You Look Like the Right Type

In a daily ritual since 2008, exact-dialogue fragments of overheard conversations are made into illustrated quotes

Mark Addison Smith
Associate Professor
DePaul University

On November 23, 2008, in the Chicago downtown loop, while hurrying to catch the subway, a young woman approached Mark Addison Smith and asked for a cigarette. “I don’t smoke,” he said. She snapped her fingers and replied: “Ahhh, you look like the right type.” Suddenly and strangely inspired by the exchange, he raced home and illustrated their brief conversation with expressive hand lettering, and a daily artistic practice was born.

In a daily ritual since 2008, Smith redraws exact-dialogue fragments of overheard conversations as 7×11-inch India ink works-on-paper, combining verbatim, hand-drawn text with visual and tonal embellishment; he often draws more than one quote per day. For gallery installations and artist’s books, Smith edits the single drawings into larger, theme-based conversations between people who have never met or exchanged words. When amassed together as modular narratives, the black and white drawings—voiced by strangers and collectively titled You Look Like The Right Type—share grayscale conversations across time, place, age, and gender (the who, what, when, where, why, and how of documentary storytelling). And the audience, as interlocutor, triangulates the conversation by reading that which was once spoken (a tenet of grammatology) and making their own non-linear, grayscale associations between text, image, and completion of what’s left unsaid.

https://www.markaddisonsmith.com/you-look-like-the-right-type

November 2023 marked the fifteenth anniversary of Mark Addison Smith’s You Look Like The Right Type archive, now containing over 6,000 works-on-paper; he has never missed a day of eavesdropping and drawing other people’s words since he first began this series.

Select exhibitions:

In 2023, McMaster Gallery, within the School of Visual Art and Design at the University of South Carolina, celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of You Look Like The Right Type with an exhibition of Smith’s drawings, artist’s books, and sketchbooks. The exhibition spotlighted drawings Smith generated during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, in which he held remote conversations with strangers across the world and translated their words into drawn, visual essays of how they were grappling with the pandemic.

In 2019, The Bakery Atlanta, co-presented by Atlanta’s Eyedrum Gallery, celebrated the tenth anniversary of You Look Like The Right Type with an exhibition of 365 drawings.

Other solo exhibitions include Chicago’s Center on Halsted Gallery, where Smith showcased the original 24 drawings from his Years Yet Yesterday drawing series, sourced in language spoken by gay rights activist Larry Kramer, to commemorate World AIDS Day.

Group exhibitions include the Center for Book Arts in New York, Co-Prosperity in Chicago, Hegyvidék Gallery in Budapest, the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York, and Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA).

Mark Addison Smith’s type specimens and broadsides are included in the permanent collections at Emory University, the Kinsey Institute, Leslie-Lohman, Ringling College of Art and Design, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Select interviews with Mark Addison Smith about this work:

Steven Heller, “The Daily Heller: Drawing to Manage Stress,” PRINT, July 1, 2022.

Debbie Millman, “Illustrating Sound,” The Mic, produced by NYCxDesign, episode one, October 30, 2020. 

Mark S. King, “This gay artist draws what he (secretly) hears you say on the streets,” Queerty, September 5, 2020.

Steven Heller, “The Daily Heller: Typographic Eavesdropping,” PRINT, May 5, 2020.

Kathryn Weinstein, “Sharing Loudly,” Designer, University & College Designers Association, Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2017.

Mark Addison Smith is a queer artist whose design specialization is typographic storytelling: allowing illustrative text to convey a visual narrative through printed matter, artist books, and site installations. With his on-going, text-based archive, You Look Like The Right Type, he has been drawing snippets of overheard conversations every single day since 2008 and exhibiting the works as larger-scale conversations between strangers exchanging words on topics never spoken. You Look Like the Right Type has been featured in All Things Letters, Deadline, Design Sponge, Goodtype, Hyperallergic, I Love Typography, PRINT Magazine’s The Daily Heller, Queerty, MAGMA Brand Design’s Slanted Magazine, and in conversation with Debbie Millman for the very first episode of NYCxDesign’s podcast, The Mic. His artist’s books are housed in over 80 permanent collections and library archives, including Brooklyn Museum Artists’ Books Collection, Center for Book Arts, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Getty Research Institute, Guggenheim Museum Library and Archives, Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection, Library of Congress, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Thomas J. Watson Library, MoMA Franklin Furnace, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California, Smithsonian American Art and National Portrait Gallery Library Artists’ Book Collection, Walker Art Center Archives and Library, and the Whitney Museum of American Art Frances Mulhall Achilles Library. Smith holds a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication Design from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

From Bricks to Pixels: The Evolution of Banna’i Kufic

During the prosperous Islamic era, Persian architecture began to incorporate calligraphy as an ornamental element in mosque design

Sajad Amini
Assistant Professor
DePaul University

By exploring the historical roots of calligraphy and typography in one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, we can uncover the origins of some genuinely captivating scripts that still serve as powerful symbols of Arab and Persian cultures today. This narrative commences with the Islamic doctrine’s prohibition of natural imagery, prompting Iranian scholars and calligraphers like Ibn Muqla (10th century) to craft various distinctive scripts, including Naskh, Muhaqqaq, Rayhani, Thuluth, Riqa’, and Tawqi.’

During the prosperous Islamic era, Persian architecture began to incorporate calligraphy as an ornamental element in mosque design, sparking the creation of a new script known as Banna’i Kufic (Banna in Farsi means building), often referred to as Square Kufic. This progressive typographic approach borrowed the square and solid geometric characteristics of its foundational structural components: bricks. It’s noteworthy that Square Kufic’s minimalistic design coexisted alongside complex calligraphic scripts like Thuluth. Diacritics were deliberately omitted, pushing the boundaries of typography to extremes and enabling the intricate formation of holy names and Quranic verses. Architects ingeniously intertwined two or more texts by manipulating negative and positive spaces. The fundamental structure of Square Kufic bears a striking resemblance to the inherent nature of pixels and the constraints of early computer graphic art. Banna’i Kufic’s modular design and adaptability have allowed it to endure as a versatile typographic foundation still in use today.

This presentation will provide an in-depth exploration of the historical underpinnings of the Banna’i Kufic and its structural rationale and aesthetic through the design lens.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.2: Annual CAA Conference 2024 (Hybrid) on Thursday, February 15, 2024.

Tangible Graphic Design 

Lee is committed to making the field of art and design more diverse and inclusive with people from diverse ethnic, cultural, social, and economic backgrounds.

Taekyeom Lee 
Assistant Professor
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The project, Tangible Graphic Design, was initiated during Taekyeom Lee’s graduate study. The eye surgery and the face-down recovery were life-changing experiences academically and personally. For a young graphic designer and an international student, it was a horrifying experience, especially the surgery. A gas bubble injected into the eyeball applies gentle pressure and helps the detached retina to reattach to the eyeball. It took almost three months to recover fully. After the surgery, Taekyeom Lee was fully healed, but it left minor vision issues. This invisible disability made Taekyeom Lee embrace the experience and initiate a new graphic design project with vision, tactility, design, and materiality.

Since graduation in 2014, Taekyeom Lee lost access to the ceramics facility. It inspired him to build DIY 3D printers to work with various conventional and unconventional materials in three-dimensional printing. The most exciting feature of these Do-It-Yourself 3D printers is that anyone can be a tool maker building affordable machines and customizing them for individual creative practices. The project was a self-funded low budget project. Since Taekyeom Lee SNS went viral, the project inspired many people across the globe to build their own 3D ceramic printers. During the artist in residency at the Internet Archive, Taekyeom Lee created and shared the detailed plan and instructions online to make it accessible to everyone.

Designers can use various printing techniques to produce visual materials and solve visual problems. Since the invention of printing technologies, type designers have spent hundreds of years developing impeccably proportioned, beautiful typefaces to use on flat and static space and print technologies to support the perfection of printed materials. Digital fabrication can change the notion of printed text and how we experience materialized type since the tangible type does not lie on the static surface or live on-screen as a mirrored image. Digital fabrication, particularly 3D printing, has become more refined, common, and accessible. These new technologies have introduced new tools for pushing the boundaries of typography both in terms of concept and medium. 3D-printed tangible graphic elements acquire characteristics such as dimension, structure, materiality, and even physical interactivity. For this project, various conventional and unconventional materials in 3D printing were used to explore both the challenges and potential for typography. 3D printed tangible type not only amplified visual but physical interactions. The tangible type provides engaging tactile experiences, which would be more intuitive, expressive, and memorable.

Humans have five basic senses. Sensing organs send information to the brain to help us perceive the surroundings and the world. The sense of touch is the first sense to develop, and we have the largest sensing organ for touch as touch occurs across the whole body. Visuals and touch are closely linked together, although touch is fundamentally a non-visual perception. Touch can enhance and reinforce the user’s experience with the text, and the idea has been done with traditional printing methods.

The 3D printed embosser and other tangible graphic design applications combine both senses. The concept of the embossing technique can trace back to the cylinder seal, invented around 3500 BC to make an impression in wet clay. As this new embosser is portable, affordable, and customizable, there are a few possible applications. It can be used for participatory activities for promotional events and campaigns. It provided not only visual experiences but also engaging physical experiences. Not like today’s digital printing, the process involves a rich tangible experience, which is more intuitive, fun, and memorable. As the outcome provides a three-dimensional experience and substance, with braille, it could be developed for people with vision impairment.

Through his research, Taekyeom Lee has tried to bridge different areas of art and design. There are more design tools and processes in different industries, such as product design, architecture, sculpture, and metal smithing that have been working with various physical media. The tools and processes those areas have developed could be adapted to graphic design education. An extension of the project addressed how dimensional typography could utilize Rhino, computer-aided design (CAD) software, and Grasshopper 3D, a visual programming language run within Rhino, could be implemented in design processes and methods for typography in graphic design education. They bring extended physical experiences in typography from computer screen to physical space to enhance the interaction of typography directly. The outcome of the method was exhibited via many exhibitions.

Diversity is more than just a popular buzzword in discussions about art and design, and education. Taekyeom Lee is committed to making the field of art and design more diverse and inclusive with people from diverse ethnic, cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. As a first-generation college student and a foreign-born (Korean-born) designer, Taekyeom Lee wants to create opportunities to appreciate and embrace diversity and inclusion. Hangul Alphabet typeface highlights intercultural and bicultural experiences between Korean and English. Currently, Taekyeom Lee is working on a collaborative project with a group of design educators.He is very interested in supporting the new generation of artists and designers using emerging technologies such as 3D printing, digital fabrication, and creative coding.

The next chapter of my research is called Graphic Design for Accessibility, based on years of experience working with tactility as a graphic designer. Crafting better and more accessible experiences for people with low vision and vision impairment has been demanded. Fostering accessibility is inevitable. It will be developed as a regular course to embed my research and practice into my teaching and increase the understanding of diversity and inclusion for future graphic design students. The course will be an introduction to visual communication design for accessibility. Fostering accessibility in Graphic Design education is inevitable. This direction has excellent potential as a future design research project.

Biography

Taekyeom Lee is an educator, multidisciplinary designer, and maker. He is currently an Assistant professor of Graphic Design at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He received an MFA degree in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research explores unconventional materials and alternative solutions to create tangible typography, graphics, and even designed objects using digital fabrication. He infused 3D printing into his research and has been experimenting with various methods and materials. He presented through national and international conferences, including AIGA Design Conference, AIGA DEC, UCDA Design Incubation, DEL, ISEA, IEEE VIS, ATypI, TypeCon, Education Summit, Tipografia México, and NCECA. His work has been featured in various media. His research draws attention nationally and internationally. He exhibited his work and provided workshops and lectures across the country and abroad.

Chicano Independent Publication Masthead Design

Made during research visits at university libraries in Texas and California, hubs of the Chicano movement.

Joshua Duttweiler
Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Alexandria Victoria Canchola
Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

We demonstrate how the design of Chicano independent publication mastheads from the 1960’s and 1970’s in the United States used the visual language of the Chicano community to engage directly with their audience. In publication design, mastheads serve as the reader’s first indication as to a publication’s purpose and credibility. Our analysis of these independent publications is based on observations made during research visits at university libraries in Texas and California, hubs of the Chicano movement. Based on our research, the mastheads used typography, icons, and organization symbols to attract readers in service to the publication’s goals of raising awareness on local issues such as labor inequality and racial violence. The efforts made by these publications not only mobilized their audience to fight for social justice but utilized visual means as a way of uniting their readers toward a cause.

These Chicano publications, not typically referenced in the traditional white graphic design canon, provide an opportunity to learn from past designers in a parallel time of societal unrest and analyze their successful methods of advocacy and activism. The political climate of the time cultivated diverse printing practitioners; far different than the editorial staffs we see today. Activists, many without formal design training, worked to combine text and images into design that would speak to their audience. By observing the evolution of masthead design throughout the Chicano movement we can observe the progress of the publication designers’ skill as they sought to increase their audience and ability to communicate.

By understanding the role and unity of the visual language of independent Chicano newspapers, we encourage designers, historians, and students to further investigate the design semiotics of community-focused publications both within its historical context and contemporary practice.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.2: Annual CAA Conference 2023 (Virtual) on Saturday, February 18, 2023.

Subject, Material, Tool: A Strategy for Harnessing the Visual Communication Possibilities of Physical Materials

A set of limitations designers can play with in order to get the most image-making possibilities out of any given material

Anne Jordan
Assistant Professor
Rochester Institute of Technology

I am a book cover designer. My work consists primarily of typography as image. I aim to find that perfect point of verbal-visual connection, where what the title says and how that typography was made snap into place to reinforce each other. I do this by incorporating image-making techniques that harness the visual communication possibilities of physical materials.

Over the past fifteen years, I have developed a unique process to turn these physical materials into engaging digital images that I call “Subject, Material, Tool.” This process is a structured way to create images in which the materials used to make the images both form and inform the meaning of the typography.

“Subject, Material, Tool” is a set of limitations designers can play with in order to get the most image-making possibilities out of any given material. Essentially, it prompts designers to examine each material through three distinct lenses: as a subject, as a raw material, and as a tool. My presentation will demonstrate exactly how “Subject, Material, Tool” works via a series of applied case studies in book cover design.

I am also a design educator at the graduate level and have used “Subject, Material, Tool” as a creative prompt in the classroom with great success. My students have benefited from learning “Subject, Material, Tool” because it provides them with a concrete strategy for coming up with ideas and creating images, significantly improving their creativity in the image-making process. I will share several examples of student work as evidence of such.

Image-making, the verbal-visual connection, and type as image are topics that have been well researched by colleagues such as Nancy Skolos and Thomas Wedell, Cassie Hester, Annabelle Gould, Renee Seward, Keetra Dean Dixon, and others. This is for good reason, because finding an ideal verbal-visual connection is one of the biggest challenges designers face. “Subject, Material, Tool” fits into this area of research, but is different from existing research. “Subject, Material, Tool” is a new take on the image-making process, offering a unique structure and point of view, therefore adding valuable scholarship to this important area of research.

This presentation will be directed at design educators looking for ideas about teaching process in their classrooms. “Subject, Material, Tool” is specific enough to be helpful, but open enough that it can be broadly used across many areas of art and design.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Towards a Typographic Pluriverse

The notion of decolonizing type is massive in scope: from its history, to its design, application, technology, and future.

Laura Rossi García
Professional Lecturer
DePaul University

This research examines the history, practice, and pedagogy of typography. Typography is at the core of design—both implicit and explicit in its role in shaping language, culture, and power structures—but it is mired in “racial homogeneity and dominated by white men.”1 The selection, use, and application of typography—from style to legibility—can uphold or disrupt dynamics of power: who can read it, who uses it, who made it, whose voice does it carry—human, machine, the included or the excluded. While there is great movement to decolonize design, less is happening specific to decolonizing typography, or decolonizing type pedagogy. “Letterforms are loaded cultural objects” 2 —a container for language— and an “extension of the spiritual, social, political, and historic mind-set of nations”.3

The very notion of decolonizing type is massive in scope: from its history, to its design, application, technology, and future. How do we broaden and re-frame the structures and systems that exist in order to make room for oppressed and marginalized voices and make inclusive the societies in which we live? This presentation will introduce a series of case studies that serve as examples for how to reconsider the very root of thought around type systems and their effects and influence on our students, the field of design, and ultimately our products, systems, and societies.

1. Munro, Silas. “Typography as a Radical Act in an Industry Ever-dominate by White Men,” AIGA Eye on Design, August 26, 2019. Accessed: December 15, 2020. URL: https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/tre-seals-is-turning-typography-into-a-radical-act/
2. Munro, Silas. Ib, id.
3. Shehab, Bahia and Haytham Nawar. “Early Arabic Printing” in A History of Arab Graphic Design. American University in Cairo Press: 2020. pp. 29-41.

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.

Social Media as Design-Writing Process Tool

This process relies on steps familiar to designers: problem identification, research, and the cyclical process of iteration, making, and user testing.

Dori Griffin
Assistant Professor
University of Florida

Writing, like design and design education, is an iterative process which benefits from informal peer critique.  Type Specimens: A Visual History of Typesetting & Printing (Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming December 2021) is a global narrative of typographic history. It considers the problem of typography as a tool of capitalism and colonization and — according to Reviewer Two — “irresponsibly shows beginners too many [global] examples that aren’t canonical.” The Cary Fellowship at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Design Incubation Fellowship, among others, have supported its development. Throughout, social media played a key role as a process tool in the book’s research-writing-design. This approach echoes how designers and educators deploy informal peer critique in the studio as a community-driven teaching and learning tool. This presentation explores how social media can support meaningful design-writing scholarship. This process relies on steps familiar to designers: problem identification, research, and the cyclical process of iteration, making, and user testing. As design develops a disciplinary literature of its own, designers can bring visual ways of knowing and learning to the process of writing our own diverse and often previously unknown histories. We can leverage tools seemingly alien to the scholarly writing process: sketching, informal peer critique, and social media texts, images, and discussions. I’ve approached Type Specimens as a project framed by code-switching and multilingual text production; the visual is, after all, a set of languages. Social media has been a powerful tool to fuel and document this process. This presentation shows that journey.

One Year On: Reflections on the Launch of the Chinese Type Archive

An open, collaborative index of Chinese typographic resources consisting of typefaces, bibliographic resources, and conceptual terminology

Caspar Lam
Assistant Professor of Communication Design
Parsons School of Design

YuJune Park
Assistant Professor of Communication Design
Parsons School of Design

Within Chinese typography, the lack of common reference points and conceptual frameworks have made it difficult for students and designers to understand this area of design. To address this gap, the Chinese Type Archive was launched at the start of 2020 as an open, collaborative index of Chinese typographic resources consisting of typefaces, bibliographic resources, and conceptual terminology. Conceived as a purpose-built resource dedicated to bridging and creating cross-cultural connections between Chinese and Latin typography, the Archive provides easier access to hard-to-find typographic material through linked data, lists of previously unnamed historic typefaces, and tracking of evolving conceptual terminology. In its origin, the project reflects a broader wave of renewed interest in Chinese typography from practitioners over the last decade. The first phase of the project began with a seed collection of data, university and design organization funding, and several rounds of technical iteration before its beta launch.

Now, one year later online, we present our continued progress with the project with reflections on community feedback and the project’s iterative methodology. These have led to new insights on barriers-to-entry, the cataloguing process, and the formation of online communities with networked, crowdsourced knowledge. Beyond the immediate impact on the discussion of global typography, the project has raised new questions on how designers should conceive of typography. In addition, the project has tangible ramifications on our idea of collections as a way of creating new sources of design knowledge that can engage designers at any level: student, professional, educator, and researcher. The insights gained from this case study has direct ramifications on design pedagogy and practice, particularly in how the acts of collecting and cataloguing can be powerful methods for learning, contextualization, and critical making.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.2: 109th CAA Annual Conference on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.

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.