Taking a Closer Look at Typography

August 12, 2014 | by Paul Zdon

Being a design student and working designer at the same time means constantly keeping my ears and eyes open for knowledge and inspiration. I’m particularly interested in custom lettering and type design, so it’s no surprise that when TypeCon rolled around this year I jumped at the opportunity to head to Washington, D.C. for a five-day retreat.

Your humble designer and letter lover.

Your humble designer and letter lover.

Wait a minute—what was that? TypeCon?

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That’s right! TypeCon is an annual conference dedicated to the study of lettering and typography presented by the Society of Typographic Aficionados (SoTA). Held in a different North American city each year, it features some of the world’s most accomplished typeface designers and educators sharing their insights and research projects or simply treating other attendees to pieces of historical typographic treasure.

Close-up of some security details designed into the lettering on U.S. currency.

Close-up of some security details designed into the lettering on U.S. currency.

Gallery of a few award-winning typefaces released in 2014.

Gallery of a few award-winning typefaces released in 2014.

You might be thinking to yourself, “nerds!” And I couldn’t agree more. In fact, everyone in attendance would probably consider themselves type geeks. It takes a lot of dedication and years of practice to learn the nuances of using type effectively. The whole pursuit is extremely gratifying (even if a little self-indulgent), and for many, it leads to a lifelong passion of investigating and designing letterforms and typographic systems.

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Taking a break from the office to travel and absorb a bit of typographic knowledge was a welcome change of pace, but I couldn’t help feeling motivated to create some work of my own. During a walking tour of some of Washington’s most charming vernacular signage guided by a local type expert, my eye caught a sign that featured some peculiar hand lettering. Inspired, I sketched what I saw on-site and used my imagination to design the rest of the alphabet to match. My plan is to build a typeface that can work in a variety of contexts yet still maintain the same peculiar quality that I admired in the original sign I saw—no easy task!

Initial sketches.

Initial sketches.

Typography affects the day-to-day lives of people everywhere, not just the self-proclaimed nerds like me. It both permeates and defines our culture and is absolutely essential for clear communication in our modern society. If you ever see an advertisement, read a brochure or view a website that feels unsettling or difficult to comprehend, it may be difficult to put your finger on why you feel that way. Oftentimes it’s the result of mismanaged typography. We’ve all come to expect a certain level of clarity in design and when our expectations are not met, communication suffers.

The BatesMeron team never stops learning new ways to tackle these problems; we’re always on the hunt for anything that can inspire a fresh or more effective approach to visual communication. I, for one, am sure to return to TypeCon next year and hopefully I can convince someone else to join me!

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