Category: staff

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

 

Chinese publishing collaboration proceeds

Group photo of the speakers and organisers of the Creative Chinese Character Industry Symposium

The inaugural symposium of the Creative Chinese Character Industry took place at the Beijing Convention Center on 3 and 4 November. The symposium brought together speakers from different areas of research and professional practice relating to the Chinese script: linguistics, Sinology, typeface design, publishing, and calligraphy. The symposium concluded with the preparatory work for the founding of the Chinese Character League, an interdisciplinary body bringing together organisations and agencies, including the Chinese Character Museum in Anyang.

In addition to speaking at the Symposium and being invited to act as guide for the CCL, Gerry Leonidas had the opportunity to update plans for a project, supported by the University of Reading and ATypI, of publishing key typography texts in Chinese. The first title in the series, Jan Middendorp’s Shaping Text, is nearly out of print already; below, Gerry holds the proof edition of the second title, How to create typefaces by Cristobal Henestrosa, Laura Meseguer, and José Scaglione. The series extends to twelve titles, with a schedule of publishing two titles per year.

Gerry Leonidas holds the proof copy of How to create typefaces

Fiona Ross awarded the TDC Medal

 

The New York-based TDC announced that Professor Fiona Ross, a long-standing member of staff in the Department and Curator of the Non-Latin Collections, will be the thirty first person to receive the prestigious TDC Medal. Fiona joins an illustrious list of past recipients which include David Berlow, Colin Brignall, Matthew Carter, Adrian Frutiger, Gerrit Noordzij, Paula Scher, Erik Spiekermann, and last year our colleague Gerard Unger.

Fiona began her career in type in 1978 working at Linotype, where she rose to lead the non-Latin department as the company’s first female manager. She has been responsible for the design of many typefaces for South Asian scripts that have become the standards for reading matter, and sources for numerous imitations. Her work began with typefaces for newspapers, and nowadays extends to the full range of font resources for text typography, from typefaces for online documents to user interfaces, to webfonts. Notable recent projects include her contribution to the typefaces for the Murty Classical Library of India series by Harvard University Press, the Bengali typefaces for the Anandabazar Patrika (ABP), and the Arabic Markazi Text.

Central to Fiona’s contribution is her ongoing research, and her engagement in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. Fiona is a key staff member for our MA Typeface Design programme and TDi summer course, a contributor to the MARes Typography & Graphic Communication and the MRes Typeface Design, and supervisor of many PhDs. She is a key proponent of Collections-based teaching, and in her role as Curator of the Department’s non-Latin Collections regularly leads sessions with archival material for students and researchers at all levels.

More details of the Medal ceremony can be found on the TDC site.

 

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).

Breaking down Barriers wins CIOB award for innovation

Typography students use simulation tools to appraise whether information in everyday contexts are presented in visually inclusive ways

Breaking down Barriers (BdB) – our multidisciplinary inclusive design project – has received a Highly Commended Award for Innovation in Education and Training in the 2016 Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) International Innovation & Research Awards Scheme.

BdB champions a unique cross-disciplinary initiative to embed inclusive design across the University. Our BdB vision is to ensure Reading graduates across all disciplines advocate inclusion in their professional practices and bring real benefits to the everyday lives of all users, particularly people with conditions related to ageing and/or cognitive and physical disabilities. In Typography, we are engaging with inclusive design across a range of professional design contexts, including digital, packaging, print and wayfinding applications.

Typography students say that our BdB workshops have helped them “gain insight as to how thoughtful design can influence other industries and how we as designers must work together with these other industries in order to make the lives of the people that need a helping hand that little bit easier”.

CIOB Innovation and Research Awards highlight the importance of innovation and research in raising performance levels, enhancing best practice and improving the quality of the built environment. The CIOB judges said: “This innovation in education is a practical, engaging and demonstrable way to bring to life a real social challenge with widespread value and application. The innovation shows a genuine commitment to invest in the UK’s building stock and educate the next generation of professionals to ensure the needs of all users of a facility are firmly met.”

BdB began as an exciting collaboration between the School of Built Environment, the Henley Business School and the School of Arts and Communication Design in 2015. Since then we have been joined by staff within the School of Biological Sciences and collaborated with the Centre for Staff Development and, most recently, the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, as well as external partners.

 

Irmi Wachendorff awarded competitive research studentship

Visiting lecturer Irmi Wachendorff

Congratulations to Visiting Lecturer, Irmi Wachendorff who has been awarded a studentship from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation. Irmi’s doctoral research at the University of Duisburg-Essen explores social positioning through typographic variation in linguistic landscapes.

Irmi has joined the Department for the spring term as a visiting lecturer from Folkwang University of Arts. Drawing on her extensive professional experience working in Germany, Switzerland and Australia, she is primarily working with our Part 2 students on practical projects while she is in Reading. She is also leading a new theme in the Design Thinking module: “Graphic design theory: Reflecting practice”.

Staff exchanges play a key role in knowledge exchange and we are pleased to have Irmi with us to share her cross-disciplinary expertise and professional experience. Welcome to the Deparment, Irmi, and congratulations on your achievement!

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.

 

Material histories: Tschichold & ampersands

In the third in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Rob Banham tells the story of Jan Tschichold’s history of the ampersand.

 

Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand) (1953) by Jan Tschichold (at upper right); letter from Sarasin to Tschichold (centre); reprint of Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (2004).
Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand) (1953) by Jan Tschichold (at upper right); letter from Georges Sarasin to Tschichold (centre); reprint of Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (2004).

 

Jan Tschichold and the ampersand

This 28-page booklet (above, displayed open at upper right) is about the history of the ampersand. Published in 1953, it contains a short text by Jan Tschichold and 288 examples of different forms of the ampersand character. The examples range in date from 346 BC to the end of the nineteenth century. This particular copy, purchased on eBay in about 2004, came with a folded letter inside, dated 20 November 1954, written by Georges Sarasin to Tschichold. When I bought the booklet, the eBay listing mentioned the letter but not that the booklet had been inscribed to Sarasin by Tschichold. Nor did it say that on page 16 several errors in the caption numbering had been carefully corrected in pencil, presumably by Tschichold himself.

In the letter, Sarasin thanks Tschichold for sending him the booklet, and remarks on the amount of material collected and the effort this must have involved. He goes on to say, ‘It seems to me that such a publication is of particular importance, apart from the aesthetic pleasure, because it makes it quite obvious what we would lose if we banished capital letters when such a disposable character [i.e. the ampersand] has inspired such artistic achievements.’ Sarasin’s reference is to a debate that had begun in the 1920s when modernist typographers first proposed abolishing capital (or uppercase) letters in favour of only lowercase. This was something Tschichold had supported at the time: in 1930 he put forward ideas for a new script based on existing lowercase forms, and for a new orthography. But he later rejected the proposal to abolish capitals as unworkable.

Also on display are two earlier articles on the ampersand by Frederick W. Goudy and Paul Standard. Tschichold acknowledges both as the source of many of his examples: numerous entries in his list are followed by a ‘G’ for Goudy or an ‘S’ for Standard; those with a ‘T’ are items he sourced himself. Goudy’s article also appears to have provided a model for Tschichold, who reproduced his ampersands at the same size.

While Tschichold’s booklet is an example of his longstanding interest in the history of letterforms, it also demonstrates his mastery of understated typography, and the nuanced use of paper and binding in book design. The Japanese reprint, issued in 2004, is a pale imitation.

 

On display

Jan Tschichold, Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand), Frankfurt: Stempel, 1953
Copy of a letter sent by Georges S. Sarasin to Jan Tschichold, dated 20 November 1954
Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen, reprint with Japanese text, issued to accompany a Tschichold special issue of Idea magazine, 2004
Frederick William Goudy, ‘Ands & ampersands’, Typography, no. 3, 1937, pp. 11–18
Paul Standard, ‘The ampersand – sign of continuity’, Signature, no. 8, 1938, pp. 44–51

 

‘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.

 

Material histories: crossed letters

In the second in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Sue Walker tells the story of ‘crossed letters’.

 

Crossed letters, c. 1880s–1910s, from the collection of Sue Walker.
Crossed letters, 1880s–1910s, from the collection of Sue Walker.

 

Crossed letters

‘Crossing’ a letter was a widely-adopted letter-writing practice. The aim was to save paper and postal charges when – before the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 – the cost of sending a letter was determined by the number of pages it contained and the distance it was sent. After 1840, letters with more than one sheet of paper could be sent cheaply throughout Britain. By the end of the nineteenth century letter-writing manuals and etiquette books cautioned against crossing, as the following quotations confirm:

‘Another practice of the past, now happily discontinued, was that of crossing letters; and two sheets of paper are used if one sheet will not contain all that is to be said. If half the second sheet of paper is left blank it is not torn off, a whole sheet being more convenient to hold and to fold than is half a sheet of paper, and if the last few words are necessary for the completion of a letter they are written on the margin and not across the writing on the face of the pages.’ 
(The correct guide to letter writing, by a member of the aristocracy, 1892)

‘Another almost entirely feminine fault is that of ‘crossing’ a letter. As one of the first requisites of a letter is that it should be distinctly written there cannot possibly be any valid excuse for “crossing”.’ 
(E. M. Busbridge, Letter writing and etiquette, 1909)

Some examples of crossing suggest that people did so to avoid starting a second sheet of paper, as they contain just a few lines written at 90 degrees to the rest. Crossing is also found in letters of a personal or intimate nature, as indicated by salutations such as ‘My own true Ernest’, ‘My dearest Ernest’ and ‘My very dear Ernest’ (see row of three letters, at lower right). Both sides of a sheet fully crossed suggest that in certain instances crossing was a deliberate ploy to disguise the messages within. Some crossed letters, especially those with generous space between the lines, are relatively easy to read. Others are more challenging, though one can imagine the unfolding delight of the recipient as they slowly deciphered a densely crossed text.

The crossed letters shown here are from a collection of family letters given to me by Vivian Wright, a librarian and friend of the Department. The collection is remarkable in its breadth, containing letters sent and received by children in the late nineteenth century, love letters, letters sent and received during the First World War, and day-to-day correspondence from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s.

 

On display

Crossed letters, 1880s–1910s
Etiquette books: The correct guide to letter writing, by a member of the aristocracy (published in many editions, usually undated; on display are editions from 1892 and the early 20th century); E. M. Busbridge, Letter writing and etiquette, 1909

 

‘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.