Ohio City, Cleveland

Don’t Lose It

Sami Nummi
Apr 29, 2016 · 3 min read

Such an imperative technical skill to learn in design school, typography. As early as 4 years old, I was fortunate enough to have watched my dad apply vinyl type to glass in the early 1990’s among the blue collar businesses in Cleveland, Ohio. With a pencil sat behind his ear, ripped masking tape pieces stuck to light blue denim jeans, carefully and quickly measuring twice— applying once. We’d drive past storefronts on weekends and he would point out, “I made that one” “Did that one”. And to those who can recall the massive Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field) letters atop the Cleveland Indians baseball stadium, or any signage within the stadium for that matter, all of that sat in my laundry room before installation.

I got to play with letters. Three-dimensional ones. I saw the drafting table, with the dried thick paint, frozen ooze from disposable paper cups. The various pencils, huge and flat. Brushes, sand paper, wooden rulers dulled by decades of blades that once smoothly slid across. Dirt, dust, scratches, loose X-acto blades, broken graphite tips, squeaky hinges on lamps, years-old cluttered work space. Even lead-based paints.

I am grateful.

Having arrived to design school I had already burned hours and hours of the midnight oil simply looking at typefaces on a monitor. Choosing my favorites, using them until beaten to a pulp. The first typeface I grew a fondness to was “Bankgothic LTD”. This was because of a game called, Marathon (Sci-Fi first-person shooter) by Bungie and it is still awesome. I regret nothing!

It was the one thing I felt confident with. I knew I loved typography, deeply. And that was enough to feel quite okay about not knowing a single thing about typesetting. But at least I learned how to use type in design school— right?

Nope.

I did not learn typesetting in design school.

I learned typesetting through frustration at an internship. Through high-stake projects with actual clients. Diving into the deep end because I absolutely had to.

I’m involved in my alma mater. I see what comes out. I hear how current students talk about their two type classes (advanced typography and handlettering).

What the fuck.

Is type class being overshadowed by other classes? Are we teaching our designers to be developers instead, stretching them across plains of industries before they know the foundation of the industry they came to us to learn in the first place? Much too quickly rushing them from one skill without mastering the basics? Treating typography as this archaic chore?

Yes.

That seems to be the case. Treating typography as an add-on, in all its magnificence. Let’s move beyond mediocrity. Get your hands dirty behind a printing press, (there are classes) draw shitty letters, zoom in and don’t allow the computer to kern for you — get in there and move those pixels yourself. Make typography without pecking at a keyboard.

We need to touch the characters again, bring them out of the screen. They have rhythm, weight, essence, personality — they speak volumes!

There is life in each one of them.

Sami Nummi

Written by

“When you’ve got moxie, you need the clothes to match.”

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