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DESIGN

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Lettering Craftsmanship Workshop

This is a recap of a workshop we did for Codepot 2015 back in August. Codepot is a conference that puts an emphasis on hands-on learning and on cross-training in different disciplines. The main purpose of our workshop was to make participants more aware of main typographic principles through practice and a tangible interaction with letters.

Another edition of this workshop will be happening at WUD na Pradze, the Warsaw edition of World Usability Day, on Thursday.

The Medium is the Message

Typography is a powerful tool to provide information. When used wisely it can help; when used badly it can make the information unreadable. The majority of people interact with typography all the time, whether they know it or not. When building software for users, it plays a significant role in conveying messages. Being aware of the basic rules that govern letters, words and blocks of text helps us craft products that communicate clearly with their users.

Tools’ Influence on Typography

Letters were always tightly bound to tools used to create them. Most typefaces from before the digital era have specific elements not for decoration, but because they stem from a particular way of creating letters. An excellent example is serifs in fonts based on Roman capitals, e.g. Garamond or Times. The serifs are actually guide marks – to carve the letter into stone, a chisel was placed along horizontal rules to make all characters equal in height.

Serifs are chiselmarks

Serifs are in fact chisel marks

It shows that typefaces were created to suit the material, not against it. Understanding this can help make decisions about appropriate fonts for different sizes of screens or print.

Workshop Agenda

Create some lettering intuitively Learn typography basics Refine letters created with newfound knowledge

We set up the workshop for a maximum learning effect. Participants worked in pairs to discuss their approach and make decisions consciously. Diverse materials were provided to see many different results and to work with different limitations.

Results Summary

Lego bricks

The most challenging part was to use angular elements to create lettering with mostly rounded letterforms. We can find the same difficulties when designing or using digital fonts on low-density displays. Lego bricks behave similarly to pixels here.

Lego bricks

There is no harmony or grid to the letters.

Lego bricks

Hard to read mix of lower- and uppercase

Lego bricks

The contrast is equal. The letters are arranged by an invisible grid, so they still have the unique look and feel but are easier to read.

A box of matches

Matches are also problematic when it comes to round shapes but give great opportunity to create a clear and convenient modular system to build set of letters. The challenge of this approach is to achieve distinguishability and suitability at the same time.

A box of matches

hard to read, messy, reminds of runic alphabet, artsy but dysfunctional.

A box of matches

lots of improvement in readability of the whole word and legibility of its single characters, but there is also a lack of consistency between letters: “d” and “e” stand strong on the baseline while “C” and “o” both hardly touch it.

A box of matches

All letters are consistent thanks to repetitive elements. Even the dark parts of matches are utilised well. Authors went from complete mess to clean, easy to read and well executed lettering.

Cable ties

Cable ties are elastic but they don’t have any shape memory. When you try to bend them too hard they are easy to break. For creating letters this means you should work with them, not against them and be careful because mistakes are hard to fix.

Cable ties

Very strong and eye-catching composition. Perfect for a poster, but the user has to put some effort into reading it. Reminds of geometric avant-garde experiments in typography in the beginning of the 20th century.

Cable ties

More functional approach. Tear-shaped loops are natural for this material; we can see that feature in “o” “d” and “p”. Upper-case “T” doesn’t match the set.

Cable ties

Improved spacing and all letters have the appropriate case.

Jumper wires

Thin cables can be messy and tangled but on the other hand they’re soft so creating round shapes is a piece of cake.

Jumper wires

I hardly see anything. Too many folds caused clutter and accidental breaks.

Jumper wires

Scotch tape helped to hold cables in right places. Now they’re creating clean and tidy lettering stuck to proper baselines.

Jumper wires

An optical correction of “e” resulted in better balance between the inner and outer spaces of all letters.

Takeaways

Tools and materials used to create letters are bound tightly to all decision made along the way and have a great influence on the quality of the final output. We should keep this principle in mind when choosing the right typeface for our purpose. Most typefaces were designed to cover specific goals: display well on low density screens, print well in small sizes or be legible on street signs from a long distance. An awareness of its main purpose is helpful when it comes to deciding which typeface suits our needs.

See all workshop results here.

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GosiaUI Designer
MagdaUI Designer

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