Category: Collections-based research

Research introductions

In today’s Baseline shift event, research division lead Alison Black, along with other members of staff including, Jeanne Louise Moys, Sue Walker, Gerry Leonidas and Eric Kindel, discussed and showcased a range of different research projects that they have worked on throughout their careers, as well as discussing current and ongoing projects. For Part 1 students, this was a first experience of hearing tutors speak about their personal research interests. Reading is a research-intensive university, and our Department is ranked 1st in the last UK Research Assessment Exercise for the quality of its design research. For many of us, this stat played a part in why we chose to study here.

Jeanne-Louise Moys

Jeanne-Louise Moy’s interest in research began in the 1990s whilst working as a designer in South Africa where, at the time, there were many design projects of national importance – for example, redesigning the flag, coat of arms and currency. Companies began redesigning their identities to align with the new democracy, and designers began to experiment and explore the possibilities of a new graphic language.

From this point, Jeanne-Louise formed an interest in how “good” newspaper designs, that embodied appropriate design theory, contradicted the emerging possibilities of newer publications, and how graphic language can transform across different platforms. With this in mind, Jeanne-Louise began research on the subject of how typographic presentation influences readers’ judgements. Her approach was to translate the complexity of the wide range of possible variations into artefacts, in order to undergo user testing. This research indicated that people tend to form consistent judgments of documents using similar levels of typographic differentiation, even when the typefaces are kept consistent.

Other research projects that Jeanne-Louise has been involved with include working alongside health researchers from the University of Aberdeen as well as working with the Cabinet Office, analysing complex legal documents and how these work as both printed artifacts as well as on emerging digital platforms. More recently, she has been looking at typographic differentiation within digital learning environments, and testing in real environments using real content.

Alison Black

Alison Black described her research approach in 5 fundamental tasks:

  • Examination of small parts of large problems
  • Taking a user-centred approach to problem solving
  • Producing communications that support end users
  • Evaluation to confirm that this support has been realised
  • Developing awareness of information design and discourse about its process

As an example of her work in action, Alison explained the process and execution of a research project that involved designing soil moisture forecasts for farmers in Northern Ghana. This project was carried out by Alison and Matthew Lickiss alongside a research team in the Meteorology Department at the University, who produce climate and weather models from which forecasts can be made. Alison and Matthew’s task was to find out how to make this data interpretable by a range of Ghanaian farmers, some of which were non-readers. This involved user testing with the farmers of northern Ghana to arrive at largely pictorial displays of data . The final product used illustration and limited text, which made it clear and easy to use.

Another research project that Alison discussed was providing information to support carers of people with dementia. Making information manageable, usable and appropriate was the main goal. Alison explained that she began her research by working in discussion groups with carers, which revealed that the had difficulties using the information they had received, with one saying that he kept all the information in a big carrier bag, but never used it. The next step was to make prototypes for user testing and gathering feedback to create a final handbook with clear and visually appealing information about dementia and how to care for for people with the condition.

Recently, Alison also completed a research project that explored the presentation of health claims on food packaging. For this project she worked alongside Lauren Quinn, a part 3 student, who completed this research as part of The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme. They aimed to find out whether or not the heavily regulated health claims influenced the buyer’s decision or whether the packaging design was of more importance. They designed three different variations of packaging, each time varying to graphic style and also prominence of health claim and completed user testing in order to collect data. Overall it appeared that the imagery and design of the pack had a larger impact and was more influential than the health claims themselves. After this event I spoke with Lauren Quinn (pictured below, presenting a poster about the project), who explained how beneficial this project was, and how she learnt a lot of specific research techniques such as collecting qualitative data efficiently.

“I would definitely recommend getting involved in a research project such as this one, as it was a really good experience and boosts independent learning.”

Sue Walker

Sue Walker has a particular interest in children’s books and how information is presented to young children. However, today she discussed a research project that focussed on how you can use an indoor environment to engage people with important topics, such as antimicrobial resistance, titled “IDAPPS – Information design and architecture in persuasive pharmacy space: combating AMR”. The team for this project included people from several different departments in the University including Architecture, Pharmacy and external partners, too. The aims of the project were to reduce antibiotic misuse which could, in the long term, lead to our being unable to use antibiotics to combat microbial infections. With the focus being on community pharmacies, they worked with the Day Lewis pharmacy in Woodley to develop and test design proposals. As Sue has a passion for using archives for research purposes, the Departments collection of Isotype posters detailing how to fight tuberculosis became the starting point for this project, and she began by looking at other examples of Isotype work from the 1920s.

Five different external design teams proposed solutions to the communication problem and Sue highlighted two initial proposals; the first being life-size cutouts of illustrated people which carried messages about antibiotics and were displayed in and around the pharmacy. The second solution were rotating cubes, which each told a different story about resistance when you twisted them. The cubes were accompanied by other communication tools, including knitted bugs, which were inspired by the large shelf of knitting wool displayed in this particular pharmacy. Some of these bugs talk and explain different information about antimicrobial resistance, whilst one of the bugs is made using a thermochromic wool and therefore it changes colour to show a good bug changing into a bad bug. Sue stated that this was a fairly risky and challenging project, involving people from different disciplines, and a lot of information to pull together in a very short time, in order to create a successful outcome.

Gerry Leonidas

Among other roles, Gerry Leonidas is the Programme Director for MA Typeface Design, and Enterprise Coordinator for the School of Arts & Communication Design. He began by explaining how much of his research involves typeface design, which he describes and “a social enterprise”.

Gerry took us through some of the history of typeface design and the research that he has done alongside colleagues. He described Fiona Ross’s current project, looking at the role of women in typeface design history. He explained how these women changed the world of communication, but their names were unfortunately never recorded.

Further discussion was made on how there are different factors that affect whether a typeface work well, and what criteria we can use to judge them. Fonts are to be looked at in the context of their use, and analysed based on their appropriateness.

Eric Kindel

Eric Kindel described always having had a love of graphic design and being interested in how information is presented graphically. In the early years of his research career, he also became interested in editorial design due to his passion for writing and history.

The three research pursuits he spoke about were: print effects, graphic information and stencils (which he claimed to be one of his “nerdy” devotions). Eric showed us some of his early writing on print effects in an  article about moirè effects in print, in Eye Magazine.

In terms of graphic information, Eric has worked with other researchers in the department on the Isotype Revisited project. Some of this research can be seen the isotyperevisited.org website and a number of different elements came out of the research, including an exhibition at the  in Victoria & Albert Museum. Another follow on from this project is the current Picturing science for children, which can be followed on its vibrant twitter account.

Eric has conducted detailed research into the use of stencils. He has been involved in reconstructing all the stencil maker’s tools and desks for stencilling and in order to understand the techniques that have been used historical to create stencil letters. He worked collaboratively with typeface historian, James Mosley, and typeface designer, Fred Smeijers, in this historical reconstruction project. Eric explained how Fred Smeijers made the stencils and Eric used them, as a stenciller would have done, for his research. He showed how combining letter stencils made in two halves make the letter look like it hasn’t been stencilled at all.  He also talked about Benjamin Franklin’s stencil set, and how he has traced the history of the Parisian stencil maker, Jean Gabriel Bery, who made it. Another element of this stencil research includes gathering examples of stencils used for advertisements on walls in 19th century, France. This practice arose to circumvent taxation on paper posters. The research topic is an ongoing one, with a plan for publication sometime soon. Updates to follow on typography.network!

Closing thoughts

Overall, this baseline shift event gave us a great insight into the extensive range of research projects that happen within our department, and it was really interesting to hear about all the different topic areas that staff members have been focussing on. Here is what some of the students who attended the talk had to say about their experience:

“I was quite absorbed by Eric’s research on stencils in terms of seeing it as an alternative to printing at the time and its potential commercial use …but what drew me in most was how the stencils were made. That is what really made me think “Wow this is cool I would love to have done this!””

– Pedro Martins, Part 3

“I thought it was really interesting finding out what research goes on in the Department. I see research staff around all the time but never knew exactly what research topics they are interested in and how they carry out their research. The research that Sue spoke about was really interesting. I also enjoyed hearing about some of the topics that PhD students are working on from their supervisors, as there are so many different routes to go down in design research”

– Katy Smith, Part 2

 

Science communication for children

A new AHRC-funded project begins today. Transforming science for young people: Marie Neurath and Isotype books for children aims to find new audiences for the approach to science communication taken by Marie Neurath in her books for children, produced in the 1940s and 1950s. The illustrations in these books, in series such as the ‘Wonder world of nature’ and ‘Wonders of the modern world’, were innovative in their approach to the design of complex information.

Following on from Isotype revisited, the project will make extensive use of the materials in the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection, to identify approaches to science communication relevant to teaching in primary schools today. We will work with teachers and teacher educators as part of the design process to ensure that their ideas and needs are taken into account. Pilot schools will be involved in evaluating the effectiveness of the resources to ensure they are relevant and effective.

An exhibition at House of Illustration in London in summer 2019, Marie Neurath: Picturing Science, will display examples of Marie Neurath’s illustrations from the children’s books, as well as sketches, drawings and correspondence that show the iterative nature of the design process.

Project people and partners

Prof Sue Walker and Prof Eric Kindel, Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading

Dr Andrew Happle, Institute of Education, University of Reading

Dr Emma Minns (Project Officer)

Partners:

Design Science

House of Illustration

Activity in Antwerp

Our use of the Lettering, Printing and Graphic Design Collections in the Typography Department, and our distinctive approach to collections-based research, was exceptionally well demonstrated at the 2018 ATypI conference in Antwerp. We enjoyed top quality presentations by Typography staff and PhD students. In a conference with over 550 international delegates, who repeatedly mentioned the ‘Reading’ influence in conversations and comments, it was humbling to realise just how influential and significant our work with collections has been in developing new knowledge about type and typography, and in inspiring people to undertake research.

Typography staff

Fiona Ross and Alice Savoie introduced their new Leverhulme-funded project: ‘Women in Type
Eric Kindel: ‘Objet-type: the French stencil letter

AHRC-funded Design Star PhD students

Riccardo Olocco: ‘The success of Jenson’s roman type
Borna Izadpanah: ‘Early Persian printing and typography in Europe

Recently graduated PhD student

Emanuela Conidi: ‘Uncovering Arabic type history, informing design

Letterpress: possibilities & practice

Due to popular demand, now on until 20 July 2018

We’re pleased to announce the continuation of our exhibition, ‘Letterpress: possibilities & practice’, until Friday 20 July 2018. Stop by to see a range of innovative letterpress practices and possibilities. To tempt you, two practices in the exhibition are featured below. Read on!

 

Reconstructing historical typography

Letterpress printing practice encompasses scholarly investigations of historical typography in pursuit of new knowledge. The two examples on display here involve the reconstruction of fifteenth-century relief printing surfaces in an effort to better understand the production of well known incunable works. The type on the left (in the image, below) is a facsimile of that used in Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible, printed in 1455. It has been composed to replicate a page from that book. The type was produced as part a BBC Four documentary, ‘The machine that made us’, on the life and work of Johannes Gutenberg, featuring Alan May alongside Martin Andrews and Stephen Fry. On the right are type and decorated borders and initials that together comprise a speculative reconstruction of the relief surfaces used to print a multi-coloured page from the 1457 Mainz Psalter of Fust & Schoeffer. The reconstruction was part of a research project to investigate Fust & Schoeffer’s probable working methods.

Reconstructing historical typography. Gutenberg, 42-line Bible. Reconstructed B-42 printing type (in vitrine, at left); page printed from reconstructed type (on wall, at left). Produced by Alan May and others, c. 2008 (original: 1455). Fust & Schoeffer, Mainz Psalter. Reconstructed three-colour printing surface; blocks for single-colour pre-inking (in vitrine, at right); printed page (on wall, at right). Produced by Alan May, c. 2013 (original: 1457).
Gutenberg, 42-line Bible. Reconstructed B-42 printing type (detail).
Fust & Schoeffer, Mainz Psalter. Reconstructed three-colour printing surface; blocks for single-colour pre-inking (at right).
Fust & Schoeffer, Mainz Psalter. Reconstructed three-colour printing surface (detail).

 

Re-invention of historical technique

This work has been created by the Leipzig designer, Pierre Pané-Farré. It takes its inspiration from compound-plate printing, a nineteenth-century technique that exploited multiple interlocking printing surfaces. Inked separately (in different colours) and then combined, a single impression would be taken from the interlocking surfaces, resulting in precisely aligned multicolour printed images. Pané-Farré has revisited the technique using laser-cut MDF printing surfaces, which produced the various sets of interlocking components displayed here. Ink was applied to each component in the set, either as ‘flat’ colour or in graduated hues. The set was then printed in a single impression to produce the polychromatic prints. The project was accompanied by the publication of Die polychrome Druckerei (Leipzig: Institut für Buchkunst, 2014), which reproduces the prints in four-colour offset lithography. Pané-Farré cites Michael Twyman’s book, Printing 1770–1970 (1970), and Maureen Greenland’s doctoral thesis, ‘Compound-plate printing: a study of a nineteenth-century colour printing process’ (University of Reading, 1996), as starting points for his work.

Re-invention of historical technique. Polychromatic prints (on wall, 2013–14); Die polychrome Drukerei (book in vitrine, at left, 2014); sets of printing surfaces (in vitrine, 2011–13). All items conceived, designed/written, and produced by Pierre Pané-Farré, Leipzig.
Detail of sets of printing surfaces (laser-cut MDF). Surfaces show the residue of their last-printed colour(s).

Women in Type

Type Drawing Office of the Monotype Corporation in the 1920s. © Monotype

‘Women in type: a social history of women’s role in type-drawing offices, 1910–90’ is a new three-year research project now underway in the Department, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Professor Fiona Ross. The project team includes Dr Alice Savoie and Dr Helena Lekka. For more information about this exciting and timely project, see the Leverhulme Trust’s newsletter for January 2018 (p. 11).

Emigre magazine: design, discourse and authorship

Emigre 11 cover, ‘Ambition/fear’, 1989

 

An exhibition in the Department
12 June – 14 July 2017

Emigre magazine, co-founded in California in 1984 by Rudy VanderLans, was a provocative and highly adventurous fusion of self-publishing, critical writing and experimental typography. This exhibition investigates a key period in the development of graphic design as a form of authorship and shows how Emigre’s page designs and typefaces embodied new thinking about the designer’s role in communication.

Interviews with April Greiman and Glenn Suokko in Emigre 11, ‘Ambition/fear’, 1989. The early issues of Emigre coincided with the adoption of Macintosh computers by graphic designers. Emigre 11 is devoted to a series of interviews with designers about the new tool. The magazine’s pages often offered multiple reading paths.

With an initial print run of 3,000–5,000 copies, the magazine was supported by a design studio, Emigre Graphics, and by a digital type foundry led by VanderLans’ partner Zuzana Licko. Emigre published 69 issues in a range of formats, from tabloid to paperback book, before closing in 2005, and it was probably the most admired, influential and criticised design magazine of its era.

Emigre 15 cover, ‘Do you read me?’, 1990. This issue, focused on new typefaces and legibility, features typeface designs and interviews with Peter Mertens, Zuzana Licko, John Downer, Jeffery Keedy and Barry Deck, among others.

In the 1990s, the idea that graphic design could be a form of authorship was the focus of intense debate among designers. VanderLans created a vital forum for discussion during a period of rapid change and Emigre’s design and content inspired an international network of visual communicators. The magazine was an era-defining example of entrepreneurial design authorship, which still has lessons for self-publishers today, and a platform where designers could explore the relationship of writing and design.

The exhibition, co-curated by MA Book Design student Francisca Monteiro and Prof. Rick Poynor, draws from the University of Reading’s Special Collections and Rick’s personal collection. The display is divided into sections that reflect the range of Emigre’s activities:

Rudy VanderLans as editor
The Emigre type foundry led by Zuzana Licko
VanderLans as a graphic author
The Emigre Music record label
Emigre as a space for collaborative authorship for designers and writers
Emigre considered in context

 

Isotype at the Science Museum

Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the Mathematics gallery. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to the chart ‘…’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).
Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the new Mathematics gallery at the Science Museum, London. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to chart 9, ‘Literacy in England and Wales’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).

The Department has made a long-term loan of Isotype work to the Science Museum, London. The loans are featured in the museum’s new Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, which opened to the public today (8 December). Following a visit to the Isotype Collection, Science Museum curator David Rooney chose examples of Isotype that convey simply and directly the underlying application of mathematics to the production of pictorial statistics. Captions written for the items note Marie Neurath’s early training as a mathematician.

Have you thought about doing a PhD in Typography?

DS ind JB ws thinking TK DB LH

Our experienced supervisors welcome applications in the history, theory and practice of design for reading. Here are some of our recent and current PhD topics

If you have any ideas do get in touch with Sue Walker for an informal chat, and to discuss funding opportunities.

Why not join us as an AHRC-funded Design Star student?

Our Graduate School at Reading is excellent, and provides a stimulating environment.

And the experience we provide in Typography is world leading, not least because much of our PhD work is supported by our outstanding collections and archives, and the research training we provide.

Material histories: Centennial Exhibition stencil

In the last in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Eric Kindel tells the story of a stencil cut to commemorate the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

 

Centennial Exhibition stencil (at right), alongside (from left) Lettering art in modern use (1952) by Raymond A. Ballinger; portrait of Silas H. Quint (no date); and back cover of the catalogue Quint’s stencil, stamp, and letter works (c. 1887–1895) showing a representation of the 
Centennial Exhibition medal.

 

Centennial Exhibition stencil

This stencil (shown above, at right) was made in 1876, or shortly after, by S. H. Quint & Sons of Philadelphia, a company started in 1849 specialising in stencil cutting and the manufacture of pattern letters, steel stamps, seal presses, burning irons, and so on. In 1876, the company displayed samples of its work at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and was awarded a ‘first premium’ and a medal. Apparently to commemorate the award, two elaborate stencils were cut, based on the two sides of the medal. The stencil displayed here, translating the obverse of the medal, depicts the ‘Genius of America’ holding a crown of laurels above the emblems of industry lying at her feet. The four roundels at the cardinal points typify America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, accompanied 
by appropriate symbols.

In 2005, this stencil was offered for auction on eBay, illustrated by several indifferent photographs. Not knowing its identity, provenance, or significance, I put in an early bid of $70, hoping for the best since I was not able to follow the auction to its end. In the event, I won the auction, but only just: a rival bidder had bid up to $69 and then quit. I became increasingly grateful for this fortunate outcome as I later assembled the stencil’s story from Centennial Exhibition records, a Quint catalogue, Frank Leslie’s historical register of the United States Centennial Exposition, 1876, and ­correspondence with Gladys Quint Wigfield, the great grand-daughter of the company’s founder, Silas H. Quint (1821–1897).

In 1952, the Philadelphia-based designer Raymond A. Ballinger published Lettering art in modern use. The book features the partner stencil to the one displayed here; it translates the reverse of the Centennial Exhibition medal. Ballinger encountered the stencil at the Quint company and clearly felt it would make a striking addition to his book. The partner stencil and the medal are still in the possession of the Quint company, which continues in business in Philadelphia, now specialising in the manufacture of photopolymer flexographic printing plates for pharmaceutical packaging.

 

On display

Stencil plate, S. H. Quint & Sons, Philadelpia, 1876 (or shortly 
after), brass
Quint’s stencil, stamp, and letter works, catalogue, Philadelphia, 
c. 1887–1895, back cover showing a representation of the 
Centennial Exhibition medal
Portrait of Silas H. Quint, no date
Lettering art in modern use, Raymond A. Ballinger, New York: 
Reinhold, 1952

 

‘Material histories’ presents graphic communication artefacts with a story to tell. The stories – the material histories – describe the artefacts in particular: what they are about, where they came from, their material qualities, their circumstances of production, how they were acquired, and crucially how they link to other artefacts, narratives and representations.

The exhibition continues until 11 November.