Crafting Type

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I don’t know what it is about type design recently. I could swear that five years ago there wasn’t even half as much interest as there is today! But somehow, it has become hip and interesting to a lot more people than before. Perhaps this reflects the growing democratization of type design, as newer practitioners are increasingly diverse by almost any measure of that term. When I started in the field, it seemed that it was 95%+ white males from North America and Western Europe. That is so totally not true any more! I think what is happening is that young designers can see diversity in their type design role models, and are appropriately encouraged by the existence and amazing type design skills of people from all over the world, including women and people of color.

The Crafting Type workshops are part of this trend. Traveling the world, they are aimed at people who think fonts are cool, but have little or no previous font-making experience. Previous workshops have been in Edmonton, Canada (my home town!), Kyev and Lviv, Ukraine, and at MIT in Boston. The next couple are in Chicago (March 8–10) and Portland OR (March 15–17), just next month.

Here is typography teacher Andrea Emery talking about what she thought of the Crafting Type workshop she attended:

… and student Meagan Chambers talking about how she hopes to make use of what she learned:

What are the defining features of a Crafting Type workshop?

* concentrated 2-5 day workshops, typically 3 days now
* multiple instructors to give varied perspectives on overlapping topics
* individual attention, aiming for no more than12 students per instructor to help accommodate diverse backgrounds with type and typography
* lectures on theory mixed into plenty of hands-on practical time
* all instructors have considerable relevant experience and training (most have an MA in Typeface Design from the University of Reading)
* most participants have some graphic design background, and no type design background. However, some lack the former, or have a bit of the latter.
* free, libre, open source type design software and sample fonts keep costs down (participants are welcome to use common proprietary type design software such as FontLab Studio or Glyphs if they prefer)

Something different about the Crafting Type workshops is that they are heavily influenced by libre/open source ideas. Dave Crossland in particular, and other founders of Crafting Type in varying degrees, are involved in the free software movement. Dave helps coordinate the development of FontForge and the library of Google Web Fonts, and encourages participants to use the libre application FontForge and consider the potential of libre, open source fonts.

Now, knowing that, if you also know me or read my bio, you might think there are some very odd bedfellows here. After all, I curate the font library for Extensis WebINK, a commercial competitor to Google Web Fonts. I also am currently consulting for FontLab, the dominant proprietary software company in font editing tools, competing with FontForge.

So you might think that Dave and I ought to be arch-enemies. Yet I am one of the joint instructors for the Portland workshop, and likely more in the future. What the hell am I doing working with these people, and why would they have me involved?

It is not actually all that surprising. We all love type and typography, and we all care about quality and craftsmanship. Professionally, we will all benefit from the success of web fonts in general; a growing market has room for multiple vendors, with a range of quality and price levels (even with “free” as one of those prices).

One of the strengths of Crafting Type is that each instructor brings their own perspectives on the material. For me, I don’t think free software or free fonts are evil or wrong. Mostly I have concerns about how one can make a living at type design without charging for fonts—especially at the time-consuming quality levels I prefer. I was the one who suggested to Dave and the Google folks that they use Kickstarter to help fund their open source font development, something that has helped fund a number of Google Web Fonts. I am all for education, teaching people how much fun type design is, and encouraging quality type design based on an understanding of fundamental principles, whether those fonts are libre or proprietary.

(Photos by Rob & Lauren Lim)

In any case, I love type, and type design in particular. Even for those who don’t pursue it as a career, taking a workshop like this can deepen their appreciation and understanding of type. I want to get more people hooked on type and type design. With Crafting Type, I am hopeful that it might be a gateway course for type and type design addiction. Crafting Type Students often say they wish there were even more more days, so it seems to be working. But we are trying to find the right length to keep the workshop affordable and accessible. Three days seems good, even if five would be better in some respects.

Left: Eben Sorkin. Right: Students

My colleague Eben Sorkin, type designer and veteran of teaching several Crafting Type workshops, says: “People who work as graphic designers, web designers, architects, UX/UI designers, product designers, and people who do branding and identity work have all said the information provided by Crafting Type was something they could apply to their work. Even teachers who already teach typography find it deepens their understanding, and gives them an additional angle to bring to their own pedagogy.”

* Students considering work in any of the above fields can benefit from learning the basics of type design.

* You don’t need to want to be a type designer to find the course useful. But we can give you a good start if you do want that.

I won’t be surprised if more workshops and courses in type design continue to spring up, in response to demand. I remember it wasn’t that long ago that Veronika Burian did a type design workshop here in Portland. But I think the idea of an ongoing, traveling workshop series is a great one. Crafting Type can go to places where there is nobody local doing both type design and teaching, and can bring a whole group of instructors with diverse backgrounds, so students get more than one view of things rather than being indoctrinated with One True Way.

For those who get seriously hooked on type design, you can practicing on your own, hang out in online communities like Typophile and Typedrawers, and attend conferences such as TypeCon and ATypI. But there are also a growing number of longer, hardcore type design educational programs one can consider. Here are the main English-language academic programs in type design:

* MA Typeface Design (one year), University of Reading, UK
* Type & Media Master’s program (one year), KABK (Royal Academy of Art), the Netherlands
* Extended (one year, evenings/weekends) and Condensed (5 weeks) certificate programs, Cooper Union, New York City

Still, if you are type-design-curious, trying a 3-day workshop might seem to be a good idea before committing to something so lengthy!

Header image: Dave Crossland teaching

Author: Thomas Phinney

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