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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

CMU Typeface
It would be cool for CMU to have its own typeface, like the one Matthew Carter (a recent visitor to CMU) did for Yale. Right now, the Design school uses an uneasy mix of ITC Officina Sans and Meta (for numbers). And type is one of our specialties!

posted at 09:49 PM in cmu, typography | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, March 28, 2004

What's Normal
Karen Moyer gave another one of her infamous lectures: What's Normal. It's a response to when people say, "I just want to type up a term paper or something and isn't there just a little recipe you can give me to make the paper look normal?" So this is how to make general typography look normal.

You should always start with body copy and then base the titles, subtitles, and captions/footnotes/marginalia afterwards. It's most important that the body copy be legible.

Here's the things to be aware of:

  • Alignment. Flush Left/Ragged Right is more legible than Flush Right and Justified. Only justify with a longer line length and only use Flush Right sparingly and never for body copy.
  • Rivers. Rivers are formed when the white spaces between words seemingly line up and form a "river." Avoid these.
  • Line Lengths. You want to apply the Goldilocks Principle to line length: not too long, not too short, but just right. Forty characters (about an alphabet and a half's worth of letters, spaces, and punctuation) is about the absolute minimum you'd want for body copy. Short line lengths: 40-55 characters. Longer line lengths are 75-90 characters. You generally want something in the middle range: 55-75 characters.
  • Font Size. The best typical font size for body copy is 10 point. (sometimes 11).
  • Leading. Leading, the vertical space between lines, is 20 percent additional of you font size. Which for body copy, typically means +2 points. So 10pt font has 12pt leading, 11pt font has 13pt of leading, etc. One exception to this is very small type (below 8pt), which needs more leading to make it more legible.
  • Line Length : Leading Ratio. The most important thing for legibility (for black type on white paper anyway). Optical Grey is how dense the type appears on the page. You generally don't want to have lines of text without enough leading. More leading makes the optical grey lighter. The longer your line length, the more leading you have to have to add. For body copy, add +3 or +4. Perversely, the same hold true with short line lengths, where you should add +2.5, +3, or +4. Never more than +4 though.
  • Font Choice. The difference between the thick and thin parts of letters in certain fonts like Bodini make a lot of "sparkle" that make then less legible. You need to add more leading to compensate. Also: the ratio of the Cap (the top of a capital letter) to the X Height (the top of a lower-case x) makes a difference. The bigger the ratio, the less leading you need to add because there is a lot of space already designed into the font face.

posted at 10:32 AM in design 101, faculty, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, July 18, 2003

CDF Week 3 Wrap-Up

We're halfway through CDF. My how time flies...

We talked a lot about the value of critiques, and about the value of design education (for mentoring), today while critiquing our final exercise (pdf 32k). I should mention how we do critiques here (at least in this class). We post several treatments up on the wall, then proceed to go through them methodically one at a time, referring to the others on the wall as necessary. Wallspace is important for critiques. With laptops, you are limited by the number of variations you can show at one time. Wallspace removes those constraints (mostly).

We also looked at the various elements that make up a type face (baseline, serifs, etc.). Strange that, similar to the photography portion of our class, in that we "play" with the things for a week before learning some of the more formal elements of the craft. I wonder if this is deliberate or not.

Picking a type face for a project is a matter of readability, flavor, and context. Different type foundries have different versions of the same type face. Very few type faces are designed solely for the screen.

A nugget of design wisdom: Style is something you build all your life.

Next week: Visualization!

posted at 12:06 PM in big ideas, classes, design 101, projects, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, July 17, 2003


Today's class was spent critiquing our third assignment (pdf 146k), which was the ability to add different weights and sizes to our previous assignment. After being so constrained in previous classes, it was exciting--and not a bit intimidating--to suddenly have more freedom with our typographic choices. It was important, in Dan's words, "to understand that typography is a strict environment."

We talked about signals again. Things that emphasize an element of text. How many do you need to get the job done? Less is always more; it is easy to over-signal something.

posted at 11:36 AM in big ideas, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, July 16, 2003


We talked a lot today about composition, the placement of things on a page. Gestures--making broad strokes on a blank page--can help explore the feeling you are trying to capture in type and the placement of your text. Is the movement organic? Mechanical? Loose? Tight? etc. And don't put everything center. Centering is easy. Finding how far off-center you can go, how far towards the edges, is more interesting. Don't be afraid of the edges. But be careful of the ragged right edge of text. Make sure the edges aren't too ragged. You don't want to draw too much attention to that edge for the reader.

When designing, don't throw away your early ideas. They might be cliche, but they might also be the most honest response to the problem.

An underlying grid structure can help organize your page, and can also help build variety within consistant pages.

It's sometimes hard to know when you are done with a project. The end is often simply determined by external forces (ie. a deadline).

During the second half of class, we looked at the work of Bradbury Thompson, an American graphic designer who "helped give definition to graphic design" in the US in the second half of the 20th century. His main contribution was the integration of type and image in advertising and in his "Inspirations" projects for paper manufacturer Westvaco.

posted at 07:53 PM in big ideas, design 101, projects, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Communication v. Design

I'm apparently having the same trouble I had during Photography: emphasizing Design over Communication. In my first assignment (pdf 96k), I spent a lot of time (some 6 hours) playing with the composition of each variation. But what I missed was the communication of the message. Which is pretty stupid considering the first line of the text is, "A great square has no corners." You'd think in six hours of staring at and typing the same message, some of it would have sunk in. Hopefully, my refinement (pdf 30k) is better.

We did talk a lot about form today in class, about how the overall shape and form of the page prepares the reader for the content therein. Symmetry, as it turns out, is boring. Old skool. Asymmetry is more interesting, more dynamic. Asymmetrical text might be more difficult to comprehend, but it is ok to make the reader work a little bit as long as it isn't too much. You have to know you audience and your content to know which end of the type spectrum you should be working in (pure information (absolute clarity) or expressive work (ambiguity)).

Don't ever just stick something on a page. Everything, every letter, needs to be placed. Do everything knowingly. Things in proximity are seen as related, as a chunk. Every element should be allied to something else on the page.

We talked a little about the design process, how it starts with many explorations. The process is linear, but it is seldom executed in a linear fashion. A tip is to start sketching as early as possible. You can better discuss ideas that are sketched out.

In software bootcamp, our Flash training is coming along swimmingly. We learned tweening animation today, which is a lot of fun to play around with. It's a good introduction before I take the Actionscript class in the fall.

posted at 05:02 PM in design 101, software, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, July 14, 2003

Expressive Typography

Week three of Communication Design Fundamentals is being taught by Dan Boyarski, who is also happens to be the new head of the School of Design. The topic is expressive typography: using the characteristics of type to convey emotion, not strictly information (as we studied in week one.

We began by talking about information, however, and we were presented with the following formula:


Data floats around randomly, "like dust." Only when form and structure are added, does it become useful. Information is presented in three ways: 2-D (paper, screen), 3-D (spaces), and 4-D (sequences). Paper has shaped how we organize information, but this is now being challenged by the digital environment. The history of design is really the history of materials. As materials changed, so did design.

When setting a text in type, one method of getting a feeling for it is to speak it aloud. Reflecting the inflections and pauses is one thing that type can do. It's also important when choosing a typeface to think about how the text is going to be read. If it is a book, say, you need to keep the readability of the type in mind. Less contrast with in a type style is easier to read (Garamond is easier to read than Bodini, for example).

Our first assignment is to set an assigned quote in 10pt. Frutiger (one weight only) in a 7" square, horizontal type only. In at least 10 variations.

Strangely enough, my quote is from the Tao Te Ching, a book I have sitting on my desk beside all my design books. The passage I have to set begins, "A great square has no corners." But just before that is a passage I am thinking about now, here in school:

The Way's brightness looks like darkness;
Advancing on the Way feels like retreating;
the plain Way seems like hard going.

posted at 08:37 PM in design 101, faculty, projects, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, July 3, 2003

CDF Week 1 Wrap-Up

Our introduction to display typography ended today after reviewing the final set of exercises exploring typographic variations. [Note: it is going to be exercises like these, and the accompanying critiques (and hopefully the learning that goes along with them), that will be nearly impossible to capture and document in a blog. But aside from the raw knowledge that you gain in school, this is what you are ultimately paying your money for: the training. This blog is free (for readers at least).] Some notes:

  • Distinctions can be subtle or bold...but shouldn't be too subtle, nor too bold.
  • Using two typographic variables at once can overemphasize text.
  • This from Ian: The "rules" of typography are dependent completely on the context and the content.
  • Karen Moyer recommends finding a set of fonts (around 10) that you use all the time and understand well.

Next week: photography! And in software bootcamp: Illustrator!

posted at 12:53 PM in classmates, design 101, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Linespacing, Stroke Weights, and Horizontal Shifts

We continued our Typographic Hierarchy Exercise from yesterday, the purpose of which (I'm postulating) is to train our eyes to see what slight changes in type characteristics do, how they can change emphasis. Indeed, the trick is to make sure the audience can unconsciously (via visualogic) determine what is the most important. By applying individual or combinations of two characteristics, you can see (or start to see in my case) how each affects the type (and thus the message).

A couple of related notes:

  • Without any linespaces, stroke weight changes look odd.
  • The length of a line and its placement on the page help to determine its emphasis ("loudness").
  • The top of a page determines the bottom. The left usually determines the right.

In software bootcamp, our study continues on InDesign, learning about frames and bounding boxes and how to manipulate the two. I'm starting to feel comfortable with the program, three days in. It helps we're using it in CDF class too.

posted at 06:15 PM in design 101, software, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans