Design, art, and the gradient between, featuring the creative output of our in-house design studio.
As a Design Fellow here at the Walker Art Center in 2008, curiously browsing through the stacks of archived journals on art and design in the Walker’s library, I found a group of old journals and magazines on typography. There, I came across Typographica and eventually gravitated toward a feature written by Alan Bartram in […]
As a Design Fellow here at the Walker Art Center in 2008, curiously browsing through the stacks of archived journals on art and design in the Walker’s library, I found a group of old journals and magazines on typography. There, I came across Typographica and eventually gravitated toward a feature written by Alan Bartram in Typographica 6 (1962), titled “Typewriter type faces.” Bartram’s writing was accompanied by an extensive index of typewriter typeface specimens. These specimens not only showcased the quantity of typefaces that were produced by the likes of IBM and Olivetti, but also, to my intrigue, the range of stylistic offerings made available to typewriter users during the prime of typewriters. Condensed typefaces, stylized italic typefaces, sleek sans serif typefaces, proportionally spaced (non-monospace) typefaces, “Pin-Point” typefaces, blackletter typefaces, script typefaces that mimic cursive handwriting, and many more.
I loved that moment of true discovery—of learning that the available range of typewriter typefaces was not as limited as I would’ve previously guessed. Rather, as Bartram’s feature illustrated, I found that the typewriter market back in the day was full of nuanced, specially-designed typefaces.
I ended up sharing my discovery that spring on The Gradient as a part of a blog post titled Typewriter Typefaces.
Fast-forwarding eight years, to this past fall, I received a note from Geneva-based designer Mathieu Christe. Mathieu had written to tell me that he and La Police had just recently published a new type design periodical titled Footnotes. Not only that, but this debut issue of Footnotes included a very faithful reprinting of Bartram’s “Typewriter type faces” feature. Considering that my post from 2008 hadn’t crossed my mind in quite some time, you can imagine how thrilled I was to receive Mathieu’s note.
Using our shared interest in “Typewriter type faces” as a jumping-off point, Mathieu and I, among other topics, had a conversation about precision, his collaborations, looking back on the history of Swiss type design, inventing a portmanteau, the study of typewriter typefaces in criminal investigations, affordable means of publishing, and what to expect in the forthcoming issue of Footnotes.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN)
Hi Mathieu! So tell me about your first encounter with Alan Bartram’s “Typewriter type faces” feature in Typographica 6.
Mathieu Christe (MC)
Having just finished my studies at the TypeMedia Masters course in 2008, I was enjoying some time off in Holland before relocating to Switzerland. After just one, although very intensive, year of drawing, I felt that I needed to practise a lot more. So, I set myself to work on two revival projects: a Didot and a typewriter (a round one from the firm Olympia). Redrawing a forgotten typeface is a way to remember the past and learn from it. I always research about the type and the period—an essential part of the process for my motivation too.
Honestly, I can’t remember if I read your blog post beforehand, but I ended up visiting the Special Collections at the Library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam to read Alan Bartam’s article. I remember the very tactile cover made of Braille dots.
So you were eventually in correspondence with Bartram, correct?
My reaction to this discovery was the same as yours, fascinated by the rich spectrum of styles. As I wanted to know more, I decided to get in touch with Alan Bartram in 2013. He replied that he couldn’t add much to this 47-year old article and that I was free to reproduce it.
Sadly, he passed away before issue A was released. I sent a copy to his brother though.
I see that you had a crew of collaborators. I imagine that they helped you to bring this reprinting back to life? It was really encouraging to read that you and your collaborators had taken such care with regards to the research, reproductions, and to all of the details. Was it difficult to find individuals to collaborate with and who shared in your interest in faithfully reprinting “Typewriter type faces”?
If you’re referring to the list of names under the “acknowledgments,” most of these people helped me contact Bartram. At some point along the chain of contacts, my message was forwarded to him and I received this bit of info: “Please note that he [Bartram] does not use email so any correspondence will be by letter or telephone.”
As I was researching typewriter typefaces, I visited many blogs (from the Typosphere, an online community) and forums, sometimes posting questions or requests (under my name). This led Nicolien van der Keur to contact me in 2012. She is a PhD student in The Netherlands, doing a thesis (under Gerard Unger’s guidance) on the topic of the development of typefaces for typewriter. We’ve been in touch ever since, exchanging documents, and helping each other. She scanned the whole of Bartram’s article in hi-res, using Gerard Unger’s personal copy.
Regarding the quality of reproduction, my lithographer and colleague, Nicolas Robel, took care in preparing all samples for a reprint, which proved to be a surprisingly daunting task. Initially, I thought we could simply tune every page, but close inspection revealed that every sample (about 200 altogether) needed individual care.
Speaking of details—I really respect that all of the details in Footnotes are so consistently and cohesively executed: from the typesetting, to the image captioning (i.e., stating the scale percentage at which type specimen images are being reproduced), to the index, to the writing itself. Seen together, it all demonstrates a true commitment to the content that is seemingly difficult to find in other periodicals today. Do you see this approach to detail as a signature editorial and design style? Or is that the nature and precision of typography-related content simply demands an approach centered around detail?
Thanks for noticing and I hope it’s not too overwhelming for some readers. My attention to these details is a personal trait but also a reaction to hollow and careless editorial content. I can see this precision as a signature too. As with typefaces (La Police will also publish fonts), details are key but shouldn’t overshadow the whole “picture.”
For the other feature articles in this issue, you’ve collaborated with a number of writers and designers, including Atelier Carvalho Bernau and Louise Paradis (known for her work on the Typographische Monatsblätter Research Archive). Were these features commissioned/written specifically for Footnotes? And as an independent publisher/designer/editor, how did the process of working with these writers and designers unfold?
Yes. Both of their contributions are part of the series “One-off.” The idea is to present a type project developed for a certain, sometimes unique, context. I’m expecting contributions from graphic designers—not only pure type designers—curious to learn from their practise of typography and type design.
Although these final pieces read smoothly, I initially sent questions to the designers with a note saying that they have to answer knowing that I would remove the questions in the end. It’s a rather common practise for documentaries and, in the printed medium, an efficient way to save space. Each issue will include one or two essays from that series.
The feature on Haas Typefoundry Ltd. presents a fairly extensive and detailed history of Haas, its origins, and operations. Seemingly, it’s rare to ever read about a type foundry in this capacity, if at all. But as Haas has a 400-year history (which is, assumedly, relatively well-documented), I imagine it’s easier to pull together content on this subject matter. Did you have a particular vision or direction in mind for how to shape this content in relation to a contemporary periodical on type design?
You’re right, Haas’ adventure is fairly well-documented. The most comprehensive document «Schweizer Stempelschneider und Schriftgiesser» (Albert Bruckner, 1943) was our starting reference. Nevertheless, to bridge the gap between 1943 and today, we needed an update.
Considering that La Police will also publish typefaces and, as a Swiss digital typefoundry, I felt it was important to look back on the history of Swiss type design with a historical essay. In the end, I think it contrasts nicely with the other articles. Initially I tried to commission a history of type foundries in Switzerland but soon realised that it’s a potentially boundless task and decided to focus on a more key contributor instead. The former and last director of Haas, Alfred Hoffmann, welcomed Brigitte Schuster (the writer) with much enthusiasm and generosity, which convinced us to go this way. This text will be followed in issue B by a shorter text from a digital foundry in order to make the technological transition to today and the future.
You use a term throughout Footnotes in each of the acknowledgments texts: “iconotrack”. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that term before and have been curious about it’s origin and meaning. Is it used in connection with your use of the word “iconography”?
Iconography is treated with great care, not only in terms of reproduction quality but also with regards to image and reproduction rights. Making sure that you’re granted permission (sometimes by paying fees), involves contacting many people. To credit them, I’ve invented this portmanteau made up of “iconography” and “tracking.”
On the back cover, you published a portion of a ransom note that describes a set of very specific and peculiar instructions that the murderous duo Leopold and Loeb had typewritten in 1924. Reading this made me super curious, and I ended up digging into some reading on Leopold and Loeb. I know that the typewriter used to produce the ransom note became a key piece of evidence in the murder trial, so it’s intriguing to me to imagine how you came across this case in your research related to type design. What was your path to discovering this murder case from Chicago in the 1920s?
If I remember well, the secretary at ASQDE (The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners) mentioned the name of Mr. Tytell, a typewriter expert in New York. I contacted him as I was looking for a story and picture for the cover (more below about my choice). He told me about the Leopold and Loeb case and I decided to re-transcribe the ransom note as a piece of curious evidence.
As a coincidence, shortly after the release of issue A, a local movie theater (Spoutnik, “Le plus beau cinéma du monde”) was screening the movie Swoon (Tom Kalin, 1992) about the infamous duo. I also realised that Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) was based on that case.
What’s the story behind the cover image?
One day Nicolien van der Keur mentioned the Haas Typewriter Atlas, a resource for forensic document examiners. Unknown to me, and unrelated to the famous Swiss typefoundry, it showcases the (probably) largest collection worldwide of typewriter typeface specimens.
With the pure image cover (no typography), my aim is to show intriguing images that are not obviously related to type. Knowing that experts from a different field are studying letterforms for other reasons, I set myself to find a photograph from a criminal case which used the Haas Typewriter Atlas as an identification tool. This proved impossible and, for that reason, it forced me to find a “simple” picture from the local police archives. The A D H letters on the cover are part of the original picture, probably rubbed off from a Letraset sheet.
I appreciate the extra bits of printed ephemera that were included with Footnotes: a bookmark, two visual table-of-contents-like cards, and a simple business-card-sized advertisement for the lithographer of Footnotes, supertiptop. The two visual table-of-contents-like cards are, graphically, really enticing. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of the graphic bits and icons that live on these cards?
On press, two covers are printed on one sheet with extra room for these goodies. The bookmark with issue A’s table of contents will be inserted into issue B’s copies, and so on. That way, the reader will know about the previous issue’s articles, which is important when articles are split between issues. This bookmark is meant to be used as a “shelfmark” too since Footnotes is stapled, thus without a flat spine.
The visual cards display graphic extracts from the respective articles’ iconography. I use them as promocards, which I occasionally drop at bookshops or various venues. “Enticing” is the right word as my aim is to tease the visually oriented people.
The before/after lithographer’s card (supertiptop) was designed by him to prove that you need to take care of black and white images, more so when printing on uncoated paper. He supported my project by offering a very careful preparation of all of the images. As he’s only working for cultural projects, I took the opportunity of my many mailings to spread the word about supertiptop.
And, of course, the printing of Footnotes is very important. In this regard, I worked with the passionate and knowledgeable printer Noir sur noir impression in Geneva. As the editor and publisher I feel a responsibility to offer readers original and well-reproduced images. In that sense, the visual information is treated with as much respect and care as the written content.
That’s a smart move—to make use of the extra space on the press sheet! The economy of that decision, as well as the overall modesty of the printing of Footnotes, brings me to my question about the production and funding of Footnotes. How did these two factors come to shape your thinking and decisions about what Footnotes could be in the end? Did certain compromises need to be made to aspects such as size/format, page number, and printing during the process of making Footnotes? Or, rather, did you let the limitations of the production and funding inform your decisions from the very beginning?
As references, I’d mention the bulletins and flyers from societies of collectors (i.e., mushrooms, stamps, etc.). These printings are simple transmitters, produced with affordable means. Of course, they also have an aesthetic which seduces me and I tried to preserve that charm.
In terms of reader’s impressions, I wanted to play with contrasts: an understated appearance with in-depth content and obsessive attention to details.
With the help of subsidies (in the form of services and time) from my friends, no ads, and wise production decisions, Footnotes can be released quite independently. I should also mention that with no strong connections to institutions or schools, I am able to preserve a certain editorial freedom.
The production decisions were also influenced by observing the evolution of print. In the field of sequential art (I co-run B.ü.L.b comix), books have become more and more refined. To maintain affordable prices, or to put it another way, to keep the price psychologically inviting for the reader, subsidies and printing abroad comes in handy. Contrary to the philosophy behind paperback publications—simple and affordable publications for the masses—the market is increasingly seducing readers and collectors by offering more for less and at no real additional cost. Designers, publishers, and institutions have a responsibility too, and I see Footnotes as a statement in this regard.
As for the format: it is defined by the postal service norms (cheapest shipping category) as well as the number of pages that fit on the printing press and press sheets. I see them as constraints, not compromises.
What can we expect from issue “B” of Footnotes and subsequent issues after that? Do you have a particular editorial or thematic strategy planned for each issue?
To begin with, I will be publishing the second (and last) part of Haas’ article, followed by a contemporary perspective from one of the earliest digital foundries of the country.
Additionally, I will include: the first part of an extensive research, lead by a French crew (Alice Savoie, Dorine Sauzet, Sébastien Morlighem), on Ladislas Mandel’s typefaces for telephone directories; a critical essay on typeface redesign by Christian Mengelt; after a few lectures on Dr. A. V. Hershey’s fonts, a written-report by Frank Grießhammer who re-coordinated these early vector fonts; and, of course, exciting one-off type projects and the Proofs page showcasing in-progress typefaces.
As you can see, I don’t have a thematic strategy. Some issues might have one, if appropriate. I research to find interesting content and contributors, then try to mix them over the course of a couple of issues. Simple and free.
Thank you for your time, Mathieu. And best of luck on issue B!
Footnotes issue A features contributions from: Mathieu Christe, František Štorm, Atelier Carvalho Bernau, Alan Bartram, Louise Paradis, Brigitte Schuster, Allen V. Hershey, and Frank Grießhammer.
Stay up-to-date with Footnotes on their website or on Twitter. Footnotes issue A is available from a handful of stockists in the US and Europe, or it can be ordered directly from the Footnotes online shop.
Milieu Grotesque, established in 2010 by Timo Gaessner and Alexander Colby, is a Zurich-based independent publisher and distributor of typefaces and related products. Milieu Grotesque’s collection of typefaces combine the rigor and precision of a seasoned type foundry with a particular edge that keep their typefaces looking timely and contemporary. One is struck by a feeling of familiarity […]
Milieu Grotesque, established in 2010 by Timo Gaessner and Alexander Colby, is a Zurich-based independent publisher and distributor of typefaces and related products.
Milieu Grotesque’s collection of typefaces combine the rigor and precision of a seasoned type foundry with a particular edge that keep their typefaces looking timely and contemporary. One is struck by a feeling of familiarity within their typefaces—typefaces which often nod to certain timeless greats. There are modern takes on IBM typewriter-inspired classics as well as slick reworkings of geometric grotesques of the previous century.
Below, Timo has responded to ten questions regarding his and Alexander’s practice as type designers. Timo, who made his start as a graphic designer, frames-out a healthy introspection (and even, at times, cautionary observation) of the discipline of graphic design and it’s interlaced relationship to type design.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): To start, a foundational question: How do graphic designers see typefaces differently than type designers?
Milieu Grotesque: Well, it’s always difficult making general statements on this regard, but maybe type designers tend to be more concerned about details like conceptual and historical references, formal aspects, execution, etc. While graphic designers tend to approach, select and judge a typeface by its looks and appearance.
RGN: Assuming that graphic designers define the majority of your customer base, you undoubtedly observe the field of graphic design. Are your observations more subconscious and undefined? Or do you take the time to survey the sub-genres of graphic design? How do your observations enter into the equation of how you conceive your typefaces?
Milieu Grotesque: As we are both graphic designers by trade, naturally, some of our experience gained over the last 15 years of practice is influential. It is part of our professional philosophy to approach a project based on research—so yes, we do observe and follow what’s happening (sometimes with concern).
But we’re not much interested in, nor do we survey any sub-genres. We are rather interested in, what we believe to be, substantial matters that contribute to a progressive development of how we conceive design and communication and that will pass the test of time. So we’ve strived to develop a library that is a modern, comprehensive selection of typefaces that contribute to these ideas and therefore hopefully remain somewhat relevant.
The basic ideas that drive our typefaces have many different sources, but so far it’s never been based on the calculation of an upcoming trend or genre. After all, we’ve never managed to develop and release a typeface in less than a time span of 3 years (sometimes even longer). That said, it’s quite unlikely to be able to foresee what’s supposed to be happening, especially in graphic design.
RGN: Do you guys cater the stylistic elements of your typefaces to appeal to a particular type of graphic designer? Or is that irrelevant?
Milieu Grotesque: Maybe due to our background as graphic designers, when developing a typeface, we often aim to implement a somewhat different, additional stylistic variation to offer and maybe aspire for a certain application and, to our understanding, an interesting usage. Naturally, we want to reach as many designers as possible, offering modern, well-executed typefaces that are suitable for as many applications as possible. Then, after all, choosing a typeface is the easiest part of the job.
RGN: Could you elaborate on one or two examples of specific ideas or conceptual underpinnings that have been embedded within your typefaces and how they derived?
Milieu Grotesque: With our most recognized typeface Maison Neue, the design referenced certain sans-serifs dating back to the early 20th century. Many of these early grotesk typefaces were created in the spirit of the parallel-happening architectural movement called “Neue Sachlichkeit,” implementing a simple, reduced formality (ornament is crime!) based on constructed principles (grids). To us, this roughly executed principle, including all of its oddities, has a particular flavor that a “modern,” optically well-balanced grotesk is missing. However, the new version (Maison Neue) is based on the same principles yet executed in a less dogmatic way.
Lacrima is based upon the famous IBM Golfball typewriter called Light Italic. We have added additional weights and two interpretations to the original design, Serif and Senza, to conceive a comprehensive family with a variety of styles.
Additionally, our typeface named Patron is based on the contradictory approaches and ideas of type designers Günther Gerhard Lange and Roger Excoffon. Günther Gerhard Lange, a war veteran and longtime art director of Berthold Type Foundry, was most famous for his historically-derived and strict approach. His work includes precise, consequent, and modern interpretations of today’s classics, such as: Akzidenz Grotesk, Garamond, and Bodoni (to name just a few). Roger Excoffon on the other hand, a former adman and French bon vivant, was known for his more expressive body of work. Most notably is his typeface Antique Olive which is defined by a number of unique formal ideas and attributes that are still considered outstanding today.
RGN: It certainly seems as though a commonality amongst most type foundries operating today is that most have one or more inspired-grotesques in their offerings. Have you taken notice to this as well? Either way, do you believe that it’s obligatory or a part of some unspoken tradition for any serious type foundry to create and offer their own take on a classic grotesque? More specifically, given their appeal, do you think the creation of these sorts of typefaces (such as Brezel Grotesk in your case) are driven by a competitive spirit amongst new type foundries?
Milieu Grotesque: Yes, of course, we have noticed this. But, we believe the large amount of the clean, minimalistic grotesks that have been released lately have their roots in commercial interests. Comparable to the recent hype around SUV models for the car industry, there is an ongoing demand for neo-grotesks due to reasons one can only assume. Some early adaptations have been successful, and their success has been recognized and has encouraged others to try to achieve the same. So yes, there is a certainly a competitive spirit. And no, we don’t think it is obligatory to offer a grotesk as a modern foundry.
RGN: Past year’s within the field of type design have seemingly given rise to many typefaces which are imbued with a certain degree of, shall we say, willful awkwardness. One might see the bends, flourishes, and forms of these typefaces as strange and unnecessary. Or one might see these sorts of details as vital and responsive to the proclivities of graphic designers. Are these sorts of “willfully awkward” typefaces something that you recognize? Support? Practice? Oppose?
Milieu Grotesque: It’s surely positive that type design has become more popular amongst young designers lately and that there is the will to test its limits—after all, it’s a rather slow developing discipline. Most of those willfully-awkward-designed letterforms are not meant to work as a versatile typeface and may therefore be simply (expressively designed) letters (and not a typeface), per definition, which is much easier to achieve than the sorts of well-executed and versatile systems that we understand as typefaces. We pay little attention to this trending style as we believe it will pass and vanish, like many others have before them.
RGN: There does seem to be an uptick in the number and popularity of, for the lack of a better term, “pop-up” type foundries. Maybe this can be attributed to the easy accessibility of font-making software? Or perhaps this can be attributed to the rise of entrepreneurial graphic designers who have not only a cursory knowledge of how to make a font, but also the desire to design every known aspect of a given project for the sake of achieving the idea of a “bespoke” creation?
Milieu Grotesque: Indeed, we are astonished and curious about the vast amount of foundries that have been popping up lately. It seems as if type design has taken over what, a few years back, self-publishing used to be. It became fashionable amongst graphic designers then and we can see the same happening for type design now.
Sure, one aspect is that font editors aren’t as complex and abstract as they used to be, which makes the tools more accessible. Also, type design has gained more interest amongst students, hence schools and universities are reacting and offering more on that subject.
Yet, apparently, there is a certain understanding and respect regarding copyrights that is missing. To our experience, developing a typeface from scratch takes at least 2000 hours—which is more than a year of straight working time. So it leaves us wondering, how is it possible for a small-scale foundry, founded by one or a maximum of two persons (presumably in there mid 20’s and having just finished their studies), to enter the market with several families?
RGN: Spinning off of the last question: do you see that the existence of this type of individual (this sort of entrepreneurial graphic designer) who is successfully and simultaneously able to act as both graphic designer and type designer within a single project is a becoming more of a rarity? Or a new, pervasive reality?
Milieu Grotesque: To our understanding, entrepreneurship is an important part of running a contemporary design studio. We believe that design, as the service-orientated practice that we have known since the rise of modernism, might vanish due the digital revolution (just as typesetting and lithography have gone before). Consequently, future (graphic) designers will have no other choice than to develop entrepreneurial skills and set up there own multi-disciplinary businesses, whether it will be a type foundry or something completely different.
RGN: In almost all creative disciplines, it seems as though almost everything is a derivative of something (or a multitude of things) from the past. Some disciplines embrace the inescapable reality of the influence of their predecessors by directly sampling their work (i.e., sampling beats or lyrics in hip-hop, or with filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, who have developed a style for themselves that relies on referencing and nodding to filmmakers of past eras). All that said, it seems difficult, especially within the discipline of typography, to not be referential of the history of type design. In your view, does reference material seem tied to the discipline of type design and it’s creations? If not, where do you believe innovative and new forms stem from within type design?
Milieu Grotesque: We consider the term “revolution” as the greatest myth of today’s (graphic design) postmodernism. What revolution has fundamentally changed graphic design since the early/mid-20th century and still holds up today? We believe in evolution rather than in revolution, and believe that slow and naturally-developing progression has a more sustainable impact. After all, even as a type designer, it’s simply impossible to reinvent the (latin) alphabet. So yes, we are very much tied to design history and the only innovation possible is in technical context. Due to digital evolution, we are now able to draw and develop typefaces that perform with more precision and complexity than ever before.
We think most of the innovation happening lately is due to the understanding of typefaces as being larger systems. Not in terms of weights, but more in terms of style and their variations as a means of creating a family/system that is suitable for any application there is. Those “Super Families” are based on a formal scheme/structure and embody large variations that include different contrasts, serifs, and sans-serifs, proportional and mono-spaced, engraved, shadow, stencil, etc.
RGN: On the Milieu Grotesque website, in addition to the typefaces that are for sale, you offer an assortment of promotional products for sale. Some are expected (such as type specimens and posters) and some are not so expected (beanies, necklaces, etc). How did you arrive at the decision to offer this mix of products? And has it changed how you are perceived by your peers and customers?
Milieu Grotesque: Besides our professional practices, we have a large interest in DIY and what has lately come to be known as “Maker Culture.” Many of the “not so expected” products you have mentioned have there roots in this interest and turned out to be a fun addition to the (sometime too serious) business of distributing typefaces.
Though, we initially conceived the product section to be the print-publishing part and a space where we could distribute specimens plus various (external) writings as a theoretical extension to the rather practical aspects of graphic and type design.
But we soon let go of this rather restrictive concept and went on to understand this section as a more experimental part for related products and ideas. We have come to realize that this is a great opportunity to interact and start a dialog with other designers whom we might not have met and talked to otherwise.
So we started to reach out to individuals and studios whose work we find interesting and we asked them to contribute to this section. It’s an approach that has turned out to be an enriching and influential part to our personal development and professional understanding. Since launching this section, we have gratefully collaborated with many interesting people, including Maiko Gubler (Berlin), Sulki & Min (Seoul), and Bunch (London) to mention a few, and we have a future project with photographer Tobias Faisst (Berlin) which we are very much looking forward to.
RGN: Many thanks for your time, Timo!
Eric Hu and Harry Gassel, founders/editors/art directors of Talk Magazine, have described the origins of Talk Magazine and where it’s going: Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens […]
Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens of graphic design and to critique graphic design through the lens of style. …It’s the start of a conversation, a space for dialogue, an arena for debate; mostly it is here to make a record of what’s happening now.
This text comes from Talk Magazine’s press release for Issue 2. Despite the matter-of-fact nature of a press release, what this text describes feels honest, ambitious, and confident. Talk Magazine expresses an attitude and a way of seeing that is integral to how they seek out and assemble the content of the magazine. At the same time, the text seems primed to morph into a new kind of manifesto, not only for the magazine itself, but for graphic designers and those who are visually/stylistically-aware, and that, for me, is what makes Talk Magazine particularly exciting.
On the heels of their recent release of Issue 2 of Talk Magazine, Eric and Harry have graciously shared their excellent opening essay from Issue 2, titled “Some Politics on Style,” for the readers of The Gradient. This opening essay kicks-off a vibrant Issue 2, which “gathers a hodgepodge of writers, artists, designers, (and in this particular issue, comedians) to examine style and its effects on larger cultural forces” and which “continues [the] discussion about the politics of style.”
Editor’s Note: To experience Some Politics on Style as intended, push play on audio while reading
Some Politics on Style
We’ve been thinking a lot about this one image. It’s a vertical diptych of stills from The Simpsons episode where both Bart and Martin are running for class president. Martin hangs a campaign poster that reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. Bart pastes his own poster over Martin’s. His reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. The only visible difference between the posters is their lettering style—Martin’s is neatly laid out in a presidential serif typeface and his message is seen as a warning, while Bart’s is rendered in an anarchic scrawl and his message is seen as an invitation.
A shift in style leads to a change in meaning.
As designers, it’s our job to think that the way something looks is important. Coming into 2016 and issue two of this magazine, we’ve been reflecting on the the past year—both globally and in relation to our own activities. Three things come to mind. The rebrand of Google and their new parent company Alphabet, the foregrounding of a lot of long-overdue social and political movements along with the almost successful and unsuccessful attempts artists have made to add to the conversation. Our interest is in trying to understand the codes of style traded back and forth between politics and images, and how, if at all, that understanding can lead to an effective contribution to the social good. We’re confused. So as always, we start by looking.
There’s this other image that’s been on our minds. Last August, Google rebranded and published a picture of their design department critiquing each other’s typographic sketches. The new logotype abandoned its familiar serif typeface and replaced it with a sans-serif designed in-house. The letterforms are geometric and charmingly clumsy. To the design world, the logo was hip and quirky, but to the broader public, the logo pointed towards more.
Scattered throughout the press during the rebrand announcement were invocations of the words friendliness, empathy, and most importantly, human. This is a wild contrast to a company who’s enterprises now range from home surveillance to armed AI—all as they amass personal data. It’s also the opposite of the logos of evil companies in fiction—like Skynet in The Terminator—or real companies like Halliburton who often utilize bold, engineered typefaces, minimal color pairings and stark symbolism.
Their uniformity and ubiquity convey both omnipresence and mystery. However, the companies with the most power and influence over our daily lives and political landscape are decorated in logos self-described as playful. Say what you will about Skynet, but its looks don’t deceive. These brutal sci-fi aesthetics have curiously found a new home in millennial music and fashion.
Perhaps this hipster retreat to the overtly evil branding from fiction is because the thought of a Boston Dynamics cheetah dressed in Google’s friendly brand assets hunting down dissidents is much more horrific.
If Google’s new coded design language hides its status or intentions, how can we effectively use our skills to subvert power or protest injustice ? There are so many iconic images of protest in design history. Like the I AM A MAN protest sandwich board, or the raw silkscreen posters from the May 1968 student protests. Or the newspaper and ephemera designed for the Black Panther Party by Emory Douglas. Though certainly they had agency and intention, their now fetishized aesthetic was borne from the urgency and limitations of the moment. Also, these are cases where the often anonymous designers were directly inside the movement and their work was in service of its political messaging.
Situations where designers offer unsolicited proposals often lead to a result that is tone-deaf. For an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Seymour Chwast selected a few design studios to re-brand Occupy Wall Street. In all of these cases, the designers have engaged in the traditional client model, assuming the role of an outsider who came to either clean up or spice up. Despite good intentions, the blog post that usually follows these case studies isn’t so much about the issue as it is about the fact that a designer took interest in the issue, injecting self-promotional noise to the discourse rather than providing a signal-boost to the movement.
It’s a case of selfie over substance.
Protest art can just be kind of goofy. Joel Goby for Vice UK in “A Painfully In-Depth Analysis of the Worst Bit of Graffiti I’ve Ever Seen” savages post-Banksy soft-ball political stencil graffiti on their tendency to annihilate all notions of complexity for the sake of a banal slogan combined with facile imagery. It’s worth comparing this to the graffiti of the 70s and 80s which was less about how it looked—though it looked amazing—and more about what it meant as an action. It was kids with underrepresented voices, taking back space in their city. Graffiti works as a political statement until the statement becomes overtly political. Then it’s just dorky as fuck.
Maybe the cliché actions speak louder than words has been right all along, and that the simple act of writing on a wall to deface it is a louder statement than whatever is actually written. In thinking about all these things, we’ve also witnessed a group of artists who are keenly aware of the sociopolitical forces connected to their identities and at work in their communities. And who, by simply doing what they do, have responded in kind.
Which is all to say, Design Harder.
Talk Magazine Issue 2 features: Cole Escola, Kate Berlant, Matthew Tammaro, Marcus Cuffie, Seth Price, Emilie Friedlander, Geordie Wood, Devin Troy Strother & Yuri Ogita, Berton Hasebe, Christian Chico, Kristian Henson, Othelo Gervacio, Hassan Rahim, and Mike Devine.
Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse. Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang). This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we […]
Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.
This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we were impressed by the interactivity of Or Type’s live, editable font testing fields that cleverly retain the words and characters typed-in by previous (or current) visitors to the website. As a cheeky disclaimer on the website pronounces: “ON AIR—Everything you type is recorded and instantaneously sent out on the wire.”
Other type foundries certainly make use of this type of live/editable font testing feature in varying degrees, but certain subtle moments set the experience of interacting with Or Type’s website a part from others. For example: Try typing in your favorite 4-letter curse word in one of the font testing fields and hit your Enter/Return key, or hit the Rewind icon in the bottom-right corner of the page to witness a sort of sped-up recording which plays in reverse while displaying the characters and words that visitors have typed-in, or click the Or Type logo in the bottom-left corner on the page to reveal so-called poems of the strung-together words that have been typed-in by visitors. This collection of tested words was even used by Or Type to auto-generate several volumes of books (doubling as Or Type’s printed type specimens) that are available through Lulu.
Guðmundur and Mads have created a bold and diverse collection of typefaces that have been making some notable appearances in the past year: from being used on the cover of international photography magazine, Foam, to the cover of the London-based music magazine The Wire, to the typographic identity for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Below, the Reykjavík and London-based designers have responded to twelve questions regarding their practice as type designers.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)
Or Type: We’ve always wanted to make a typeface for football (guess it’s soccer for you) jerseys and last year that dream came true! We made it to the back of the Icelandic national team jerseys. They then went on to make into the finals of the Euro 2016. In actuality, that project was a bit of a mess though. In the end, they had mixed up weights and styles and it all looked kind of odd. So we’re hoping to be able to fix it before the next Euros, but we haven’t heard from them yet, which is worrying.
RGN: When it comes to creating a typeface, it seems that there are now more alternatives to the traditional font-making program of choice: FontLab. If you use FontLab, what convinces you to stay with FontLab? If not, what is your font-making program of choice?
Or Type: Our program of choice is Glyphs by Georg Seifert. To be honest, FontLab kind of ran out of time. It was getting really outdated and Glyphs just stepped in and convinced us to come on board. I think that even was the reason why Georg started making Glyphs: he just got sick of the old FontLab. Since then, FontLab has made a major update and is looking quite slick to be honest, but we’re really happy with working in Glyphs now.
RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.
Or Type: It’s difficult not to answer “S/s” to this question. It can get extremely frustrating, but then again, of course really satisfying to finish the S/s.
RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?
Or Type: We noticed that a cruise ship company recently bought one of our typefaces. Seeing our typeface on a cruise ship would certainly be unexpected.
RGN: Did you both formally study type design? Or are you guys self-taught?
Or Type: We had some courses when we were at school, but we haven’t gone to study type design specifically.
RGN: Your guys’ homepage is quite unique in that it displays a number of font testing areas that record the words and characters that are typed-in by previous visitors of the site. These words and characters are retained and displayed until a new visitor comes along and replaces what’s displayed. That said, what’s the most bizarre thing that you guys have seen typed-in and left behind by a visitor?
Or Type: We see a lot of things—all kinds of things really. We get love and hate letters through there, intern requests, and all kinds of stuff. The other day we noticed that someone wrote “Will you marry me?”, but we’ve yet to hear if that was a real proposal or not.
RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?
Or Type: Since we launched our new website last year, or best-sellers seem to be Landnáma and Separat. These are also the typefaces which seem to be around and which we stumble upon most frequently.
RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?
Or Type: I guess we have a very specific way of using our typefaces, so often when you see people working in a different way it can be strange to see your own typefaces in that context. Having said that, sometimes it feels as though we designed the projects that make use of our typefaces, probably because of the nuanced characteristics of our letters. So never really appalled, no, not yet.
RGN: In your opinion, are there too many typefaces in existence? Or not enough? Are those questions relevant to you as you begin creating a typeface?
Or Type: You could say that, but the same goes for everything: too many records, too many cars, etc. At least we’re not polluting the earth by making more. Having said that, it’s relevant for us to design a typeface that doesn’t already exist. This is an important part of our practise—to create something fresh and original.
RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?
Or Type: Simply, that we draw letters and sell them.
RGN: Matthew Carter rocks an iconic ponytail—what are your feelings on this subject? And do either of you aspire to sport an iconic look of your own?
Or Type: I think we both wanna rock the ponytail when we turn 78. Guðmundur already has long hair, so he could sport that look at anytime.
RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?
Or Type: It’s been mostly print up until recently, but making fonts ready for both web and screen is definitely a part of the next step of development for Or Type. Given the speed at which these technologies are developing, we’ve never consciously been too geeky about making our fonts for a certain resolution—it will soon all be HD screens anyway.
RGN: Many thanks for your time, Guðmundur and Mads!
Insights 2016 Tuesdays in March Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight […]
Tuesdays in March
Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight and confound historians of the future. This year’s series features lectures from South Korean conceptualists Sulki & Min, music-packaging designer Brian Roettinger, design curator Jon Sueda, and Susan Sellers, cofounder of 2×4 and current head of design at the Met.
If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter (#Insights2016). For educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party, have a look at our Viewing Party Kit.
Sulki & Min Choi (Seoul, KR)
March 01, 7 pm (tickets)
When asked what their studio motto might be, designers/artists Sulki Choi and Min Choi replied, “Clarifying is our business, obscuring is our pleasure.” Indeed, this tension between fact and fiction, concrete communication and abstraction, reveals itself throughout their practice as the designers create what they call “impurely conceptual” work. The married couple founded their design practice in Seoul in 2003, focusing primarily on the cultural sector with projects such as graphic identities for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, architecture firm Mass Studies, and the 2014 Gwangju Biennale; the guest art direction of Print Magazine’s 2012 “Trash” issue; and an extensive graphic system for the architecture exhibition Before/after.
Working in both Roman and Hangul alphabets, their intense approach to typography reveals a deep interest in language. Whether systematically inverting English oxymorons in a type specimen poster or dissecting the typographic relationship between Hangul vowels and Taoist yin-yang symbolism through a series of patterns, much of Sulki & Min’s work exerts an almost scientific approach to the use of words, reminding us that language is, in fact, the earliest and perhaps greatest “kit of parts” at a designer’s disposal.
In 2006, the duo founded Specter Press, a publishing imprint that presents monographs of Korean artists. Sulki & Min are also one half of the artist collective SMSM, which is an “applied-art collective devoted to health and happiness.” Their work has been exhibited internationally and Min also curated Typojanchi, which is a typographic biennial in Seoul. Sulki teaches design at the Kaywon School of Art & Design, and Min teaches at the University of Seoul.
Brian Roettinger (Los Angeles, US)
March 08, 7 pm (tickets)
The work of graphic designer/artist Brian Roettinger is an uncanny union of punk ideology with a conceptually driven mode of modernist design. He frequently employs architectural strategies such as repetition and structure (think die-cuts and folds) while subverting this sense of order by manipulating the production process in unexpected or “wrong” ways (think pulling the sheet out of the printer before it is done). Hailing from Los Angeles, Roettinger launched his own record label in 1998 called Hand Held Heart and began to release albums by bands such as the Liars, No Age, and the Chromatics, featuring artwork that he designed and produced himself. The moniker Hand Held Heart came to encompass all of Roettinger’s creative output—curating, publishing, editing, artwork—including his stints as the in-house designer for the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), art director for LA–based fashion magazine JUNK, a variety of projects for clients such as Yves Saint Laurent and MIT Press, and most obviously, his ongoing work in the music industry. As Rolling Stone’s 2009 Album Designer of the Year, Roettinger has created album artwork for Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, and most recently, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In 2013, Roettinger was commissioned to design Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album, which was nominated for a Grammy (his second nomination).
With friends, Roettinger was also responsible for celebrating the now-legendary Colby Printing Press in LA, for which he created an official archives, curated an exhibition, and designed and edited a beautiful catalogue.
Jon Sueda (San Francisco, US)
March 15, 7 pm (tickets)
Over his career, Jon Sueda has carved out a unique practice for himself as a designer, curator, and educator—a practice that has allowed him a curious perspective simultaneously creating design, generating dialogue about the field, and helping shape the designers of the future. Originally from Hawaii, Sueda has bounced around the globe, working in California, Holland, and North Carolina, and finally founding his design studio, Stripe, in 2004. Since then he has created work for a variety of cultural clients such as Chronicle Books, the New York Times Magazine, the Architecture Association (London), and REDCAT Gallery. For seven years, Sueda served as director of design for the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, creating all of their exhibition graphics, catalogues, and branding. He is also the art director of Exhibitionist magazine, a journal “by curators, for curators”; coeditor of Task Newsletter, a journal of design; and a co-organizer of AtRandom events, a “community-sponsored public gathering of designers, artists, writers, and researchers within the Los Angeles area.” Sueda is currently the chair of the MFA design program at the California College of the Arts.
As a curator, Sueda creates shows that endeavor to contextualize aspects of the design field. His most recent exhibition, All Possible Futures (SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco), tackled the subject of speculative design, examining the conditions in which graphic designers are able to create work outside of the typical client-based relationship. Featuring an international range of practitioners, the show and its accompanying catalogue have been highly influential, mapping the connections between speculative fiction, academic investigation, think-tank innovation, and contemporary art.
Susan Sellers (New York, US)
March 22, 7 pm (tickets)
From her early career working with Dutch studios Total Design and UNA to cofounding a preeminent global design agency to teaching at the Yale University School of Art to her recent appointment at the world’s third most-attended museum, Susan Sellers has kept herself at the epicenter of some of the world’s most exciting design and cultural scenes. She has actively explored issues as varied as data visualization, screen-based technologies, critical design, material culture, brand development, and craft. In 1994, Sellers cofounded 2×4, an agency with offices in New York, Madrid, and Beijing. Its massive output includes anything from brand work for Vitra to in-shop displays for Prada, environments for Nike, identity work for the Brooklyn Museum, pattern work for Kate Spade, and the design of a 7-screen cinematic experience for Kanye West. On top of her work at 2×4, Sellers was recently appointed head of design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she will oversee a team of designers, installers, and architects to execute the full range of the institution’s design needs, including print materials, gallery installations, and signage. In March 2016, the institution will unveil its newly designed brand—Sellers’s Insights lecture will be her first public presentation of what should be a fantastic new identity.
Sellers is also one of the core faculty members of the MFA graphic design program at the Yale University School of Art, where she helps shape one of the most prestigious design programs in the world. She has written about design for such publications as Eye, Design Issues, and Visible Language and her work has received countless awards.
Printing of the Insights 2016 poster courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis.
Given the relative lull of releases in the arena of journals/periodicals/readers focused on graphic design and typography in the past few years, we’ve been intrigued by the recent announcement of Bricks from the Kiln and ultimately curious to check out the iterations of editors Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart’s approach to assembling varied content […]
Given the relative lull of releases in the arena of journals/periodicals/readers focused on graphic design and typography in the past few years, we’ve been intrigued by the recent announcement of Bricks from the Kiln and ultimately curious to check out the iterations of editors Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart’s approach to assembling varied content (where, as the editors elaborate on below, a body of collected content is analogous to a collection of bricks—each “a piece of a larger structure,” each “a part of a sum”—that are fitted together in the process of editing and designing).
This debut issue of Bricks from the Kiln features contributions from Ron Hunt, Natalie Ferris, Ralph Rumney, James Langdon, Mark Owens, Jamie Sutcliffe, Iain Sinclair, Traven T. Croves, Parallel School, Catherine Guiral, and Max Harvey, He Pianpian, & Li You.
For those of you in London, Bricks from the Kiln is set to launch at Tenderbooks on Thursday, February 4th. There will also be an exhibition of material relating to, and stemming from Bricks from the Kiln #1 on display at Tenderbooks until Saturday, February 13th.
To help kick-off this debut issue and to shed some light on how Bricks from the Kiln came to be, Andrew and Matthew have shared with us their insightful Afterword.
ASIDES TO OUR TIME AND TO OUR CONTEMPORARIES
(An Afterword from the Editors)
Between 1917 and 1921 Ret Marut published thirteen issues of his anarchist, satirical magazine Der Ziegelbrenner (The Brick-Burner or The Brick-Maker). It was ‘the size, shape and colour of a brick’,1 and appeared at irregular intervals from Munich (and later Cologne) before Marut escaped to Holland, London and eventually Tampico in Mexico, where he would become the elusive author B.Traven. As former BBC Television Managing Director turned literary detective Will Wyatt notes, ‘the bricks were fired by Ret Marut to comment upon the corrupt society in which he lived and to begin the rebuilding of a new and better world.’2 Der Ziegelbrenner included ‘sporadic laconic news glosses’,3 which were listed on the cover of the second issue under the heading, ‘Ziegeln aus dem Brenn-Ofen: Randbemerkungen zu unserer Zeit und zu unseren Zeitgenossen’ (Bricks from the Kiln (or Combustion Furnace): Asides to our time and to our contemporaries).4
For us, ‘Bricks from the Kiln’ implies something in flux and liable to crack. A piece of a larger structure. A part of a sum. Fittingly, many of the bricks included here stem from larger bodies of work and ongoing research. Some are chapters lifted from forthcoming books, or investigations begun but forced aside. Others are unrecorded talks, or previously unpublished autonomous editions in their own right.
In preparing BFTK#1 we were keen not to arbitrarily hang the issue on an overarching theme before the fact, but rather to adopt a more responsive approach, allowing connections to develop organically through both the editorial and design processes. In particular, the conversation with Ron Hunt that opens the issue, has begun to shape much of our thinking, and here a number of threads and recurring characters begin to emerge.
Guy Debord and the Situationist International loom large. Explicitly in Ron Hunt’s lapsed anarchism (pp.1–20) and in Natalie Ferris’ essay on the ghostly presence of the artist Ralph Rumney (pp.21–34). And more tangentially in the rural psychogeography of Westering (pp.65–88), in vaporwave’s détourned ‘music optimized for abandoned malls’ (pp.45–55) and in ‘photographs of grand coupes and synthetic sweets’ captured on dérives around Beijing (insert #2).
Ron also identifies a preoccupation with the peripheral and the overlooked, touching on the difficulties of recuperation. Again, this sentiment seems to run throughout these pages, peripheral characters and locales a constant presence. Marut, Rumney, Breakwell, Viollet-le-duc and Faucheux. Langcliffe, Hastings, Newcastle, Changsha, Dorset, Uxmal and Brno. A ‘necessary otherness’, as Iain Sinclair puts it.
An interest in ‘the picking up, turning over, and putting with’5 is discussed in more physical terms in our own talk from the Brno Biennial (pp.89–136) and also extends to some of the structural considerations for the issue as a whole. An initial plan had, in fact, been to produce the issue a signature at a time, as and when money was available.***** A production model not dissimilar to that adopted in Phil Baber’s first Cannon Magazine or Dieter Roth’s Copley Book: ‘a kind of visual diary squirted out during three years of spasmodic labor’.6 But as the inevitable financial holdups, printer bankruptcies and editorial concerns played out, this model seemed less and less appropriate to our needs. In this first collection of bricks we have thus attempted to maintain some of the ‘oddities’7 and specifics of original contexts, whilst still working within a cohesive structure. From Westering by Iain Sinclair, produced to exist as a standalone edition for publishers Test Centre, and to be bound into the issue as signatures I, J and K. To the decision to allow the formatting of footnotes and references to alter from piece to piece, in keeping with their original settings.
Of course, there are precedents for this kind of exploration of the periodical format that have come before and greatly inform our approach. The likes of Typographica, Icteric, Dot Dot Dot, Dieter Roth’s Collected Works and Jacqueline De Jong’s Situationist Times being of particular note. Perhaps the strongest affinity for us, though, is with Theo Crosby’s Uppercase, which ran for five issues between 1958 and 1960.
Crosby was facilitator-in-chief for a specific brand of post-war British design and architecture, initiating the hugely influential exhibition This Is Tomorrow in 1956 and later co-founding the design studio Pentagram. He published Uppercase whilst working as Technical Editor for Architectural Design under Monica Pidgeon, and would subsequently take the editorial reins of Living Arts: a ‘documentary magazine’8 published out of the ICA in London. Despite its short lifespan and modest format (close to pocket size at 5.5″ x 7″), Uppercase intended to ‘deal with the whole field of visual communication’.9 Striking a balance between historical research and current work—and drawing connections between the two—it featured the work of Crosby’s own cast of recurring characters, including among others, Edward Wright, Richard Hamilton, William Turnbull, Eduardo Paolozzi, Kurt Schwitters, John McHale, Magda Cordell, Nigel Henderson and Alison & Peter Smithson. Each issue was, as Crosby put it, ‘an experiment in type within the same overall format’, an attempt at translating ‘a mass of material from an artist’10 into the specifics of print production.
Ultimately, and perhaps selfishly, BFTK#1 presents a collection of texts and projects we simply wanted to read and see more of ourselves, and that we felt would benefit from wider circulation. The hope is that it finds an audience of likeminded readers and that this first iteration provides a platform upon which to build. Inevitably—in the same way that Crosby notes in his introduction to the inaugural issue of Uppercase—‘it will be tentative, incomplete and inconsistent.’11
AL & MS
1. Wyatt, W., ‘Introduction’, in Marut, R., To the Honorable Miss S… and other stories by Ret Marut a/k/a B. Traven, 1981, Cienfuegos Press, Orkney, p.viii.
3. Carr, G., ‘Lion’s heads—or just bricks and tiles? On satirical motifs and chance’, in Rasche, H. & Schönfeld, C. (eds.), Denkbilder: Festschrift für Eoin Bourke, 2004, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, p.188.
4. Marut, R., Der Ziegelbrenner, Heft 2, 1 December 1917, cover, in Marut, R. / Traven, B., Der Ziegelbrenner, facsimile, 1976, Verlag Klaus Guhl, Berlin, p.23.
5. Lichtenstein, C. & Schregenberger, T. (eds.), As Found: The Discovery of the Ordinary, 2001, Lars Müller Publishers, p.8.
***** The signature marks included at the bottom of the first page of each 8-page signature (eg. BFTK#1—A) are a remnant of this initial model.
6. Hamilton, R., ‘Introduction: Diter Rot’, in Roth, D., Copley Book, 1965, William and Norma Copley Foundation, Chicago.
7. This approach to typographic detailing and phrasing is particularly well exemplified in Richard Hamilton’s Collected Words, (Hamilton, R., Collected Words: 1953–1982, 1982, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London) of which there is a more in-depth discussion in our talk from the Brno Biennial (pp.100–102).
8. Crosby, T. & Bodley, J. (eds.), Living Arts no.1, 1963, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, p.1.
9. Crosby, T., ‘Introduction’, in Uppercase no.1, 1958, Whitefriars, London p.1.
10. Ibid., p.2.
Bricks from the Kiln #1 will be released in early February 2016 and is available now for pre-order on the Bricks from the Kiln website: b-f-t-k.info.
Bricks from the Kiln #1
Edited and designed by Andrew Lister and Matthew Stuart
170×224.764mm, 138pp. + 2 inserts
Edition of 700, ISSN 2397-0227
TTC-090, December 2015, London
Bricks from the Kiln #1 is supported by funding from Winchester School of Art
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist-archivist Josh MacPhee and artist Tomás Saraceno to Are.na and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, writer and curator Geoff […]
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist-archivist Josh MacPhee and artist Tomás Saraceno to Are.na and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, writer and curator Geoff Manaugh examines a provocative and participatory installation created by Haus-Rucker-Co in 1973.
The best speculative art projects have a peculiar ability to come true, years later. In 1973, Haus-Rucker-Co, a “Viennese architectural collective,” in the words of Esther Choi, installed Grüne Lunge (Green Lung) at the Kunsthalle Hamburg. In essence, Green Lung was an architectural breathing apparatus; it pumped artificially conditioned indoor air through a series of inflatable ducts to a grape-like cluster of transparent plastic helmets suspended to a pole in the square outside. Visitors—that is, any public passer-by who wanted to pop his or her head into a helmet—could thus breathe the rarefied atmosphere of an art museum, inhaling airs that only minutes earlier had been gently rolling over the painted surfaces of Romantic landscape scenes and delicate statuary.
While playing with questions of inside vs. outside, of public vs. private, of enclosure vs. space, the project also came with the larger conceptual implication that air itself could be treated as a kind of readymade object. Charged with both sensory and poetic significance, air is an index of the circumstances within which it is found. Air is perfumed with context.
In its time, a commentary on everything from curatorial practices to urban air pollution, Green Lung has been oddly, if uncomfortably, upstaged today by the business practices of everyday capitalism. A café in smog-choked Beijing has begun charging its customers for clean air, for example, and this is only the latest symptom of an emerging clean-air market in China and elsewhere. Fresh air packaged from the Chinese mountains has been canned and sold to enthusiastic urban customers, even as various airs taken from idyllic foreign landscapes—the Canadian Rockies among them—are being imported by firms such as “Vitality Air,” who have found a small fortune to be made in selling atmospheres. Their products—which the CEO’s admits began as a prank—include canisters of “Lake Louise Air” and “Banff Air” (“On Back Order!”).
A 2014 marketing stunt by a Chinese tourism firm played on this notion by setting up a temporary outdoor air bar for urban residents to give them a whiff of pristine countryside. Photos of the event look like a Haus-Rucker-Co installation, with futuristic blue air bags suspended on wires and poles, and people strapping medical facemasks onto themselves and loved ones. In other words, given a sufficiently dystopian atmospheric context, 1973’s Green Lung has smoothly transitioned from a curatorial provocation to a viable business model.
Geoff Manaugh is a freelance writer and curator, as well as the author of BLDGBLOG, a website launched in 2004 to explore “architectural conjecture, urban speculation, and landscape futures.” His latest book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, about the relationship between burglary and architecture, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April 2016.
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist Dread Scott and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to Adam Michaels and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Charles Broskoski of […]
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from artist Dread Scott and artist-archivist Josh MacPhee to Adam Michaels and Experimental Jetset—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, Charles Broskoski of Are.na discusses the reverberating influence of Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines—an icon of counterculture which anticipated the interconnectedness of the World Wide Web—on the making and evolution of Are.na.
“‘Knowledge’ then—and indeed most of our civilization and what remains of those previous—is a vast cross-tangle of ideas and evidential materials, not a pyramid of truth. So that preserving its structure, and improving its accessibility, is important to us all.” —Ted Nelson, Dream Machines
In an alternate reality, I would have composed this piece of text using Xanadu, a dual hypertext library/document editor that could have taken the place of the World Wide Web. Any references I made would have been pulled from the Docuverse, my sources linked explicitly to their original documents, and vice versa, with the original documents linking back to my post. It’s easy (or maybe just funny) to imagine Xanadu as some kind of nightmarish version of Borges’ Library of Babel, a Windows 95–esque software iteration with every conceivable variation of every text ever, all linked to each other in a dense criss-crossed web of sources and citations. (more…)
Berlin, December 2015 To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: […]
To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to .
Michael Oswell is a British–born designer based in the Schengen Zone. He is interested in operating in unconventional contexts, regarding design as a kind of terraforming; mediating between fact, fiction and rumour. He has made songs about graphic designers. Teaching, exhibitions, accolades, etc. More words. Client list. Call today.
Firstly an apologetic preface: this is less a catalogue rarefied selections from a tastemaker at the top of their game so much as a collection of personal synaptic touch-points that marked 2015 as a difficult, disturbing, joyful year. The first months were spent freaking out over mysterious health problems that culminated in an emergency cholecystectomy. Two weeks later, a tentative move to Berlin—a thoroughly revitalising experience later dulled by the theft of my backpack containing items that consitute ‘home’ to a nomad. My laptop, my phone(s), my passport. A second psychological scare, resolved through a rich tapestry of friendship, colleagues, collaboration.
As such, a number of the following selections didn’t materialise this year; they just happened through circumstance to play a role in it. I didn’t read as much this year as I should have; I went to fewer art openings and film screenings; and my experience of new music came from frequenting (admittedly rather good) techno clubs. I have been a Bad Graphicdesigner: I have failed in my task to actively take in the world and infuse it into my life’s work. I’ve used culture this year as a comforting eiderdown, my filter bubble is in full effect. With apologies, here are my things of 2015.
In the Hall on the evening of January 1st, I heard the distinctive 110bpm clicking; the continually descending, guitar-like riff signalling that 2014 was in the process of being sucked down and remodelled. The clicking continued onto the train back, onto my bike through the streets in the rain, into waiting rooms of varying medical specificity.
Extrastatecraft, by Keller Easterling
Two confessions. Firstly, this book was published in late 2014, and secondly, I designed its jacket (art directed as always by Verso’s Andy Pressman). One of the dictates of book cover design is that you should always read the book before you design the cover – a dictate established by someone with no concept of contemporary publishing production timelines. I didn’t have a chance to read the book until this year, so in it goes.
Ashkan Sepahvand is a writer who amongst other things runs the Technosexual reading circle here in Berlin; in its extended and informal incarnations it’s resulted in some stimulating conversations of varying degrees of coherence about contemporary selfhood, collectivity, sex, technology and the future of the species. Everything I Know About Technocapitalism…, a performative lecture, falls under the umbrella of Mountgrove – the sprawling, delirious science-fictional imaginary of a well-known techno club, home to the intermorphs and other demiurgic concepts. It was first performed at the ICA in May; I managed to see a later performance at Spektrum in Berlin. Delirious, super ambivalent, and ultimately accurate. Our happiness is a horizon, and a platform.
Sans Soleil, by Chris Marker
Commanding attention in exchange for network kudos doesn’t feel like a sustainable form of life. The mainline kick of getting retweeted has dulled. Public discourse got soured by layer upon layer of second-guessing and assumption of bad faith. This year, the backchannels were more rich, more vital. But I don’t want to Quit Social Media To Focus On Real Life. I want to lurk—as Jaakko says, deleting twitter is just the “having a buzzworthy twitter.”
Untitled (Buffalo), by David Wojnarowicz
At some point in the summer, I made Untitled (Buffalo) the wallpaper for both my computer and my phone. It must surely have something to say about 2015. The image came back to me after seeing it used on YouTube as the background for a Delia Derbyshire radio composition, in which different voices recall dreams of falling. The combination did a certain something to the image, which is so rooted in a certain epoch of AIDS activism. All these different ways for buffalo to fall.
A single notch-filtered FM chord, breathing, in, out, in, out; a jittering high-pass-filtered stab of noise for a hihat; a round, enveloping kick – this track, which came out in 1996, unfurled itself at approximately 3:30am on October 12, in the process becoming a new affective cipher I’ve yet to fully dekode.
Probably not a Dyson swarm. But not definitively not-A-Dyson-Swarm until definitively proven not to not be not-a-Dyson-swarm.
The bare possessions of a non-person living in a non-place.
A night with friends.
An on-and-off relationship.
A temporary job.
A trove of secrets.
We have a non-plan.
All we do is show that we still exist.
A delicious neapolitan ice-cream of a book.
David Cameron Fucked A Dead Pig
The British media’s reaction to Jeremy Corbyn showed what a deeply fucked up establishment it really is, but its treatment of this delicious pink faberge egg of a story really sealed the deal. I had the great pleasure of reading defences of Cameron that amounted to the underclasses are simply jealous that they don’t get to FUCK DEAD PIGS and who *hasn’t* fucked a dead pig in their youth?. Hilarious but irrelevant. None of us will ever look at Dave the same way ever again. He will forever be David Cameron, Who Fucked A Dead Pig. This whole affair was an oasis of pure and unblemished joy, a real highlight.
11. IMF: It Gets Better (Pinkwashing Version)
12. Saying “No” to Nomadism (#NeauxMoNomadisme)
13. The Continued Evolution of ASMR Videos (#Rule34b)
14. Hay guise its meh (#NeverGiveUpOnYourDreams___________LikeEvenIfYouReallyWantToJustDzohnt)
15. Goodbye, by Bottoms
16. Enya Revival (#LetTheOrinicoFlow)
17. Progress Bar (#WhatWouldOstgutDo)
18. Pierre Bernard
19. ISIS Dildo Flag (#SexToysAsLanguage)
20. London’s continued decline and war on nightlife
21. Bono’s on-stage tribute to Paris (#NousSommesTousParis)
23. 9/11 Building 7, by Martin Noakes (#OpenFireCantMeltSteelItsNotHotEnough)
24. Unedited Footage of a Bear
25. The concept of Yanis Varoufakis
26. Trance (#ItWillAlwaysBeWithYou)
Heavyweight, a Prague-based type foundry, was established by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik in 2014. Filip and Jan were kind enough to set aside some of their time to respond to ten questions regarding their practice as type designers. They elaborate on their entry points into type design, observing their typefaces in use out in the world, their […]
Heavyweight, a Prague-based type foundry, was established by Filip Matejicek and Jan Horcik in 2014.
Filip and Jan were kind enough to set aside some of their time to respond to ten questions regarding their practice as type designers. They elaborate on their entry points into type design, observing their typefaces in use out in the world, their aspirations as a type foundry, reacting to and evolving alongside the field of graphic design, and more.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): In looking back at your younger days, are you aware of the moment or period of time at which you first became interested in letterforms and how they were made?
Heavyweight (Jan): I came across typography and typefaces as such for the first time while painting graffiti in the first year of high school. Back then, I was highly interested in hip-hop culture, a part of which is graffiti, yet this culture intertwines with several fields which are often associated with authentic visual expression. It was only during my studies of Typography at a college in Prague when I experienced the need for basing my graphic design works on a distinctive typeface, considering that I was quite unimpressed by the generally available typefaces at that time.
Heavyweight (Filip): I remember the moment when one of my friends shared with me a catalogue of graphic design creations (unfortunately, I do not recall the title of the book). It happened during my first year of high school. While flipping through the book, we reached a chapter solely about typography. There was this pure use of typography and beautiful layout, of beautiful books, large details of shapes, etc. This chapter, for me, was completely different from any other graphic design which the book offered. I fell in love with those forms. Right at that moment, I naively desired to develop a coherent set of characters and use them in my own works. Yet it was impossible, since I was unable to create it at that time. That is, in my opinion, the moment when I became interested in typography in a rather complex way.
RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.
Heavyweight: This is quite a challenging question, considering the amount of letters and characters that an entire typeface demands. However, if we look at it from a general perspective and ignore the coherent characteristics and feelings of the letters in relation to the entire alphabet, then the most difficult letters are those which stand-out on viewing the entire alphabet as a whole. We presume that you will not be surprised when we mention the characters of “s”, “g”, and similar characters. However, in order not to sound so superficial, also such relatively overlooked characters of “,” or “~” cause a lot of trouble while being created. All of these examples are not that difficult to draw by themselves without any connection to other letters. Yet, when it comes to gracefully fitting these characters into the nature of the alphabet and even support it, then they become very important and difficult.
RGN: What’s your process for naming your typefaces?
Heavyweight: When choosing names for typefaces, we attach importance to the reason of their creation. In our case, a lot of typefaces were created for a specific occasion, even though they were not drawn to be strictly customized. When inventing names for typefaces, we also consider the practicalities of promoting the typefaces and their inclusion into specimens and similar promotional materials. For us, the name should simply support the feeling that the typeface awakens.
RGN: Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)
Heavyweight: This is an interesting question which we honestly haven’t entirely considered yet. Perhaps because none of our typefaces have made it to that level yet. A better idea of what is and what isn’t possible will be realized when we launch our website (which should happen soon). However, we would be lying if we said that we don’t envision our typefaces being generously used, for example, within the cultural sphere, or in certain international art galleries, or as part of a graphic identity for a city’s transportation system, or a large sign on a huge cargo ship, and more. We also like to imagine, for example, a typeface of ours being applied to a space shuttle which heads for the universe as part of a space agency’s visual identity.
RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?
Heavyweight: In some cases, it is quite difficult to trace all applications of our typefaces. Yet it is true that the power of the internet is obvious and there is a lot of information coming our way through the graphic design community.
As the time goes by and while growing up with and observing the field of graphic design, we’ve become more naturally inclined to create typefaces which are less characteristic and more universal, yet still with the Heavyweight authenticity. The only exception that we can recall is the Topol typeface which was our first jointly-produced typeface, and while celebrating its creation we offered it for free download for one week. As a result of this benevolent move, we received paradoxically strange, often even surprisingly negative responses from people who didn’t belong to the graphic design community at all. This was an unintended, yet very interesting and valuable insight into the perspective of other people and their reaction to “different” typefaces.
RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?
Heavyweight: At the moment, we offer four typefaces and the most popular of them all is Danzza. We always find it interesting to ask ourselves the question of why it is that this typeface is so popular as well as questioning how to make other typefaces that can be equally as popular. When Danzza was being created, our thought was that this typeface should be drawn as a grotesque that was more geometric, all the while capturing the current tone of graphic design. But we also followed our own taste while creating Danzza.
The truth is that all of our typefaces have been based on the model and approach we used to create Danzza. Thus, if Danzza had less stylistic character, it would probably not be so popular. In the end, we feel that an ideal typeface should contain only as much (or as little) stylistic character as to not feel stale, but to also be created in such a way as to reflect the leanings of contemporary graphic design.
RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?
Heavyweight: We haven’t really been dismayed by anything we’ve seen yet. However, we were surprised regarding certain uses of our typeface, Topol, which reached a lot of people over the internet and who used the typeface in many different ways.
Honestly, we would like to see our typefaces used in a manner which we are not used to. This is related to your earlier question, since seeing a typeface in use, from a different perspective, also helps to uncover the typeface’s hidden potential. On the other hand, it’s also interesting to see the slightly erroneous or odd uses of the typeface that emerge when the typeface is used by a “lay person”. We have, of course, seen typefaces being used by lay people, yet not in an odd situation that’s worth mentioning.
RGN: What’s the impetus behind the making of your typefaces? Being commissioned by client? Attempting to fill a void in the world of available typefaces? A custom creation for a project that you’re a graphic designer for? A combination of? None of the above?
Heavyweight: In fact, all of the above is true. Sometimes, we create a logotype which then evolves into an entire typeface. Sometimes it is an entire project which is so important that it’s worth it to create a special typeface. And sometimes we are also approached directly for the creation of a specific typeface. However, should we talk about the future, we’re most inclined to create typefaces that further complement our selection of current typefaces. We would really not like to find ourselves simply offering standard grotesques or headline typefaces, nor oldstyle serif typefaces, for example.
RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?
Heavyweight: Prior to any drawing of a typeface itself, we do not think about the way that the typeface is going to work in print or on the screen. More importantly, we consider a range of things: the manner of the typeface’s functioning within a text in general, the feelings that the typeface awakens, how modern the typeface should be or how much of a link to history the typeface should include, as well as similar topics.
Considerations of screen or print applications are mostly of secondary importance, yet the client may, at times, give us an assignment which will limit the typeface only for use on a website, for example. In that moment, we clearly approach the task differently. We do not consider the influence of technology and the quality of display, but rather the form of the media as such. After all, these two different manners of application can be combined successfully.
RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?
Heavyweight: This is a very good issue which is discussed in our circles of friends who do this for living, or who are fans of this field. When a person becomes engaged in a specific field in any way, that person then sees the given field as more significant than other relative fields and practitioners, and this also applies to typography.
Although typography is an important field, it clearly does not save mankind, and therefore we try to keep its significance only amongst the circles of those who are interested. On many occasions, we’ve found ourselves interested in a distant field of practice/profession, and then, naturally, we’ve asked ourselves whether our field is interesting to other people after all.
Yet, there is still the prevailing question of how it is possible to make a living from doing this considering that typography was discovered a long time ago and, relatively speaking, cannot be moved much further anymore. When we talk about typefaces which maintain a contemporary appeal and which are still both usable and readable, then yes, it is possible.
In the end, we are honored to be involved in the expansive field of graphic design, yet, when asked by someone outside of this field about what it is we do, we often simply reply that we engage in graphic design with a focus on letters for a living.
RGN: Many thanks for your time, Heavyweight!