Need critique on this large typgraphic project...(UPDATE)

mibi's picture

So two months ago I did this typographic mashup of black history after Obama won.

You can see it here,

It became really popular so I decided to redo it and make a poster out of it.
The reason for redoing it are two. 1, because it's too long to be printed in current form, over 12 feet, so it needs to be compacted, and 2, the typography kinda sucks as I didn't pretty quickly and didn't expect much attention.

So the final product will be screen printed at 16'' x 48'' which means it has to be compacted as well as other limitations of screen printing. Nothing too small, heavy weights in smaller sizes, no small serifs.

I am about 25% through it and wanted to get some critique from y'all.

Some things I can concerned about are: Is it easy to follow each fragment? Being so compact I had to use three colors to break it up and orginize it. Also, there are some 'gaps' in there. I really couldn't just fill the entire space with type, too hard logistically. Do these gaps detract from the design or do they give the eye some breathing room and alternate focus? I also have not done any kerning or tracking yet, I guess I should do that right? Like the LA in 'SLAVE CODES'. Any other general thoughts would be ok.

The image is only a crop, it will be much longer. I also am using Frutiger exclusively and laying it all out in Photoshop because it's faster for me.

The image is also here


Nachos's picture

There is a lot going on here but a couple suggestions would be:

1. Add some white space. The spots where there is not text seem like there should be right now. In your original 'mashup' there was negative space to break up the black text and lead your eye. Even with the color difference I think there is some needed.

2. Maybe reconsider some of the words you chose to highlight. For instance "the last SLAVE SHIP arrives" I would change to "THE LAST slave ship arrives". We already know by that time we are talking about slavery. Also, in that same line, if you are going to make the caps smaller I would match them to the x-height or some other grid line. You have a grid set up?

3. I'm sure you planned to do this, but make sure you spell check this thing before you get it printed. "Rhode Island becomes the first colont to ban the import of slaves."

Hope this helps


blank's picture

Why Frutiger? It seems totally irrelevant to American black history. It’s bland, corporate, and European; combined with the beige and brown tones this feels like a dated corporate piece. Gotham, Benton Sans, Titling Gothic, ITC Franklin, Trade Gothic, and News Gothic would all work better.

And your use of positive/negative space seems completely random, governed only by how it’s convenient for you to cram stuff into the composition. If you’re using a grid, you need to do a better job of it; if you aren’t using one, you need to.

Think about what you’re doing with punctuation. In many places it’s unnecessary and looks awful, making me wonder if these snippets were just copy/pasted from somewhere else.

Zara Evens's picture

Indeed, the biggest issue for me here is the use of space, and of course the choice of typeface. I should also mention the choice of colors - your palette is quite bland and could use a few hits of a hotter color.

I am having troubles following the statements and my eyes get very tired and confused after just a short glance, so I don't want to look at it for too long. Currently, it is falling apart all over the place and I have no idea what you are trying to tell me with the design. All I can read is "389 Slave Codes in Rhode Island."

In order to create a meaningful and expressive message, you need to adhere to some rules and guidelines in your typography. There are a number of things you really must do, such a creating a grid for structure and overall readability, and definitely take advantage of the ever-important white space. Columns and line breaks would be very useful here and could allow you to create a very strong composition.

mibi's picture

Thanks all for your comments. Let me address them.

No I am not using a grid. I suppose I should though. I didn't think it was too out of line though. Even with a grid it would be tough to make it work visual with all the caps and non-caps in there. I agree though that the spacing is a little messed up. The breaks really only exist because I couldn't fit the type in there and make it work visually. It DOES look like it's missing something. Unfortunately I cannot afford to add negative space in there like the other mashup. I am trying to fit something 12 feet long into something 4 feet long.

So does anyone have any suggestions about how to remedy thing? I really don't want to leave out information.

There is no particular reason why I use Fruitger, I just use it a lot. It its also very conducive to small screen printing and has great legibility at small sizes, very condensed. Is it really irrelevant to black history? Are other fonts more relevant?

As for the overall design, It has to be compact to fit all the info in there. Nothing I can do about it, I can't go any smaller with the type. I am hoping that when it's al done and there is four feet of what you see it will look kinda random, like a blanket. It is not supposed to read, like a book, from first statement to last, other wise it would be in book format. But information can be picked out, with a glance or too. Which is why the dates are in the format. The statement "In 1619 the first slave ship lands." holds no relevance, its just a stat, but the statement "389 years ago, the first slave ship lands." carries weight because the time is references modern day, specifically, the first black president, which is where this piece ends. So each statement, I think, can stand on it's own and doesn't have to flow to the next.

I would love some more critique. What do you mean by columns and line breaks? Is there room for that? And would a grid make things too orderly? When I think of black history, I think hardship and struggle. Perhaps adhereing to a strict grid would make it too..... "white man"


speter's picture

Gotham, Benton Sans, Titling Gothic, ITC Franklin, Trade Gothic, and News Gothic would all work better

Indeed. Or perhaps Freight Sans.

.00's picture

I don't usually troll the critique section, but I saw that speter was the last commentor so had to take a look!

I think you need less white space and you need to find some fonts where you can really pack it in. More density would really add to this design. Drop the Frutiger and find something more elemental. A series of wood types would be more appropriate. I'm not a big fan of Knockout, but it might just be perfect for this.

mibi's picture

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Here is another update, only 50%. I have decided to go with Benton Sans. Frutiger was indeed too European and lacked any character. I am going all caps to make the parts fit together better. Since I am opting for NO negative space instead of pieces here and there I really needed stackable blocks to make the puzzle fit together. I managed to be creative with the two descenders in there, the two Q's but if there were a whole alphabet of descenders and descenders, it would have been really dicey.

I also really crazy with all the widths and most of the weights. Even mixing up weights and widths mid sentence. i may not be totally cohesive and clean, but at least there is some logic behind most of the type decisions. I will also note that the subject of this is struggle, opresions and growth. I didn't want it to be TOO clean, which is why I broke up some of the columns that were forming around the middle.

Any further thoughts? Thanks.

aheep's picture

All caps does make a project like this easier.

It's looking a *lot* cleaner. The only specific thing I can say is right now "marine corps" and "syphilis experiment" read into each other becasue the font is the same size. You seem to have avoided butting two like-sized pieces against each other until then.

Good job. I noticed the "Q" and thought that was cool.

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