Monthly Archives: April 2014

Just Your Type: SVA Explores the Language of Letters

SVA's special Typography of Language summer program runs June 30–July 24.

SVA’s special Typography As Language summer program runs June 30–July 24.

In June, the School of Visual Arts will launch Typography As Language: Design, History and Practice, a special summer program created to teach designers across a range of disciplines about the powerful language of typography. At Superscript, we are fascinated by the written word—not only by its meaning, but also what its physical form can convey (anyone who’s ever gotten a letter written in Comic Sans MS knows what we mean). So we caught up with program coordinator and Superscript friend Angela Riechers to learn more about the course (@SVATypeLab), which is still accepting applications to fill a few final spots:

Superscript: What are the goals of the class? 

Angela Riechers: Over the course of the summer, each student will have designed a typeface (either from scratch or by adapting a historical face) and planned a specific end use for it. For instance, someone interested in movie titles will figure out what his or her typeface needs to look like, and how it needs to perform, and then present it as an animated opening sequence for a real or imagined film. Someone else might want to develop a hand-lettered font for websites, or environmental signage.

The program will develop skills in digital type design and hand lettering, examine the history of type, and address the need for new kinds of typographies as elements of contemporary language and narrative. Each week will have a different (amazing) instructor who will bring a slightly new shift in focus and information. Research, sketching, hand lettering, letterpress, and digital font construction will all be part of the broader mix.

SS: Tell us about the idea of using typography in contemporary storytelling. What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in this field?

AR: The way a typeface looks communicates its own narrative independent of the words it is used to create and the meaning they impart. The letters are a set of coded ciphers that carry emotion and subtext, providing subtle hints to context and tone. In other words: we notice how the letters and words look, and draw inferences about the message they are conveying, long before we read and grasp the actual content. In the hands of a skilled typographer, someone who knows how to select and combine typefaces with wit and intelligence and understanding, a design becomes far more alluring and powerful. Good typography exponentially increases the ability to communicate content.

SS: What is the current state of typography? Are there certain themes that have come to light recently, and what are the major historical influences for typography today?

AR: The current state of type is extremely robust! Part of the reason this course is so well timed is that typography as a discipline/art /science is no longer contained in the specialized world of designers—it has entered the larger pop culture as a desirable and covetable attribute of taste and sophistication. People who are not designers now appreciate and notice typography, are conscious of typefaces, and want to have beautifully typeset things in their lives: their websites, blogs, business cards, wedding invitations. Imagine the movie Helvetica finding an appreciative general audience 15 years ago!

The main themes I’ve noticed are an amazing resurgence of handwritten lettering in commercial contexts, adaptations of beautiful historical fonts that modernize and streamline them for contemporary uses, and the availability of dimensional vector typefaces made up of layers that can be turned on and off and colored individually for extra inline or drop shadow effects. Redrawing fonts to deliver the same appearance on the web or screen device as they do in their print versions, with all the tweaks that entails, has become a really important part of typographic practice. From a historical point of view, I’d say a renewed appreciation of the vernacular (boxing posters, chalkboards, ghost signs) is very popular at the moment: suddenly we all crave letterforms that convey some sense of time passing and of history, of human hand and craft, not just alphabets made up solely of vector lines and points.

SS: You have to design and name a new typeface right now: what is it called, and why?

AR: I would name it Influence, because the best new typefaces I see lately draw upon such a wide pool of visual references, throw them in the blender and come up with something entirely new and fabulous that still has a firm grounding in history. I like that idea very much.


Please Join Us May 1 for ADBC #6: The Power Broker with Julie Iovine


We hope to see you for the sixth meeting of ADBC, the Architecture and Design Book Club, with our special guest, Wall Street Journal columnist Julie Iovine.

Thursday, May 1, 6:30pm
HMA2 Studio, 1239 Broadway between 30th and 31st Sts, 16th Fl. PH
6:30pm Introduction
6:45-7:30pm Discussion, Q&A
7:30pm Drinks reception

“For once Moses came into possession of power, it began to perform its harsh alchemy on his character, altering its contours, eating away at some traits, allowing others to enlarge. The potential had always been there, like a darker shadow on the edge of the bright gold of his idealism. With each small increase in the amount of power he possessed, the dark element in his nature loomed larger.” Robert Caro, The Power Broker

On Thursday, May 1 at 6:30pm join Superscript and architecture writer and critic Julie Iovine for a discussion of The Power Broker by Robert Caro (1974), an epic account of the rise and fall of Robert Moses, the man who forged the cityscape of modern New York City.

The first in Superscript’s 2014 readings on the theme of “Power,” we’ll talk about Moses’ monumental public works and his growing influence over the decades, as well as draw comparisons with how the city is shaped by the power brokers of today.

Haven’t read all three inches of TPB cover to cover? Don’t worry! The discussion will focus on the following chapters:

(Part IV: The Use of Power)
13: Driving
14: Changing
(Part VI: The Lust for Power)
29: “And When the Last Law Was Down…”
30: Revenge
40: Point of No Return

Pick up a copy of the book at The Strand or at your branch of the New York Public Library. Or, just come to listen in and socialize in HMA2’s penthouse studio with master of the universe views. Special thanks to our event host, Henry Myerberg/HMA2.

About Julie Iovine
Architecture critic, editor and author Julie V. Iovine came to architecture through studying Ancient Greek and hanging out at the Yale Art & Architecture building in New Haven. Iovine spent over a decade as a reporter covering design and architecture for The New York Times, and then served as Executive Editor of the Architect’s Newspaper from 2007 until 2012. Currently, she writes the architecture critic’s column for The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of several books including Michael Graves; Louis Kahn’s Esherick House; and Modern Americana on mid-century regional furniture designers.

About ADBC
Produced by editorial consultancy Superscript, ADBC is a free and public book club. We invite anyone to drop in and join our informal conversations in different venues around the city.
Follow us at @superscriptco


Collage based on photo by Arnold Newman. New York, 1959.