg
Good typography shouldn’t have to rely on ornamental crutches to stand tall. Yet despite all the tools and knowledge available to us, we readily embrace a flourishing, decorative typography, with cheap tricks used in a misguided attempt to make it “pop”. This ancient art may rapidly be gaining popularity, but are we paying it the respect it deserves?
IVAN KOSTYNYK Kostynyk uses illustrative typography throughout his broad range of contemporary graphic design creations for a range of applications.
ASHLEIGH BARON Ashleigh Burrows is a design student and artist in her own right, concentrating on producing interesting type including the illustrative format.
Ed Fella is one of the worlds most renowned old school designers and illustrators, most recently working with colourful illustrtive typefaces.
Danielle Krol is an illustrator with a unique style that is applied across illustration and illustrative type, creating entire typefaces.
MARTIN SATI Sati creates high impact illustrative typographic solutions for a range of design problems in bold and detailed designs.
I don’t see how anyone can say I’m not a model for professional practice when Template Gothic - one of the typefaces Barry Deck did under my auspices - has become the face of the ‘90s. You see it everywhere. But Barry couldn’t say “I did this because my teacher showed it to me,” so he uses this story - which was kind of funny when it first appeared in Emigre - about how Template Gothic is based on a laundromat sign he saw. Now it’s become a whole myth in graphic design history. His I.D. 40 piece even starts out with this story. But this poster (left) is the piece that was the inspiration for Template Gothic. I’d shown it to him and said, “To design a typeface using templates, the trick is to fill in the breaks.” But really, it was part of a whole project of font design using the vernacular and ideas of irregularity and disintegration, as well as an ideology of anti-mastery. These were exercises that yielded lots of typefaces from both students and faculty. The important thing is that this work came out of a particular environment. I practice and preach! On the other hand, some of my work isn’t meant as a model for all professional practice. It’s an aside to professional practice. Sometimes it could be a critique of professional practice, a parody of professional practice. It could also give one an understanding of professional practice by bringing certain art practices into design work.
/But isn’t there a danger that other designers will misuse these forms? A danger that somebody would look at that Focus Gallery stuff and do what with it? Make car catalogs that look like that? Or stop signs? That actually did happen in Detroit, which I thought was hilarious. In the early ‘80s, they did car catalogs for the California market that looked like April Greiman’s New Wave graphics. And I’m sure that, at first, somebody said, “Look at these New Wave graphics: they’re no model for professional practice,” and a few years later, they were used to sell Chevrolets in L.A. [laughs] Of course, New Wave graphics are everywhere now. They’re so assimilated into the mainstream, you don’t even notice them. So what’ll happen when a car catalog has disintegrating type in it? Probably nothing. It’ll all be so watered down. /Isn’t there a sameness to the look of a lot of student work? Obviously there is, but you see that similarity happening with what you call the “avant-garde” or “graphic edge” or any of those terms used to define the Zeitgeist. But I don’t see our students as a bunch of clones. Our whole program is against this idea of “do as I do.” We don’t offer the work we do as any kind of a model to emulate or copy. We don’t say “This is the way to work” the way the Modernists like Paul Rand offered their own practice and their own philosophy and ideology as “the truth.”
I mean he’s wonderful history. I wish I would be such history. I hope to be history, too, but I won’t be as big a history as Paul Rand. Hopefully I’ll be a tiny little footnote, whereas Paul Rand will have volumes. There’s a whole other kind of history that has nothing to do with esthetics or design history. If you’re writing a history of the automobile industry and American economics, I’m sure some commercial, totally anonymous car catalog I did in 1976 for Camaro had a bigger impact on the American system as a whole than some flyer I did for the Detroit Focus Gallery that’s in the design history books, that’s had a big influence on a whole generation of students, blah blah blah, or that’s made me a young Turk standing “sheepishly at the center of a debate over the future of graphic design in the U.S.,” as Peter Hall put it in Design Week magazine. [laughs] /If not “do as I do,” what sort of guidelines do you impart to the students in your classes? We offer students a way to work through what they themselves want to express, a kind of authenticity that comes from their own experiences, likes, dislikes, tastes, abilities, politics. /What if, in finding their own voice, the students become loud to the point of self-indulgence? I always joke about that with my students. I say, “You poor guys, you’ve got to go out and work and do all the stuff. When you’re my age you can retire and then you can indulge yourself.” I worked hard for thirty years, and now I’m not going to do any more commercial work. All I want to do in my “repose” is wallow in esthetic self-indulgence! Edward Fella, interview with Michael Dooley
/Are you giving your students at CalArts a model for professional practice?
He still does, right? That’s what he’s railing about in his latest book, Design, Form, and Chaos. You can understand Paul Rand’s context, since he’s a Modernist. And he can be forgiven for that, since he was one of the greats of that particular tradition. But he’s history.
thing is that this work came out “ ofThea important particular environment. I practice and preach!
I’m 56 years old, I’m hardly a young Turk. So it was kind of funny that somebody can call you a young Turk when you’re an old man, or almost. I’m not as old as Paul Rand, though. I’ve been around since the late ‘50s. I spent 30 years as a “hack” in the Detroit commercial artist business. I was an advertising designer, illustrator, I did lettering, all sorts of things. But I also did a body of work outside the professional work in the studio system, which was the more experimental stuff, either self-published or published to promote artists and photographers; what’s now called “personal” or “cultural” graphics.
The Focus Gallery posters were specialty design, a very small end of design. A thousand, fifteen hundred, of them were printed and sent out each month; that was the extent of the alternative space “market share” in Detroit, and it wasn’t going to get any bigger than that. And these things looked like the kind of art that was shown at the gallery, which wasn’t popular art or boutique art or art for the masses. It was art that couldn’t make it in commercial galleries. Nobody wanted to buy it. It was too far out or too ephemeral or too critical. But it was intelligent art, complex and hip. It was about what was going on in the art world, it was part of it, even if it was done by so-called entry-level artists. So the flyers were perfectly suited to the message and the audience.
/How did you feel about being referred to - as you were in Steve’s article - as one of the “new young Turks”?
Pavel Fuska creates these aged, very clean style of typefaces for many applications and ranges of products for different uses.
PABLO IENTILE Pablo Ientile is a designer and illustrator who combines his illustrative type with his own unique style of illustrations.
SEB LESTER Seb Lester works with creating these high end typographic solutions with artistic flair and an eye for detailed finish.
SIGGI ODDS Siggi Odds has created vast range of illustratove and typographic solutions with a heavily professional and clean finish.
SI SCOTT Si Scott has one of the most recognised styles of any illustrator, combining classically set typography with artistic flair and floral hand drawn designs.
Zensato does not often work with typography, but these examples show depth of understanding and creativity of illustrative typographic possibilites.