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|Making Faces by Michael Kroeger|
|Table of Contents|
|Dedication, and special thanks.|
I would like to dedicate this thesis project to all those students who have taken letterform design and computer aesthetics.
I wish to especially thank Don Adleta, Chief Advisor and Computer Advisor; Thomas Ockerse, Head of the Graphic Design Department and Semiotics Advisor; Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, Course Advisor and Text Editor; and Peter Seitz, External Assessor.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree requirements for the Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, Rhode Island School of Design, 1987.
During the fourth century, pen and ink forms were perfected by scribes using a Square (Quadrata) Capital technique on precious papyrus. It was quick to write yet it was hard to read because it is based on CAPITALFORMSANDNOWORDSPACING.
Rustics, a geniune pen form of the fifth century, was more rhythmic and tended to flow from character to character. Examples of upper and lower forms began to appear in this faster hand.
The Uncials of the sixth-seventh century showed signs of a breakdown of the capital and lower case forms. It was easier to read but still very formal and straightforward. Ascenders and descenders became more evident, thus words were easier to separate. The texture was often rich and black in a calligraphic style.
The Anglo-Irish Half Uncials of the Book of Kells, the Latin Gospels of the seventh century, established a true script hand. Noted as one of the greatest monuments of the dark ages, this book written by Irish monks toook many years to complete. Words and letter spacing was taken into account. A clear triangular serif form was developed. Wide page margins and decorative elements enhanced this historically magnificent book.
The last of the old handwritten scripts were the Carolingian minuscules of the ninth century. This pen script was developed in Charlemagne's scriptoriums and was light, quick and very readable. Definite ascenders and descenders, as well as a flowing script style, made this efficient way of writing very suitable to copying large volumes of work, such as the Bible.
The first type foundries and designers took this history of letterforms and script writing as their model or guide in designing incunabula forms. Our current interest in computer typography should also be inspired by these early works.Introduction
Nothing. Try to create or make nothing. It is easy to do nothing, but to make it is something else. Where to start? At the beginning, of course, with something, no with nothing. How to make nothing? The void. The void plus one. Now you have something. Do you need more? Add more. You only have nothing and something.
Something. Now we can begin. Compare. Juxtapose. Analyze. Compromise. Finalize. Something random, something ordered. Something formal, something not formal.
What is formal? Formal is being in accordance with the usual requirements. In a game or system this means staying inside the lines, or not breaking the rules. Establish some rules and stay within the parameters. Some games have very strict rules. Chess has a very rigid formal system. Pawns do certain things at certain times and knights do others. Rooks only move at ninety degrees to the board and bishops at forty-five degrees. Things that are not formal systems can still be games, they are just structured differently. Marbles, tiddly winks, and billiards are examples of games that are not formal.
A system is an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole, ie., school system, a mountain system, a railroad system, or a solar system. A structure is the manner in which the elements of anything are organized or interrelated. A program is a plan or schedule to be carried out or followed. If you are going to cook breakfast you could think of this as the structure. The process for making an omelette is the program. The program may vary, some days a Mexican omelette, some days a plain cheese omelette. The egg has a structure and is also an element. A letterform also has a structure and is an element in a whole (word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, and statement).1
So within a system (verbal-visual, text-image) we can begin to compare what happens. How do you begin to analyze what can happen in a system using only a one centimeter square, one black and one white? The programs may be set up to compare two different things. One a strict grid with only squares and ninety degree angles and the other with random placement and more freedom to overlap, move build, etc. Each side would begin very simply with common elements and would grow more and more complex. Each program could develop meaning indigenous to its particular situation. One would be very structured while the other would be more organic.
The side that is formal is condemned to always be in its ninety degree grid. The elements can become smaller and combine to be a larger mass but they cannot go out of their grid. There is a certain freedom occuring within these tight constraints. Sometimes it is very helpful to work within these limitations. On the other hand, the side with total freedom brings with it a certain degree of problems: where to begin, many possibilities, no limitations.
Many times it is more difficult to design when there are unlimited possibilities. Letterform design has unlimited degrees of change and sublte variations. Within a digital system you have a smaller number of elements with which to deal. (Digital, in this sense, meaning a set of positive and reliable techniques [methods, devices] for producing and reidentifying tokens, or configurations of tokens)2. A digital system is a set of positive write/read techniques. An alphabet, currency, or a deck of playing cards would be a digital system. Things that are not a digital system are things such as photographs, gold bullion and pick up sticks.
Returning to the example of the one centimeter squares, the program within the ninety degree side would be a formal digital system, You may always identify the objects; they are always located within a certain grid and they positively succeed absolutely, totally and without qualifications each time. They are either black or not. They do not overlap or move out of their grid lines. Conversely the other program does overlap, move about freely, form new unexpected structures and create new possibilities. Our structure of writing came from this technique. Free movements of the hand and instrument began to configure our written communication system.
In letterform design there are many different styles and sizes from Garamond, Palatino, Bodoni, Clarendon to Univers. This brings about a contradiction, the alphabet being a formal digital system developed from a random non-digital background. The forms of letters are arbitrary. There is no reason that their shapes and forms must be as they are. An "A" could just as easily be a , we have merely assigned a value to this first form and have all accepted it. There are many different varieties of A's that we recognize. The scribble of a child, the scrwl of an elderly person, letterforms deliberately thrown out of focus or blurred almost to the point of obliteration are still recognized as the familar letterform A. Therefore, what makes an A? It is the minimal structural recognition and tha contextual positioning within a boby of work that makes us recognize an A.
An interpreted formal system would have tokens (letterforms) with assigned meaning. Semantic properties of letterforms mean we have assigned "A" with a certain meaning. Syntactic properties are the physical qualities of a letterform (italic, bold, thin, etc.).
The computer is an interpreted automatic formal system 3. It is also a symbol manipulating machine (digital). A computer and an alphabet are digital systems. They both have tokens which can be manipulated in a positive write/read situation. Two structures that are entirely compatible are alphabets and computers.
We have taken 2000 years of letterform design, which has always been a non-digital system, and dumped it into this new technology of digital manipulation. Does it work? Is it aesthetic? Who is to decide? The engineers? The designers? The software programmers?
The concept of alphabet is a digital system, however, the idea of letterform is totally from the hand, heart, and eye. Can they meld? Should they meld? Should a structure be developed from what we know about letterform design and what we now know about alphabet design and computer technology?Chapter One
This thesis is an academic situation.
There are many different kinds of learning situations; professional, tutorial, on-the-job, master-apprentice, etc. However, this thesis is an academic situation.
Much pressure is put upon the academician to produce work that is acceptable to professionals. We are, nevertheless, in a different situation. Yet we must keep the same professional standards on our quality and production capabilities.
The academic kind of work can and should be experimental, inquisitive, and in-depth. This type of work can rarely be done in a professional studio where budget and time constraints often limit or prevent research.
Over the past two years I have been investigating the effects of the computer on designers, design educators and design students. My visual exploration is a clear presentation of two concepts: order and chaos. How can these two structures work together? Can they be merged to find a new solution to our confrontation with computer aesthetics? Somewhere between these two well established concepts, in that gray area of design or thought, a solution can be found.
I have identified an area and have begun to develop the concept. These principles can apply to computer letterforms and design in general. I have applied this concept to letterforms that were generated on a micro-computer (Macintosh) with a bit map program, which is a very systematic way of making letters. Each pixel is individually placed on a gridded field and stored in the computer's memory. The chaotic counterpart is illustrated by the concept of handwritten letterforms from common writing. Each way of communication is well established, each can communicate inits own distinct manner.
The typeface Newsans 36 was developed with the attitude that one should work with the tool and not with a preconceived idea. A problem intrinsic to the screen and low/medium resolution typefaces is the jagged quality of the letterforms. Instead of trying to smooth the jagged edges, I tried to jag the smooth edges. For example, a capital T with all straight edges was made to look uneven, soft or out-of-focus. The result was an overall even character to the body of the text despite additional jagged edges. This simple device with the font was a breakthrough; combining elements of the computer with elements naturally derived from within the system.
We must take some ideas from each system to go forth with this new technology. It is no longer possible to merely digitize Garamond letterforms which were designed in the 1500's and adapt them to this new technology. Jan Tschichold states in Meister Buch der Schift, "'Do likewise!' reads an inscription on the Berne Cathedral. You cannot do better. Leave everything else behind you. Not the bad, not the mediocre, only perfection is worth copying. Devote yourself willingly to the study of the most noble letter forms."4
He calls for only regurgitating the old forms. Bring them back year after year, safely, quietly. Do as we are told by the old masters, we cannot do better! Where would that get us? Making letterforms that werre designed for hot metal out of square pixels. Chaos and Order. This new aesthetic is not waiting for us; grade school children are using computers today. They know how to digitize a photograph long before they know who Jan Tschichold is. We must deal with this situation now.
Many new alphabets have been developed over the years as illustrated by Herbert Spencer in his book "The Visible Word: Towards a new alphabet". Herbert Bayer, Wim Crouwel, the OCR-A, Coe and numerous others have tried to make a new alphabet using different forms or modified forms. When used in context they can be read and understood, isolated, the forms are obscure or unreadable. (The thrust of early man/computer work was to take the viewpoint that the computer was limited and man was adaptable, hence man could change his alphabet and accommodate the machine. Now the thrust of man/machine is that man shouldn't need to compromise his humanity [read typographic tradition], but the computer will adapt to man hence we have digitized Garamond, Optima, etc.)5. Surely we can do this at this point and time, as screen and printout resolution improves. Yet should we be doing this? As designers, we need to question each step of the way, is it ok? Is it visually correct? Is it honest?
As these two structures collide, order and chaos, new forms can be found. Our main purpose is still communication, but the idea of familiar forms of handwriting can aid in the humanistic conversion of letterforms on the computer. Until now these forms were either copied from the past or not in harmony with the tool being used.
Freedom and structure merge to one system. Technology and the hand work not in a preconceived way, but within both srtuctures, making a new order - a new chaos. Let me draw an analogy. It could be a series of transformations from "A" to the idea of a handwritten form. Minimal structural recognition is pushed to its limits. Our tolerance is very great. My thesis statement is that now is the time to make these transformations, if we only have the courage.
How is this possible? Will the old masters turn over in their graves? Will aestheticians be shocked? Can new forms be introduced? Should new forms be introduced? Should modifications be made to bring about a synthesis of how we think and how the machines think (dare we say the word)?
The technology today has virtually eliminated the aliasing, the jaggedness, on high resolution printouts. Screen and print resolution will continue to improve. Need we worry about this matter?
Honesty. Did Tschichold embrace new technology in his day and age? Each designer must face a constantly changing environment. How did the old masters react when something new was introduced in their time. Equipment evolves and we are constantly bombardede with change. The Imagewriter dot matrix printer was state-of-the-art until the laser printer came out a few years later. What was once a major concern, the rough edge quality, is no longer such a problem.
However, we are left with a type face that does not approach the quality of a fine print on a letter press. See Hermann Zapf's Typographic Variations if there is anay doubt in this matter.
It is not possible to build Romanesque churches today with the cost of materials and human energy. Look at any new construction going up today; see any flying buttress (ie., Notre Dame de Paris)? The Domus, in Milan, begun in the Middle Ages, is still under construction. That church cannot be completed in the style in which it was begun. It is not possible. The workers cannot do it; the parishioners cannot afford it; we cannot go backwards to the 15th century. Yet we carry our letterforms from this period as a millstone around our necks.
These sacred cows cannot be touched. We are a timid lot that cannot destroy and rebuild anew. Science, medicine, architecture have all changed, improved with the advanc of new technology, although not without controversy. Yet we minic the old type founders as if they were schoolmarms standing over our shoulders.
Is it possible to take the essence of what they did, said, felt, and translate it to our own purpose? Is that not what they did from their old masters, the scribes? The scriptoriums were put out of business by those fellows with faster, more efficient, labor saving, and cheaper new technology: the letterpress.
Is it not possible to throw off the yokes as these craftsmen did at the time, keeping what was good? Gutenberg designed his first typeface to resemble the texture of scribe's hand face. But soon others were designing faces specifically for their new medium, hot metal type. Garamond and the rest used the technology to its fullest and did not ape the black letter typeforms of the old days.
Each technological change brings with it new possibilities and limitations. In typography, each change in technology is resisted on aesthetic grounds; the visual ideal of the just previous technology is held up as the standard. Gutenberg imitated the scribes; phototype imitated metal; digital typography imitates phototypography. Each technological change is approached with conservatism.
Once we are familiar with the new tools, once we dare to question the established forms, then we are ready to explore within the new medium. Now is that time.
The responsibility is not fully on the shoulders of the type foundries, but must be equally shared by all designers. Everyone who ordes type is connected with this ongoing event. We cannot sit back in our padded chairs and wait for them to do something. Ordering such things as "Garamond, Times Roman, Helvetica", etc., merely perpetuates the situation. The foundries are just responding to our demands. It is easy to do nothing! We must begin again, it is always the same, just as it is with any new design job. We must start with nothing and add one. I realize it is very frustrating, but if we are to continue the design process, it is of the utmost necessity.
Does a Louis XIV chair or Breuer chair "speak" to 1987? What is the relationship of style to time, culture? How does this apply to letterform design in 1987?
Does our fast-paced culture relate more to the forms of the 15th century or to what is happening today in computer technology? Try to get anything type set today in hot metal, it is next to impossible to have this done. There are a few people out there doing fine printing with letterpress and metal type but for the most part it is not a serious option for most designers. Metal type amd letterpress are still good learning tools for students. The terminology and language will be consistent for a long time, but do the forms need to stay the same?
Does the design Janson speak to our time? In a sense it does, this hard work must not go under. We have an obligation as art historians (and yes we all are) to preserve, as historic documents, this work. However, does this mean we are slaves to these forms? How can we bridge this gap? One way is to retain the spirit of the man, not necessarily his exact forms; taking only the essence of the work and leaving the rest behind.
Does a Louis XIV chair "speak to 1987? A chair from this period as an historic artifact, does speak to our time and culture in the sense that we learn from this piece. The craftsmanship, the use of materials, glue, joinery,fabric, etc., should all be analyzed to help educate us concerning these fine pieces. Look, see, observe - yes, but build something from chrome tube steel as Breuer did. Do not make a sentimental reproduction that is only a knock-off. The same is true for letterforms. Appreciate Aldus, Janson, Garamond, etc., but do not digitize them; they are our models, our guides.
Bibliography (for thesis)
Emil Ruder, Jan Tschichold, and Adrian Frutiger should be well respected and honored for their work and achievements. Yet we, as designers, are faced with problems that need solving in our time and with our technologies. Just as they were faced with obstacles and challenges in their time, which brought out the best in them, we now face ours. The computer is here to stay. No amount of fretting and sentimentality will bring back Linotype or Monotype. The matrices are crushed, scrapped, sold for their weight in junk. Speak to any type house, it is gone.
We start over, nothing.
Don Adleta, Chief Advisor
Thomas Ockerse, Associate Advisor
Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, Course Advisor
Thomas Ockerse, Head, Department of Graphic Design
Peter Seitz, External Assessor
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