TYPEWOOD – declaration of deconstructed typography
Text and slides shown at the TypeCon presentation in August 2016 in Seattle, USA. Some explanation about our source of inspiration, designapproach and our do-it-yourself mentality.
This project was supported by
TypeCon, Seattle, USA.
Thank you very much for the introduction and many thanks to the organization for inviting me. It’s a great honor to be here.
I will tell you everything about the Typewood project and the follow up, the HotmetalType-project, I’ll give you a short presentation on Novo Typo. Novo Typo is a small (typo)graphic designstudio based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. And alltough we are very small, we like to collaborate with lots of different people, so I will start this presentation with saying thank you to all of them.
Novo Typo mainly works with type, our world is no bigger than 26 characters and we feel comfortable in this restricted area. And allthough we take our jobs very seriously we like happy mistakes and little accidents. We have a professional approach to amateurism. We like the design of coincidence, we like the design of the undesigned. This means that we are in search of the perfect imperfection.
And we think we found it. On January 2015 we printed this poster at Grafisch Werkcentrum Amsterdam. This is a nice printworkshop were they have a beautiful collection of vintage letterpresses which are all fully operational. And if you take a proper look at this poster you may conclude that almost everything is wrong. Spacing is really bad, the serifs of the H are almost connected, the S seems to be flipped and not to mention the rough edges of the characters.
But, why do I like it so much? If everything is wrong… Wrong can be right? Right?
The 'wrong can be right' concept is an important part of our design-approach. Another important concept we have been working on lately is the research of using chromatic or multi-colored typefaces. Some while ago we asked ourselves the question 'Why do typedesigners traditionally think in black and white? Why?' The world is colorful, the web is colorful, Hollywood doesn’t produce any black-and-white movies anymore… Only typedesigners remain thinking in this restricted way. New browsertechniques, which all started with the use of emoji’s, make it possible to add color in typography.
The next slides shows a serie of typefaces we designed, all for different clients, based on this chromatic designapproach.
Within our designapproach we think that readability and legibility in contemporary typedesign are overrated. Every character is readable, if not, it’s no a character anymore. We are not interested in designing a new Helvetica or anything, we take our position within the discussion of ‘infill-ism'. But offcourse, you’re invited to disagree with me.
In this case I show you the typeface Guru. What we like about this chromatic multicolored concept is that it allows the designers lots of freedom. A designer can pick any color he prefers, They may choose the colors of the corporate identity of their client or just the color which is fashionable at the time. In our opinion a bespoke chromatic typeface, well designed and with personality, can easily replace a logo.
The use of color within typedesign can go into two different directions.
Color can be used as decoration, and we’ve seen lots of different variations of these designs in history of type. Good examples are the use of color in the outline, the inline or the dropshadow of the letterforms.
As second direction, which is the most interesting one: color can also be used as part of the construction of the basic shapes of the characters. The next few slides show some examples of typefaces which are designed with this colored and constructed concept.
Working within this concept, we take this one step further; if you can construct the basic shapes of a character, it is also possible to deconstruct these basic shapes. And if you use this color / deconstruction designconcept within an editorial concept, you’ill come to the next conclusions:
Color will be the new Italic.
Color will be the new Bold.
Back to January 2015, back to the letterpress printworkshop. I've printed this poster, wrong is obviously right. I thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting if we mix these two concepts within a new project? Holding a wooden character in your hand makes you understand how type really works. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I would design a chromatic typeface on a computer and transfom / translate the vectorized files into woodtype for letterpress? From new to old. Wouldn’t it be interesting if I would design a typeface, which is obviously designed on a computer, and translate this into wood with all the irregularities, the textures, the rough edges, the happy mistakes and little accidents of letterpress?
This was the moment when the Typewood project took off.
We started the experiment at a fablab in Amsterdam. A nice workshop where they have all kinds of different machines like 3D printers, CNC routers and lasercutters, which you can be used. We did some tests on a lasercutter, and as you can see on the slides the results are very good and very nice. But the results where too nice, there are no rough edges, no texture or anything. There is no reason to step away from our computer where we already achieved this kind of perfection.
The results where too perfect and the exepriment failed.
We started the experiments on another machine, a CNC router with three different types of wood. We went to the local woodshop and bought three different kinds what could do the job. We are aware that historically other types of wood were used, wood form peartrees fo example. But for this project we wanted to use a contemporary type of wood because its a contemporary typeface and a contemporary project. We are not interested in designing a revival or anything. After some testing with the CNC router we produced these tests. Take a look at these rough edges, look at the texture, look at the grain…
This is it: the perfect imperfection.
I went back to the printworkshop for testing it on the letterpress. And this slide is so beautiful, look at this black, you can never achieve this kind of black with a desktopprinter or on an offset press. This is intense black and I think that the ink is still soaking wet.
Here you see the three different types of wood printed, the vector files, the printed version and below the woodblocks itself.
Next slide shows the letterpress, a German Asbern from 1960, on which we printed the posters . A typical interesting and nice thing about letterpress is that it allows you to play with the pressure of the cylinders. It's amazing: you print something, you turn the paper, and you can actually feel on the backside what you've printed. This tactile experience is typical for letterpress and unique. No touchscreen can give you this experience.
Next images show the set up of the plates we wanted to poduce. The two plates, with a standard size of 120 x 240 cm, contain the complete production.
Another thing we had to find out, is that we had no idea of the amount of characters we had to produce if we want to print a proper design. We found this old typesepcimen from Lettergieterij / Typefoundry Amsterdam / Tetterode from around 1930. It shows, if you bought a complete set of characters, how many A’s or how many B’s or C’s you would ge . This was a good reference for this project.
For our typeface Bixa we wanted to produce five different layers. The next image shows the structure of the typeface. These are the otf files, the whole set has thirteen different layers, we decided to produce 5 of them in wood.
The production could start. This was so exciting.
This slide shows the operator at the cnc router changing the spindle, for this design at this size - 18 augustijn - we used three different sizes of spindles. We cut the two plates in two, half a plate took about 9 hours to get ready, finally this is what we took back to our studio. This is only a quarter of the entire production.
We never expected it was so much work. We had to cut them, to polish them and to varnish them all by hand. This was for weeks a regular day at the studio.
Another thing we challenged is to fix the so-called 'Dutch height’ which is exactly 24,85 mm. We had to bring them all on this height by hand.
After all this work the most excisting moment came; the type on the press for the first time. First time ink on the type. And the first test print on colored paper, the results are promising.
This slide shows the Dutch IJ, which we call our 27th letter of the alphabet. In our language it is an important character, thats why we produced one to complete the set.
To complete this project we wanted to produce a serie of posters which can be seen as the typespecimen for the Bixa typeface. To show our ideas about color, decoration and modernism in typography. They can be seen as a variant of the Quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Another important thing I like to mention is the fact that we didn’t do any colorproofing. We wanted to surprise ourself behind the press, we did all the printing ourselves. We used ink, unmixed, straight out of the can and printed this directly on the colored paper.
The four different colored papers, which are loosely based on the CMYK colormode, show all the possible different variations. As yellow ink on black paper or on blue paper or on yellow paper, we just want to surprise ourselves during the printingprocess.
A typical thing about letterpress and woodtype is when you print several layers upon eachother is the fact that one printrun had a dryingtime of about one week. One poster had a productiontime of about three weeks. This was really slowprint. But after weeks and weeks of printing this is the final result. The Declaration of Deconstructed Typography.
Because we are so convinced of the opportunities and possibilities of the chromatic / multicolor concept we like to share our work with as many people as possible. That’s why we collaborated with the Graphic Design festival Breda in summer 2015 and set up the exposition about the Typewood project. In this exposition we showed the entire process from sketch to the final results.
We also like to be involved in workshops. For us this is very inspiring because participants come up with type- an colorcombinations we could never imagine.
With the start of this project we did a step back in history, back to Gutenberg and his first movable type. Now we transformed it from letterpress to CMYK offset.
The next images show pages from the booklet we published which comtains the entire project. It shows all kind of possiblities and combinations with Bixa. We feel honored because this year Bixa is awarded with a honorable mention from the director of TDC New York, a silver award at the European Design Awards and awards from Print Magazine and Communication Arts magazine. Bixa is also part of the Prototype selection which shows the best experimental and speculative typefaces.
The Typewood ends with this conclusion. On the left you see the CMYK offset version and on the right you see the letterpress version. It’s nice to see how texture and tactility influence the design.
What’s the next step? As mentioned before we did a step back in history, did a step forward to a contemporay printingtechnique and now we will do another step forward in the future.
From woodtype to webtype. For this project we collaborated with Roel Nieskens from Pixelambacht, a very clever programmer and fonttechnique-specialist. Together with him we set up the website www.bixacolor.com with the use of a rather new fontformat 'SVG in OpenType'. Off course there are a lot of challenges, like browsersupport but Firefox and the latest version of Microsoft Edges support this format. I would like to invite you to visit the website, choose the colorcombination you like and download the font for free. Because we like to share our work with you. We would like you to play around with the files and share your comments with us.
What’s the next step in chromatic typedesign? This is the last project I would like to share with you.
Where Bixa is obviously designed for large sizes, we would now like to design a typeface for smaller sizes so that we could use this within an editorial context.
This projecct started as we were invited by Typefoundry Lettergieterij Westzaan to design a chromatic typeface for size 36 Didot points in lead. The typefoundry will produce a new serie of matrices based on our two colored design. With these matrices they will typecast a complete set of leaden characters on a Monotype Typecaster on size 36 Didot points.
On the next slides you will see the first sketches of this chromatic typeface. In this research project I want to show the possiblities of color and type within an editorial context. For example, if you want to emphasize a word or a sentence within a paragraph, the usual way to do this is setting this part of text italic or bold. Wouldn’t it be much more inetersting if you set this text in a chromact version of the type?
It will take some time, and everyone needs to get used to this, but in the future every typedesigner will design not only a roman, an italic, a bold etcetera but also a chromatic version of the font.
This project will be covered in a book which we will publish next year. After testing, sketching and measuring from one system to another, the final file is ready for the cnc router. The leaden blocks will be melted and casted in type.
The next slides show the test with the matrices, the leaden type and the print. This is a challenge for a letterpress printer to register the type exactly but the results are very promising.
After some time the complete set will be available for purchase via Typefoundry Westzaan. And offcourse you’re all invited to come over to Amsterdam, Bixa woodtype is available at Grafisch Werkcentrum Amsterdam.
I like to end with a special thanks to the Creative Industries Fund NL.
Meanwhile stay tuned via www.novotypo.nl
Thank you for you attention.