k
The Architecture of Typography

Fathom’s recent Architecture of Typography workshop was a fun opportunity to hone our design skills and discuss trending topics in type.

Typography has become part of the public consciousness like never before. An ever-increasing variety of people, aside from graphic designers, are discussing Kerning, rags, and favorite (or most hated) typefaces. This dispersion of design across a variety of audiences resonates strongly with Fathom, as we intentionally pursue projects that cross creative domains.

aot-comicsans-mug

Recently, several Fathomistas with strong coding backgrounds requested an internal design workshop to share knowledge and skills, specifically about typography. One particularly vocal proponent, Jose, is a recovering architect studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. So, with a nod toward this interdisciplinarity and our own recent explorations in 3D space, the “Architecture of Typography” workshop was born.

James's clean, structured slides stood in stark contrast to the postmodern nightmare Brian was preparing to unleash.
James’s clean, structured slides stood in stark contrast to the postmodern nightmare Brian was preparing to unleash.

James and I, former classmates, offered to relive our design school glory days and lead the workshop. Studio interest was split between applied typography and design theory, so we divided it into two segments. The challenge was to avoid overwhelming our audience with too much content, while providing a good balance of technical–formal advice and a basic context in which to discuss type. Fortunately this was just the introductory session!

Slides from the anatomy of type lesson, culminating in a pop quiz.
Slides from the anatomy of type lesson, culminating in a pop quiz.

James kicked things off with the essentials: the anatomy of type, and how to look at and describe a letterform. There are of course many rules and theories that can be applied to typography, but everything starts with seeing type in terms of its shape and structure. After a quick pop quiz, James covered specific tips for common tasks, like choosing an appropriate typeface, and the basics of a strong layout. Followed, of course, by pinning work to the wall for a large group crit .

Discussing the typographic approaches of critical graphic design pieces, like The Falklands Project by Metahaven
Discussing the typographic approaches of critical graphic design pieces, like The Falklands Project by Metahaven.

I picked up from there and led a brief historical overview of digital typography. It is already a cliché to say that computerized media tools have revolutionized design. But by discussing concrete examples of typographic evolution across recent decades, we hoped to find some threads toward understanding the current design climate, including many independently published “critical design” works. Plus, it was a chance to show off a few old issues of Émigré from the collection!

No workshop would be complete without handouts. We prepared a list of popular, well-designed typefaces for our students to test in future projects.
No workshop would be complete without handouts. We prepared a list of popular, well-designed typefaces for our students to test in future projects.
A second handout featured typographically relevant designers, publications, software, and other useful things to explore.
A second handout featured typographically relevant designers, publications, software, and other useful things to explore.

It was a whirlwind session. To be honest, we could have dedicated a semester’s worth of classes to exploring the issues raised in this one-evening event. But this introduction was an important part of our response to the current design landscape. Fathom’s hybrid approach to making, which cross-pollinates research, computation, and design throughout the creative process, is all the more relevant as audiences from various backgrounds become increasingly familiar with design and technological concepts.

It all comes back to print. We rounded the evening off with a show-and-tell session of books, posters and accessories featuring interesting type.
We rounded the evening off with a show-and-tell session of books, posters and accessories featuring interesting type.

We hope to make this the first of a continuing workshop series, so stay tuned for more reports!

Founded in 2010 by Ben Fry, Fathom Information Design works with clients to understand complex data through interactive tools and software for mobile devices, the web, and large format installations. Out of its studio in Boston, Fathom partners with Fortune 500s and non-profit organizations across sectors, including health care, education, financial services, media, technology, and consumer products.

How can we help? hello@fathom.info.