Innovation and the concept of 'originality'

makenowonder's picture

For my thesis I am looking at innovation and the concept of 'originality'. It appears (to me at least) that innovation within typography is linked to a change in the method of production (eg. the 'new' typography of the 1990's and the advent of the Mac).

I am interested in the work of Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum.

I would like to know who others find to be truly innovative at present?

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Joining & partecipating to this forum is innovative, also reading The Elements of Typographic Style by Bringhurst is innovative. "Originality", that is more personal in a way, like the concept of sex or other needs. Good luck for your project.

Solipsism's picture

Concepts of originality? I once took a class by Adrienne Leban which dealt with reassessing our criteria, examining our likes and dislikes, generally questioning our received wisdoms, truths, and instincts as it pertained to art.

Is this what you're talking about?

makenowonder's picture

Why do you think joining and participating in this forum is innovative? Why would reading 'The Elements of Typographic Style' be innovative - or has no one ever read it before?

Solopsism: that is what I mean. I refered to 'originality' as a concept as it could be claimed that nothing is truly 'original' - and is merely a product of what has gone before. However I heard it said that 'the original person is not the person who breaks with tradition, but who brings tradition back to life again, reanimates tradition, makes it new...'

I'm just interested in who others value in terms of innovation, and 'originality' currently?
....and also way in which the concept of 'originality' has changed over the years.

hrant's picture

One thing's for sure, you can't teach it.
You either got it, or you don't got it.

> linked to a change in the method of production

Original/creative thinking can be "woken up" by external
changes, but that's the only true "link" I can think of.

Marian Bantjes is innovative.
Kris Sowersby is innovative.

hhp

dezcom's picture

Adrian Frutiger's development of a true systematically conceived family of weights and widths originating with Univers was innovative.

ChrisL

pattyfab's picture

Sent while holding nose...

http://typophile.com/node/29768

Nick Shinn's picture

While Just & Erik have exploited digital technology to create a kind of random effect that was not previously possible, I don't believe such direct use of technology was the main impetus to the New Typography of the digital era. Rather, it was caused by the way in which Fontographer made it possible for just about anyone to produce working typefaces inexpensively and with little effort. This opened up a field of design which had been previously restricted to a few specialists working in a conservative subculture.

I had spent a decade trying to get my type designs published, gave up in 1985, but started over in 1993. When I came up with the Panoptic alphabet (unicase + monowidth), this is a concept that is technology-independent. But I doubt that the set of circumstances that led to its creation would have existed pre-digital, because the probability that a type designer with an interest in concrete poetry, who happened to be teaching a course involving the design of unicase fonts, would consider designing a typeface for a one-off book of monospaced poetry, and put two and two together, is pretty low. The proliferation of type-design in the digital era raised the chances.

With regards to Zuzana Licko's "Oblong", it was something that could have been produced with any prior technology. But as was said somewhere in the pages of Emigre magazine, why would anyone have bothered? Modular and grid based types had been designed before, e.g. by Wim Crouwel in the 1960s, but the digital pixel has given new meaning to "pixel" fonts, as symbols of modernity, whether or not they are used in true pixel mode.

hrant's picture

> why would anyone have bothered?

Because the grid is far more ancient than computers?
In fact hundreds of people made bitmap fonts before Licko.
Emigre certainly had a greatness, but let's not succumb to
the ubiquitous fad of making it more than it could be.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Let me clarify the nature of Oblong. It differs from Licko's earlier bitmapped fonts, which were pretty straightforward "technical fixes", compromises, really, for the limitations of extremely low resolution grid fonts, trying to make them as much like "proper" type as possible. And indeed, as you say, Zuzana was preceded in this area by many other designers.
However, Oblong, along with for instance Max Kisman's Network, were different in that they were using bitmaps in a formally inventive way, to highlight the effect rather than apologize for it -- and art directors would use these fonts in display settings.

As I mentioned, Wim Crouwel deserves the primary credit for this approach, but I believe that Oblong, in 1988, was the first digital type to take a similar tack, and I recall that it created quite a stir at the time.

William Berkson's picture

Originality can be judged only against history of previous efforts.

When thinking about novelty I think it is important to keep in mind that originality is only one factor in the merit of an effort. Something can be original but boring or badly done or useless or even harmful. The idea that originality in itself is the highest achievement I don't think is right.

If something is well done and useful *and* original it brings some excitement that something that is only useful and well done will not.

But you can have novelty with bad taste and dullness and bad influence too.

Alessandro Segalini's picture

One thing’s for sure, you can’t teach it. You either got it, or you don’t got it.

What is the "it" subject, Hrant ?

Matthew Croft, I was suggesting that book in particular because I am sure if you'd taken
it from the shelf for the second time you'd have articulate your re-quest better——just a thought.

hrant's picture

> Originality can be judged only against history of previous efforts.

I don't agree. Originality is a thing unto itself, and does not require for example making sure nobody thought of your idea previously. That would be beside the point. In fact originality is essentially concerned with the future, not the past. The past, precedent, conservatism, are inherently unoriginal - which is not to say they're useless, not at all - but certainly much more prone to being "boring", for most people at least.

Alessandro: originality; an innovative mindframe. To be fair though everybody and everything is an original. But most people/things don't cross that certain threshold of being "significantly" original, in terms of affecting the world at large. Most people/things end up blending into the mass that the originals seem to spike out of.

hhp

Alessandro Segalini's picture

To be fair though everybody and everything is an original.

Hrant, does that sentence need any punctuation ?
Since I am studying design education, I don't understand what do you consider not possible to be taught, "an innovative mindframe" can't be taught ?
I meant that asking for the "it" subject.
Bombing on your sentence above, I think "everybody and everything" could be original to God's eyes——that would also help doing mechanical typographic exercises.

dezcom's picture

I think Hrant is saying that "it" is originality.

"One thing’s for sure, you can’t teach [originality]. You either got [originality], or you don’t got [originality]"

I also think Hrant is right about that.

ChrisL

dezcom's picture

There are people who build on the footsteps built by those before them and become part of the incremental progress that is the staircase of humankind as a whole. There are also those who strike out on their own and build an elevator to the next level; these are the innovators (those with originality). They will cast their own longer shadow beyond the rest of us who light only one step at a time.

ChrisL

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Personally I don’t think “originality” is that artistic, that is why craft is not just what it looks like and feels like but also about how it works.
Women are creative, would they say this is not original ?
So, as I wrote in another post, innovation does not require starting from scratch, just because we can’t start from scratch : the universe has been here for awhile. In fact, successful innovation often happens simply because a curious person paid careful attention to how something in the world works.
And once they really understood how people use that thing, they could see what was both good and bad about its value to those people. With that understanding, a creator can apply their imagination towards new ideas that eliminate the bad and expand on, or leap-frog, the good. Technical brilliance may be the only way to realize that imagination, but it’s the ability to generate or recognize those meaningful ideas that drives the best kinds of innovation.
Rather than “originality” being essentially concerned with the future, I believe that both “originality” and education, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.

Solipsism's picture

Matthewcroft: I recommend a book, The Clockwork Muse: The Predictability of Artistic Change by Colin Martindale. Not necessarily about typography, but it delves into why there are art movements and schools. He pretty much dismisses the common notion that art changes as a result of social forces, and places it squarely on humanity's pursuit for the novel. Of course take it with a grain of salt. He's a cognitive psychologist in the American school of thought, and he has a very particular agenda. His attempts at quantifying art with statistics might turn some people off as well.

William Berkson's picture

Matthew, for your thesis you should include in your studies one of the classics, Jacque Hadamard's Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. Hadamard was not only an important innovator himself, but he interviewed a lot of greats from his day, including Einstein.

hrant's picture

> I don’t think “originality” is that artistic

Who said anything about Art?

The past and the future are not the same.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Who said anything about Art?

In which case, I can recommend David Consuegra's "American Type Design and Designers".
In particular, the section "Chronology of type related events" gives an excellent timeline of the technical innovations in typography over the centuries.

Also for technology, "Inside the Publishing Revolution: the Adobe Story" by Pamela Pfiffner. It may be self-published by Adobe, but it will give a good historical background to "changes in the method of production" that you are examining.

hrant's picture

Which brings to mind, there are different ways of looking at innovation
chronology. For example in type the classical view seems to be the common
"Metal -> Phototype -> Digital" scheme. But to me if you look deeper, to where
things really matter, you see something else entirely: Gutenberg (or whoever),
the pantograph, and now Legato.

hhp

poms's picture

@hrant
>Legato
The typeface FF Legato? If so, why is it so remarkable, that you put it in your "list".

hrant's picture

I know it seems "too much", and I actually do feel awkward assigning
so much credit to a single typeface, but it really is that special to me:
http://typographi.com/000969.php

It's the first time the black's domination has been broken.

hhp

Alessandro Segalini's picture

“I don’t think ‘originality’ is that artistic”——Who said anything about Art?

Me, but since you formulated a question, I think that——Hrant and whom that may concern——also carefully weight the relation between art and design ; it’s not only due to the “old” pantograph or the “new” softwares that, for instance, Bloemsma achieved his Legato, or is it, or, am I misunderstanding your post, Hrant ?
I am aware this is such a broad topic, and very interesting, yet, I’d like to bring back under consideration this article.

Ringo's picture

There is a difference between technological innovation and artistic originality. Actually, I don't think both phenomena have anything in common but by coincidence. Technological innovation comes from the wish to make things easier while being original is a matter of personal aesthetics.

You could say, nevertheless, that being innovative opens new doors to artistic creativity and, hence, originality. But only IF you want.

William Berkson's picture

>I don’t think both phenomena have anything in common but by coincidence. Technological innovation comes from the wish to make things easier while being original is a matter of personal aesthetics.

I think this claim is actually quite wrong. Psychologically the processes of creating technical and artistic innovations are very similar: they are both *problem-solving* processes. Innovation in art, and even moreso in design is not simply a matter of having a different personal taste. It is a matter of how the designer or artist understands his or her task, and the ideas he or she brings to carrying it out well, and to the specific challenge of the problem he or she is facing.

For example, the Impressionists had new information about visual perception that came from the theories of Helmholtz and others, as well as the budding innovation of photography as competition to painting. They wanted to keep painting fresh and relevant, as well as to incorporate the new insights on perception. Within that framework, that problem situation for painting, they came up with new styles. It wasn't a matter of personal taste alone.

Similarly, some of us trying to do fonts for text get into long--ok endless--discussions of the science of reading because we are stuggling with the problem of how to make text more readable, or at least equally as readable as the best text faces.

Also, one can see that cheap paper in the 19th century gave rise to the possibility of mass advertising. And this gave rise to different aesthetic demands than the original task of print, which was to reproduce religious texts and the classics of ancient Rome and Greece. Hence there was a proliferation of attention-getting faces, such as fat face, sans, etc.

hrant's picture

> or at least equally as readable as the best text faces.

This is what you really mean, isn't it.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>This is what you really mean, isn’t it.

No, I meant what exactly I wrote.

Nick Shinn's picture

I actually do feel awkward assigning so much credit to a single typeface,

You don't really mean that, do you.

hrant's picture

Historically, I have been known to say what I mean, and say all I mean. This is in fact the "problem" that some people have with me (even though they usually cover it up by claiming their only complaint is with my "style"). And tellingly, these tend to be the same people who don't have this "problem" themselves...

William, do you believe we can qualitatively improve
-in terms of readability- on what we already have?

hhp

Ringo's picture

I think this claim is actually quite wrong. Psychologically the processes of creating technical and artistic innovations are very similar: they are both *problem-solving* processes. Innovation in art, and even moreso in design is not simply a matter of having a different personal taste. It is a matter of how the designer or artist understands his or her task, and the ideas he or she brings to carrying it out well, and to the specific challenge of the problem he or she is facing.

Well, you might be right. Nevertheless, I wonder if the claim of being artistically original can be made as clear as that of being technically innovative. The first is not quite as measurable as the second; artistic originality is mostly (the desire of) being different than others, where technical innovation has much more to do with ever-developing working methods, in order to reach perfection (whatever that may be).

I think a designer should always be innovative, in a sense that he or she is always willing to explore new terrains in order to achieve the best results. Whether these results are original, never-achieved-yet, that's just a matter of coincidence. One shouldn't strive for it from the bottom.

But this could just be an example of self-indulgent word play. I might not disagree with you stating that an artist or designer shouldn't walk paved roads.

William Berkson's picture

>artistic originality is mostly (the desire of) being different than others, where technical innovation has much more to do with ever-developing working methods

I think we are more or less in agreement. I agree it is problematic to speak of *progress* in art, where as in science and technology these have a clear meaning. It is very hard to argue that more recent great pieces of art are somehow 'advances' over great ancient art. But it is easy to show the superiority of modern science and technology over ancient.

>William, do you believe we can qualitatively improve
-in terms of readability- on what we already have?

I'm not sure what you mean by 'qualitiatively', but I think we may be able to make some improvements--at least I'm trying :)

I do not expect huge improvements in readability though. I do think that a great overall improvement in reading experience of newly published material might result from better knowledge. For then designers could devised both type designs and layouts that more consistently meet a high standard of readability.

Personally, I do not find Legato particularly more readable than other good sans. And I think good serifs are generally more readable for extended text at small sizes. And to my taste the 'reversed contrast' features of Legato, such as the heavy top of the 's' are not very nice aesthetically.

I do find Legato interesting, and want to see more of it in printed text, but I don't see it used. If you can refer me to some printed examples, I'd like to look them over.

Linda Cunningham's picture

But it is easy to show the superiority of modern science and technology over ancient.

If you're equating "superiority" with "efficiency," I'll agree. Mostly.

That being said, the "superiority" of the techniques used by Stradivari, Guarneri, et al have yet to be duplicated by "modern" science, although there are some recent articles out about just what makes those instruments "superior."

Nick Shinn's picture

I agree it is problematic to speak of *progress* in art, where as in science and technology these have a clear meaning.

"This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. " --Walter Benjamin

Ringo's picture

At grammar school, I was being taught about the renaissancistic way of perceiving art. By then, one considered three stages an artist should walk, which are, in a strict order: translatio (translation) > imitatio (imitation) > aemulatio (improvement).
That is to say, an artist should first study the work and achievements of ancient artists, then copy it, before he or she could even try to make up something better.

Since the nineteenth century, the focus in art has been laid more and more on the third stage: originality (innovation, "improvement") has been the main characteristic of "good" art; a good artist is someone who takes the experiment as a central part of his/her work.
A conservative artist, at the other hand, leaning towards history rather than running into future, is at his best a good craftsman but he won't win prizes for his efforts.

But does this also hold for type designers? I think type design is one of the most conservative arts, simply because the playground isn't very large; you always have to deal with the strict limitations of the alfabet and the readers's demands for legibility and clearness of shape.

Is the renaissancistic perception of art still valid within the area of type design? Is it necessary to first study the work of your "creative ancestors", copy their ideas and manners, before you could walk your own way, "do it all yourself"?
Or is it possible to both wipe out history, start with a tabula rasa, and become a good & qualified type designer?

Nick Shinn's picture

type design is one of the most conservative arts

It's not art, it's design. However, if you compare it to fine art, or other areas of design, you will find that the type designers beat the artists to modernism by almost a century. After all, the sans serif -- pure function devoid of ornament, and unicase (all caps) to boot -- was a "movement" of the 1830s.

To say that type design is constrained by the alphabet is axiomatic, for all design has its constraints, it has a job to do. Buildings need roofs, knives must cut, phones must carry a conversation.

Choz Cunningham's picture

>>type design is one of the most conservative arts

>It’s not art, it’s design

Its art if you say its art, and design if you say it is design.

Legibility proscribes type as solely design. Legibility is important, and legible fonts pay a lot of this community's bills. But that is only an assumed constraint, and it is optional.

Type design is type design, not type artistry, because development as a medium was limited by requisite commercial equipment. Commerce requires readable type. All the design of type has led from calligraphy down to Helvetica and Clearview. It leaves me surprised how some here, with such libertarian viewpoints, balk at radicalism in type.

Type artistry has always been practiced on the side, but now more so than ever. This is just a baby medium? As the barrier to entry has dropped over the last few decades only, it will take time for this artistic field to blossom. There will be things to blow all our minds, and we'll all probably be too old to like it.

Originality and innovation are the same thing, more or less. You look at a problem, look around for solutions, and if if you find none, create one. Then, if others like and borrow it, you are considered either, which one depending on the field of discussion.

(No, I do not hate Clearview. Actually it is excellent art, as well as design. It just sets a pretty high bar for the industrial design-side of type, and is no more "fun" than it should be.)

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

William Berkson's picture

>Legibility ...is only an assumed constraint, and it is optional.

Yeah, just like an engine in a car is optional. Some people might want a car just for decoration, and put it in a lobby or on on their lawn. Don't expect people to buy it to drive, though.

Choz Cunningham's picture

Yes, yes, that was glib. As you immediately illustrated, I was contending that the limits of commercialism are the pressure for the legibility constraint. Now, cars? Let's destroy that analogy.

People do buy cars for other purposes. General Motors has their thing, other builders have theirs. How's GM's plan doing these days? I see type as tools, and not simply as end products. They can be the beginning of a collaborative statement. I happen to be looking for an engineless car myself. To drive, even, once I put my own new motor in it- that's a collaboration, of sorts, too.

Some valuable non-running vehicles (of the top of my head, there are thousands more:
Won in a contest, sans engine
Take a running bike and stop it
Conceptual work has a value, too.

And so on. Even with the excellent motor in a nascar vehicle, I wouldn't buy a car made of ads with painted-on lights, but some do.

If there is a place where the art and the design meet, its automotive analog might best be the ever-kooky art cars where function is minimized, but still of varying worth. Too bad most "art" cars are fugly.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

makenowonder's picture

Thank you for your help so far - there are a number of interesting and pertinent comments. I've managed to obtain a number of the books mentioned.

I particularly like this quote from 'The Society of The Spectacle.'

"Ideas improve. The meaning of words plays a role in that improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it. It sticks close to an author's phrasing, exploits his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.'

I'm interested to know whether the internal structures we adhere to within art and design (ownership, authorship, copyright and such), support or stifle originality.

William Berkson's picture

>Plagerism is necessary

This exaggerates a valid point--to the point of being wrong.

Philosopher of art R.G. Collingwood does point out, interestingly, that in some of the most fertile periods in art people took freely from one another's work: the Renaissance, the Elizabethian England of Shakespeare. But I don't think it is ethical, or necessary to copy directly, by plagerism in writing, or taking in another's glyphs and moving around a few points. It is a matter of taking ideas--which are not copyrightable--and applying them in your own work.

John Lennon said that the Beatles constantly 'knicked' others' melodic ideas, 'but not so you'd know it'--which is the point. George Harrison went too far on one--'My Sweet Lord'--but even there it would have been OK if he would have acknowledged it and paid the originator for his contribution (which he had to eventually).

mb's picture

perhaps it may be worth looking at the work of 8vo. their work on standardised billing systems for thames water and powergen has almost certainly - directly or indirectly - influenced the form of the paper bill today.

from the book 8vo: on the outside:

From the beginning, we were never interested in big ideas - that's what set us apart from what was happening in Britain at the time [1980s]. A starting point. A different attitude. Work from what's in front of you - outward from that. Even if you have to put the stuff there in the first place. The four of us [...] worked together because we believed that typography, the key building block of printed communication, could be the core ingredient of a graphic solution (unsupported by illustration or photography)...

hrant's picture

> This exaggerates a valid point—to the point of being wrong.

I think you're having trouble with the dark half of Reality.
And ignoring Intellectual Property, which goes far beyond
copyright, especially any Legal definition thereof.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>having trouble with the dark half of Reality

There is nothing dark about being influenced by others' work, so long as you are ethical. If you copy to the point where you owe a special debt, then be gracious enough to acknowledge it. If you are copying in a way that would violate copyright, then ask permission or pay the author for use. Not that tough.

hrant's picture

It's not being influenced that's dark, it's its inescapability, hence necessity.

This is parallel to your difficulty with notan.

hhp

Hiroshige's picture

matthewcroft, first off let me say that 'originals' pay for what understanding we have - with our very lives. And sometimes it's a very heavy price.
I was born to, and raised in, a modern master's studio (painter). And I have met many many other masters, all of them 'gifted'. Only way I know how to say 'it'.

'it' - is a clear understanding of what 'it' is that you do. And the 'vision' that comes along with 'it', will define you as an original. In other words, you'll have a 'voice'... sooner or later.

And with that 'voice' you can speak the language of whatever 'it' is that you do, ok? Could be Type, Architecture, Photography, Politics, etc., etc...
And after a while, you'll look back on your 'work'(if you live that long), and see the discoveries you have found. And 'it' is hallowed ground.

I don't think 'visionaries' and 'innovators' (like an Edison) are on the same page.

Visionaries create from an 'understanding', those who innovate are more like explorers who have the ability to put 'a' with 'b' and come up with 'c'. Personally speaking, visionaries don't give a sh*t about 'a', 'b', or 'c'. It's not because we're not part of humanity - "part of the main" - it's more to do with being consumed. Consumed by an all encompasing 'it'/'understanding'/'vision'.

Hope that helps...

_________
Hiro

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