Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Career in Type Design

Ron passing on his knowledge to Damien

Ron passing on his knowledge to Damien

Dalton Maag has recently begun a new training programme for its new recruits, presided over by Ron Carpenter, and this is the second of a series of articles giving an insight into the process.

Ron has a wealth of knowledge about font design, with over twenty years of experience in the business. This made him the perfect man to teach our new recruits about font design. We talked to him about how he came to be a font designer and his early days in font design.

“I got into type design rather by accident. In hindsight it may have had something to do with being left handed, and the effect this had on my writing style – even writing on a horizontal line is a challenge most left-handers will recognise! As a young lad in the late 1950s and early 60s the writing of birthday and Christmas present thank-you letters was a much hated chore and I would end up writing numerous drafts before I was satisfied with the results. The content was probably quite poor, but it had to look right. In retrospect I suppose I was aware that writing style revealed something about yourself and should be treated with care. It was many years later that I met up with the same issues in type design and its connection with branding.

“A fascination with maps lead to my first job – in cartography. The company provided large scale maps based on aerial photography for local authorities and civil engineers. Converting these photographs to readable maps required a fair degree of accuracy – so I guess I was developing an eye for detail. When the company moved to Northern Ireland I decided not to follow, so ended up answering an advertisement for a draughtsman at Monotype’s Type Drawing Office in nearby Salfords. Note the word draughtsman, not designer.

“Much of the work carried out in my early years there consisted of creating new glyphs (called specials) requested by clients to augment existing fonts, so we got to work with many different type styles, which again in hindsight was a good experience.

“Letterpress was still in use at that time (1968 onwards) and optical scaling was the norm, so the re-interpretation of font families for use at specific sizes was an important part of day to day design work, requiring accuracy of interpretation more than creativity. Some new designs were being developed, but these were mostly adaptations (to the Monotype system) of existing designs, or were commissioned from specialist type designers working outside of the industry – José Mendoza’s beautiful artwork for Photina springs to mind.

“Pencilled sketches were made onto cartridge paper using customised rotating drawing boards and, to ensure permanence and clarity, these were finished off using french curves, also custom made. Production processes from drawing, pattern, punch, matrix and type, required drawings which were back-to-front. An ascender to descender height of 10 inches (about 25 cm) was required and all drawing was carried out in outline, so the system was not intended for the creative aspects of type design, but as a means to copy or modify existing designs. It took several weeks to create letterpress prints, so the proofing and checking process was, by modern standards, extremely slow – and costly.

“Later developments into phototypesetting and eventually digital laser composing machines freed us from some of the constraints of the old system and smaller film positives provided a more designer friendly basis for creativity – we could even work with characters facing the right direction! It opened up opportunities to create new designs which I was quite keen to do. My favoured method of working in that pre-digital period was to sketch onto tracing film; modifications and refinements could be made by flipping the drawing over and sketching onto the back surface – a kind of early mask layer! These drawings could then be reduced on a photocopier before cutting out individual letters which could be arranged and rearranged into useful test words. For a more realistic representation these letters were inked in using a fine mapping pen for the outline, and felt-tip pen for the rest, with a minifying glass providing a further reduction in viewing size. It was a liberating period – after years of reproducing and modifying existing designs I could explore and experiment with new ideas.

“Of course, digital print and display screen technologies changed everything but whatever means are used to produce and display fonts, the issues remain largely the same. Designing type is about texture as well as form. It’s easy with high resolution screens to become seduced by the elegance of the larger letter forms we work with during the design process, without necessarily considering the textural effect resulting from their use at smaller reading sizes. I like to imagine working ‘at size’, as punch-cutters from the past would have done, dealing directly with minute detail. There seems to be a conflict in type design between the freedom necessary to be creative and the discipline to eventually execute things precisely. It’s part art and it’s part architecture.”

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Ron, always learning, takes part in a cyrillic font design workshop.

Effra Wins Red Dot Award

effra corp blog post Jonas Schudel has been awarded the coveted Red Dot: Best of the Best in the Red Dot Award: Communication Design 2013, as recognition of his work on Dalton Maag’s Corporate Edition of the Effra font family. He completed the design concept for the Latin Weights between Light and Heavy during his internships, and collaborated closely with the Dalton Maag design team on the other styles which formed the foundation for the completed and expanded Corporate font family.

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The Red Dot Design Award is one of the world’s largest design competitions. The Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen started honouring excellent design in 1954 and the Red Dot is now awarded in the disciplines of product design, design concept and communication design. The Red Dot jury evaluated 6,800 entries this year, and awarded only 62 Red Dot: Best of the Best awards for exceptional creative achievements in the field of communication design.

The Effra font family has its roots in one of the earliest sans serif designs commercially available, Caslon Junior, from 1816. The design has been updated for contemporary use, and expanded to Dalton Maag’s Corporate Edition character set. Effra’s overriding design features are its clean lines and open proportions; its circular characters hint at a geometric basis and express modernity. Where traditional Grotesque features are expected, the font family surprises with soft and humanist design details.

As well as being a professional designer, Jonas Schudel is also a lecturer at the Zurich School of Design  for Typography/Font Design on the Type Design degree course, which he has led since 2006. He also lectures on these topics at the School of Design Aargau in the area of continuing education.

Prof. Dr. Peter Zec, initiator and CEO of Red Dot said: “Every year, the days when design experts from all over the world come together for the Red Dot judging process are full of surprises and inspiration. Many of the numerous entries in the Red Dot Design Award: Communication Design 2013, coming from 43 countries, have impressed the jury. But only the best works will win an award. Only those who manage to stand out from the crowd in a competition, show high market potential and economic visibility. Winning a Red Dot is the best way to do so.”

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Signing Off

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Entrance to Osborne Signs, where the workshop took place.

Outside the realms of the established typographic community are a handful of signwriters who ply their trade creating bespoke lettering in the physical environment. These are craftspeople who do not need to over-theorise their work, but just create beautiful hand painted signs that are fit for purpose.

Handmade lettering has been experiencing somewhat of a revival recently and a good number of us from Dalton Maag were keen to get our hands dirty. Departing at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning from Waterloo Station, we were bound for a signwriting workshop hosted by traditional signwriter and all-round top chap, Wayne Osborne, at his workshop in Midhurst, South Downs.

Armed with a standard sized brush, palette and steadying stick, our day began with basic stroke drawing exercises. We started with verticals, then progressed to horizontals, diagonals and finally, rounds. Controlling the brush and flow of paint takes time to learn, the objective being to construct letterforms in as few precise strokes as possible with a good even fill of colour. Mistakes whilst using the brush are not easily rectified, so the right balance of brush control and paint consistency are paramount.

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Hanna and Eleni learning the ropes

In practice, a signwriter has to be in absolute control of their chosen medium of mark making. Oil based paint or gold leaf is unforgiving and one awry movement could potentially ruin a commission. Difficult, large-scale surfaces add an extra level of complexity as work is often executed on rough render, brickwork and buildings of historical or personal importance. No such thing as command-z in this industry!

Following a very British lunch of ham salad sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes (or Bakewell tart for the more adventurous) we were into the afternoon’s activity of creating our own hand painted signs.

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Sketches of the soon to be painted signs

Selecting a plastic board from a random collection of sizes we proceeded to trace around the board and draft out our compositions in pencil on paper. Chalking the reverse side of the paper, the design is then transferred to the board by retracing the outline on the design side of the paper with the board underneath. Painting can then begin in earnest using the impression of the chalk lines as a guide.

Varying grades of sable brush sizes are used depending on the intricacy of the design, but the essential principles of patience, mark economy and hand-eye coordination remain. The results of our toils, in both groups who attended, were of a competent standard for a first attempt with some rather ambitious colour work taking place, alongside some beautifully delicate profanities (nice one, Bruno!).

It was certainly refreshing to escape the digital environment for a day and make more of a human connection with letterforms. My attitude towards the craftsmen and women who make a living out of signwriting is now certainly one of reverence.

Stuart Brown

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Stuart hard at work

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Riccardo performing a balancing act

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Kalapi flying the Dalton Maag flag with some non-Latin script sign painting

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The team with their finished signs.

An Introduction to Type Design at Dalton Maag

Dalton Maag has recently begun a training programme for its new recruits, and this is the first of a series of articles giving an insight into the process.

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Ron giving Damien some advice

Presiding over the training is one of the longest serving members of Dalton Maag, Ron Carpenter. We asked him about how exactly you take a new recruit and turn them into a type designer.

“We start with calligraphy, which underpins much of what we do as type designers. They spend a couple of weeks on this – not necessarily to produce perfect examples, but to gain a better understanding of the relationship between type and some of its origins.

“What we perceive as ‘normal’ is based on our exposure to type forms over many years, so our relationship with type through reading will vary from person to person. It makes sense to go back to calligraphy and type history to have a better understanding of why the letters of the alphabet are like they are. It helps to demystify the design process. The modulation, stresses and oblique angles found in many typefaces can be traced back to calligraphic principles.

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Cosimo working on his calligraphy

Rafael's calligraphy work

Rafael’s calligraphy work

“The second phase consists of painting letters. 24pt samples from each of the major type classifications are provided and these have to be reproduced to an x-height of around 75mm (about 3 inches) using brushes and black and white gouache. This is quite an intensive process requiring a minute attention to detail, and is designed to enhance visual sensitivity – training the eye to see what is there, at a relatively small size, and making the necessary decisions to recreate the same thing at a much larger, working size. In much the same way our designers here work in FontLab, but this process is a more direct way, without the constraints of Bezier outline manipulation. It’s about making calculations on proportion, weight, position; shape etc. based on visual judgement rather than measuring – a skill that goes to the heart of type design. The principle features and characteristics of different type styles can also be examined during this phase.

“Our designers have to assess a design according to the minute detail, often at small point sizes, so it’s important to know how to manipulate the actual size when working at a larger drawing size.

dirty brushes

Dirty brushes

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An example of painting characters

“Depending on previous experience, they then spend time familiarising themselves with the design aspects of FontLab and begin to discuss creating a concept for a new design of their own choosing. This is preferably something that could be a useful addition to our Type Library here at Dalton Maag. It’s quite a big step, but gives them an opportunity to express themselves, whilst gaining knowledge in the more formal aspects of type design and the use of FontLab.

“They need to justify the new concept and consider its viability; does the concept work? Does it make sense? Does it fulfil a role? How would you market and sell this typeface?

“We try to steer them away from the personal or quirky display styles and towards something which is more commercially viable. So I’m looking for something that fulfils a particular role, whether it’s functional for a particular print or screen environment or something with a fresh personality that may not have been tried before. The new concept is expanded to include caps, lowercase, figures and basic punctuation followed by the planning and execution of a range of weights or, for a Text font, a matching italic.

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Mary working hard on her project

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Matt’s project in progress

“They then spend some time with our Font Reliability department so they gain some insights into Quality Assurance and the technical aspects of type design so we can minimise those issues which lead to difficulties when a font is engineered. They also spend time hinting so that they appreciate some of the practical issues concerning the screen rendering of their new design concept.

“Throughout the training process, each recruit keeps a log of what they’re doing from day to day so we can monitor progress to see if the program needs to be expanded or amended. It has to be said that, even with this initial training completed, there is still much to learn, but at this stage the trainees can move into a production team to continue the process.”