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2005

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Experimental typog raphy.


Whatever that means.
2010
Gonceptua! Type?
Peter Bil'ak
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E&e
prolects which document the development of desig ners' ideas. Aitention is
paid to the process of creating innovative
solutions in thefield of type design and
typography, often engaging experimen
talprocesses as a meansto approach
An experiment in this sense has no
preconceived ideaofthe outcome; ii only
sets out to determine a cause-and-effect
relationship. As such, experimeniation
is a method ofworking which iscontrary
to production-oriented design, where
the aim of the process is not to create
something new, butio achievean already
known, preJormulated result.
Belgian designer Brecht cuppens has
created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, whichtakes
into account the density ofpopulation in
Belgium. ln Sprawl, the silhouette of each
letter is identical, solhatwhen tYped,
they lock into each other Thefilling of the
letlers, however, varies according iolhe
frequencyof use of the letter in the Dutch
language- The mostfrequently used letter
(e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter
(q) corresponds to the lowst density.

SettinqasampletextcreatesaCuppens
representation of the Belgian landscape.
Another example ofexperimentas a
process of creaiion without anticipation of
the fixed result is an online project. Orthotype trio ofauthors Enrico Bravi, Mikkel
Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma describe
oriho-type as 'an exercise in perception,
a stimulusforthe mind and the eye to
pick out and process thre-dimensional
planes on a flat surface,,.," Ortho-type
is an online application of a typeface
designed to be recognizable in three
dimensions. lneachview,lheviewercan
set any of the available variables:length,
breadth, depth, thickness, colour, and
rotation, and generate multiple variations
of the model- The usercan alsogeneF
ate those varialions as a traditional2D

Postscriptfont.
Although this kind ofexperimental
process has no commercial application,
ils resulls may feed other experiments
and b adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilalod, the product is no
longer experimental. David Carson may
have started his formal oxperiments out of
curiosity, but now sim ilar formal solutions
have been adapted by commercial giants
such as Nike, Pepsi, orSony.
Following this line, we can gofurther
to suggest thai nocompleted projectcan
be seriously considered experimental.
It is experimental on ly in the process

132

mnra I tvp60 r. prry.

wh.1d6r th.l n. m, / Conc.pru.

Typ6 ?

ofits creation. When completed itonly


becomes part of the body of work which
it was meant to challenge. As soon as the
experiment achieves its finalform, it can
be named, categorized, and analyzed
according to any conventional system of
classif icalion and referencing.
An experimental tech n ique wh ich
sfrequenily used isto bring togelher
various working methods that are recoqnized separately but rarely combined.
Forexample, language is studied systemalically by iinguists, who are chiefly
rnterested in spoken languages and in
the problems ofanalyzing them aslhey
operate at a given point in time. Linguisls
rarely, however, venture intothe visible
represenlation of language, because they
consider it artilicialand thus secondary
to spoken language. Typographers, on
the other hand, are concerned withthe
appearance of type in print and other reproduction technologies; they often have
substantial knowledge of composition,
color theories, proportions, paper, etc.,
yet often lack knowledge ofthe language
which they represent.
These contrasting inlerests are
broug ht together in the work of Pierre di
Sciullo, a French designerwho pursues
histypographic research in a wide variety
of media. Histypeface Sint6tik reduces
the letters of the French alphabet to the
core phonemes (sounds which distinguish
one word from another)and compresses
itto sixteen characters- Di Sciullo stresses
the economic aspect ofsuch a system,
with an average book being reduced by
about 30 percent when multiple spellings
of the same sound are made redundant.
Forexample, the French words for skin
(peaux) and pot (pot) are bolh reduced
to the simplest representation of their
pronunciation-po. Words set in Sint6tik
can be understood onlywhen read aloud,
returning the readerio the medievalexpeence of oral reading,
Quantange s anotherfont specific to
the French language. lt is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests
the pronuncialion, rhythm, and pace of
reading. Every letterin Ouanlange has
as many different shapes as ihere are
ways of pronouncing itrthe,etierc, for
example, has hi/o forms because it can
be pronounced ass ork, DiSciullo suqgeststhat Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French
orto actors and presenters who need to
articulatethe infleclional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripls.
This project buildson experiments of
early avant-garde designers, ihe work

of the Bauhaus, KurtSchwitters, and


Jan Tschichold.
Di Sciullo took inspiration from ihe
reading processwhen he designed a
lypeface for setting the horizontalpalindromes of Georges Perec (Perec has
written the longest palindrome on record,
a poem of l,388wordsthai can be read
both ways (see httpr//graner.nei/nicolas/
salocin/ten.renarg//:ptlh). The typeface
is acombination of loweF and uppercase
and is designed to be read from both
sides,left and right. (This is great newsto
every 8ob, Hannah, or Eve. ) Oi Sciullo's
typefaces are very playfu and theirpracticalaspectsare limited, yet likethe other
presenled exam ples of experiments in
typography, his works pointsto previously unexplored areas of interest which
enlarge our understanding ofthe field.
Although most of the examples shown
here are marked by the recent shift of
interest ofEuropean graphic design from
forms to ideas, and the besl examples
combine boih, there is no definitive explanation ofwhat constilutes an experiment
in typography. Aslhe profession develops
and more people practicethis subtle art,
wecontinually redefine the purpose of
experimentalion and become aware of its
moving boundaries. X

Conceptual Typ6?
To begin with, let's beclearthat conceptualtype is an oxymoron, A typeface can t
really be conceptual, because it is dependenton itsexecution- Typeface design is a

craft, so the process that transforms the


pure idea inlo a functionalfont isacritical
part of the discipline. Before the typeface

isexecuted, it is notatypeface;it issimply an idea. Afew years back lwas pad


ofthejury at an art school in Antwerp,
where a student proposed a conceptual
font. lnstead ofdefining the shapes, he
came with a set ofwritien instructions. so
the capitalFwas delined as "lhree evenly
spaced horizontal lines crossing one

verticalline," ltwas fun and veryclever,


buttechnically it was merely a description
(howeverw tty)oflhe alphabet, not a
font, which is based on the repetition

SolLewitt's famous quote 'banal


ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful

execution" does notapplyto type design.


There are plenty of examples of nicely
designed and successfu lly exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere
else is revivalism as popularas in type
design, and recycled versions of proven
models seem to form the core of most
type libraries. Forexample, how many

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ol sapecet 6ulptlnq urorj
suorrecrtddep spurl e urpesn uaaq seq
lr 'oursuacrl .ro1 e|qetrP e u6aq sEq sues
erpel leqlsreel eq] ut 'tasxlu crrqnd aql
o]lrJe]lo pue trtrurel aq] puEdxa plnoc I
se 'uuel re6uot eq] uresrnosrp ur6urssstq
e tnq 1sr

I le luaur]uroddesrp

e se/\^ teq_I

'lleq ldnrq ue ol eurgc luol ale.rod.roc


eql to tueurdop^ep pue'qs[]o66rq e Iq
perlnbce seM !a^eMoq 'luortc leLrl6!o
eqI']e!q s,Iueduro3 eqllo suo[etndls
peu6rsep se
aql o1 6u rproccE
^
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pauorssrLuuroo
trpuE

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aqt aq
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ot lrrol seM sues erpal purqaq uortuslur

6urpuodseroc qlrM seceledA leur6lro


rno]

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lo uorrsaxa aql pue aceFdll aql lo uotl
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'spoldeu4rq lo eapreql pelse66ns pue


scrtaLu tuol lo uooou eql palua^uroqe
aq1 ',SSeL! leCls^tld UeqlrrltEr

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eql urorl aLuoc ouunlceoueu to uerc aql

teur6uo aql otd urexa rol 'tear6 os aq uec


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llo.lauezoM 'enssr lsJrl aql ul 'oueul


leql pelerdrelurleql Moq olsP ruopee4
alatduroc peq sraubrsap aqllnq ''3te'ar

lear pn!l^ uorleuroju(s p)'ecueraqnxa


'uordtar sE qcnsaLuaqlP peq enssrqeEf
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aM 'sau rtd rssrp raLllo ur sueaur ,,lentdac


Lural sqlteqM lootP e^eq s,l3'l

-uoq

zpasu trtPer aM op lres sues tgrlnaN


]o sauo c ro puou.rerec losuors)a^

ssr/r^s

settled on a series of srif typefaces


designed by Giambattista Bodoniin the
late eighteenth century
ln the second step, I tied to identify the
ugliest examples of type that we know.
That was a bit more difficult, butfinally
the prize wentto eccentric ltalian from the
middle ofthe lndustrial Revolution. This
reversed-contrast typeface was designed
to deliberately attracl readrs atlention
by defying their expectations. Strokes
that were thick in classicalmodels were
thin, and strokes that were thin became
thick-a dirtytricklo make freakish letters
that stand out in the increasing ly satu_
rated world of commercial mossages.
This project is not interesting because
oftheforms, which have been explored
before, but because it creates a tight link
between the two extremes, between lhe
beauty and the ugliness. Time willtellif
this projectfinds some suitable application, orwhether it remains purelyan
I

aesthetic exercise, a "conceplual" iyp6.


Adaptd lrom a

elu@ prsnted al the .sfeEnce

Coneptual Type Type L.d by lds

134

in

Copenhagen,

lrlm.ntal tpoebphv. whad.r $.1n6n1 /coneptutr tvD'?