Part 2: The Revision Paradigm

This post is part two of three in an attempt at explaining where our culture stands with type and where I think it yet has tremendous room for growth.
Rarely do I find a singular font that comes custom suited to represent my client’s image.

Many of my friends, and designers who I admire, have found that the digitized typefaces available to them are not enough. Or rather: the library currently available is not sufficient for the demands of a growing economy of identities. This has provided room in the market for companies like the Lost Type Co-op and required that all designers have the skill-set to become amateur typographers.

As I mentioned in the last post, I feel that each designer has the opportunity and responsibility to go beyond a simple typeset and into the finer details. Brands, start ups, and identities are popping up at an unstoppable pace and designers are jumping at the opportunity to give each one its own fresh look.

A Few Good Fonts

As everyone seeks for freshness, the question is asked time and time again, “what is the best font?” Though, admittedly, I do have a few typefaces that I turn to more often than others, I’d like to propose that the better question is, “what is the best rhythm (look/aesthetic/whatever word skins your snake) for this branding?” Asking which font is best reminds me of the first text book I’d ever seen about type (http://www.thinkingwithtype.com/) which pitched A Few Good Fonts on the inside of the cover. I was immediately compeled to memorize the names of those fonts as if I would never be a successful graphic designer without them.

The few good fonts at right were my old standbys at the time. I truly believed they were timeless classics, and rarely (if ever) used anything else. As I began to branch out into less modernist/clean looking typefaces, I found that I longed for alternate letters/glyphs. I modified a few letters (turning them into unique ligatures) which eventually lead to sketching up a sans-serif typeface that I felt was truly my own. I remember looking down at my sketchbook and thinking: how did this happen?

Here I sit, many favorite fonts later, with two custom typefaces completed, wondering why it hasn’t been this way all along. I’m still rather naive to the complexities of typography, so I’m hesitant to suggest that there is a better or worse way to learn it all. I am, however, willing to suggest that if you want to be successful at understanding typography and at developing truly unique and specific identities you’ll need to eventually go beyond simply revising a typeface.

This is the revision paradigm: select a good looking typeface and modify it according to your needs. This paradigm, though great when you’re learning typography, will lead to repetitive looking identities and passionless work. I propose that, instead, letterforms be sketched out organically, and refined eventually, the same way any illustrator or fine artist will brainstorm. Begin with thumbnails or ideas, pursue specific thumbnails, ink them, digitize them, and hand adjust them in Illustrator. If you still end up with something looking like one of your favorite fonts: so be it! Perhaps that typeface really was the correct choice all along. The point is that you got to that conclusion with your head in the right place.

May Your Mind Always be the Creative Master

Don’t be surprised that this conclusion is a little anti-climactic. This paradigm is more about the scaffolding than it is about the structure.

When developing a website for my mom’s fourth grade class I sketched up a little logotype to put in the header. I thought it looked good on paper, but it lost a lot of value when I digitized it. I spent many hours trying to bring the life back into the letterforms (the product of which is the middle logo) but eventually concluded that Lobster had much of the hearty look I was trying to represent (logo furthest to the right).

If I had started with Lobster, the appearance that Pablo Impallari had so delicately fine tuned would have dominated my own creative needs. Therein is the flaw of the revision paradigm. Starting with a few good fonts is not starting with a blank canvas. Revising my awful looking digitized logo with characters from Impallari’s Lobster was the right move, but not until sufficient time had been given for me to develop the rhythm that I knew best represented my mom’s teaching style.

These are the questions you must ask yourself:

  1. What rhythm is best for my client?
  2. Am I starting with a blank canvas?

The correct answer to these questions will help bring the passion and creativity back into your work, and help demonstrate the large opportunity for growth in our outlook on type.

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