Princeton University
Visual Arts Program
VIS 215, T-y-p-o-g-r-a-p-h-y
Mondays, 1:30–4:20 pm
Fall 2020
This studio course introduces students to graphic design with a particular emphasis on typography. Students learn typographic history through lectures that highlight major shifts in print technologies. Class readings provide the raw material for a sequence of hands-on typesetting exercises which punctuate the class weekly. Metal letterpess typesetting, photo-typesetting, and digital typesetting will be covered through online demonstration sessions. This semester online, the class will also further explore the typographic future by engaging and designing novel electronic text entry interfaces and decoding a fictional alien typography.
Print syllabus / Download readings
Let's start in the middle:
"I have an idea as to how we can make faster progress," I said. "But you'll have to approve the use of more equipment."
"What more do you need?"
"A digital camera, and a big video screen." I showed him a drawing of the setup I imagined. "I want to try conducting the discovery procedure using writing; I'd display words on the screen, and use the camera to record the words they write. I'm hoping the heptapods will do the same."
It's a better semester, yes. We're no longer remote. We no longer meet each other through a screen. We wear masks, only sometimes. *Still,* our current reality might pass for science fiction, so perhaps it is a good time to read some, together. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang would be a good choice. It’s brief and complicated. It’s visual. It’s even typographical. You might already know the plot from its film adaptation in 2016 starring Amy Adams and Forest Whitaker, Arrival. Meanwhile, our story continues.
Weber looked at the drawing dubiously. "What would be the advantage of that?"
"So far I've been proceeding the way I would with speakers of an unwritten language. Then it occurred to me that the heptapods must have writing, too."
"If the heptapods have a mechanical way of producing writing, then their writing ought to be very regular, very consistent. That would make it easier for us to identify graphemes instead of phonemes. It's like picking out the letters in a printed sentence instead of trying to hear them when the sentence is spoken aloud."
"I take your point," he admitted. "And how would you respond to them? Show them the words they displayed to you?"
“Graphemes”? “Phonemes”? Sounds like typography to me. And in fact it is—the story proceeds as a kind of typographic detective story, but instead of whodunnit, this one’s a howdtheydoit. We find out quickly enough that the Heptapods do indeed have a writing system and they also have a spoken language. Here’s a scene from early in the film version when Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) first witnesses the strange handwriting:
She also records their extraterrestrial voices, and deduces a way to proceed based on a correlation between the two.
"Basically. And if they put spaces between words, any sentences we write would be a lot more intelligible than any spoken sentence we might splice together from recordings."
He leaned back in his chair. "You know we want to show as little of our technology as possible."
"I understand, but we're using machines as intermediaries already. If we can get them to use writing, I believe progress will go much faster than if we're restricted to the sound spectrographs."
The colonel turned to Gary. "Your opinion?"
"It sounds like a good idea to me. I'm curious whether the heptapods might have difficulty reading our monitors. Their looking glasses are based on a completely different technology than our video screens. As far as we can tell, they don't use pixels or scan lines, and they don't refresh on a frame-by-frame basis."
This is an imaginary, or anyway, *conjured* set of digits produced by harnessing a neural network to a large database of handwritten numbers.

The glyphs above were never written, but rather they’ve been inferred by a computer program trained to the task. This is also typography. It is also almost science-fiction, though of course its already ready now. Some of you may even know how to do it. You can read a bit more about this project here. And meanwhile, back to the story.
"You think the scan lines on our video screens might render them unreadable to the heptapods?"
"It's possible," said Gary. "We'll just have to try it and see."
Continues in class . . .
September 19, 2022

A-Man-of-Letters.pdf (Oliver Sacks)
Charlottes-Web.pdf (E.B. White)

Type Rubric
Music for to Set Type By
More Music to Set Type By

Peter Kazantsev
Typography has something of a split personality—it’s both the technical act of writing words into the world by giving them form, and it’s also a way of understanding the world through the forms of its writing. Designer Paul Elliman describes this two-way street concisely:
Writing gives the impression of things. Conversely, things can give the impression of writing.
I’d suggest this reading and writing at the same time, or typography, is the root level skill of graphic design, and I’d like to talk about typography as something that joins reading and writing. Three modes of production will be presented in chronological order as a compressed reenactment of 500 years of typographic tradition, each one revolving around a particular technology: metal typesetting, phototypesetting, and digital typesetting. 
The idea is to learn something about typography and therefore graphic design by practicing it, and along the way to understand how typographic techniques have changed over time in order to develop a nuanced facility in using the current digital tools. 
We’re going to start with Albrecht Dürer: painter, engraver, mathematician, goldsmith. He lived in Nuremberg and was a leading protagonist of the Northern Renaissance. I would also certainly call him a designer. This is Melancholia I, a print from 1514.

Movable-type printing had been introduced in Germany only 75 years earlier. It had already existed in China for 400 years, invented by Bi Sheng in the Northern Song Dynasty around 1040 A.D. In Dürer's Europe, the production of typeset pages in multiple copies was still new, but as an engraver of metal printing plates Dürer was familiar with the process. This image has been reproduced many times and discussed, dissected, and deconstructed. What I like about it is something simple—it depicts a figure sitting still, kind of stymied. 
September 26, 2022
A Pair of Postmasters

Apology-for-Printers.pdf (Benjamin Franklin)
The-Crystal-Goblet.pdf (Beatrice Warde)

Mechanick Exercises
Several Fonts of Type
Beatrice Warde on Type Radio

Peter Kazantsev
As it turns out, the day I wrote this was Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday. Writer, typographer, printer, publisher, politician, inventor, statesman, gentleman scientist, linguist, librarian, and the first Postmaster General of the United States, Franklin was the consummate networker. Distributing his ideas far and wide through a dizzying range of practices, he established a network of printing franchises by sending former apprentices to set up shop in new towns and collecting dues. He traveled extensively to London and to the courts of France, fostering alliances that helped form a nation. He wrote incisive arguments and entertainments under a  constellation of pseudonyms including the Casuist, Silence Dogood, Busy-Body, Poor Richard, and J. T. to suit the purpose at hand. He advocated for a paper currency to facilitate the liberal distribution of goods and services while he was also a printer and so stood to make money by printing the paper currency which he lobbied for! He was often working both sides of the equation and I think this compromised quality is what I like about this familiar engraving—his almost-smirk.

He published a weekly newspaper, an occasional magazine, and the annual Poor Richard’s Almanack. Along the way, Franklin pursued his polymathic interests, inventing (a partial list): the medical catheter, the armonica (a musical instrument), a phonetic alphabet, the circulating stove, swim fins, binoculars, and the lightning rod. He founded the first public lending library, a volunteer fire department, the American Philosophical Society, a university, and was the first Postmaster General of the United States. He was a committed generalist.
. . .
Beatrice Warde also used her frontline position in typography as a gateway to injecting her voice into a wider conversation through her writing. 

Warde was born in New York City in 1900. Her father was an experimental musician from Germany who developed a chromatic alphabet. Her mother was May Lamberton Becker, a columnist at the New York Herald Tribune at the turn of the 20th century. Beatrice was often involved in  her mother’s work at the Herald Tribune, so she had an early appreciation for letters, for typography, for writing, and for editing. 
After homeschooling until age twelve, Warde was sent to Horace Mann School, a progressive academy in New York City. She whizzed through her classes in Greek and Latin, everyday skills, and public service. She graduated in two years. From Horace Mann she went to Barnard College, which was a part of Columbia University. There she studied English, French, Latin, writing, and philosophy, among other subjects. Warde was something of a prodigy. 
Continues in class . . .
October 3, 2022
Farewell Etoin Shrdlu

Elements-of-Typographic-Style.pdf (Robert Bringhurst)


Peter Kazantsev
Phototypesetting was always a transitional technology between metal and digital typesetting. It evolved through several stages, none of which ever really stuck. Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu, a film directed by David Loeb Weiss, captures one moment in this transition by chronicling the last day of metal typesetting at the New York Times on July 2, 1978. The Times was moving away from Linotype machines and on to the next level of typographic automation, where a new system used a hybrid of computerized storage and photographic reproduction techniques to set all the words in the daily newspaper. 

The film was shot entirely in the New York Times building in midtown Manhattan, where production was vertically integrated, in this case lit­erally, as a series of stacked basements and sub-basements where type­setting, printing, bundling, and even distribution were handled. 
Daily production started from the editorial staff on the top floor and proceeded from one level down to the next, ending with delivery trucks pulling up to a loading dock and carting away bound papers for distribution. 

It’s useful to think about what these technical changes allowed for the distribution of news. What resulted from being able to set the paper so much more quickly? More editions per day? More money for reporting? Perhaps a rearrangement of physical space? Or more resources for long articles and also a broader range of quick-hit stories? Shifts in typographic technology inevitably provoke deep changes in what can be said, how it is printed, and what effects these printed words have in the world.

The film is approximately 30 minutes. It is narrated by veteran Linotype operator Carl Schlesinger. 
Continues in class . . .
October 10, 2022
Raytracing, or Alphabets of Light

The-New-Typography.pdf (László Moholy-Nagy)

László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian artist, designer, writer, and teacher. He worked in Germany, England, and the United States. This portrait from 1926 maybe reveals something of Moholy’s disposition. He’s wearing a workman’s jumpsuit over a dress shirt and tie, looking like a hybrid worker-technocrat. He oriented himself more as a designer than an artist, although the distinction was fuzzy. He looks rather austere, but wasn’t—his friends called him “Holy Mahogany.” 
Moholy was interested in photography. It was relatively new at the time and he recognized it as a contemporary way to make images. His photographic experiments often pushed at the edges of the medium. He exaggerated perspective and used unexpected vantage points to abstract the subjects he shot. He cut up prints and assembled collages. He gathered images into composites. And he made photograms. Here are two: 

Photograms are images made directly from, or, in fact, by, an object. The object is placed directly on photo-sensitive paper and then the paper is exposed to light. The result is a contact print, a kind of light tracing. You might think of a photogram as seeing through an object to its essence. There’s a one-to-one directness to the print, where the object is reproduced at the same scale as the image made of it. The process is immediate and the result has an equally urgent quality. It is not dissimilar from printing. 
American artist Man Ray developed the technique around the same time and he called them “rayographs.” Man Ray was born as Emmanuel Radnitzky, a Russian Jewish boy from South Philadelphia. He found his way to Paris, and made art. Lots of it. So, for example this is one of his photograms on the left. But he made many things other than rayographs, including poetry and even typography. I love this poster on the right which Man Ray designed for The London Underground in 1932, which seems to pick up a sentence mid-thought. It’s not a photogram, but who cares, it has something of that quality.

And even a good century before, British botanist Anna Atkins produced an extraordinary collection of photograms made with sunlight as cyanotypes of the different types of algae. These pictures were meant as an inventory of algae varieties found in England where they accompanied a text in what has been claimed as the first photographic book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843).

Continues in class . . .
Bruno Munari is a bit too well-known in the United States for children’s books. He’s less well-known for the breadth of his work. He was an artist, a designer, a writer, a teacher, an industrial designer, a TV host, and a curator working in Italy for most of the 20th century.

Around 1962 Munari wrote, 
Today it’s become necessary to demolish the myth of the star artist who only produces masterpieces for a small group of ultra-intelligent people. It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people. Culture today is becoming a mass affair and the artist must step down from his pedestal and be pre­pared to make a sign for the butcher shop if he knows how to do it. The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active, well up in present day techniques, materials, and working methods. Without losing his innate aesthetic sense he must be able to respond with humility and competence to the demands his neighbors may make of him. The designer of today re-establishes the long lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing.
This appeared in the Milan daily newspaper, Il Giorno, where Munari wrote a regular column on design. The excerpt I read was from an article titled “Design as Art.” But he wasn’t always so earnest. One was entirely visual and called “Trying to Find a Comfortable Position”:

Munari’s writing exists mostly in Italian, but “Design as Art” also became the title for a collection culled from his Il Giorno columns, translated into English, and published by Pelican in 1971. 
In addition to writing in the newspaper about design, Munari was known for his workshops in museums, on live television, and in more traditional education venues like, you know, schools. He wrote and illustrated a series of books around these workshops. Drawing a Tree is one. It’s a small book, modest even. 

October 31, 2022
Adam, Why Arial?

Adam-Why-Arial.pdf (David Reinfurt)

What is American about Black Dada
The Studio of Adam Pendleton
Who is Queen?
Adam,* why do you choose Arial for the letters that sit across the surface of your paintings and objects? Why not Helvetica, the industrial sans serif typeface with letterforms that are both more formally resolved and in tune with the art histories to which your work connects?
In the series “Black Dada” (2008–09), you use photocopied enlargements of Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Cubes (1974) layered with large capital letters to spell part of your work’s title. These paintings (well, silkscreens on canvas) attempt to connect to more than one era—the 1910s of the Dada movement, through your use of its broken language strategies and your title, and also the 1970s of the unfinished Conceptual art project, through images of the Incomplete Cubes.

In “System of Display” (2008–09), a series of wall-mounted mirrored black boxes, you layer found images, photocopied and enlarged, with text fragments screened on the glass surfaces. This comprehensive series is mounted as a relentless row of ten or more boxes on the gallery wall, each containing a different found image and text fragment. Clues to the meaning of the series are located in the individual works’ titles. For example, EE (Generates / Giulio Paolini, Young man looking at Lorenzo Lotto, 1967) (2008–2009) reaches to both the late 1960s of Italian Arte Povera conceptualist Giulio Paolini and the late fifteenth-century Renaissance-to-Mannerist painter Lorenzo Lotto.
Poet Jena Osman recently described your layered text-image compositions as copies that “lovingly degrade the past in order to create a new lineage that can move into the future.” In an interview with curator Krist Gruijthuijsen you said, “My work cancels out any kind of autonomy . . . it much more concerns the connections between things that are often made disparate or have been disconnected.” It seems pretty clear that you’re trying to recompile history by creating a set of signs whose place in time is complicated. So, Adam, why Arial?
. . .
Helvetica itself was nothing new anyway—it was a redrawing of Neue Haas Grotesque in the 1950s, which itself was based on Akzidenz Grotesque from the early twentieth century, in turn derived from the Standard Grotesque of the late 1800s. Arial could easily fit into this lineage. As described in the Readme file that ships with v3.0 of the font software, “Arial contains more humanist characteristics than many of its predecessors and as such [sic] more in tune with the mood of the last decades of the twentieth century.”

* ”Adam” is contemporary artist Adam Pendleton, whose work uses typography and recycled writing extensively.
Continues in class . . . 
November 7, 2022
This stands as a sketch for the future.

Visible-Wisdom.pdf (Janet Abrams)

The New Graphic Languages.txt
What follows is a work in progress, the product of one year at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies tracing the legacy of graphic designer Muriel Cooper. It’s organized as a guided tour of various sites on the campus of MIT, attempting to track 40 years of Cooper’s work across different departments within the university. 

Muriel Cooper always sought more responsive systems of design and production, emphasizing quicker feedback loops between thinking and making, often blurring the distinction between the two. OK, let’s go ahead and get started. 
1. An accidental archive at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies 
We begin in a locked closet housing a collection of posters, documents, videotapes, and related printed matter which forms a de facto archive of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. Embarking on a client-design relationship with the Center, I arrived in Cambridge to spend a few days going through the archive and examining its contents.
The Center for Advanced Visual studies was set up in 1967 by György Kepes as a fellowship program for artists. Initiated with considerable institutional and financial support, the Center produced artworks, exhibitions, and public programs that were often accompanied by a poster or publication. These posters provide an immediate, condensed, and visually legible accidental archive of its almost four-decade history.

While working my way through the contents of the closet, I was struck immediately by the surface qualities of this extraordinary set of posters. It was not simply the graphic design nor the typography that caught me—rather it was their mode of production. The design of the posters changed sporadically as new designers or administrators appeared, but what remains the same is the way each self-consciously incorporates its production method into the design. 
Continues in class . . . 
The message came from about halfway around the world, from some friends I met last summer who were now busy organizing a large group of people. They use, almost exclusively, secure messaging. Telegram specifically.

Telegram was introduced as a simple messaging service and as an alternative to the standard iOS or android messaging apps. It is not owned by any social network, though it is in direct competition with WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. It’s encrypted. Every message along its entire route is unreadable, by both the servers that touch it, and also by any of the intermediate software that routes the message from one place to the other. Public-private secure key pairs at either side of the transmission between trusted users encode and then decode the message only at the sender and receiver end so there's no data capture possible en route.
I tapped the first three letters into the omnipresent search bar on my Team 6AC:
“w-a-t . . . ”
Software took over and finished my thought, soon searching the Internet for "water": 
Water, a substance composed of the chemical elements hydrogen and oxygen and existing in gaseous, liquid, and solid states. It is one of the most plentiful and essential of compounds. A tasteless and odorless liquid at room temperature, it has the important ability to dissolve many other substances. Density: 997 kg/m³ Boiling point: 212°tF (100°C) Molar mass: 18.01528 g/mol Melting point: 32°F (0°C) Formula: H2O
I recalled the water writers I'd seen about eight years ago in Jingshan Park in Beijing, right next to the Forbidden City. They were mostly older men but not exclusively. One woman I remembered in particular because she held brushes in both hands and wrote two columns of mirrored calligraphy at the same time.
Water calligraphy, better known as Ground Writing or 地书 (Pinyin “Dishu”) in Chinese, appeared at the start of the 1980s in Beijing. This was around the time of the “Reform and Opening Up” policy and since then ground writing has spread to public parks all over China. The calligraphers write poetry, mostly short traditional verse. Most of them are retired. One 79-year-old described to me,
“This is just for fun! You have to do something when you get old right?” 
They use homemade brushes fashioned from broomsticks and hand-cut brushes made from sponges, rags, mops, whatever they can find. They write directly on the ground, in public space. Since it is written in water not ink, it is explicitly ephemeral.

On this day in Jingshan Park, there were about five writers positioned with a graceful distance between them. I was fascinated by the ritualized order in which the strokes that define any character were drawn. I later understood that stroke order is essential in Chinese writing—a different order would suggest a different character. Nearby, newspapers hung for public reading. The proximity, even overlap, of reading and writing in this public space made a strong impression on me and I recalled the story of British Romantic poet John Keats who died young and asked to be buried in an unidentified grave marked only by the epitaph:
Here lies One Whose Name was Writ in Water. 
All writing should be done like that. Carefully. Temporarily. In public.
Continues in class . . .
Neeta Patel wrote this around the end of her senior year for a day in the near future:
you are about to begin listening to the annual class day speech. relax. concentrate. you are graduating from princeton university tomorrow, eleven am. dispel every other thought. let the world around you fade. best to close your eyes. for once this long weekend, allow yourself to see absolutely nothing but the after image of the back of that kid’s head in front of you. just listen now. are your eyes closed yet?
The text marks more than a passing resemblance to one written by Italo Calvino. Published in English with a stunningly self-aware cover in 1982, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is a book of beginnings.

Wikipedia calls it a “frame story”—frankly a new term for me where the narrative is about the reader trying to read the story. It’s no surprise that Neeta's text finds that form as she had spent the previous summer trsanscribing Calvino's novel into a series of notebooks in her own, rather specific, handwriting. Her pages were eventually scanned and reprinted in a series of facsimile editions. A page of her book looked like this:

Anyway, back to her speech, which continues:
find the most comfortable position: seated with your feet firmly on the ground, or maybe you prefer them crossed. left over right or right over left? arms folded across your chest. or maybe you’d rather your hands folded in your lap. put them on your head if you like. careful, don’t hit your neighbors with your elbows. apologize if you do. there. maybe scoot down in your chair, lean back a slight bit. is that better? alright, you know best. of course, the ideal position for the next five minutes is somethingyou may never find. take off your shoes, if that helps. 
it’s not that you expect anything in particular from this particular speech. you’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. there are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from college. 
She (finally) reveals a bit more context:
you cast a perplexed look to the person sitting next to you (or, rather: it was she who looked at you, with the amused expression of someone who cannot believe that this is the chosen class day speech she’s being forced to listen to, only to forget the words in a few minutes’ time). 
are you disappointed? let’s see. perhaps at first you feel a bit lost, as when a person appears who, from the name, you identified with a certain face, and you try to make the features you are seeing tally with those you had in mind, and it won’t work. but then you goon and you realize that the speech is readable nevertheless, independently of what you expected of the unexpected speaker, it’s the work in itself that arouses your curiosity; in fact, on sober reflection, you prefer it this way, confronting something and not quite knowing yet what it is. because the truth of the matter is that when you know where you’re going, you turn into a piece of stupid concrete. 
Reading here, you are getting only a slim portion of the actual effect. The text was typeset in Neeta's handwriting, like so.

A point she unpacks next.
allow me to recount to you a brief story of an alphabet that might help make this right now a little more concrete. this speech is brought to you by a font i designed during my time as a visual arts major here. it’s a font based on my handwriting. maybe you’ve seen it around campus, via posters i designed or in the halls of one eighty five nassau street. designing this font took the better part of two years. it’s actually kind of absurd because this typeface, if you could see it, does not look so sophisticated (it’s actually pretty wonky and awkward), and it’s a wonder that it took anything more than a few hours to create, let alone two years.

Continues in class . . .
Copying and pasting, graphic designer and editor Stuart Bertolotti-Bailey begins:
In the everyday material world a template refers to some kind of repeatable outline used to cut metal, rubber, cloth, card or other pliable matter, while down in the depths of molecular genetics it is a strand of DNA that sets the genetic sequence of new strands during replication. Both definitions readily extend to graphic design, where a template can equally mean a specific form designed to be repeated, or a set of principles that inform an approach. If you cast the net of definition wide enough, in fact, most of what passes for graphic design these days amounts to a template in some shape or form. Consider for instance that the underlying grid of a typical book or website is a standard framework repeated over and over with more or less difference from page to page; or that any series involving some degree of graphic consistency, whether posters, magazines, emails or social media posts, consists in the repetition of formats, materials, typefaces, colours, or image types. Unless we’re talking strictly about a one-off, graphic design is either based on – or presupposes – something else. 
He continues,
Templates in graphic design are associated with convenience and efficiency, their dual purpose being to speed up work by circumventing the need to make decisions, and to ensure consistency by restricting the parameters of possibility. But they can be deployed in other, less reductive senses too. Here are three more or less distinct types of templates designed with various collaborators, each based on a snowball of reasoning gathered along the way. On revisiting them I was surprised to see how neatly they trace the gradual shift from physical to digital media over the last couple of decades.
Stuart will present three projects which file under this category of Templates. First, will be  The First/Last Newspaper, a durational publishing project:

Next he will speak about Bulletins of The Serving Library, and then finally, the graphic identity for The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London:

And inbetween, I am guessing Stuart will provide some glue which attaches one project to the next. He will join us from the EU via Zoom.
Continues in class . . . 
December 5, 2022

Habit.pdf (William James)

Here’s a diagram from William James’ 1890 book, The Principles of Psychology:

The drawing makes concrete what has been implied all semester: reading and writing are intimately connected through the *specific* shapes of the letters. Your brain decodes the shapes and corresponds the marks across a learned dictionary look-up table to produce words which produce sentences which convey and record ideas.
It is or will have been an abbreviated semester. We moved from alien writing to metal letters, photography to cellphone typography. We saw lots of other people make typography. We tried our own hands at it. We read around some previous attempts at rationalizing the alphabet. We even visited an online show of “wrecked alphabets.” Now it’s time to take stock.
You will have your complete Ground Writing / Chinese text entry interface assignments ready for review. We will proceed, student by student, Zoom grid square to Zoom grid square taking turns running the online show. We will have a surprise guest critic to give some fresh eyes on your work.
When it is your time to present, you take control. And for the following 15 minutes you may lead us through the work that you have made in any way that you find best helps us to understand what you have done and why you have done it. Then you will listen.
The group of us—the other students, a critic, me—will then let you know what we see in the work. This is what matters, remember. You may have great intentions, brilliant concepts, and even an articulated aesthetic position, but all of this must eventually be legible in the constellation of glyphs that you have arranged on so many pages. Recall from the semester that typography is most definitely a finite circuit: Writing *is* reading *is* writing *is* . . . 
OK. Let’s get started. Who’s first?