Final Summary: Type Design, short course, Reading University

With the course now complete, I’ve begun compiling my notes and contemplating what I’ve learnt. I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It’s easy to see why so many alumni return for visits. If you’re interested in designing your own type you should definitely consider joining one summer. Not only does it arm you with a broad context in which to practice (historical, commercial, global) the methods taught and insights gained are invaluable.

The last four days shot past. The practical work on our typefaces during days 7-10 was interspersed with the following lectures:

Day 7 – 10’s lectures:

  • 09:30 - 11:00 – Tuesday: non Latin drawings exhibition – Fiona Ross
  • 11:00 - 12:00 – Non-Latin design process – Fiona Ross
  • 11:00 - 11:45 – Sallie Moris – Typeface designs of Eric Gill
  • 11:45 - 12:15 – Julian Moncada – Defining a discipline through gender issues
  • 12:15 - 13:00 – Gerry Leonidas – Baskerville’s Greek, myths and perceptions

I learnt a phenomenal amount, enough for a couple of articles at least. The most instructive I think has been the basic practical methods, which I’ll write up separately in more depth. Maybe because much of this is assumed knowledge, not knowing where to look, or evolving technology, I’d not read anything like this in books or sites on type design.

Obviously each designer will develop and refine their own methods but I found those suggested on the course to be very effective and was pleased that some of my own techniques, used while creating experimental type designs (which I thought unusual), were validated. For example, sketching letterforms first, then taking photos with my phone to retrace digitally.

One thing for certain is that I’ll never go back to using Illustrator to draw type. It’s simply not the right tool for the job. Although Glyphs takes a little getting used to (two weeks intensive learning in a group environment helps) it has far better control of the curve nodes and ensures from the outset that you are thinking about letter spacing and working in words and sentences not just stand-alone letterforms.

Exporting your typeface in progress and looking at a printed InDesign test file (See above in critique with Gerry) also seems obvious but I can imagine hundreds of beginners, like myself, only looking at their type on screen. Scanning the rhythm of counters and the modulation of strokes is surely much easier on a printed sheet

The emphasis of non-Latin type shows how alive the department is to the developing globalisation of type and the growing need for broad language support. There’s an impressive amount of resources and expertise on-site to aid typeface design in this area. For me, it’s developed an awareness and appreciation for other writing systems and for those like Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, who already run an award-winning foundry, it’s a perfect environment to develop whole families.

After the intense and immersive way of working, with a great team of lecturers and classmates in alluring surroundings (the department’s frayed exterior, surrounded by much more impressive buildings set in a campus park, conceals a quirky and vibrant interior) it’s very tempting to stay on for the full MA. However I feel like I’ve enough information right now to forge ahead with my typeface design, progressing it as an exciting project alongside other work.

Read the other reports in this series: