Liveblog Notes: Granshan 2015 Day 1

These are live blog notes from the lectures at the Granshan 2015 in Reading

Usual disclaimer for live blogging: These are informal notes taken by me, Dave Crossland, at the event, and may or may not be similar to what was said by the people who spoke on these topics. This is probably FULL of errors. What do you want for free? 🙂 If something here is incorrect it is probably because I mistyped it or misunderstood, and if anyone wants corrections, just should tweet me – @davelab6 – or post a comment. Thanks!

Intro: Boris

15 years of MATD


Great to see this happening. Its like a surfer movie, you stand on the board and you dont know if they will make it…. and now we are on the wave and I thin we are in for a nice ride but you dont know how it will go.

Why all of this? Well, there are so many people from around the world here today, and will a room like this, people who are making a living from type. 20 years ago people would not believe it. Global type is a business, and we are at the beginning. We have decades of growth in interest in global typogrpahy, not as a historical study, but a new domain that we – you – is helping to build. That combines understanding of culture, history, and a practical approach to discipline that can make new interesting designs. that treat the language, the script, of everyone with respect that they deserve.

These 3 will days will emphasise this. we are like mature teenagers, we are beginning to get there, and in the next few years the granshan will have a clear iddentity. its a nice thing to see poeple coming back to the university they studied at; if you have a strange feeling, its stranger for me.

its great to start the event with a legend, no better opening speaker; gerard unger.

Gerard Unger: Letterforms from the edge of Europe, 700–1200

Lets go to northern france, here was made in 871-877, a manuscript, the 2nd bible of charles de gaul. This it eh opening phase of the book of genesis. its in the biblioteque nationale, a prized possesoin of france. here is a detail from this page; LIBER. splinded capitals; identified as ture carolingian capitols. Nicolas Gray did this in ‘Lettering as Drawing, Contour as Soliouette’. This is modelled on classical roman caps, but changed enough to call them carolinian.

This is about calligraphy, epigraphy (carving) and digital letters. you see these letters in many manuscripts but few inscriptions. Kind C d G 2 was king of france, westerm roman empire, etc.

Now lets go to the abbey of or vey with a rare inscription with carolingian caps. its badly weathered, copper was inlaid and gone long ago. you see the curves in the G, D, the short serifs, the way the verticals flare; its all different to how the romans do it. this is around 840-844.

Back to this book, the caroligian miniscule, you see the page and the detail. when combined with the caroligian lowercase, there is the cap ‘N’ and an uncial ‘A’ and an uncial ‘q’ and ‘U’ and ‘O’. The franks were a germanic tribe, and charlemagne was a Frank, and CdG was a grandson.

As you go through the manuscript, at page 99, there is “The Book of Kings I”, “Liber Primo”. In the middle between the carolingian caps, there is another world! The letters are worked into a pattern, 1/3rd of them are symbols …

Uncials reached UK through missionaries; in the middle ages, people traveled widely and letters spread far. The uncials may be from greece or africa. A paleographer sugggested roman uncials are the work of a roman calligrapher working from greek uncial letterforms. this is from the coda cina inicas (?) and the uncial ‘a’ of the roman is familiar, the omega is flipped 180′ you have a roman ‘m’, so its supposed a direct lineage.

here are “english uncials” and what was made in the uk from them. this is caterbury from 750 AD, now in the royal library in stockholm. there are differences; the pen angle of roman is 30′ and in UK uncials its flat/horizontal, and a bit more ornate. Roman uncials are a bit more simple.

back to the 2nd bible of Charles de Gaul. … celts had their own art; here’s a celtic helmet from north france, now in the national archelogical museum in paris. its 4thC BC. Swirling lines, spirals, and snail shells, and interfaced cross hatching, and zoomorphic designer (eg snake heads). Here’s a vase, in the british museum, 3thC BC, more flat graphics but still spirals.

Here in the 2nd bible of CdG there are spirals, wheels, and geometric decoration in a famous manuscript. here is a 715-720AD bible from ireland, this is a treaure of the british library. in 563, st columba from ireland, founded a monastary in yeoman in the west coast of scotland. here’s another page of the linus van gospel (?) with this lettering; you see amazing creativity in solving problems that if i suggested them today to my clients they would refuse them.

here you see ‘abraham’ after a greek phi, and its split into 2 lines and fitted in an interwined way. there is a ‘G’ with the arm stem bend backwards. great stuff!

160 years later, this style was interpreted for these caps. in 1868 a hoard was found in ireland that had this chalice; it has text, an angular ‘h’ and a round uncial ‘e’.

Letterforms like an angular ‘s’ and diamond ‘o’ were influenced by runes and the ‘ogam’ (?) script. the o with a stem like a phi.

here is a stone from south east ireland with an ogam inscription; there is little known of this script.

So, this is showing how in the UK there is a mixture of roman square caps, uncials with round forms, and insular letterforms.

today designers also mix forms; when they do multiscript projects, they also look for elemnts scripts share; here is R S’s 2012 Sinhala + Latin. Similarly is 2013 by Bon Min, with Korean + Latin. There is Aaron Bell’s 2011 Latin + Korean. They found similar elements in both scripts, and the 2 have striking similarities, but lots of differences; because the korean script influences them similarly.

Ezcar was designed similarly, the Latin is angular reflecting the angularity of the devanagari.

This is Katari by erin mclaughlin, also very angular. not mixing scripts like mediavals did, but not far off.

ben jones, here today, designed a latin work with several scripts; amenian, gree, arabic, devanagari.

last, the angular ‘u’. something has gone wrong 😉 look at the anuglar ‘u’ in my alvarata. it got gold in the EU design awards and i went to istanbul to pick up the prize. i was happy to see that the angular ‘u’ was known and used there too 😉

Hrant: how do you get clients to use fonts like alvarata, that have a lot of variety? clients are too conservative.

GU: Sure, we educate them. you have to scare them 😉

Vaibhav Singh: Pictures of things: context in the time of global design

Gerry: Vaihbhav’s slides are notable as the images from from the authors collection. his eye for finding patterns when looking at material is great.

VS: Thanks, I’m happy to see so many familiar faces. The markets are growing, we have less and less time to become really interested in what we are doing. you assume a lot of ideas that educational frameowrks provide or professional practice provide. so its an intersting challenge to look at how challenges can be handeld.

I’m glad GU mentioned the movmebt of people. Its map morning! global practice today is not new. we see everything happening in many counties related to prining has been internaional. its never been an insular activity.

Printing press arrives in india in 1556, was meant to go from portugal to ethiopia, and political chagnes there meant they didnt. next was from denmark. danish missionairies had a base in south india, and the story goes they made type from the covers of cheese boxes. lots of innovations in a hands on manner. it became a base in the south east of india, and printed for multiple lanauges. not only for indian subcontentn, but china, tiben, even armenian. then from the UK, and then the french. the first english press was captured from the french. then USA missionaries in early 1800s in mumbai. they made new advances in type; they divded letters into parts to deal with large amounts of text – that was the US press and foundry.

So it was an international thing; it was not just people from the west, paper was from the middle east or china. in the 20th century, these motivations to develop new things changed. early 20th c, there is a surge in mechanical typesetting, faster production, and happened centered in mumbai, a capital crisis pushed newspaper owners to increase producitivity of print press workshops.

In the early 1920s, people in mumbai reached out to monotype uk to devleop something. there are layers of development, MT and LT produced a typeface, but that isn’t totally true, there is a layer of development, and the development process is more interesting than the type itself. a type is not a single thing, it mutates over time.

Similarly in NYC in the 30s, the Mergenthaler Linotype company took an interest to make a devananagri. their worked passed thorugh london to calcutta in 1933.

there was a collaborative effort at MIT, a hi tech company in cmabridge, and a guy in india, made a devanagari type. the commission to matthew carter, came from england, the processing in germany, the testing in india, and sent back to nyc.

the idea is that type is developed not only with formal steps, but as we see the world globally today, we are getting to in the practice of type design, its merely about putting things, making things look like each other; thats a basic idea you could be subject to. but this appraoch shows, what kind of context do we have, is this meaningful to the practice, or is it reinforcing ideas that may or may not be useful.

here is a popular dipiction of indian writing in a french trade card circa 1900. this has hyphens! the boards are huge. but this Jain poetry book from the British Library (‘banarasavilasa’) is totally different. the practice of writing is not serving the same purpose as other writing does; these are religious texts, the writer already knows the text, they know it; so its not really record keepings, it gives you a que when you need it. the text is memorised, so you come to it as a differnet kind of reader or writer.

the landscape format of the book is from the practice of using birch bark in the north and palm leaves in the south of india, and writing was shaped by these subsctrates. you get a metal stylus, you move the subsstrate – here, palm leaves – and when you have different materials/etchnology enter the domain, you see things evolve.

100 years later, you see in 1926, the tools are different; there is paper, a pen, a codex book. the codex form of the book changes according to its use. the things that appear as understanding of technoology, is interssting; there is a diffusion of tech, the more remote the place the longer it takes to get there. “the future is already here, but not evenly distributed.” so look at the actual use to tell you about the tech, the past and future practices.

here is an interesting use of a codex book, a udaipur street banker, 1926. if you have lists, the purpose of the text changes; a landscape book isnt sensible. here’s a late 19th C student manuscript, a long horizontal book, but the text is rotated.

so, an essense of cutlure is polytonic; its not that something works because its traditioanl. we also see this in designing typefacs. putting things into newer forms, or continuing traditions. older and newer ideas come togehter ot make osmething that may be better informed and more beneficial.

here is a diagram from the monotype salfords archive: adrian frutiger + mahendra patel “New Nagari” for the Univers Devanagri project. it has a specific form, looks at a pen sequence, then a low contrast version, a more simplified version… but a more complex letter would have a more radical transformation. you have to see letters in context; a letter out of context means nothing.

I dont say if this is good or bad, i say, does this appraoch take into account the context that this letter is going to be read. can this letter be deciphered? this is radical stuff in the top, there is a modularity to it, like early bauhaus attempts at universal type forms. there are directions here that could be explored further.

but designers say this is good/bad to follow. its not about that, there is possiblity to analyse information and make a more finer evaluaiton.

typefaces often have a political will behind them. there were script reform efforts, here the Sagariya Lipi. Here is Hari Govil with the 2nd Devangari Linotype machine, Mumbai 1933. Here is the LInotype devanagari v2, revised from the original design by him. This is something that people grew up with, so they become programmed to see these as The Way Thing Are, but not thinking if this is a good way or a bad way, given limitations of that time.

So how is type to evolve? A lof of type today, there is good type design happening but typography is not going anywhere. the people to use the type are not there. there is the tradiaional form that looks like this, and there isn’t much typographic exploration.

So, “Trade is a big influence in getting peopele to take an ineterst in one another… but so is the sheer pursuit of human curiosity.” – Amartya Sen (paraphrasing David Hume.)


Veronika Burian and José Scaglione: Curating a type library

Gerry: There is the difference between a type publisher and a foundry; a collection is formed with a vision, with type for specific uses. so i cornered these 2 to talk about this. about the global enviornment, where type designers now find themselves. they will tell us their secrets! 🙂 vik and jose

v: its awkward to be back here 😉 12 years ago it was a different place 🙂 so, an intro: this is the old Dept of Typography sign, that is bashed in, and this is a particular approach to type design, orientated to industrialism and utilitarianism. a focus on process and method. we were serioues, no grey hair and wearing all black (lol)

After that, we had this idea to partner in business, an experiment. we started in a collaborative typeface that became TT Carmina. Vik was in the UK and I was in Rosario Argentina. End of 2005, early 2006, the idea of long distance collaboration in type design wasnt spread like it is now. collaborative design was not widespread like it is now.

we had a shared interested in editorial design, book design.

j: so we made a method. this is an ‘a’ i made in amsterdam in 2004. vik grabbed it and said, it well, but if we do this on the bowl and the terminal. so i said, i love it, better, but it lost an essence, and it can have this terminal. and that led to a typeface.

v: its handy to have this other pair of eyes to bounce off each other. so, we had an idae for an indie foundry, there were a few around, but you cant open a shop with 1 typeface. so we saw to expand the library. we finished Jose’s reading type, Athelas, and mine – Maiola – was at FontShop in a 10 years contract. Ronnia. So we had this first website that was hideous

J: its my design 😉

v: its 10 years ago, its ok 😉 so we made this promo material and started as it goes. we did our own projects too but also realising that we have only 4 hands and 2 brains so we wanted to open up the library. so we asked our colleagues whose work we liked, like Cora by Bart Blubaugh, and the library took shape.

j: so we talk about the type busienss. how do you actually sell your stuff? there is a lot to be done to sell type. the comemrcialising of typeface has ebcome more complex recently. a lot of onts on offer. many media. the pricing structure varies a lot. its a complex scenario.

v: quickly, you see differne tdistribution models. foundries sell to a font rental system that distributes fonts. There is a cloud model too. pricing is key. you price to market standards; being too high means less sales, being too low means its not a good idea as it depreciates the market and conveys your work is lower quality. so pricing should be sustainable, to pay bills and be competitive at the same time.

j: here is a graph, 200 euro at the top. market price is say 100 euro. but a sustainable price, has development time costs, then the insertion costs of bringing it to market. it takes time too. you also must account for growth, so that the library and foundry can grow. and you need extra for a saftey net. as sometimes fonts fail to sell. you dont know exactly why. so how to manage a budget ir something we are not trained on. there are obvious things. rent an office, ;ay vendors, admin time, design time. but les sobvious costs; fianciail, taxes, services and supplies, hardware and software. taxes can add up. then, legal, distribution, support and advertising costs. every 3 or 4 years, someone will come along and say something like ‘you idiot that font is just like mine’ – this is hypothetical! 🙂 – and you may need to consult a lawyer.

v: so you have retail, tailored, and hydrid fonts, going to desktop, web and OEM customers. We have so many licenses; high profile branding, merchandising, embedding (flash, pdf, ms word), broadcasting, server licenses – all for desktop. web: self hosting, rental, or perpetiual, etc etc.

j: so we educate users so they dont get lost.

v: our customers feel really lost, ‘wtf/ what do i need?’.

j: so you need to really clarify your license structure. you need to udnerstand your guide is NOT your EULA.

v: so educating users, you separate the good from the bad quality type (eg, dafont) you have opentype feature guides, and something that worked well for us is type in use showings; you give a customer before htey buy how it looks and can work. also pairing, people ask which fonts go together. not just a business levle, but also teaching the value of type, we do workshops to teach type.

j: 3, structuring your type library is a good idea. indep foundries have a possiblity to have closer contact to clients and strucutre the library properly. we mention some ideas, “a type library should…” which is our point of view but you can extrpaolte and have your ideas too.

j: point 1. collaborate with commercial efforts. the comemrcial world needs constant visual updates. we can sell font to the same company over and over. those editorial users need more expansive families, more challenging designs. they are constnatly updaitng the visual id, but also technology is always changing. and the editorial field requies text fonts, fonts engineered for continuous reading, and that sets the competitoin bar higher.

v: points 2, it should be part of company’s general character. there was an industrial approach inherited from Reading MATD. expanding to bloal markers is a challenge and intersting. it allows us longer periods, to plan projects.

j: this is our lase meeting, 5 people on skyep around the world.

v: you need to know the key players in your field.

j: when you see how is doing good stuff, you can target htem. FCE, is the most important book publisher in mexico; once they started using our type, we could show that, and its amazing that when a well known publisher or designer uses your font, they refer others to you. that helps exposure and media coverage.

v: you must balance personal and commercial interests. we try not to repeat outseles, to learn new technoogies, to do historial research. for me, things i picked up at MATD.

j: so, a library should be coherent. there is many advantages: you need a clear definiton of what the product is.

v: we sell type famlies, not single fonts. whereas say sudtipos sells single fonts targetting packaging so its quite different. that impacts the licensing model. pampatype has a different focus too.

j: the longer you are on the market, the more you can cover the whole area of your focus. planning helps, what you learn today you can reuse. you can set up your standards, even if you are a small foundry. house indistraues. if you have consistent high qulaity you have more loyality, you have customers returning to find more, you can build along term customer relatinoship.

v: how to keep it interesting, avoiding repetition? well, we have editorial design as the overall area. then newspapers, books, reference works, and magazines, are sub categories. if you over all, you can only cover each a little.

j: if you dig into books, there are novels, academics, poetry, comics, manuals; and so on. if you pick and choose, you end up with a library, you dont get a clear focus. if you say, fonts for screen, that can span the top 4 groups with a theme. or, if you design a large family that can have a cross sectional span across the top 4 areas. you dont want fonts in your library to compete, you want them to complement each other.

v: how to deal with trends? some libraries becomes bound to a period’s trends, like emigre in the 90s of the vintage/retro stuff popular lately. but the classics have a much longer period of market insertion. also multiscript work with more glyphs is a longer process.

Creating a library conept, licensing scheme, a pricing model, communciations mode – all key to making a brand.

setting high quality standards, aid education efforts, …. , are key to building a company.

v: Real possibilities in other markets? its a question of econmic viability.

j: we started in 2006, we started with pan euro character sets. this helped us a lot as back then there were very few text fonts that carried these accents. you look at a map, how much of the globe uses latin? there is a LOT, but many areas are not well covered. Where are there foundries? Where are there not?

v: the economic centers are changing. its a matter of time. why expand to foreign scripts? new challaneges. personal, and commercial. typography can make an impact, a positive difference there. there is a lack of text types, with wegihts and styles. there is undersrved needs. so, there are may be 3 areas; self initiatved, semi initiated and fully paid projects. we started adelle cyrillic with this sketch, and we used consutlants to help us with that. there is a new generation of new type designers in these regions. there is demand for new quality. the wild days of copyright infringement are sort of retreating. here is a self initiated devanagari done at TDi, and this is still not done 😉

j: potential problems? its more expensiv.e you hve to leanr stuff, hire people to consult, post production. the key issue is, how do we sell it? we might need help how to sell these properly.

v: sometimes it can work; you need a client starting to initate a project and can continue with the fund from that initial work.

j: work on the edges, its okay to work where you dont know what will happen. this is our bree, designed as a corporate font, they can use it in a new way, like in a newspaper. an arty newspaper sure, but they find a new way to use it. this type was made for luxury printed books, to get away from swuareness of pixels, but it was licensed for apple ibooks as people saw it then worked on retina screens as well. so we can not predict the destination of our fonts. Iskra by Tom Grace (who is here) is thought to be a display type, but it works perfeclty nicely for immersive reading! and Alverata also pushes the limits.


Q: Are you happier to work on client commissioned work where the finance is clear? or self initiated work?

v: its a shot in the dark. and you learn things in commissioned work, but its narrowly scoped by the clients needs. the client can vary; you can have great ones who let you do your thing… if you do your own work, you are more free.

gerry: so vik just said, you can do what you want. Jo was the first MATD graduate to do a PhD, and there is now over a dozen matd gradutes who have or are in the process of completing one. 15 years ago people might think there may not be enough space for such high level research in this aera. these 2 talks go togther in a way, but v + j talk about an established market, people publishging ebook and magazines and so on. But JO is talking about another world. designing type for scripts withotua ny libraries out there. in 10 years there might be a talk about editorial design in the scripts Jo is presenting now. a prophetic talk.

Jo: so, this is a self initiated project following up my PhD on the mongolian script. Sherpa; the writing systems of the himalayas. there are minority scripts. another map! here we are.

Lantsa is a script, when I did my field trips to look at tibetian and mongolian writing systems. it was used by buddhists and went with the culture through india and chian to japan. this lantsa/ranjana writing system has been studied before. earlier academics and lingusists docimented it. explorers in 1828 made plates and documetnation of the script, in their early writings. this is Hodgeson’s “Notices of the languages, literature and religion of the bauddhas of Nepal and Bhot” (sp, Bhutan.)

Ranjana is from Nepal in the same period. The north indian gupta brahmi script is the ancestor script. those writing sstems have not been produced as printing types; the challenege is what aer we looking for, which models are good, and how to translate them into a digital font. it occured not earlier thant he 11th centiry.

in 1834, Csoma de Koross “Grammar of the Tibetan language” has plates 38 and 39 with teh grammar of the langauge and these plates have a complete syllabory. i use the word lantsa for both, as the literature also focuses on it.

in 1888, sarat chandra das argues that the lantsha characters in tibet occured during hte 2nd and 4th period of the grammat reformation of the tibetian script. he also gives a good voerview of the syllabary; the 36 consonants that are combined with vowelrs and each other, so the glyphs set becomes very large.

end of day 1

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • What we do

    Understanding Fonts is a type design training business. If you'd like an event in your college or city, let Dave know: