The Best Typefaces Have a Thesis
An Interview with Dave Crossland of Google
Learning type design means really dealing with the lowest-level building blocks of typography. What steps should you consider if you decide to learn more about type design? This week, TypeThursday sat down with Dave Crossland of Google to learn more.
TypeThursday: Dave, thanks for being here for TypeThursday.
Dave Crossland: You’re welcome.
TT: I know you’re part of Crafting Type. Could you share with us what is Crafting Type?
We had people from all over…, because there was so little availability of those kinds of learning experiences….
How Did Dave Start Crafting Type
DC: Yeah. Crafting Type is a collective of instructors who we offer introductory beginner workshops on type design. We often offer them in places where typically there is no other type design workshops or classes or other opportunities. We have a few workshops coming up next year, one in San Francisco in a few weeks. Locally in SF there’s the great Cooper Type West class now, but most of the places we go to are places where there isn’t anything else, and that’s how we got started.
TT: So basically, Crafting Type helps expand type education to places where they may not have the resources yet?
DC: Yeah. There was a couple of great designers in Edmonton Canada, Jeff Archibald and Kyle Fox, and they had attended a Jessica Hische lecture at the Interlink conference. And they said, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could do some type work, but, we don’t know how.” Searching around online, they found that I’d been offering some informal workshops, and I actually happened to be in Edmonton at that time, which they saw on my blog. So they reached out, and I said, “Well, I’m going to be coming back in a few months, so if you guys organize a workshop, then I could teach it.” And I was expecting maybe three or four people. But they got like 40 people to sign up! So I invited some type designers I had been working with and I knew… Eben Sorkin, who I’d studied with, and a Spanish designer, Octavio Pardo, who I had recently met at the Congreso Internacional de Tipografía in Valencia, Spain. The three of us ran that workshop for 40 people in Edmonton in the summer of 2012. And we had people from all over attend, one person was working at Twitter and flew from San Francisco up to Edmonton for that five-day workshop, just because there was so little availability of those kinds of learning experiences at that time.
TT: What exactly happens at a Crafting Type workshop?
The best typefaces have a thesis, an opinion about what they’re seeking to achieve.
Crafting Type’s Process
DC: Over three days, the first thing we deal with is paper-and-pencil sketching. We get a lot of people attending the workshops who have no intention of becoming a full-time type designers, but they are working with typography in some way. Maybe they’re architects or UX designers. And often they haven’t done a lot of the observational drawing you do in art school. And they may be timid about expressing themselves with paper sketching. So we spend the first half day getting people through some sketching exercises to get them comfortable with the key ideas about letterforms and being able to express them, to put them down on paper. The first afternoon, we look at the basic steps of drawing digitally in a font editor, and we talk about what goes into defining a typeface, a type brief. When you’re designing a typeface, you have to have some purpose to what you’re doing and so we walk people through those questions that you ask yourself… Whether you have a client coming to you, or you’re doing something self-initiated, there are various kinds of questions you need to answer. The best typefaces have a thesis, an opinion about what they’re seeking to achieve. And then over the next two days, we have the participants define for themselves a brief and then execute it for a handful of letters. A few lowercase, a few uppercase. If they’re working quickly, maybe some numbers and some punctuation. Our aim is that by the end of the second day, they each have a handful of letters drawn digitally so that they can print out a page of text. By the end of the third day, we find people have done something that they’re very proud of.
TT: The end goal of this three-day workshop is to have people who may not know anything about type design feel very comfortable understanding what the mechanics inside a typeface are. Is that correct?
DC: Yeah. I think that in any learning process, whether you’re learning to play a musical instrument, or drive a car, or design a typeface, we go through cycles of learning. We start out knowing nothing, so it’s very easy to improve, and we experience a growth spurt. It’s great to be a beginner because you can see such rapid improvement. But then you get into a plateau, where you’re absorbing what that you’ve learned, you need time for it to sink in. As you continue working, maybe the results that you’re getting are not getting better, or as fast. But if you continue working and you work through that plateau, then something comes together, you realize something in yourself, or an instructor gives you a tip, and then, you take it to the next level.
TT: What aspect of type design do students find the most challenging?
It is difficult to help people see that the system of shapes in a typeface can come together with a very small number of letters.
Student’s Biggest Challenge
DC: I think that the people who attend the workshops who have not really done any sort of illustration or type work digitally with Bézier curves before, they find getting a shape that they’ve drawn on paper to be re-expressed with Béziers is a real challenge. Another thing that often happens is that students run ahead, especially those who are more confident with the Bézier tools. I see someone’s progress and then come back in a half an hour and they’ve done like ten more letters. It is difficult to help people see that the system of shapes in a typeface can come together with a very small number of letters. This is something that we build the schedule around. We have group reviews where everyone has printed out their work at the end of the second and third days, and we can see how if one person has worked in one way, other people work in different ways. They can see what works and what doesn’t together.
TT: You seemed very excited when you talked about how it’s nice to be a beginner, because you see this rapid growth in a very short amount of time. Is that one of the things you enjoy the most about teaching?
For me it’s fun to be introducing type design to people who get insights into the outer world of typography.
The Biggest Reward for Dave
DC: Yeah. We get a lot of people who are not going to become type designers, but they want to know about typography. Learning type design means really dealing with the lowest-level building blocks of typography. When you’re down working at that level then you get insights about how to use typefaces… if you’re buying retail type, then about how to choose them… or maybe if you are an art director, you would never make a type yourself, but you might commission a custom typeface. Having some hands-on experience is really satisfying. One of the things that I think is really interesting about running workshops for beginners is that variety. In the type community, a lot of the workshops offered are focused on things like kerning or diacritics or Python scripting. These are all at an intermediate level, where you get people who are really focusing inwards on type design. For me it’s fun to be introducing type design to people who get insights into the outer world of typography.
TT: This has been a great conversation, Dave. Thank you so much for your time.
DC: You’re welcome!
Like to learn more about Crafting Type? Crafting Type is having an event in San Francisco January 13th
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