ISTYPE2011 - Interviews


1. What topics have you discussed at ISType 2011?

2. Describe some visuals and shop/street signs of Istanbul that took your attention - and if you had the opportunity to contribute to the aesthetics of the city, what would you do?

3. Sketching and developing strong hand skills is one of the themes addressed at ISType. What is the importance of this in typography and design in general?

4. What are your rituals? Do you have rituals?

Ewan Clayton
James Clough
Petr van Blokland
Brody Neuenschwander
Alessandro Segalini
Karel van der Waarde
Onur Yazicigil
ISType 2011 Interview: Brody Neuenschwander

1.My workshop was designed to give a very broad and hands-on overview of what can be done with pen and ink. The students received five unconventional hand-made pens and a number of examples of scripts that, in one way or another, deviated from standard Latin scripts. Students experimented with the different pens, using them to copy the scripts in their examples. If time permitted they then tried to make a personal interpretation of these scripts.

The scripts in the examples were all my calligraphy. In my work I bring together influences from various cultures, but especially from Arabic and Chinese calligraphy. These are the two great traditions (and they include Ottoman, Persian and Japanese calligraphy, of course). These cultures took calligraphy to incredible heights of sophistication and graphic power.

The students and I talked about the typical horizontal extension of certain letters in Arabic calligraphy, as well as the great contrast between vertical and horizontal, small and large, open and closed, straight and curved - in short, all the graphic devices that make Arabic calligraphy a fully developed graphic language. We tried to integrate these elements into the work the students did with their experimental tools.

Several issues arose. First, it is clear that the grid-like nature of the Latin alphabet is a good basis for manipulations. The strong geometric basis of Latin letters allows for considerable calligraphic experimentation without complete loss of legibility. The students saw that experimental calligraphy can inspire new letterforms and these can lead to new fonts.

Second, we saw that influences from Arabic calligraphy can be incorporated without producing an ÒOrientalistÓ feeling in the letters. This means that, with hard work, styles of calligraphy and typography could be developed that would recover some of graphic values lost in 1928 with the banning of Arabic script in Turkey. This realization lead to some discussions about the supposed dangers of Islamic culture in Turkey today. It seems that there is an elephant in the room in Turkey and nobody wants to admit it is there. The society is radicalized into a secular and religious factions. No surprise to me: a culture will always suffer severe trauma if it is cut off from its roots. Those who prosper can adopt a foreign way of life, in this case European and American. Those who do not modernize as quickly are more likely to look back to a lost Ògolden ageÓ. It seems to me that the debate needs to focus on the ground between the two extremes. And this can only be done if the secularists show an understanding of the issues. In typography, the art that most clearly symbolized modern, democratic culture, this would mean a fundamental adjustment of the thought paradigms. Typography is, in our present understanding, either modern or traditional. Calligraphic fonts fit into the latter category. How can this be remedied? How can the graphic values banned in 1928 be reintegrated into fonts that would represent a modern, united and tolerant Turkey? Big issues. But clearly the same kind of question that faced Aldus in Venice in the 16th century and Bodoni in the 19th.

2.Public signage in Istanbul is a bit of a disaster. What struck me was the beauty of the surviving Ottoman inscriptions and, just centimeters away, an execrable street sign bad letters, bad colors and worse design. Not unique to Turkey, of course, but strikingly bad all the same. This should surprise no one. The banning of Arabic script destroyed a magnificent graphic tradition at a stroke. How much was done to replace this loss with solid training in the new script being forced onto the country? Probably very little, but I am uninformed on the subject. It seems as if the countryÕs sign makers basically learned from each other and settled on the lowest common denominator.

Clearly some kind of initiative is necessary. This is a difficult task, since changing public perceptions is impossible Òfrom aboveÓ. Standards in Europe have improved as wealth has increased and tastes have become more exclusive. Better graphic design is associated with luxury markets, better quality goods, more expensive neighborhoods, everything elite. The more expensive neighborhoods of Istanbul (Pera, for example) do show a slightly better level. But even here, in the expensive hotels, the level is far behind Europe.

A new generation of graphic designers and font designers needs to be trained. This is happening in the Arab world (where there was no break with tradition!!!!).

I suppose one could BEG the major of Istanbul to initiate prizes for good signage. Something like: a small cash prize every year for the best 50 signs. That would not cost a lot of money and could slowly change the publicÕs perception of signage.

3.Of course I will put a lot of emphasis on hand skills. But perhaps I can defend this position from a slightly different point of view. In all art and design training the MAIN THING is to sharpen the perception of the students. Teach them to see. Teach them to look critically. In the Western tradition this was done by drawing and painting, including a great deal of drawing of still lives, the human form, landscapes and copies of old masters. This process taught the student to look carefully and in detail.

Calligraphy can serve exactly this purpose for graphic designers and font designers. Improving hand-eye coordination also improves the ability to perceive form, to understand structure and to work MORE QUICKLY. With my skilled hands I can turn around a logo design in half the time of a digital designer and produce variations of the clientÕs approval with almost no limit on creative exploration. This only comes from years of using my hand and experimenting with real materials.

4.My standard ritual is to start a collage without thinking about where it will go. I simply stretch a sheet of Rives BFK printmaking paper on a large sheet of plywood, make my paste and start covering the Rives with sheets of Japanese rice paper. This process is very meditative. By the time the Rives is entirely covered with rice paper, white on white, I am ready to start thinking creatively. This white on white process opens up spaces in my mind.

ISType 2011 Interview: Ewan Clayton

1.The relationship between calligraphy and type; the history of Latin lettering in Istanbul; Pinhole photography and the history of photography in Istanbul; Genre and the way it combines thinking about documents in a technological and a social way; The role of Optics in communication; Early Italian printing and roman types; Design education and course structure; Universities and the costs of tertiary education - will instruction have to take place outside these institutions and be more specifically geared to what a student wants/needs; Educating clients into realistic expectations.

2.Actually it was the signage on the transportation that struck me rather than the shop signs, I mean on cars, vans, buses and trucks, I saw some interesting home made painted lettering on trucks on the road out to the airport, perhaps it was more interesting as it could not be bought off the shelf like shop fascia lettering often is, and perhaps because sometimes it tried to be expressive of movement. I noticed one usage of Lithos in a compressed format in the 'stationary' district I think, it struck me, because in essence it is a Romanised Greek face and because I know(Sumner Stone told me) that Carol Twombly looked at the Greek inscription from Priene near Miletus which I used in the class when she was designing it.

I dont have any deep suggestion about the structure of the city's aesthetics but for educational purposes it might be interesting to compile a list of Latin lettering resources within the city. In the Archaeological Museum for instance there are: Lombardic Capitals in inscriptions taken from the Galata tower fortifications and painted letters from Frescoes in a chapel dedicated to St Francis, there is a milestone from the age of Septimus Severus and other tombstones, there are brush written greek letters from the Hellenic period on three or four tombstones. There is the Greek inscription running right round the interior of the old St Sergius and church (the little Aya Sophia) which could be the basis for a lovely uncial script etc.

3.It is huge. As Petr said it allows you make an abstraction of a situation, recording just enough detail to lay hold of something useful about a problem and then explore alternatives quickly and inexpensively. It also allows you to explain things to people. The pencil too is useful, not just the ink pen, as it allows something to stay provisional longer both in reality (easy to change) but also in one's imagination as it is by nature a little vague/grey.

4. I grind my ink freshly each time, the rhythm, the sensitivity it brings to my finger tips, the consciousness it brings to my sitting posture, the smell, wake me up. I also have a set of exercises from a Japanese martial art (Shintaido) which I do to get my whole body alive to the space around it before I write. If the project is a personal one of significance I may also burn some incense, the smouldering stick calms me. I unplug the phone so I cannot be interrupted but leave a message on the answering service that I am doing calligraphy right now and will get back to them once the session is over (I get wonderful responses from callers to the message!). All this enables me to focus intensely. Sometimes I play music repeatedly to encourage a particular range of gestures. Particular ink sticks and grinding stones also have significance, I use them for specific types of work, it gives me multiple calligraphic personalities! much like Chinese calligraphers have when they choose particular chops to sign their work with.

I leave things out/up overnight to catch a fresh sight of them in the morning. I also have a few trusted friends who know nothing whatsoever about calligraphy but will tell me quite honestly what they see - I notice their response and take them on board when I think I should.

ISType 2011 Interview: James Clough

1.I chose my workshop "Understanding the Roots of Roman Type", from various other possibilities, chiefly because it is a theme that has continued to fascinate me for many years. Nevertheless, thinking specifically about ISType and some discussion I had in Istanbul with Onur Yazcgil concerning the change in script from Arabic to Latin in Turkey in 1928 and its consequences, that choice may have been a good one for another reason. The lack of a Latin script heritage and any consolidated tradition regarding the use of Latin type in Turkey seems to be on its way to being redressed by young Turkish designers and it is clear that an awareness of the need to study typography is understood at the higher levels of education in Turkey too. So, the idea of transmitting some knowledge of the origins of roman type seemed to fit nicely within the more general scheme of "Encouraging typographic literacy in Turkey" which was the reason behind this first ISType.

In my seminar I explained my consideration of roman type as an integral part of the Italian Renaissance. The various revolutions in script that took place in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries have been largely ignored by historians who emphasize the three great arts of painting, sculpture and architecture. This seems paradoxical when we consider that the classical ideals of the Renaissance have been disregarded for many generations while the roman letterforms elaborated for Aldo Manuzio by Francesco Griffo in Venice and first put to use in the De Aetna of 1496 are identical to those that we see and read in our printed books today. Several of these typefaces (fonts) go under the name of Garamond. In fact about half of the books printed in Italy are set in digital fonts that sport that particular name or others with different names that show letters derived from the De Aetna roman. My ISType students told me that "Garamond" is also popular with Turkish publishers too. In 1806, in a note in his translation of Virgil's Bucolics, Firmin Didot explains that the roman types cut by Claude Garamond in Paris around the middle of the 16th century were copies of the De Aetna roman. Thus we can safely say that, with the changes he made to the Jenson model of roman type, Francesco Griffo formulated the main tradition of western typography that continues to this day wherever the Latin alphabet is in use.

Following some demonstrations of humanistic script written in big letters with a flat nibbed pen, I showed how this kind of writing was a starting point and a model for the makers of type in Rome and Venice. But unlike the gothic types that were used by Gutenberg and other printers who followed him in Germany (the rotunda gothic was also widely used by printers in Italy), roman type in its developed phase was no mere copy of script. The first typecutters in Venice (Da Spira and Jenson) produced several lowercase letters of their roman type with some of the attributes of the Roman epigraphic majuscules applied to certain letters. To be more precise, the "epigraphic" serifs typical of those letters substituted the calligraphic "exit strokes" at the baseline of letters f, h, i, k, l, m, n, r and at the descenders of p and q. Letter t kept its exit stroke G and thank God for that, otherwise it would have been extremely ugly with an epigraphic serif at its base. Some calligraphers had already done away with exit strokes and "romanized" p and q but it was Da Spira in 1469 and above all Jenson in 1470 who made these design decisions and determined the details of roman type. Some letters such as e and the proportions of g together with some other significant details were modified twenty-five years later by Griffo in his De Aetna roman of 1496. Basically, these design decisions canonized in the De Aetna roman survive in all classical romans, even in Times New Roman.

The practical work of drawing with soft pencils was the next step and this was the real substance of the seminar. Using blown up upper and lowercase De Aetna letters (x height of about 3 cm) with all their imperfections but with clearly perceivable proportions and fairly understandable distribution of thick and thin strokes, the participants interpreted the letters using a translucent sheet of paper placed above the A3 photocopies. Some followed a "philological" approach with bracketed serifs and "standard" treatment of the letters while others experimented more original ideas for treatment of serifs and other details. This work with pencils follows in the wake of most of the revivals of classic romans that took place at Monotype in England and in recent times even at Adobe in California too. Graphic designers no longer have the "intimate" contact with letterforms that was normal for my generation in pre-digital times. In my opinion, drawing letters with a pencil (a most excellent tool!) or writing them with a flat nibbed pen is a revealing experience for any young designer who has learnt design on a computer. Manual work of this kind still has a role in both the artistic end the commercial sides of graphic design today.

2.Being a rapacious hunter of all kinds of signs and inscriptions from early Roman stuff to spray-can graffiti, I was on the lookout for surprises in Istanbul. On the bus heading towards Taksim Square from the Atatrk airport I noticed road signs in something similar to a standardized sans serif transport alphabet with a few rather weird letters (especially the flattened bowl of a). I saw some original letter designs for shop signs (Makita)... but were they specially designed or did they come from fonts? The former, I think (which makes them unique and more interesting). Apart from the magnificent 16th century lettering on tiles at Topkapi, I was particularly fascinated by the surviving examples of ottoman inscriptions and signs (Ottoman gold). They all seemed to be in very good condition. Ewan Clayton and I wondered about the colours of those inscriptions, which seemed to be standard all over the city: gold arabic lettering on a "blackboard green" background. Is their a special reason for this uniformity? A few shop signs in some of my long-standing favourite typefaces were like bumping into old friends in unexpected circumstances (Excoffon's Banco, Frutiger's Ondine and dear old Novarese's Stop). The metal sheet street signs of Istanbul (Ist street sign) seem particularly well designed in white uppercase sans on a reddish ground. The design is simple and dignified and the street names can be easily read at a distance. I hope that the colour will remain the same and not fade in future decades and that the metal will not rust.

3.This is included in my answer to N.1.

4.I don't really have anything important to say about rituals.

ISType 2011 Interview: Petr van Blokland

1.The topics discussed tried to answers the question what (graphic) designers do in 10, 20, or 40 years time. With the increase of changes in the outside world, the profession of the designer has become a crucial, yet so unclear and undefined, part of future development. With the modest increase of 2.5 time (which is actually more, due to the exponential character of growth) envisioning the profession of designer in the retirement year or 2050 for current students equals an opinion about today's profession in 1900. Shear impossible that. Still, educating students needs vision on what they should and will do. The solution to this problem is to add a layer of abstraction. Teaching students how to learn, how to develop their profession and most of all design their design process and tools, this makes them much more independent that just learning them today's tricks and applications.

2.I don't think I specifically remember signs in shops and streets. Also I am not sure if my Dutch based aesthetics would be an appropriate addition. Besides the fact that Istanbul shows to be one of the most tolerant cities, where different options, religions, cultures and styles can live in a close mix, this seems to be something that others can take as measure, instead of applying theirs on Istanbul. Value and appreciate what you have. Meanwhile it takes designers to foresee future needs and development.

3.Sketching as tool allows the design to skip details that do not matter in a certain stage of the design process. One of the definition of design could be "the management is relevance of details". Working with the wrong tools, such as Illustrator in an early stage of an assignment, allows to spend too much time on details that do not matter at that moment. In many projects much time is spent on details that in a later stage are rejected or taken because there is not more time available to alter them. Also using digital media is an early stage forces designer to tell the audience that "this is just a sketch", where the appearance is obviously not. Sketching makes the designer and others aware of the helicopter view decisions that need to be taken first, before more details can be applied. Also is shows the message that things can easily be changed in that stage, because relatively not much time has been spend so far.

4.Hardly any that I am aware of, and if I have them, they are likely to be changed soon. Predictable work gets boring and soon turns into production work instead of design. I think the awareness of repetition is one of the things a design ought to question, even when the decision is to keep everything the same. Rituals is slave behavior, design is a choice.

Having said that, gaining skill and practice really needs repetitive tasks. Only by doing things over and over again will lead to steady sketching, writing, knowing. This paradox is something that the designer should be aware of, value and appreciate, and keep in balance.

Maybe the one symbolic ritual I allow myself is to start fairly often with a black document, and start existing projects from scratch, not matter if this is a drawing project or a programming project. Starting clean now and then, really enforces to think clear on running projects, it is a way to get rid of old and obsolete details. Only the best of the past is getting into the new version again.

ISType 2011 Interview:





ISType 2011 Interview: Karel van der Waarde

1.My presentation tried to build an argument how 'typography' could fit into graphic design education on a BA and MA-level. I started by describing graphic design practice. This first part was based on a series of interviews that my research group in Breda (The Netherlands) conducted. It shows that graphic designers, or visual communicators, always consider the combination of visual elements (text, images, schematic elements and inseparable combinations), a visual strategy (the purpose of the elements) and a positioning of the commissioner and the beholder. These three form the traditional basis of a visual argument: visual elements follow logical reasoning, visual strategy follows rhetorical rules, and the positioning considers the dialectical approach. Considering a visual argument is only a part - albeit the most characteristic - of the activities of graphic designers. They also need to 'plan and manage projects', 'present in written and spoken form', 'test and evaluate' and to 'prepare for production'. Furthermore, they need to consider the situation they work in, select a particular problem within this situation, and consider a specific approach to the problem. The last consideration is related to the personal development and reflects if a project really fits into a personal long term strategy.

The second part of my presentation focused on the reliability of typography books which claim to describe best practice. A simple experiment in which 110 'well designed annual reports' were evaluated showed that none of the reports followed the published advice. However, the measurements showed that graphic designers clearly follow patterns that relate x-height and line space. There is a clear discrepancy between the ways typographers practice, and the ways the handbooks write about it.

The third part showed the consequence of the unreliable advice in typography textbooks. In a remote area of graphic design, the design of information about medicines, the 'rules' mentioned in the typographic books are used as a basis for European Guidelines for the design of medicine boxes and package leaflets. The result is that the European guidelines are very hard to apply, and it is impossible to check if the design of a box or a leaflet follows these guidelines. As an example, the European guidelines advice that 'Line spaces should be kept clear'. Based on these first three parts, an approach for typographic education was presented. This is based on an integration of typography within the consideration of a visual argument as part of the activities of graphic designers. This approach relates typography education with research, theory and commercial practice. However, in order to do this, some substantial experimental work in typography education needs to be conducted to make sure that teaching is effective, efficient and enjoyable.

2.Nothing really. I would just record the variety and make sure that the best examples are preserved. It is this spectacular diversity that is dazzling. Collecting and preserving is already worthwhile.

3.Sketching is absolutely essential as long as it seen as a combination of writing and drawing - there is no difference. It comes down to visual thinking. While you are drawing or writing, ideas develop. This is a specific kind of drawing. The 'aesthetic quality' of a sketch is irrelevant, as long as it records and provokes thoughts.

4.Waking up early - between 5.30 and 6 - every morning. This gives me some extra hours every week that I can work undisturbed. No phone, no e-mails, just quiet hours.

ISType 2011 Interview: Onur Yazicigil

1.I introduced an experimental method that I created named Text Invader, which is a system of typographic interventions that aims to bring about a typesetting environment that automates the aesthetic as well as contextual concerns previously manifested in the output of deconstructivist typographers throughout the 20th century.

2.As someone who has been living in Istanbul for the past 2.5 years, I have been struck with the range of aesthetic decisions that are taken by the locals for their shop signs. In certain neighborhoods you would feel the trace of the Arabic typography, which was written and based on an entirely different convention than the current Latin letters. You could encounter such shop signs written in Latin letters but visually dressed with Arabic flavor. Sometimes this hybrid form comes across to me as Frankenstein looking letters, but often time they are quite unique (just like Frankenstein!) Aside from the aftermath of the harsh script transition that occurred in 1928, one may also experience the unregulated, sole freedom of the use of typography in the city from street signs to shop signs. The incompatibility between these shop signs, in turn, emerges a very unique gestalt in which makes us perceive the overall aesthetics as a unified and self-regulated identity. Some people may see the street signs in Istanbul as a visual pollution. I would understand that view; however, I would not dare touch the current organic visual structure of the city. It certainly has its own eco system where each aesthetic decision taken decides its own life span due to the overall living visual structure. Regulating and forcing certain typographic styles on specific areas would be nothing but dictating a self-regulated visual structure.

3.Although my workshop involved topics such as automated and computer generated graphics, every bit of the workshop depended on one's hand-brain coordination. Meaning, the ability to sketch and then digitize and embed the graphics as virus letters to intervene with the semantic patterns found in continuous text. I think sketching and hand skills are crucial in one's understanding of the world. They are the representatives of your perception. They speak your attitude hence help you formulate your visual expression.

4.I am not a very ritualistic person, but perhaps I do have certain repetitive actions that I follow most days. The top one would be drinking my coffee and then taking my dog out for a walk. Before I had my dog I would take myself out of the house, now its even better, we both go out.