Experimental type info

hodge's picture

I'm writing a paper for a history of graphic design class on experimental typography. If you have any links to sites that explore this, or designers who employ experimental type in their work, I'd greatly appreciate it! Thanks!

ruderman's picture

I'm very sorry, but I don't really understand - what does it mean "experimental typography"??? Can you explain..?

beejay's picture

Brandon...From what I've seen and heard, the word 'experimental',
as it applies to type, bugs a lot of people for some reason.

You'd have to hit up google, but if I remember correctly,
Jonathan Hoefler had a good quote that attempted to define
what is actually experimental...I think he said most of what is
supposed to be experimental is not experimental...but I
don't remember.

Maybe it was in Texts on Type.

Also, Claudio Piccinini
http://fsd.it/thoughtype/main/
would be a great person to email.

His email address is on the site.

He's an expert in Keedy, Deck, Carson, Newlyn,
Emigre, et al. and the type scene of the 90s.

You should check out another book by Stephen Heller...
Letterforms: Bawdy, Bad and Beautiful...

see also
New Faces: type design in the first decade of
device-independent digital typesetting (1987-1997)
by Emily King

archived at the typotheque site

I like to use the word 'exploratory' to describe
type design that veers off into unexplored areas.


bj

hrant's picture

The true meaning of "experimental" must include an analytical study of results, as opposed to an introverted infatuation with mere unorthodox process. Virtually nobody does that.

hhp

hdschellnack's picture

Uhm... Hrant, how would you define a RESULT in a creative experiment. Isn't part of the charme of an experiment that you don't know the results. Although it would be nice to have an ex-post-analysis of, say, the 80s/90s post-digital-typographic-experimentation, I don't think it should matter to those who DO the experiments what is the actual outcome of their work. I think in experimentating, the process, the finding-out-about-things or the plaing-around-without-things is very much in the foreground, it is very much an explorative, not a teleological animal.

John Hudson's picture

Here I go agreeing with Hrant again: a result I'm not keen to analyse.

Experimental is typically used, in reference to type design and typography, as a lazy term to avoid analysis. Unorthodox design is explained away as 'experimental', often as a means of ducking criticism of the results. There is a presupposition that all experiments are successful experiments, justified entirely by their experimental nature rather than by either their goals or their results. True experimental design follows an experimental path: hypothesis, procedure, analysis.

If you want to see amazing experimental type design and typography, take a look at the work of the Didots and Bodoni.

John Hudson's picture

I think in experimentating, the process, the finding-out-about-things or the plaing-around-without-things is very much in the foreground, it is very much an explorative, not a teleological animal.

Then why not speak about 'explorative typography' or even about 'playing-around typography'? I don't have a problem with either of these terms, and they are more often accurate than 'experimental', which I think should involve an experimental process that leads from an idea to observation and conclusion (not necessarily, nor even likely, a final conclusion, but a judgement). Playing-around, exploring and experimenting are three different activities: they may overlap insofar as playing-around may have an exploratory component, or exploration may proceed from a hypothesis in the same way as experimentation, but largely they are distinct in their method and in their spirit.

hrant's picture

> how would you define a RESULT in a creative experiment.

I guess my quibble is just with terminology. I don't like calling those things experiments, because then you have no word left for real experiments (like Trajic notRoman, which was tested -albeit modestly- at TypeCon98). Calling them "explorations" sounds great to me.

hhp

beejay's picture

this area interests me and I'd like to dig deeper...

>> introverted infatuation

why introverted?

>> unorthodox process...
can it be unorthodox "process or results"

sometimes the process might be conventional, but the
results unorthodox, no?

I would be interested in learning more about the
etymology of the word experiment and it's true meaning.

Clearly, the colloquial meanings, as they apply to type,
are not incorrect, but imprecise. One informal
definition of "experiment" is simply "to test an idea" ...

>> hypothesis, procedure, analysis
Aren't there quite a few type designers who follow through with the
final step.... What are the parameters that need to be met to really
analyze your type...



bj

gerald_giampa's picture

I question the entire concept of experimental type design. Unless it pertains to the evolution of the alphabet. Don't put your neck out though, it's pretty well behind us. Some of which has been senselessly abandoned. Typography is thundering towards "mass typewriterism" rather than "mother tongue" cultures.

Then we fill in the quasi artistic need with "pin ball machine typography". Did I just date myself?

Gerald Giampa



hdschellnack's picture

>I guess my quibble is just with terminology.
Fair enough. As John rightly noted, an experiment is different from an exploration. I think explorative typography even SOUNDS better :-D. But I agree with BJ that experiment, in this case, should be taken in the everyday-meaning of doing something in a trial-and-error-manner.

John Hudson's picture

If experiment were used simply in the sense of 'trial-and-error' in regard to type design and typography, I wouldn't mind so much. But the term seems to have been fairly frequently used to elevate what was, in fact, stylistic play by suggesting a scientific rigour that it didn't possess. Lewis Blackwell's books about David Carson are prime examples. The same sort of thing happens when the jargon of critical theory -- itself an appropriation of scientific and pseudo-scientific terminology by way of social sciences -- is applied to graphic design: its main purpose seems to be to make designers feel important.

We should never underestimate the vacuity of much of the design industry, and should be wary when it starts using impressive sounding words. Erik Spiekermann made this point at ATypI this year, relating how, having established a reputation as an information architect (another appropriated term), he began to receive requests for him to give things 'that information design look'.

hdschellnack's picture

There's nothing scientific about Carson, of course. Erik, however, actually in many ways was bringing a certain clean-yet-lively architectural feeling to corporate design and there is indeed a very Spiekermannesque look, which for a long time permeated a lot of what he and Metadesign did. His typefaces are all infused with a certain common style and his graphic design also has certain elements and principles, like simple geometrical rectangle vanishing into the bleed, distinct typography, solid construction... and a sense of playfulness that keeps it from

hrant's picture

> why introverted?

Because people besides the designer benefit only circumstancially.

> can it be unorthodox "process or results"

I think the infatuation is generally with the process. Infatuation with results is usually coincidental.

> Aren't there quite a few type designers who follow through with the final step....

Like who?

> What are the parameters that need to be met to really analyze your type...

It could be something as informal as asking a bunch of people what they think/feel about it, while an "experimental design" is being developed. Or if you ask people after it's too late to change anything, it wasn't experimental unless you use what you learned from the results on the next one. Even this type of thing is pretty rare.

--

> its main purpose seems to be to make designers feel important.

Right.

hhp

beejay's picture

>> Because people besides the designer benefit only
circumstancially.

How so?

I guess we need a real-world example of a typeface that has
been described as experimental: HTF Gestalt.

From the HTF site: "Gestalt is an experimental typeface (that)
explores this idea, most of its letterforms being indecipherable
out of context but far more easily read in text."

So JH *does* use the word 'experimental' on his site.

>> I think the infatuation is generally with the process.
Infatuation with results is usually coincidental.

I guess I disagree here. Seems to me like there's more
infatuation with the results (the outlines, giving them life)
vs. the process (making the outlines).

>> Like who?

I don't know, Carter, Unger, Bilak, Berlow, countless others ...
aren't they working with clients, working on improving readability,
tweaking as they go, analyzing what works from the end-user perspective
and the client perspective?

Isn't that what we are doing in the Critique Forums, too,
to some extent, especially when a PDF is offered?
Doesn't that fit your parameters..."asking a bunch of people what
they think/feel about it," while you work?

how about yourself ... have you taken the Typophile feedback
and Kyle's feedback and used that to continue to tinker with your
stuff before you give your work a wide release?

It seems as if the word experiment, as it applies to type design and
other endeavors, also has come to mean,
"edgy, different, provocative".

If Patria II was an experiment, let's say, and you followed some sort
of Type Designer's Scientific Method, and the result was a text
face that looked like Underwood, calling it experimental would not
satisfy the new definition.

If you went around calling it Experimental and it looked just like
Underwood, then people might begin to wonder.

Maybe the word needs to be retired, as it applies toward type
unless it can satisfy both definitions. Just a thought.

okay, my head hurts. Must get lunch.


bj

John Hudson's picture

There is a sense in which all serious type design is experimental: it proceeds from an idea, through a process of testing and refinement, and generally reaches a significant resolution if not conclusion. But something tells me that when Brandon asks for examples of 'experimental typography' he is thinking of stuff that looks experimental, i.e. novel and unorthodox. One way to clarify this would be to ask what is counter to experimental typography: presumably that which is based on known results, i.e. prior experiment or discovery. Above, I mentioned the types and typography of the Didots and Bodoni as examples of experimental typography, and if we no longer think of a block of text on a relatively narrow width, with generous leading, set in a Didot or Bodoni type as 'experimental' it is because we have analysed and understood the results of that experiment.

matha_standun's picture

This is a very interesting subject.

I think it's safe to say that all type designers worth their salt experiment permanently. They don't necessarily call their work 'experimental', though, and after a few years, I suppose nobody else does either. Just because a thing works or sells well or looks fairly commonplace doesn't mean it's not experimental.

In R&D departments all over the world, all sorts of people are experimenting as I write. I'm not sure they would be very happy if their finished product was labelled 'experimental'. It sounds like something that's not finished.

Carter, Unger, Bilak, Berlow, countless others...that about sums it up, I reckon.

M.

matha_standun's picture

I also agree with John.

and I wish I could type more quickly.

M.

lars's picture

maybe also letterror's beowolf?

http://www.letterror.com/foundry/beowolf/index.html

---- cut ----

Beowolf is the first font (1989) we build with a randomisation routine. All points on the contour of a (fairly) normal typeface are given a space in which they can freely move. So instead of each letter having one fixed form, the shapes move and wobble. Every single letter this typeface will print will be unique. If characters are repeated in a text they will have different shapes.

--- cut ---

geraintf's picture

beowolf - that 'randomisation engine' was surely an amazing innovation in digital type, given the date it was designed.

are there any other fonts with a similar routine? did the process catch on beyond letterror? could there be a mm font with a randomisation axis?

it would be great for fonts simulating handwriting, typewriters,letterpress artefacts etc, and indeed for lots of display applications

matha_standun's picture

Beowolf

Experimental at the time, but now?

are there any other fonts with a similar routine?

There's the Paratype Noisy Fonts Project: http://www.paratype.com/library/
(click on 'noisy fonts' on the left)

It's work in progress, so as experimental as you can get.

Matha.

nov3mber's picture

Experimental Typography (past and present) Reflecting a sense of self

Futurist movement
Edward Johnston, The London Underground, 1918, English

Fillippo Marinetti, The Words of Freedom, 1919, French

Lewis Carrol, Alice

johnbutler's picture

I have this thing called a Korg MS2000. It's a MIDI-controlled analog modeling synthesizer designed to make lots of obnoxious noises in rapid succession. I poke at it about once a month or so. I don't play it--I'm not a musician--I just twiddle the knobs and approximate tunes, basslines, and something the kids today call "grooves." Which is different than the Susan Sontag kind, I think. Anyway, I would have called the resulting recordings "experimental music:" a few years ago when I was more overconfident. Now I just call it "obnoxious music" cos that's what it is. Except maybe for the "music" part. But it's fun to make!

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Hudson about humanities and social sciences. These tedious, insufferable ho-dads presume to adopt this ersatz scientific-sounding jargon to inflate their worthless, totally subjective, self-involved yet publicly funded work in blatant service of this or that completely transparent agenda which they nonetheless deny without fail.

For more on this I recommend the book Fashionable Nonsense by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont and anything by David Stove or Roger Kimball.

But I confess I never thought twice about using the word "experimental" to describe type or typography, which now in hindsight seems a mistake. Thanks for the reminder. Then again I won't get too worked up over what's often just semantics. Or do I have the right definition of "semantics?"

matha_standun's picture

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Hudson about humanities and social sciences. These tedious, insufferable ho-dads presume to adopt this ersatz scientific-sounding jargon to inflate their worthless, totally subjective, self-involved yet publicly funded work in blatant service of this or that completely transparent agenda which they nonetheless deny without fail.

A bit over the top all that.

You should go back and read John's post again, then, because that's not what he says at all.

Matha.

johnbutler's picture

Mr. Hudson wrote

The same sort of thing happens when the jargon of critical theory -- itself an appropriation of scientific and pseudo-scientific terminology by way of social sciences --

which is what I was referring to. And I wasn't paraphrasing what he said, merely taking it and running further. I think a lot of what is called "social science" today is the result of an almost scientific process built upon entirely unscientific grounds and therefore nonetheless ultimately worthless. I don't expect Mr. Hudson to agree with it entirely... who knows... he might. But I'm sorry if you infer that I expect him to.

Really, Sokal does a much better job of taking it apart. The main argument in this thread seems to be the abuse of the term "experimental."

In terms of type, I'm definitely not a purist. I don't like anything that anyone called "grunge" but I have a weakness for silly decorative stuff. "Over the top," you might call it. I still love a great text face, but I like florid baroque stuff as well, especially blackletter. There are a number of interesting "experimental" blackletters, probably the most famous of which was Unger Fraktur.

matha_standun's picture

John,

You're back-tracking now. And making no sense.

Post 1:
humanities and social sciences (history, art history, philosophy, archaeology, theology, sociology, psychology, geography, political science) = worthless, totally subjective, self-involved...

Post 2:
a lot of what is called "social science" today is the result of an almost scientific process built upon entirely unscientific grounds and therfore nonetheless ultimately worthless

I'd say you're tarring just about everybody with a very big brush in your first post and being "totally subjective" in the second.

M.

johnbutler's picture

When I say 'a lot of what is called "social science"' I mainly mean parts of sociology and psychology. Geography et al I have no problem with. Sorry for the confusion there. I am talking about a small subsection of that body of knowledge that seems to expend a disproportionate amount of the available funding. I don't know how familiar you are with American academia over the past ten years, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, but in my view (and for many others) lots of scholarship in these otherwise worthwhile subjects has been wasted on things like identity politics. I ran into this issue in pursuing my own degree (in German) and ended up having to make a rather painful decision not to go to grad school.

Nothing personal, but I get really tired really quickly explaining the problem, because it's been covered so well elsewhere already, so please just consult the Sokal book I cited if you want to explore this more. Or read any copy of The New Criterion.

matha_standun's picture

John,

I understand your point of view a bit better now. And I think I know how you feel. A few months ago I had to make my own painful decisions and I've been tarring the French Education System with every brush I can get my hands on ever since. The problems are quite different but the consequences seem to be roughly the same.

Matha.

hrant's picture

> So JH *does* use the word 'experimental' on his site.

Oh, OK. Sorry, I forgot that he's omniscient...

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Geography et al I have no problem with.

Even geography is getting weird. I know someone studying urban geography at university, and the theorisation of 'space' is rampant. For example, entire courses consider the difference between 'gay space' and 'straight space', and there is, of course, 'feminist space' and 'patriarchal space'.

matha_standun's picture

I take back what I said.
I obviously know nothing about North American Academia.

M.

johnbutler's picture

Personally I prefer Hilbert space. From 2000 to 2001, however, I found myself working in Dilbert Space.

John Hudson's picture

The irony of Matha's retraction being that North American Academia derived most of its nuttier ideas from French post-structuralist 'philosophers' like Foucault and Derrida. The deeper irony being that not even the French originators of these ideas can accuse the North American application of them of being mistaken, since that would imply a limit to interpretation.

William Berkson's picture

You didn't get it quite right:

"Experience is the name that everyone gives to their mistakes."
-Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, Act 1

Don't feel bad. I'm a lot more experienced. :-)


hodge's picture

i'm still here, although i stopped reading a while back when everyone started to philosophize.

i suppose (being someone who is very interested in type, but not well versed in it's history or philosophy) what i meant by experimental type was people who were pushing the boundaries of type that is readable and such.

i looked at beowolf, that was pretty interesting.

so, i guess if there are any fonts or sites that you know of that push those boundries i'd be interested in those, hold the philosophy please ;)

and as a side note, since all you philosophers are in here are there any books you'd recommend for someone who is NOT well versed in 'type talk' to get familiar with it?

gerald_giampa's picture

Brandon,

"Printing for Pleasure"

Gerald Giampa
Lanston Type Company.

matha_standun's picture

hold the philosophy please

Brandon, I don't thing discussing what *you* might possibly mean by "experimental" because you don't bother your backside explaining yourself has anything to do with philosophy.

Instead of simply stopping reading you could have just rejoined us a little sooner. Next time post guidelines for people intending to answer your questions. We wouldn't want to bore you or anything.

M.

matha_standun's picture

*Philosophy alert*
Brandon, do not read beyond this point.

John:

North American Academia derived most of its nuttier ideas from French post-structuralist 'philosophers' like Foucault and Derrida.

And the irony of that is that French Academia has managed to stay hyper-conservative for the most part, in spite of it all. They don't seem to have the cash to follow ideas through to the bitter end.

Poststructuralism and postmodernism may well have emanated from France but they certainly haven't gotten anywhere near classrooms in disciplines like History and Geography.

M.

hrant's picture

Matha, you have to understand that thinking isn't very fashionable in the US.
Remember, the "person" who was voted Greatest American was... Homer Simpson!

hhp

matha_standun's picture

And who am I to disagree, Hrant.

hrant's picture

I'd recommend a pair of complementary books to start:

1) Alexander Lawson's "Anatomy of a typeface"

2) Walter Tracy's "Letters of Credit"

The former is great for getting some historical insight, while the latter is a multi-faceted treatment of the innards of type design, including many superb case studies.

hhp

gerald_giampa's picture

Typography and design is a broader brush than, dare I day it here, "just type". I mean you could study ink, paper, binding or presswork. All are tools of graphic design. Printing history is interesting but don't believe much you read. Most of it is written by talking heads. Did I say historians?

"Printing for Pleasure". No pleasure, well that says it all.

Read it first.

Gerald Giampa
Lanston Type Company

eomine's picture

> 2) Walter Tracy's "Letters of Credit"

BTW, any info on its new edition?
Apparently (see Product Details), it'll come out in December...

ponofob's picture

"The deeper irony being that not even the French originators of these ideas can accuse the North American application of them of being mistaken, since that would imply a limit to interpretation"
Well, so why do that guy wrote books ? They just should have said "interpretation have no limits".
And Derrida and Foucault aren't the same thing. At all.
Of course structuralism got its way, since it was a major improvement of humanities. Though, after "hardcore" structuralism, many clever persons know it had limits and was to be considered as a part of something which included primarly a human way. But throwing it all is dumb.
Read Loic Wacquant for good french sociology

matha_standun's picture

I'd finish by saying that many noticed that, though the kamikazes of the 9/11 were instructed, they didn't study humanities. Interesting.

What is that supposed to mean?
My mother didn't study humanities either.

M.

William Berkson's picture

>thinking isn't very fashionable in the US.

As usual, Hrant's anti Americanism has little relation to reality. America has many thoughtless and ignorant people, and many thoughtful and brilliant people. Including those who largely invented the computer industry, for a start.

>stopped reading a while back when everyone started to philosophize

Brandon, sometimes knowing a little philosophy and history of ideas can help you. (Don't go and confirm Hrant's prejudices about us Americans!)

In this case, the word 'experimental' is sometimes used where 'avant garde' would be used. This is a specific tradition where it is believed that making progress means 'shocking the bourgeois'. There are other kinds of innovation. The bauhaus was once consciously 'avant garde' and made a contribution, though probably also did harm. But the art nouveau and art deco movements were, I believe, not 'in your face', but popular with the well-off of their day. And they too were important additions to type as well as other fields.

hrant's picture

Your mother is Al-Qaida?

hhp

matha_standun's picture

She's pretty scary, yes. Makes Al-Qaida look like the boy scouts.

M.

hrant's picture

> America has many thoughtless and ignorant people, and many thoughtful and brilliant people.

I've never said most Americans are stupid - because that's not true. What I said (which is a reality most of the world -and many Americans- know to be true) is that American culture puts down intelligent, objective discourse, in favor of things like servile patriotism and big biceps. Ask any bright high school kid for example.

It seems you're developing quite a knack for fiction - you should write a typographic fantasy novel. Like where Adobe Poetica is a valiant white knight.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

And Derrida and Foucault aren't the same thing. At all.

I didn't say they were, I was pointing out that both have had a major influence on North American Academia (as has Lacan, Baudrillard, Barthes and others). It wasn't necessary for Foucault and Derrida to have the same philosophy for both to feed the 'hermeneutics of suspicion' that dominates academic discourse in the humanities in North America. In fact, one could argue that the paranoid departmental and sexual politics of most universities here is the perfect synthesis of Foucault's obsession with power and Derrida's deconstruction of truth.

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