Six designers discuss "Wicked Problems in Type Design"

In conjunction with its exhibition Graphic Design: Now In Production, on exhibit in New York City this summer, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design museum had panel of 6 designers whose work appears in the exhibition. Each was asked to give a very brief—seven minute!—talk on a "Wicked Problem" in type design, with a panel discussion afterwards. Cooper Hewitt did a nice video of the event, which you can see here.

The six designers are Philippe Apeloig, Hubert Jocham, Henrik Kubel, Jeremy Mickel, Jesse Ragan and yours truly. Ellen Lupton and Cara Di Edwardo were the moderators.

I talked about how type design can increase readability. Jesse Ragan, who talked about his interesting work on Stone Carvings for the New York Public Library, alerted me to the fact that 'wicked problem' is a technical term for a kind of problem that is important but not well defined. (See the wikipedia article) Readability fits that!

As the Carnegie mansion, which normally houses the Cooper-Hewitt, is being renovated, the exhibit is on Governor's island, a short and free ferry ride from the Southern tip of Manhattan.

hrant's picture

Cool (and congrats). Readability is indeed a wicked problem!

BTW what did Jocham talk about?


William Berkson's picture

Jocham talked mainly about his revivals, but also about his amazing cursive Mommie, and about Rotis, and his critique of it and alternative to it.

eliason's picture

I'm grateful they made this available.

I wonder if Ellen Lupton was the right choice for emcee. She seemed to start from the presumption that "font guys are really weird, right?" and emphasized the esoteric nature of the issues at hand repeatedly and mockingly, which seemed to me more likely to stifle than encourage the dialogue about type-design problems which was the presumed aim of the evening.

Nick Shinn's picture

The epithet “wicked” might have been a clue to that ’tude.
It doesn’t strike me as being particularly academic, curatorial, or seriously populist, which is what I would have expected from someone with Ms Lupton’s CV.
Wasn’t she the orchestrator of the event?

.00's picture


Mark Simonson's picture

I don't think the intended audience was seasoned type designers. It was probably more interesting to people who have an interest in type but may not know a lot about it yet.

.00's picture


William Berkson's picture

For me the whole thing was fun. Of course, I like to show off, that was a big plus for me.

The stuff I remember as interesting to me includes: Hubert Jocham's critique of Rotis, and Jesse Ragan's story of working on inscriptions for the NY public library. Mickel's story of the massive project on monograms for credit cards, and having it cancelled last minute was a good story, and the idea of extending Avant Garde style of ligatures. Apeloig's combination of modernist style type but very expressive, romantic use of them in posters was also interesting.

Ellen Lupton was charming. I was a bit taken aback by the 'shot' about our weirdness, which I took to be playing to the crowd. The crowd, which was over the 200 person capacity to the surprise and delight of everyone, was of course mainly not type designers. However, all the students of the CooperType summer program on type design were there. Cara di Edwardo, was also delightful, and I know is extremely knowledgeable about letter forms.

There to teach at CooperType from abroad were Jean-Francois Porchez, Just van Rossum and Hannes Famira. It was nice to meet Jean-Francois and Just for the first time.

The exhibition on Governor's Island was also fun. I went to that with my family on Sunday. It's a nice picnic-like setting, and we had a perfect mild summer day. The exhibition is a survey of all kinds of graphic design. I don't have a clue as to why they chose what they chose, though of course I was happy to have one thing in it. I remember particularly a piece of Marion Bantjes that has letters made with tiny holes punched in one piece of paper, with another a little distance behind it. The holes were put in different directions, so that the shadows changed what holes are light and dark as you move. It animated what she did very effectively. Also there was a wonderful piece of movie title design with something involving women in 50s looking outfits. I don't know what movie it was from. There is a tremendous amount of stuff there, and I might go again if I get the chance.

Si_Daniels's picture

This wins the prize for best spam ev-ah!

Chris Dean's picture

I had to block and delete the affore-mentioned spam, but bassed on Si’s enthuiastic response, and for the sake of posterity, here is it again:

I don't think the planned viewers were seasoned kind designers. It was perhaps more interesting to people. If you love to see wicked shows then through us you can get tickets.

In the short time I have been helping clean up, I have seen some awesome spam. I have actually seen spam respond to spam, mentioning eachother’s names, topics, &c. Creepy, impressive, and hysterical at the same time.

Perhaps I should make a special place where I keep track of them just for laughs…

Nick Shinn's picture

You’re in luck Chris, is available!

However, be careful, it could bring down the Internet, tribble-style.

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