Unknown Pleasures

In recent decades, new technology has had a massive impact on the tools used by graphic designers. Inspired by her latest experiments with hand-drawn type, Sarah Hyndman picks five things which have all but disappeared from the modern day design studio…

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Illustration by Sarah Hyndman

Interrogating letterforms through drawing is a revealing way to understand the shapes that make each typeface unique, it also reveals how different styles are often created as a direct result of the tools used to design them.

Design studios have transformed as technology has evolved, starting with the arrival of the printing press in Germany in the 1400s. Change is ongoing and activities that seem normal and everyday quickly become consigned to graphic design history. Here are five activities from the not-too-distant past that some readers might just remember…

1. Hand drawing type

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Illustration by Sarah Hyndman

There is a rich tradition of hand drawing type. Graphic designers drew typographic layouts for typesetters to recreate and print before computers were commonplace in the design studio. Doing this gave them an in-depth understanding of the subtle differences between typefaces, and the confidence to work with a wide range of different styles.

2. Buying fonts on floppy disk

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Illustration by Sarah Hyndman

Before they could be downloaded from the internet, buying a new font meant waiting for the post. It was exciting when it finally arrived on a floppy disk, often with a small gift or printed sample to play with as you loaded it onto your computer.

3. Letraset

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Illustration by Sarah Hyndman

Letraset rub-down lettering was launched in the 1960s and became a design studio essential for the next two decades. The letters were designed for headlines and adverts and reflected the display styles of the moment, such as Shatter, Countdown and Zipper. Looking through the Letraset catalogue is a nostalgic glimpse of fashions in design styles.  

The greatest skill was the ability to seamlessly splice letters together to recreate the letters that inevitably ran out first.


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Illustration by Sarah Hyndman

The arrival of WYSIWYG “what you see is what you get” in the 1980s created a graphic design revolution when, for the first time, designers could see their design ‘live’ on screen as they created it. For the first few years a bitmapped version of the type would appear on the low-resolution screen, the detailed high-resolution version could only be seen once this was printed out.

5. Web fonts

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Illustration by Sarah Hyndman

Until around 2010 designers could only choose from a handful of fonts when designing websites. A brand would be created with a tone of voice and carefully considered typography, but then had to be reduced to a generic system font for its website. Now that technology and licensing laws have caught up, online typography is going through an exciting process of discovery that mirrors the explorations of designers when Apple Macs became available in the 1980s.

In her Type Tasting workshops, Sarah uses a hands-on approach to teach topics ranging from design thinking to type history. This is backed up by research: drawing engages more of the senses, and this is proven to make an experience more memorable and to trigger creative thinking. Sarah's excellent new book How to Draw Type and Influence People (published by Laurence King), is a hands-on activity book that invites you to completely immerse yourself in the world of type – investigating and hacking it for yourself. If you're in London this month, why not pop along to Tate Modern for Sarah's book launch on Friday 21 April at 6PM?

We have three copies of How to Draw Type and Influence People to give away. To be in with a chance of winning a copy, just send an email with 'Sarah H' in the subject box to giveaway@grafik.net, telling us when Sarah formed Type Tasting. Deadline is 18 April 2017.

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