Typography in graphic design education

anonymous's picture

As a graphic design student, I have rather belatedly just realised the importance of good typography in design. Silly me for thinking my tutors might have warned me, but it seems I have been mistaken. Now, with six months left until I graduate, all I seem to be doing nowadays is find out new typo-facts that I probably should have learnt ages ago. My only hope is that I can learn enough to get by before I get my first job.
Can anyone tell me whether I need to go and try my hand at some letterpress, as my college doesn't have one. There are plenty of books about, but I don't know if I am missing out on anything?

hrant's picture

Nothing is redundant. But some things are more useful than others. Letterpress *was* "what type
is really about". But today it's largely the *opposite* of what type is really about now: dynamic, context-sensitive forms with complex spacing systems.

The biggest influence of letterpress (one could say of any technology) was in the *limitations* it imposed. The best thing one can learn from studying letterpress is to more accurately second-guess what the talented designers of yesteryear (like Dwiggins) *could* have done with better technology.

For example, the reason many metal fonts have a deficient lc "f" (a very important letter in readability) isn't because the designer was stupid, it's because it was too expensive to do it right in metal. If you look at Octavian, you'll see the improvements Carter and Kindersely made to the "f" once the design was freed from behind its metal prison. (Granted, many designs that worked well in metal got trashed when converted to photo/digital, but that was due to idiocy and cost-cutting, not the fault of the newer technologies.)

The way to get ahead of your peers is by walking forward.


Joe Pemberton's picture

Yes! Type has the capacity for expression in
the same ways we use color and photography
and space. (But I'm preaching to the

If you have the chance to use a letterpress, by
all means go out of your way to do so. There's
an aesthetic quality about letterpress that
cannot be had by today's presses or screens.

But, I'd agree with Hrant that it's not a
requirement for honing typographic skills.
Typographic skill comes from using and
working with type. I think that's seperate from
an appreciation for type that can come from
studying the subject.

So, if using a letterpress forces you to pay
attention to those details, then by all means...


anonymous's picture

Um, just for the sake of disagreeing.

Letterpress is really useful in one respect, and it'll give you an understanding of what type really is about. Metal/moveable type is the origin of typographic measurement systems, pts and EMs and ENs, it's also the origin of terms like "leading" and "body".

Get your head around those things and you'll already be a few steps ahead of your peers - and that knowledge is not redundant, or ever likely to be.

anonymous's picture

Hrant, I think you just try to deliberately distort anything you read to your own agenda, positively or negatively.

What I wrote was that getting your head around typographic measurement systems will put this student ahead of his peers. He doesn't appear to be at the stage where he neds to start considering "advanced" typography, he's at the stage where he needs to get his head around the basics.

As the basis of type, even today (and tomorrow), is pts and EM squres it is *very* useful to get the concepts behind those units right before you move on. From what Steve has already written it seems clear that its a good grounding that he's lacking.

So, I write again, "Letterpress is really useful in one respect... the origin of typographic measurement systems".

I think your problem is that you want to run before you can crawl.

hrant's picture

Steve, it's great that you've developed a "taste" for type! The thing is -and I'm no technophile- what's with letterpress? I'm sure some people will say that you can't understand type until you understand metal, but who can understand anything completely anyway? It's really a matter of priorities. With the limited time us humans have to get into something, I think metal is simply too marginal now to warrant extensive study by somebody in your situation. I'd worry more about proper spacing/kerning for example (something largely unworkable in letterpress, btw).

Letterpress has its uses, even today, but I don't like seeing typography limited by *any* technology, past or present. In its "pure" form, it's all conceptual, and the physical world can be just as limiting as it is real.


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