185. Type Transitions.
Jul 26, 2008 at 11:18AM

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of co-teaching an advertising concepts class at Furman University with Ross McClain, the Associate Professor of Art at the South Carolina institution. (Furman has a beautiful campus located just outside Greenville.) The class was completely enjoyable, the students a lot of fun, and Ross was both patient and supportive of having another voice in his classroom. I hope to be able to do it again.

 One day during class, Ross mentioned a typography project that he undertook as part of his sabbatical research. The project tried to interpolate a final typeface from the original typefaces throughout printing history. Basically he chose 20 typefaces, paired them together, and combined them into a single typeface over and over until there was only one typeface left standing. The process worked much like the way a family tree does and the result wasn't meant to end in a useable font so much as it was to see what would happen. Here's a simple video slideshow (which loads fairly slowly,) a few images, and further explanation from the professor below. Very cool. 

      The G's:

      The K's:

1.    What was the inspiration for this project?

Remember me telling you the story of why gangs/hip hop culture use Blackletter on tattoos, etc.? (By the way, I’m not 100% sure on that one.) Well that loose research (mainly on Typophile.com) got me thinking about the personal history of letterforms/typefaces. I came across this wonderful book called Type: The Secret History of Letters by Simon Loxley. The book was full of stories packed with interesting tidbits. So, that lead to questions as to why certain typefaces were designed and why they became so popular.
I decided to design a typeface over my sabbatical to better understand these questions. I began to narrow down what I felt were the twenty most important typefaces from Gutenberg’s blackletter used in his 42-line Bible to roughly present day.
I wanted to design a typeface that had it's meaning buried into it. This would be a bit of a challenge for me. That's because I feel and teach that good typography is about the content. Meaning is in the content of the text not the typeface.

      lowercase comparison:

2.    Discuss the process  - you mentioned it grew into a class assignment
The idea was to take the original 20 typefaces merge them two at a time to get a 50/50 blend. Then I’d take that 50/50 blend and blend it another 50/50 and so on and so until you get just one final blend. That blend would become the model for the new typeface. I choose a lowercase "g" and "k" because I felt at the time would give me a good guide for the rest of  the alphabet design. The "g" gives you a descender and a counter space. The "k" gives you the ascender and a more complex structure.
I soon found out that the workload was just going to be too much for me to do it by myself. I then reduced the 20 to 10 but still the load was too much. That's what lead to using the research as a teaching tool. I explained the concept to my typography class and we delved into the history of the typefaces, etc. and we knocked it out. The whole alphabet uppercase, lowercase and numbers took three different classes to complete. It became a very popular engaging assignment.


      k and g comparison 2:

3.    Did you accomplish what you set out too?
Yes and No. The typeface didn't come out the way I had hoped. I thought it would have been more like P. Scott Makela's sweet Dead History font. However, the process opened up other possibilities and created a very cool teaching tool.

      The resulting alphabet:

4.    Would you change anything about it?
I think I would have included Caslon. William Caslon's family had a major influence on the industry of type. They had a dynasty and the drama to go with it.

 I wished I could have used any of the typefaces Hoefler & Frere-Jones foundry has designed because they are so relative to our current issues of usability/functionality. I just didn’t have the funds to purchase any of their collections.
Believe it or not this was the first time I had attempted to design a typeface. I discovered quickly that I should have chosen a lowercase "h" and "p" as the key letterforms. "h" and "p" give you a huge amount of DNA for a typeface design. The "p" gives you b, d and q. "h" gives you m, n and u. You even begin to get a better idea of the bowl shape too.

5.    Anything else type-related you want to mention?
The documentary Helvetica should be in every young designers DVD library.


Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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