Spring 2010

Editorial Eye 75

We all work with words, whether we’re writers, bloggers, editors, Tweeters, curators or designers. And working with words means dealing with typography, which on one level seems so specialised, requiring years of study, possibly a lifetime’s. Yet on other levels type and letters are just part of everyday life, used by everyone, essential and unavoidable.

For ‘They work with words’ (pp.24-37), we invited each of three opinionated and ground-breaking practices to contribute an editorial spread. Fraser Muggeridge Studio takes the lead with some thoughts about the principles of typography; followed by a ‘Laugh-In’ from Jon Link and Mick Bunnage of Modern Toss; and finally the latest instalment of ‘In other words’ by Rory McGrath and Oliver Knight of OK-RM. Following each spread are some examples of their work, both self-initiated and for clients.

In ‘Make each letter speak out loud’ (pp.52-63) we look at the current enthusiasm among designers and art directors for type as illustration. It’s a movement that we’ve noted before (see ‘The designer as illustrator’ in Eye 72) but which shows little sign of diminishing. Somehow, a virtuous cycle of print, online enthusiasm and physical production – posters, magazines, books – has enabled and encouraged a virtual explosion of letter-making activity. And though clients boost the design economy by commissioning custom headlines and individual letters for brand identities, publishing, packaging and advertising, a great many of these designers make work to sell directly to the public.

This unholy union of type design, lettering, calligraphy, craft and graffiti has created a new model for designers who want to take control of their destiny. Liz Farrelly, in her accompanying article, speculates that this is more than a trend, possibly a ‘evolutionary reinvention’ as ‘the written word becomes the visual word’.

We’ve been here before, of course, and one of the most inventive makers of ‘typographics’ was Herb Lubalin, whose spirit hovers over many of these examples: ‘Up close and tight’ (pp.70-73) shows a few examples of Lubalin’s genius for making letters dance and sing on the page.

Type, illustration and graphic design come together easily in the person of Anthony Burrill – almost a British national treasure for posters such as ‘Work hard & be nice to people’. ‘Over the rainbow’ (pp.8-15) documents some of the changes in his practice that have taken place over the past year and a half, which have enabled him to reach a big, popular audience, while being more open to collaboration, and new forms of expression – often without clients.

Like Burrill, Peter Biľak is a multitasking, entrepreneurial designer, but he’s perhaps best known for his Typotheque foundry. In our Reputations interview (pp.38-47), Mark Thomson, who has known Biľak for many years as a collaborator and client, looks at the man behind Fedra (which is also this issue’s ‘guest’ typeface), and the hinterland of cultural enthusiasms that enrich Biľak’s practice.

And it is always interesting to see how many designers have seized the opportunity to make their own graphic products – from Biľak’s diaries and Burrill’s artworks to the hugely popular series of books and branded items (bags, cards, even hand-knitted toys) by Modern Toss. As Jon Link says: ‘‘The only bit I never liked about graphic design was being commissioned by other people.’ Perhaps in Link’s cartoon character Mr Tourette we have the ultimate statement of the ‘designer as author’. JLW