Redefining The Default: Decentering Pedagogical Perspective in the Typography Classroom

Educators need diverse representation in course materials—students must feel seen in order to truly succeed.

Mia Culbertson
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Typography is central to design, yet the standard curriculum centers around Western, able-bodied, straight, white, and male figures, frequently misrepresenting or excluding marginalized communities. In educational and professional spaces, this can have harmful effects on BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled designer and student communities. Creating a typography classroom that prioritizes equitable representation will avoid alienating minority student communities and reduce stereotyping through uninformed design decisions.

There has been a recent push in our discipline to decenter and decolonize our curriculum with the publication of resources like Decentering Whiteness in Design History Resources (Pass et al., 2020) and Extra Bold (Lupton et al., 2021); in this presentation I will discuss the importance of doing so specifically within the realm of typography. As the visual preservation of language, typography can be intricate, particularly when positioned within the larger context of world history. As often seen in other fields, minority communities’ contributions are often excluded from the canon despite frequently serving as the foundation on which Western designers expanded on; for example, facets of typography in the Belgian Art Nouveau movement can be linked to traditional Congolese motifs.  

To send emerging designers out into the world who truly understand the cultural nuances of typography and creating with rather than for communities, educators need diverse representation in course materials—students must feel seen in order to truly succeed. Teaching non-Latin communications such as the ancient Vai syllabary and introducing designers from marginalized communities like Angel DeCora empowers students and ensures these significant contributions to the development of typography are not forgotten or “othered”; it also helps ensure students’ broad perspective and historical context as they develop their own typographic practices, avoiding stereotypes and appropriation in design. Decentering pedagogical perspective in the typography classroom has widespread implications for marginalized student communities and our discipline at large.

The Machine Hand

Contemporary type design history of emulating hand manipulation of a brush.

Ryan Molloy
Professor
Eastern Michigan University

Single-line fonts—also known as engraving fonts, pen plotter fonts, and stick fonts—have a long history ranging from architectural hand drafting to use on pen plotters and engraving devices. As applications of digital fabrication—cnc milling, 3D printing, laser engraving, pen plotters, and craft cutters—have become more commonplace the demand for single line fonts has increased. Majority of the fonts produced and used today are outline fonts, enclosed and filled vector graphic forms. In contrast, a single-line font is composed solely of single vector lines (not enclosed). In applications of digital fabrication the use of single-fonts significantly reduces production time because machine paths are not duplicated.

Contemporary type design has long had a history of emulating the contrasting strokes created through hand manipulation of a brush. The increased demand from maker communities for single-line fonts has led to the development and commercialization of new single-line fonts or tools to convert outline fonts into single-line fonts. However, despite the traditions of type design and the movements of the machine allowing the potential to mimic traditional form of lettering most single-line fonts are designed only for a constant stroke weight. This presentation will showcase a number of personal typographic experiments and typefaces created in an attempt to find novel solutions and applications to the design of single-line fonts. From pen plotters, to engraving, to the creation of letterpress wood type, and drawing inspiration from calligraphy to graffiti the work seeks to ask how can we further reinsert the hand into digital writing.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.1: Oakland University, MI on October 17, 2020.