what is type design. (a friday evening question)

russellm's picture

As humans we like to sort stuff out... and put things in pigeon holes.
double that if you are a Typophile regular. :o)

Is type design graphic design, or industrial design.

blank's picture


russellm's picture

in part I can see that -
but, the thing that makes me, for example, pick one car over an other, in all honesty isn't the stuff I can't see.

hrant's picture

We make little machines.™


William Berkson's picture

Both. And art.

russellm's picture

I agree, it's art, though some folks think not.

At the end of the day though, I think that you can approach a thing with a view to making art, but if it is art or not is a verdict that time will reveal.

little machines.™


cerulean's picture

Perhaps it's fashion design. The art of it is ultimately a collaboration with the customer who assembles it, even if all they do is throw it on.

nina's picture

Not building a wall but making a brick.

enne_son's picture

Type design is a kind of making or factura. Originally done by hand (manu-facture), it is now computer-assisted manufacture. In this sense it is an art requiring aptitude and skill in the sense of a techné.

It’s principle end or telos is to produce objects-of-use for the manufacture of other objects-of-use, i.e., books and other species of text, whose principle ends are reading. Because the objects of use in this equation are letters and texts and the end is reading, readability and legibility are primary considerations.

In so far as aesthetic considerations and considerations of gestural force or expressivity come into play type design approaches, in it’s best practitioners, the conditions of the societal institution we call art.

In so far as knowledge and the exploration of how forms behave in optical-grammatical terms and in so far as the knowledge of the limits of affordance in the perceptual-processing terms comes into play, type design approaches, in it’s best practitioners, the conditions of an exact or applied science.

In so far as it is a response to already extant type designs and externally or internally constructed briefs type design is a social act, and issues of responsiveness, societal enrichment and fashions come into play.

Type design is not one or another of these things by itself, but all of them together.

dezcom's picture

If you really need a pigeon hole, how about Information design? Actually, the word design brings in all the stuff about logical pursuit of a solution to a problem that involves one part science, one part, perseverance, and one part intuition. Given that the typeface is typically a tool used to communicate written information, pick one of those two.

William Berkson's picture

Chris, "information design" it seems has come to have a specialized meaning: visual display of data. At least according to the Wikipedia article on it.

One of the things that makes type design fascinating, I think, is that it has so many different aspects. It doesn't fit into any one box.

dezcom's picture

Personally, Bill, I don't see I need to further categorize type design at all. Unless all you are looking for is one of those discussions which end up just being for the fun of an academic exercise. I don't see what purpose it serves, particularly in this day of intelligent search engines. You don't even need to know the hierarchy of system categories to find information as Darwin did years ago. You just type "Typeface Design" in to a search box and you get the whole enchilada. If you don't know what either a typeface or design is, you are in bigger trouble than I can help you with. The design profession as pertains to any of the graphic areas has gone through a long litany of nomenclature changes just in my lifetime. People have argued hours over differences between Visual Arts, Graphic Arts, Graphic Design, Visual Communication Design and now its many new subcategories such as information design, human interface design, web design, branding, corporate identity, media design. Unless you are writing an old fashioned encyclopedia without an index, where you need to pin a label and sub label on everything just to find it in the book it is a futile effort. I think it is far better to spend your time writing an absolute fool-proof set of rules for spelling in the English language. When you finish that, if I am still alive, look me up. By then, all the names will have changed and we will be known as glyphologists or bezier wranglers :-)

Chris Dean's picture

Neither. I'm not a type designer, but I believe it would fall closest under the umbrella of craft. However, it depends on how we define graphic and design industrial design.

Ray Larabie's picture

Type design already describes what it is right there on the tin.

JamesM's picture

> "information design" it seems has come to have a
> specialized meaning: visual display of data. At least
> according to the Wikipedia article on it.

I don't like Wikipedia's definition of information design because it includes this sentence: "... the term has come to be used specifically for graphic design for displaying information effectively, ***rather than just attractively or for artistic expression***." (emphasis added by me)

In my opinion that sentence misrepresents graphic design. While there is some overlap between the fields of art and design, the primary difference is that the main goal of a graphic designer is effective communication, not making something look pretty or being a vehicle for artistic expression.

russellm's picture

> Type design already describes what it is right there on the tin.


Christopher: Craft and art are attributes that can describe some of what a person can bring to it, but type design isn't either. These days, craft is the stuff you buy at the Christmas fair. :o)

Vladimir Tamari's picture

The question answers itself - it is the design of type - party design, partly fashion...information theory, geometry with elements of the psychology of perception, private, corporate even governmental self-expression etc. Wow it includes so much!

I do think it is also a craft - at least for the thousands of hobbyists who now dabble in it for fun and profit. And even the professionals - what more craftsman-like image can you get than an early type designer bent over a bit of metal filing away for hours to get the shape he wants? Nowadays he or she would be apron-less, clicking away moving points and studying printouts.

Sherri Keller's picture

These days, craft is the stuff you buy at the Christmas fair. :o)

Luckily for me, I create type from pipecleaners and googly eyes.

Topy's picture

We create paint for the painter.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Is type design graphic design, or industrial design.

It’s just design. In principle, designing type is no different from designing a chair, a door handle, a cloth, a house, a car.

In German we term this *Gestaltung*, i.e. to lend Gestalt to something. In Italian, the craftsman calls himself an artigiano which word is derived from “art” – now, what is it? I always found the question “art or craft?” leading to nowhere. For me, Gestaltung always comprises craft, art and science.

Or, to put it with Vitruvius, who postulated this target for architecture some two thousand years ago: venustas, firmitas, utilitas. Which is beauty, soundness and usefulness. Venustas first, n.b.

More such Whisky questions, please.

Té Rowan's picture

As you can see, type design is a little bit of everything... except cussing. There's a lot of cussing.

Nick Shinn's picture

Is type design graphic design, or industrial design.

As you indicate by omitting the mark, that's not even a question.

what is type design.

That's an answer, Jeopardy style.

russellm's picture

@ Té Rowan, :o)

@ Nick, Thanks?

And for $100... This inspires much cussing.

Uh, What is type Design?

Sorry, the correct answer is, "What is FontLab?"

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