What's so wrong with the chirographic approach?

jazzsammich's picture

Please forgive my ignorance here, but I was reading a current thread in which Hrant was bemoaning Gerrit Noordzij's chirographic approach.

I can't say I get it. For this discussion, I'd like to set aside issues of pedagogy or influence, deserved or undeserved. Strictly from a design perspective, what's so wrong with chirography as a foundation for typeface development?

--Jim K.

hrant's picture

Basically, it favors the black bodies of letters (by tying the two edges of the black, via a marking tool/metaphor) and this impedes the optimal formation of notan, which is the unity and relation of black and white. Notan being what we read. Chirography isn't going to destroy the world or anything, but it's still bad craft.

hhp

hrant's picture

Wait, I forgot that I'm wielding not a spear but a trident. The other two tips:
2) Chirography wants to throw off optimal vertical proportions by making the descenders too long, mainly because chiro-structurally they need more room to properly elaborate, and secondarily because we write downward and tend to "flourish" descenders more.
3) Sensitive type designers -rightly- complain that overly geometric fonts have low readability, because they impose a grid, which is highly out of tune with our humanism. But chirography in turn imposes its own grid, it's just not a Cartesian one: it promotes a certain overt modularity among many letter structures (think of the b/d/p/q) that goes against the divergence our reading mechanism needs.

Shame - it's such a pretty fish.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

There is nothing wrong with chirography as a means of achieving good notan, in fact the flexible broad nibbed pen is a brilliant instrument for this.

Calligraphic techniques -- such as rotating the nib angle during a stroke, or varying pressure, or easing off a terminal stroke by dragging one side of the nib -- have been used from before type, to imitate the effects of other media (notably stone carving) and pen or brush lettering, as well as to create complexity and sophistication beyond the basic, consistently angled written form.

Using chirography as the organizing principle of type design has much merit. Of course, if you do it in a banal and simplistic way, you will get the kind of results that Hrant decries. But the tool (and methodologies derived from it) cannot be dismissed just because a few, or even many, practitioners use it in a naive manner.

In this example of the textus quadratus, a 14th century scribe is certainly not droning throught the alphabet with "overt modularity", but giving the reader plenty of divergence.

hrant's picture

You can certainly subvert the natural tendencies of chirography
and make it less of a bad influence. But then the question becomes:
why even bother in the first place? The only answer I can think of
is a bad one: because it lets a designer arrive at results acceptable to
the lowest-common-denominator, without having to think too much.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Exploiting the potential of a tool to the maximum is not subverting its natural tendencies.
The broad nib pen is a a great instrument, as are most analog tools, because the user can screw around with it, bend it and invent "unnatural" ways of using it.
In fact the propensity of analog tools to be used in unexpected ways is what makes them so useful.

hrant's picture

I'm a big fan of the unexpected! But there's really not much unexpected left in chirography. Instead of your hand you should use your foot, your mouth; instead of a broad-nib pen you should use a rock. And if you really want to "screw around", you extract the unexpected directly from your mind into outlines, instead of through an arbitrary body-marking medium, which is inherently anti-optimal-notan.

hhp

crossgrove's picture

Jim,

When Hrant says [the broad pen is] inherently anti-optimal-notan, he means that the use of the pen in type design has a limit in terms of the functionality it can impart to a typeface. It's definitely useful to learn what the limitations are. So far we haven't really heard any specific discussion of techniques in type design that reveal just what those limitations are. That might be a good topic for an advanced type design class.

William Berkson's picture

In my view, Hrant you have hold of a partial truth which you generalize to the point where is at the very least misleading.

Type, especially the roman lower case, was originally based on pen-formed letters. The very formation of these letters is influenced by the broad-nibbed pen. And in a number of ways the broad pen helped produce some aspects of readability, by automatically making 'optical corrections' to shapes and joins. For example, a vertical bar appears thinner than a horizontal bar of the same width. The broad pen, held at eg 30% produces broader verticals. Also joins, such as in the 'a' are naturally narrowed by the broad pen, making them look less 'clotted'. Also it may be that serifs, that are to a certain extent natural to the hand-moved pen, help produce more balanced letters.

Now it is also true that features of hand writing oppose readability. At TypeTech in New York last month, I was sitting next to the charming Cara Di Edwardo, a calligrapher who teaches at Cooper Union. She pointed out to me that writing slanted is convenient to the hand, but not to the eye. For the eye, upright is easier to read.

The Carolingian Miniscule, the basis of lower case, is a formal hand that is slower to write, more unnatural to the hand, and more readable. It also has serifs on both sides of the bottoms of the strokes (and the tops of uvwxy), which are also slower to write, and perhaps more readable.

Overall, hand writing cannot achieve the same evenness of color that type does. This was a key advance of Jenson and Griffo, who realized that making type more evenly colored than hand writing would make it more readable. And this is why typographic letters are almost always different from pen-written letters. (I am not speaking of built up letters. of course, which can be typographic.)

The roman lower case, then, is essentially a pen-written script modified for more even color. So the truth here, I think, is as Van Krimpen put it, that type is not 'chirographic', but it always retains an underlying influence, an "underlying force" of the pen. This is why, contrary to Hrant, I think it is valuable to be aware what the pen might do and as you are designing letters when you are violating 'pen rules', which is very often.

hrant's picture

> has a limit in terms of the functionality

That's another way of putting it.
And a functionality that's at the heart of text face design: readability.

More: When you focus on marking the black (whether with a broad-pen or a seashell dipped in avocado juice) the white can only be subservient. And we don't read the black, but the relationship between black and white** (which is defined by the outlines) so that's bad.

** Especially in the parafovea, which I believe accounts
for about 2/3-rds of fully immersive reading.

An entertaining way of looking at this (leading off from Nick's "unexpected") is a certain maritime analogy that I'm fond of: chirography limits any seafaring exploration to your own continent, because you have to hug the coast*. In contrast, armed with an astrolabe (an understanding of readability) you can cross the vast oceans by using the mysterious night sky, and hopefully (although not certainly) discover a new continent. It's just that adventurers are a rare breed - although sometimes they get lost at sea...

* Adding that this continent is really 99% mapped already.

> we haven’t really heard any specific discussion of techniques
> in type design that reveal just what those limitations are.

It's hard enough just to overcome the knee-jerk defense mechanisms. :-)

In fact in my experience discussing specific letterform features (like trapping, or non-ductal stroke weight distribution) generally results in a pro-chirography designer stating "hey, I can make that shape with a pen!" And you certainly can, if you manage the necessary contortions very carefully. You can also get around by crawling on your back, naked. The question is, what's the point? I think most often the point is sadly just an artistic indulgence, at the expense of the user.

hhp

hrant's picture

> misleading

If that's the case, it's certainly not intentional.
I think what happens is I sometimes lose patience with the necessarily complex
ideas/expressions, and over-simplify things.* Peter quite often re-casts my ideas
in a more elaborate and balanced way (although some people then find
the statements difficult to fathom) and I'm thankful for that.

* Hey, if Emigre can do it...

> broader verticals
> serifs
> ...

Yes, those are all artifacts of chirography. But that's all. We can and should incorporate what features we think help, but any chirographic origin is simply moot, because we don't really use pens to communicate any more. When you give too much credence to chirography (by saying things like "it always retains an underlying influence" - talk about misleading) it just holds you back. It's a dysfunctional romanticism.

hhp

david h's picture

> but any chirographic origin is simply moot

Font(s) with chirographic origin?

Nick Shinn's picture

we don’t read the black, but the relationship between black and white

Well of course, one can't exist without the other.
But we DO read the black (unless the type is reversed), in the sense that we read a figure against a ground. This is why Bodoni can be problematic, because the vertical black strokes are similar in weight to the vertical white spaces between them, and a 50/50 figure-ground relationship makes for nasty notan, ambiguous gestalt.

The serifs that a broad nibbed pen create serve to disambiguate the relationship between figure and ground by giving the figure more "masculinity".

And the angled stress of the broad pen also serves to disambiguate positive and negative, by accentuating the differences between the "figurality" of each. Consider the potential figures in this chirographic "c":
1. The positive figure, schematized as a line running along the spine of the glyph (far right).
2. The negative outside figure -- not very apparent, and not schematized.
3. The negative counter figure, schematized as the boundary between positive and negative (centre).
It can be seen that the negative figure is more angular than the positive and differently skewed, and these qualities -- presumed to be instrumental in a notan/gestalt theory of readability -- are a direct result of chirographic structure. Functional, not romantic.

hrant's picture

> one can’t exist without the other.

And rich land-owners couldn't exist without slaves.
But that's not harmonious, and that's not my point.

> we read a figure against a ground.

Not immersively.

Also, letters don't have skeletons. That's just our consciousness
desperate to impose a minimal, easier-to-control Modernism.
In contrast, reading is a feral beast.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Not immersively.

The basic mechanics of shape recognition apply to all acts of vision, including immersive reading.
You either see the vase or the faces, not both at once.

letters don’t have skeletons.

I schematized the positive figure as the shape of its central spine, being an average of the two sides. Do letters not have shapes?

William Berkson's picture

>The serifs that a broad nibbed pen create serve to disambiguate the relationship between figure and ground ...And the angled stress of the broad pen also serves to disambiguate positive and negative, by accentuating the differences

Very interesting, Nick. Is it true? I don't know. But my point about awareness is that we don't really yet understand fully what are the advantages and disadvantages of the pen-written moving front.

My basic problem with Hrant's view is that it pretends to more knowledge than any of us, including Hrant, have. So when we mess around with, eg. the pen-influenced traditional stress on the Cap A or M, we'd better be aware of it, and see whether we are making things better or worse.

It isn't a matter of romanticism, but just appropriate modesty, and appreciation of the strength of the hundreds of years' tradition of people making typographic letters, and the thousands of years before that of pen-written letters.

hrant's picture

Nick, you're confusing deliberation and immersion.

> it pretends to more knowledge

Or maybe it does not pretend that fact and opinion are different.

> So when we mess around with, eg. the pen-influenced traditional
> stress on the Cap A or M, we’d better be aware of it

There is no "mess around", because the autority of the pen is spurious.
And it impedes for example the possibility that a symmetrical "A" (which
is not the same thing as a contrast-less "A") might be better. Tradition is
as often a shackle as it is a wellspring.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Nick, you’re confusing deliberation and immersion.

No I'm not.
I haven't been addressing that distinction.

***

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, learning to read is deliberative, but after that it's all immersive.

enne_son's picture

"Notan being what we read."
"We don’t read the black, but the relationship between black and white."

I must confess, I don't know what these statements mean.
Do they mean that both the black of the letters and the white of the word have cue value, so that inside the bounded map it is wrong to talk about which is figure and which is ground, because both the shapes of the whites inside the bounded map and the aggregate pattern of the strokes are active in the making of the perceptual decision about the identity of the word?

William Berkson's picture

>it does not pretend that fact and opinion are different.

The reality does not bend to suit our opinion, but remains stubbornly what it is. A person may have the opinion that he can jump off the roof and fly if he flaps his arms. But if he tries it he will find out too late that the facts are different.

What do you mean by "optimal formation of notan, which is the unity and relation of black and white"? I never see you give specifics on what makes for good and bad notan. Without at least some examples and better yet some principles, your invective about written characters hurting notan seems to me to be too vague to address meaningfully.

I am not questioning that a good relationship between black and white is important, but I personally don't have a general theory about the relationship that tell me by a principle, rather than eye, 'this is good, this is not good'. Do you have any such theory?

david h's picture

Too much theory. Font(s) with/without chirographic origin?

William Berkson's picture

David, as I said, all fonts have chirographic origin in the sense that our letters are a modification of hand written letters. How far they are from these origins is indeed a matter of theory--what you count as indicators of the 'hand' or not.

Certainly Adobe Jenson would normally be regarded as having more of the hand in it than Futura. But even Futura thins the joins of round to stem severely. Is this 'chirographic'? I don't know. That is why I was asking for specifics from Hrant, which I guess you are also.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Hrant, not to even pretend to expertise on this topic, but what can you possibly mean by writing that "the authority of the pen is spurious"?

It doesn't at all contradict the idea that we need both figure and ground to read to state what seems to me to be obvious: One of the stubborn realities of the world is that it is easier to use something smaller to make marks on something larger.

The way you're arguing, it's as if there were at some period in human history a live choice between filling in the small "positive" spaces and filling in the large "negative" spaces to make writing shapes, and that the chirographists (chirophants?) won out and then proceeded to marginalize the other option, much as did the manufacturers of internal-combustion automobiles over the electric-car manufacturers at the start of the twentieth century. Is this your position?

Chris Keegan's picture

Are there any other types designed by Gerrit Noordzij besides Caecilia? I belive that Lucas de Groot was a student of his also, and his Thesis type family is one of my all-time favorites. If these types are the result of a chirographic inspired design process, then they are very pleasing to my eyes anyway. Theory is fine, but at the end of the day unless it's applied it's just.. theory.

William Berkson's picture

Caecilia was designed by G. Noordzij's son. Many outstanding type designers were inspired by G. Noordzij, as I understand.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Chris, TEFF's Ruse is Gerrit Noordzij's.

istitch's picture

type basics: calligraphy

redge's picture

As far as I can see, the criticisms of current type on this site are never accompanied by concrete examples of improvements. The criticisms, at their best, seem to be accompanied by hypotheses that may or may not be born out by research, research that may or may not happen, and by imagined type faces that nobody has brought into existence.

David Hamuel has asked for a concrete demonstration of some of what has been said in this thread. That sounds like a completely reasonable request. Yet his post is being ignored.

I am new to this, but I am not completely stupid. There is a major disconnect between the criticisms and concrete demonstration of those criticisms, let alone a demonstration of improvements.

Without commenting on anyone else, it seems to me that Nick Shinn writes in plain English and says things that seem to make a great deal of sense.

I'd really like to know whether the critics are saying that they can produce better results, now, or whether they are saying that they need to do research to determine whether they can or can't produce better results. I do realise that this question arguably goes beyond this particular thread, and butts up against another current thread, but it seems to me that the question is common to both.

Anyway, I have to leave off now in order to watch the Edmonton Oilers go 3-0 against Annaheim :)

crossgrove's picture

I agree that calligraphy is limited in its applicability to type, but it also has value in getting designers comfortable with making letters at all. I've seen plenty of novice designs that reveal not only a vague grasp on letterforms, but a nearly crippling inability to draw, to produce marks of any kind.

For those who hope to design typefaces, I think anyone who has done some calligraphy, drawing, life drawing, cartooning, graffiti, drafting, or other hand work has a distinct advantage. If nothing else, hand skills get people used to representing ideas visually. Without the hand skills, it's apparently quite a struggle.

Calligraphy deals not only with making marks and shapes but also letter proportion, overshoot, consistency of stroke, and spacing. Of all those hand skills, calligraphy offers the most advantages to a hopeful type designer.

hrant's picture

David, redge: FF Legato.
http://typographi.com/000969.php

More soon. Much, hopefully.

hhp

redge's picture

Surely the thread about blackletters in Mexico says plenty about calligraphy, and its vibrancy. Participants in this site were falling all over themselves with admiration for the project that was the subject of that thread. Was that a temporary, or misguided, infatuation?

Not to mention graffitti artists, Basquiat being an obvious example, if only because his work hangs in major galleries and his life has been immortalized in a feature film made by a fellow artist.

George Horton's picture

No type ever designed for text has glyphs that are just the product of a moving front, so chirography in type is a matter of degree. Furthermore, as Nick's admirable c shows, divergence between exterior and interior axes is not just possible but natural in type pretty faithful to the broad nib. As long as the designer understands which is the means and which the end, there's not a problem. If he doesn't, the danger is that he restricts himself unnecessarily to just a subset of the possibilities for black-white tension, and uncritically accepts other properties given glyphs by the broad nib, like line weight at certain angles, as a package. I also agree with Hrant that the idea of a skeleton inside the glyph isn't useful.

Redge, I think you'll come to find that you appreciate different qualities in text and display. It's normal to acquire an interest and independent taste in display type first, which may or may not drift towards or expand to include text type. This isn't just an intellectual thing either, one's immediate aesthetic responses change. Neither is it a matter of a binary switch: I now find good type most attractive when set a good deal smaller than I did eight months ago. And I don't want to sound patronising: I'm also new to all this, and am horrified at earlier versions of my typo-critical self that are still fresh in the memory. Presumably this iterating self-disgust will continue for some time yet :-). PS: my opinion of W&P is pretty much Tolstoy's own: he was a hard-nosed moralist as well as a great artist, and he freely (and by the end almost wholly) gave up aesthetic virtues for ethical ones, even denying that W&P was a novel at all. AK was the book that was meant to be (and was, limitlessly) beautiful.

redge's picture

George,

I've got news for you.

I am principally interested in text rather than display and I have no idea why you would think that the reverse would be "natural". In my case, what's natural is that I'm working on a book, not posters. This is what is known as real life.

I do not know what "binary switch" means, except that it is not what I consider to be English.

When a person says that he does not mean to sound patronising, it is a certain sign that he is about to sound precisely that.

Finally, I don't understand why you want to get into a debate about Tolstoy and, if I understand your post in another thread, about the relative merits of Tolstoy and Nabokov. I wasn't looking for, and am still not looking for, that debate.

For one thing, it has nothing to do with what we are talking about. For another, I would rather talk about Nabokov's Dozen, or Pnin, etc. With someone whose working assumption is that I may have an IQ over 50.

Edmonton just scored two quick goals in succession. It's 3-0 over Annaheim.

redge's picture

George,

I've got news for you.

I am principally interested in text rather than display and I have no idea why you would think that the reverse would be "natural". In my case, what's natural is that I'm working on a book, not posters. This is what is known as real life.

I do not know what "binary switch" means, except that it is not what I consider to be English.

When a person says that he does not mean to sound patronising, it is a certain sign that he is about to sound precisely that.

Finally, I don't understand why you want to get into a debate about Tolstoy and, if I understand your post in another thread, about the relative merits of Tolstoy and Nabokov. I wasn't looking for, and am still not looking for, that debate.

For one thing, it has nothing to do with what we are talking about. For another, I would rather talk about Nabokov's Dozen, or Pnin, etc. with someone whose working assumption is that I may have an IQ over 50.

Edmonton just scored two quick goals in succession. It's 3-0 over Annaheim.

George Horton's picture

A switch is a change in state; "binary" means that the thing changed has two possible states.

You did not "understand [my] post in another thread". Even had I intended a debate, it was yours to drop; you preferred to muse, after misquoting me, that "the conclusions that I draw are, of course, a different matter :)". Now that's a disingenuous emoticon.

redge's picture

George,

I've got news for you.

I am principally interested in text rather than display and I have no idea why you would think that the reverse would be "natural". In my case, what's natural is that I'm working on a book, not posters. This is what is known as real life.

I do not know what "binary switch" means, in the context in which you are using the phrase, except that it is not what I consider to be English.

When a person says that he does not mean to sound patronising, it is a certain sign that he is about to sound precisely that.

Finally, I don't understand why you want to get into a debate about Tolstoy and, if I understand your post in another thread, about the relative merits of Tolstoy and Nabokov. I wasn't looking for, and am still not looking for, that debate.

For one thing, it has nothing to do with what we are talking about. For another, I would rather talk about Nabokov's Dozen, Pnin, Speak Memory, etc. With someone whose working assumption is that I may have an IQ over 50.

Edmonton just scored two quick goals in succession. It's 3-0 over Annaheim.

George Horton's picture

You've tried to edit your post to add another Nabokov title to a would-be throwaway list! Unbelievable...

redge's picture

George, cool your heels.

For some reason, perhaps because I am posting from a BlackBerry, I have triple-posted.

Sorry about that.

The difference between the posts is pretty insignificanct (I was doing a minor edit), although there was one major change. Edmonton won game three 5-4.

Given that you are a self-professed fan of Nabokov, I added the reference to Speak, Memory not to be nefarious, but because I thought that you might find it amusing.

crossgrove's picture

But anyway, THIS THREAD is about the value of chirography as an approach to type design.....

Nick Shinn's picture

“We don’t read the black, but the relationship between black and white.”

Hrant, I like this idea, but I would qualify it by saying that we see in many ways, so it's quite possible that we are aware of a figure, and a figure-ground relationship, simultaneously, as two different phenomena.

Something may be going on at the level of ocular micro tremor. OMT occurs at around 86 Hz, and is presumed to function to prevent image fade by constantly stiumulating the retina. However, as has been noted by Paul Kainen, it also registers patterns, by creating an interference field.
http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/kainen/topoliss.pdf
Page 8-9.

Raph's Fourier analyses (shown on Typophile last year) demonstrate that repetitive texture is a quality of typography.

Therefore, it seems reasonable that OMT would play a role in the global perception of type in mass layout, rather than through sequential reading with normal saccades.

There needs to be some explanation of why a skilled proofreader can look at a page of text and spot a typo immediately. So I hypothesize that learning to read fluently exploits OMT to perceive certain qualities of text globally, and that the rhythm or text color that typographers speak of is part of this awareness.

Martin Silvertant's picture

Hrant mentioned his dislike of Noordzij's theory in another thread. To avoid a discussion in a thread not suitable for the subject I was sent here.

I must say I find this discussion rather strange. I think it's good to discuss both advantages and limitations of calligraphy but I don't think it even should be relied on completely. As such, I don't understand people's discontent with chirography.

I have to admit I sometimes do some calligraphy to find interesting letter shapes but I haven't used any of them yet. My process — so far, anyway — is completely digital. I think I don't even need to rely on chirography because we have hundreds of years of typefaces based on chirography, and typefaces based on chirography-based typefaces and so forth. It's really strange to me to disregard its value.

I thought Noordzij's theory was very enlightening and in a way it made my world of type design richer. However that doesn't mean people should rely on it, but it has given me great insight in how letters are constructed and how they behave, and furthermore gives me the liberty to consciously break type design rules.

You would also think that calligraphy couldn't possibly bring new shapes anymore, but I completely disagree with that as well. My high contrast sans grotesque 'Dagon Sans' was inspired by calligraphic principles, and I also have a several calligraphic letter forms on paper which could potentially be the basis for new typefaces. For example, I made an 'a' with an unconventional serif and weight build-up but it looks very nice. I wouldn't know if it works at all throughout a complete typeface, but I think that's the fun of chirography.

I also wonder if a typeface like Legato could've been developed at all without a chirographic approach.

> Basically, it favors the black bodies of letters (by tying the two edges of the
> black, via a marking tool/metaphor) and this impedes the optimal formation of notan
That's assuming you're using your calligraphic pen in a fixed position instead of subtly rotate. Also, why would you assume a type designer wouldn't fix these parallel lines digitally?

WPM's picture

I recently did Dave Crossland's Crafting Type workshop in Portland, and he presented this quote from Gerry Leonidas (dept. head of the Type Design MA at Reading): "Type design is layering forms derived from personal expression onto an underlying structure of patterns derived from convention and typographic technology."

I wouldn't want to suggest there's a rivalry where there really isn't one, but it does seem like the KABK and Reading, the two dominant typeface design programs in the world, have approaches that differ in fundamental ways, the KABK's firmly rooted in Noordzij's theory of the stroke, versus Reading's approach -- from what I've heard from past students, and from the quote above -- being more connected to the ideas of layering forms and patterns, although Noordzij's ideas certainly are taken into account. I'm doing the Type@Cooper program this summer, the condensed one with Hannes Famira and Just van Rossum, so I'm guessing this will be more like the KABK's approach since they both studied with Noordzij.

My personal take (and this is liable/likely to change, or at least evolve, in the future): the Noordzij approach seems really useful for a singular, focused approach towards gaining an ingrained hand-eye understanding of letterforms. As someone with fairly decent bezier drawing skills and computer skills in general, the sketching/calligraphy bit is the part I would really like to gain an understanding of. But I also would never want to become a fervent disciple of The Stroke and The Stroke alone -- it just seems like a good foundation. I think of it sort of like drawing classes in most design programs. You will probably never be asked to illustrate a bowl of fruit or a draped sheet in charcoal during your career, but gaining that fundamental understanding of form and graphic interpretation is key to being able to move on to more common forms of illustration.

hrant's picture

Do note that Crafting Type is skewed heavily towards Reading, considering its instructors - and instructors do influence their students (even if they don't want to). That said, I personally think that -if you're not careful- the Noordzij approach can become a "foundation" the way cement shoes are a foundation... :-/

KABK seems to be incredibly good at getting student to quickly produce highly polished, salable fonts in a certain style. Reading doesn't do that as well, as quickly; but to me education isn't about production. When I was invited to speak to the Reading students this past June, and got to talk more deeply with their instructors concerning how they like to teach, I was very happy to see how they try so hard to let the student develop their own views, in fact at the expense of passing along theirs; the students attest to this as well. Most people simply can't produce high-quality fonts in one year without the instructors exerting an undue influence. And I personally always want to see new people in type design, not proxies of existing people.

Related - see my comment here:
http://typographica.org/typeface-reviews/quintet/

You will undoubtedly learn much from Type@Cooper. But if you take a pinch (more like a bag :-) of salt with you you'll be able to apply what you learn in much more culturally valuable ways, at least the way I see things.

BTW if all goes well I'll be teaching at the LA edition of Type@Cooper. And I'll bring the salt. :-)

hhp

quadibloc's picture

Personally, I think that the design space between Times Roman, Corona, Baskerville, Caslon, Century Expanded, Cloister Lightface, and Caledonia needs to be more fully explored, as I think that some typefaces closer to "optimal" or at least "invisible" - wide Scotch Romans, like Number Eleven - have gotten lost or remain to be designed.

The novel and startling need to be explored too, because with a larger range of possibilities, we can find more things, but I think that even in the world of typefaces that people read without a second thought, there is room for a bit more fine-tuning to make the process of reading go even more smoothly. And that means typefaces that impose no noticeable surprises.

Even if the serifs might look very novel when placed under a powerful magnifying glass.

So putting chirography aside is low on my list of priorities.

dezcom's picture

I cannot see the issue as being chirography vs. non-chirography. As humans, we have thousands of years of being to fill our visual literacy pools. There is no need to exclude anything just as their is no need to overemphasize anything at the expense of closing doors to other potentials. Where ever you study, or with whomever you study, understand that there is always more than that to see. Open doors, do not close doors. Always question your teachers--most will welcome your inquiry (those who don't may be guarded in their answers). We are all enquiring systems. We only feed our curiosity when we question. No one source is totally correct. Being totally correct may not be a virtue at any rate. Think of yourself as a growing organism that is fead by exposure to many things. You are not on a straight path to righteousness, you are on a meandering array of streams of stimuli that have no clear resting point. Keep sailing.

typerror's picture

The most salient post in this thread Chris! The myopic teacher is only good to his sycophant(ic) student!

hrant's picture

I just realized that I replied to Josh's post but have ignored interesting contributions that came before; I hope to rectify that soon. But for now let me keep this particular train rolling.

John, there indeed remain some unexplored corners of the Chirographic Continent, and it's entirely possible that some of those corners might contain gold; but when it seems much more promising -if also risky- to cross over to other continents, it just seems wasteful not to; our time on this earth is not unlimited. Also, to me most chirographic designers don't seem sufficiently preoccupied with discovery - they generally seem principally interested in elaboration/refinement. To me that's good for business more than it's good for culture.

BTW: http://typophile.com/node/31095

Chris, first of all, philosophically I do agree with you. The thing is, when you say "there is no need to overemphasize anything at the expense of closing doors", looking at the output of KABK students there does seem to be a single door that's left much more open to the students than any other door; Reading isn't like that.

But beyond that, practically speaking one tries to balance exploration and production, and the latter requires you to adopt a stance, so you can actually make something. This doesn't mean the stance is Perfect, and it doesn't mean changing you mind is evil. But being a 100% relativist is guaranteed to leave you with zero usable output.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

It's clear that Bifur is non-chirographic, and so is Calypso.

I'd say that even Helvetica, Peignot Bold, Eurostile, and Optima, for example, are not all that chirographic, despite being relatively conventional. They're neither overtly calligraphic, nor conventional serif fonts, already at one remove from calligraphy. Since they're perfectly legitimate faces, I will readily agree that type designers can escape from being tightly bound to calligraphy.

Then there are the display faces that look like MICR characters or 5 x 7 dot-matrix characters.

@hrant:
Also, to me most chirographic designers don't seem sufficiently preoccupied with discovery - they generally seem principally interested in elaboration/refinement. To me that's good for business more than it's good for culture.

Well, good for business can be good for culture; art that is valued contributes, while art that is discarded and forgotten does not.

But I really don't think we have a shortage of innovative and experimental type designs. The "high art" tradition, where the focus is on doing something that's never been done before, instead of on craftsmanship building in a small way on what one's predecessors have accomplished, is very much alive and well - and present in type design, despite the presence of craftsmanlike thinking there as well.

There's a place for both types of endeavors, and it doesn't make sense to ask those in one camp to move to another. On the other hand, if you are deploring the lack of designs aimed at mainstream purposes that make use of innovative ideas - that show that a typeface can be an effective tool to convey information without being solely steeped in tradition - then I don't disagree with the sentiment. I would just point out Optima as something I consider to be one of the few exceptions to that, to show there is some cross-fertilization between the avant-garde and the mainstream, even if it is limited and slow.

EDIT: Further thought on this issue is bringing me around to acknowledging the importance of the issue, rather than just feeling you are being impatient.

It's natural for designers who are aiming at the utility of their product to stick with what is tried and true, and it's also natural for those whose purpose is "Hey! Look at me!" not to try and design typefaces that avoid being distracting (a near-prerequisite to usefulness), but these tendencies, natural though they are, are potentially sufficiently limiting that it does make sense to urge a conscious effort to resist them on both sides of that divide.

hashiama's picture

Hrant,

What on earth do you mean by "our humanism" ???

hrant's picture

Business and Culture are certainly not diametrically opposed, they're more like at 120 degrees. Any creative act is a vector in that span. And in a Democracy the larger the vector the faster it will shift towards Business.

It goes without saying that liminographic (better than "anti-chirographic") fonts are nothing new, in fact considering the medium in a way they're the rule; even when you scan & trace a font out of actual calligraphy, something shifts. My contention is that overall we remain firmly under the strong illusion of chirography. Evidence? Formal education in type design. Even at Reading it's a bit too strong.

it doesn't make sense to ask those in one camp to move to another.

I don't see it as camps - any individual is an admixture of opposing beliefs, constantly reconciling them so he can continue breathing. When I preach liminography, I'm not targeting anybody in particular; mostly it just feels like a duty to counterbalance the pervading illusion.

I really don't think we have a shortage of innovative and experimental type designs.

Actually, there is a growing undercurrent of discontent there. Ruxandra Duru's paper* is a great read in this respect, with Thomas Huot-Marchand decrying a new conservatism, and Jefferey Keedy going much further in calling this era "the new dark ages". You don't have to be a fan of every product of the 90s to miss its presence in some ways. We need many more Legatos and Fenlands.

* http://ruxandra-duru.com/web/pdf/Ruxandra_Duru_type_foundries_today.pdf

Wei, that was bad, sorry. :-)
What I meant was that our consciousness enjoys the grid, but it goes against the needs of our "deeper" human self.

hhp

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