In late November, Typography Ireland will welcome Veronika Burian and José Scaglione of TypeTogether to conduct an intensive three-day type design workshop. Their Czech-based foundry has been recognised by several international competitions, including the TDC and ED-Awards. Typography Ireland is run by Mary Ann Bolger and Clare Bell, who both work as educators in the school of Dublin School of Creative Arts at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Both have been involved in other prominent type design events, including last year’s Face Forward conference and the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) conference, which was held in Dublin Castle in 2010. Ahead of the workshop I caught up with Bolger and Bell to discuss the workshop, type design and the small but active community around it in Ireland.
The workshop is part of a series, one of which was a workshop with the same team from TypeTogether. Attendees are typically graphic designers with an interest in type design, and beginners are made very welcome. “It seems to be 50:50 professional and student designers… we have had a landscape designer, but we haven’t had anyone outside of design in a broad sense. We’re very open to anyone interested – it’s a beginners workshop.” Bell says. “This is our fourth workshop,” Bolger adds, “so we’ve been trying to keep the momentum going. The great thing about TypeTogether is that people who have done it before are eager to do it again, building on their skills from the last workshop.”
“The reason they’re coming over again is that it was clear during and after the last workshop that there would be the appetite for additional sessions,” Bell notes. “People were really loving it. People were asking Veronika and José when they would be returning and word spread around.”
Other previous Typography Ireland workshops have covered multi-script type design (covering a broader range of alphabets than our own Latin) and sign-painting. The focus has come from the existing gaps in education, demand, and who is available and interested to give them. “We very much approached it in terms of ‘what do we not teach or can’t teach’.” say Bell. “We’re not qualified to teach type design, and we certainly couldn’t teach anyone sign-painting, so it’s about the level of expertise we can and cannot provide as educators ourselves. There’s a need to supplement it.” Bolger and Bell agree that we’ll see a type design course “eventually – if not at undergraduate level, then at Masters level.”
Outside of the focus of aficionados, awareness of type design as a standalone discipline is growing. Just as much press has been given to custom type designs for brands or signage schemes as to other aspects of the process or outcomes. But for many – and even for those familiar – a common misunderstanding lingers in the differentiation of typography and type design. Bolger quotes Phil Baines (a graphic designer, writer and teacher) on the subject: “‘Typeface designers make the bricks, we [the typographers] build the buildings’, which I’d say is not necessarily terribly flattering to type designers, but it does speak of the difference between the two disciplines. That said, you do find that a lot of people are interested in both, because typeface designs are just an alphabet until you do something with them. It’s that interaction between type designers and typographers that Typography Ireland has always an interest.”
“I always talk to my students about the holy trinity of typography – readability, legibility and communication,” Bell adds. “It’s like being at a mixing desk, depending on the task at hand you’re dialling one of these up and another down. They’re interdependent. It’s possible to produce a piece of typography that is readable and legible, but doesn’t communicate anything, as much as it is to create something that is less legible yet communicates quite loudly. It’s about ensuring you have all three in motion, knowing exactly where each one needs to be.”
“I myself would know a lot more about typography than I would about typeface design,” she also comments. “But I think I have absorbed a huge amount of type design knowledge over the years. That’s why, when it comes to talking about typeface design, we will always bring in overseas professionals. [That’s] not to say there’s no expertise in this country, but more to connect the Irish scene with the international one.” Bolger adds, “It’s important to bring the international players to Ireland to see what’s happening here. We know there’s great stuff happening here… so it’s about bridging the international and the local scenes.”
In terms of the Irish type design scene, Bell and Bolger mention local practitioners including Bobby Tannam, whose work has graced some of the most prominent international branding schemes of local times; Max Phillips (Signal Type) who has come to Ireland from the USA bringing expertise and noteworthy generosity with his knowledge and experience. There are also those who have left Ireland to make an impact in leading international practice: Aoife Mooney (Kent State University, USA); Tom Foley (Dalton Maag, UK) and Mike Duggan (Microsoft, USA). Both are keen to stress that there are many others making an impact both here and abroad.
All of these practitioners work in a medium that has a curious relationship with technology. Traditional (historical) type design had an inherent element of physical craft – hot lead poured to form individual letterforms, and assembled in printing presses to make bodies of text. As the processes related to the creation and use of type have been digitised, almost end-to-end, the tools of the trade have had an impact on process and design. “There’s also an interesting historical dimension to it all,” says Bolger. “Pre-digital, there was a distinct divide between the handmade and the machine-made… the expression is part of the mechanical component of the letterform. As we move into a digital world – as typeface designers acknowledge the debt that they pay to the hand-written – that line has become more blurred.”
During the workshop, participants will practice the craft and technological sides of type design, from initial drawings to implementation. Subjects covered will including glyph-drawing, spacing, and kerning techniques through to multiple-master technology. The process is a combination of intensive practical sessions, open critiques and short lectures, creating a fast-paced and fun working environment. If the response from the last events are anything to go by, there is plenty more to come.
The Type Together typeface design workshop takes place from Friday 18th to Sunday 20th November, organised by Typography Ireland in association with the Dublin School of Creative Arts, DIT and the Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media (GradCAM). For more, visit typography.ie and type-together.com/info
Words: David Wall
Photos courtesy of Type Together