Monthly Archives: March 2013

Education, Education, Education…

It was not so long ago that Michael Gove, minister for Education in the UK, proposed scrapping design and art education from his plans for the introduction of the EBacc certification. This provoked outrage from the art and design community, and rightly so. It is a slap in the face to all of us when the government’s website states that they are proud of the creative industries which contribute over £36 billion a year, and provide around 1.5 million jobs. Not only that, but 29.17 million people are employed in the creative industries, nearly 20% of all UK employment. And, it contributes about 10% of all exports*.

Clearly, this shows that design and art education is not just about getting your colour crayons out and doing some nice doodling for your mum and dad. Design and art provide not only tangible financial returns but our work, from any area of the creative industries, improves the quality of life for many groups in society.

For me the entire EBacc debate has again made me think whether our professional education system serves our young people. Is it really such a good idea to push everyone through a university mill, leaving people tens of thousands of pounds in debt, and possibly with degrees that have little weight once the job market is entered? Can we really expect everybody to be academically minded? Should we not go back to a traditional apprenticeship system that allows people to learn a trade in a mixture of practical skills and theoretical knowledge, and that enables them to compete in the job market with tangible skills?

I benefitted from a four year traditional apprenticeship, as a typesetter in Zurich, Switzerland, that I started at the tender age of 16. When I look back, I realise that not only was I able to gain skills but more importantly, I was in an environment that allowed me the space to grow up, and to gain confidence as a human being. This was possible because in this working environment I was exposed to role models, both male and female, outside the family. To me this was probably more important than the grades I received during the regular tests.

 Bruno certificate (web)

Traditional apprenticeships provide an opportunity for many young people to learn valuable life and professional skills. Not everyone is academically minded, not everyone wants to do A-Levels, or any exams necessary to progress to university, and not everyone actually wants to spend years in higher education. But without those vital grades, without the university degree, life simply stops, and young people end up either unemployed, or in low-wage jobs. This is fundamentally wrong since it affects society for generations to come.

Youth unemployment amongst the 16-24 year group is over 20%**. This simple statistic lets us project the impact on society in 15 years time, and research explains that the long term damage to individuals and the economy is staggering ***. By introducing traditional apprenticeship schemes, funded and supported by both government and industry, we would allow for a non-academic approach to education, with the added benefit of creating a highly skilled workforce that is able to compete in both national and international markets.

I agree that a professional education must include an introduction to academic rigour, but it has to be provided in tandem with rigorous manual and craft skills. When I hire a young designer, I need that person to be able to space a line of type. It is no good to me that they can write a 10,000 word essay about it. I need that person to have experienced first hand the impact of colour choice in practical terms, how it affects different printing techniques, or how it reacts to different papers; they must be able to do more than debate the various colour theories.

I believe that many aspiring graphic designers are badly let down by the current graphic design education. They are being educated in overcrowded classrooms, are in many cases given only minimal access to tutors, and generally have to find their own way in the world. This is at a crucial time when they face many different challenges in their lives. It is our responsibility as a society, and as the parent generation, to ensure they get all the support we can give them to form them into rounded human beings, who will one day fulfil their responsibility in society. And never forget, it is the generation that will one day pay our generation’s pension.

It is not enough that we just debate education and how to prepare young people for the future. It is time that we as a society take our responsibility seriously. For this reason, Dalton Maag has always offered internships to allow design students to gain more in-depth typographic skills, and for this reason we continue to have ideas on how we can make this even more beneficial to young people and the design industry.

It is also for this reason that we must stay vigilant and look out for people like Michael Gove, people with a misguided approach to social justice, whose ambition appears to be not to improve education for all, but to create a divided society.

Bruno Maag


* See
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Fabio and Fernando at tpc10


The Brazilian international typography conference, Tipocracia, is celebrating its 10th birthday this year with seven days of workshops, talks and debates on type design, history, calligraphy, letterpress, the market, trends and new technologies. We’re proud to be sponsoring the conference this year, but we’re also excited to have Fabio and Fernando presenting a talk on our latest custom font, designed for the Brazilian energy company, Petrobras.

To celebrate the release of the new font, we’ve produced a new poster to add to our Brazilian projects series of posters. These are going to be available at tpc10 and are a limited edition showcasing Petrobras Sans. If you’re at tpc10, then make sure you pick one up before they’re all gone.


Creating Nokia Pure Bengali

The Indian Nokia project started with Devanagari and Tamil. After those writing systems, we made our way towards West Bengal to design Nokia Pure Bengali. The project was a steep learning curve yet rewarding.

The research scope for Indian writing systems is wide, whilst the digital source of references is very restricted. Tackling the Bengali writing system was very challenging for both production and design. Luckily, we had the chance to have Fiona Ross* consulting for us, as well as Jo De Baerdemaeker; without them, the project would not have been what it is now.

Designing a typeface is a team effort. Digital typography creates a link between linguistics, design and technology. This tri-party collaboration becomes even more tangible when it comes to designing a non-Latin script involving complex syntax rules.

The first difficulty we had to face was the glyph list, also called encoding. This list answers the question: “what do we have to draw?”. The encoding covers both linguistic and production needs. The linguistic glyphs are the ones used to write down sounds transcribing the language or any languages (transliteration should not be forgotten especially in the syllabary systems). The production glyphs, and often alternates, are created to help the proper behaviour of the final product, the font. As the designer and engineer develop the project, they understand the technical needs and the tricks to create.

Bengali shares resemblances with Devanagari, but its feel is very different. Even in the case of a neutral sans serif, one should not forget the pulp and essence of the designated writing system. Bengali is a very vibrant and dynamic script; you can notice its liveliness in many out-strokes, for example in Da (see below).


Most of the conjuncts** in Bengali are shaped vertically. This becomes a real issue in digital typography. Designers and engineers are working within a bounding box, and the available space below the Latin baseline is rather small; vertical space tends to be lacking. Therefore, when developing a Bengali typeface, the designer is greatly encouraged to restrict the depth of the characters and conjuncts as much as possible. To add more design complexity, the conjuncts are often visually crowded, so this problem has been addressed using many optical modifications and corrections (see below).


Bengali conjuncts are built upon base glyphs; most of them are visually self-explanatory. However, a handful of them are not and need special care and research in order to make sure of their accuracy, like in KTa (see below).


After many months of development, the design and production eventually came to an end. You can appreciate the result compared to its Latin companion (see below).


Amélie Bonet

* Fiona G. E. Ross is the author of The Printed Bengali Character and its evolution, first published in 1999 by Curzon Press. Reprint by Shishu Sahitya Samsad in 2009.

** A ligature is a glyph representing the combination of a consonant and a vowel. A conjunct is the compound of two consonants together to shape one single glyph (see below).


Chinese Font Design

blogtypeNei Ho/Ni Hao! which is “greetings” in both Cantonese and Mandarin. I’m Julius Hui, a type designer for Dalton Maag, and I’m both a born native of, and currently based in, Hong Kong. I’m very glad to be able to share with you my knowledge of Chinese (Hanzi) type design – this is probably the very first time that Chinese type design has been properly exposed to the world.

It has long been a myth, not only believed in the Western world, but also by Chinese people, that the Chinese are not willing to share their typographic knowledge with a third party, or only to disclose it to a very limited extent. There is also a lack of willingness to systemise the knowledge available. This is mainly because of the Chinese culture of the craftsman, which is not limited to type design, but add to this the incredibly huge character set, and the number of Chinese type designers is very limited as a result. In fact there are probably no more than ten type designers who are capable of developing a Chinese character set entirely on their own. To sum up, it has always been one of the toughest careers of all in design.

But I have been very lucky. Five years of design studies at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University provided me with plenty of time and space to get myself focused on type and typography research. Upon graduating, I decided to take a Chinese type apprenticeship under a type master, learning to draw Chinese characters stroke by stroke, as well as studying massive weight-balancing and structure refinements, the three main processes of Chinese type design.

3 years of apprenticeship was tough, but extremely meaningful. I set out on my own afterwards, until I met Bruno last summer. I then joined up with my lovely colleagues, who were coping with the fast-growing client needs for Chinese type design. Having learnt a comprehensive set of skills, and combined these with my academic background, they have asked me to be an evangelist for good Chinese type design, demystifying that ‘wild west of type design’ and all the challenges ahead – stay tuned with our new blog as I’ll be writing more!

Dor Jei/Xie Xie!

Julius Hui

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