Letters, Symbols & Composition

Typography is a greatly varied discipline, as are the kinds of work typographers are often asked to produce. The aim here is to solve a number of difficult problems using typographic methods culled from the first semester of training in Type I. These include a knowledge of the history of typography; a familiarity with typographic and alphabetic forms; and an awareness of how these forms should be used, either complicitly or resistantly. We will initiate a semester-long discussion about how the way we see words tells us how to read them and vice versa. We will cultivate our own ways of controlling and creating typographic information. We will look more actively at the typographic world around us, and we will learn from those observations and from our own hard work and critical feedback.

The ability to place your work in context with that of other designers and design history is essential. Over the semester I will suggest many books to compliment the projects we’re doing in class. It is not required that you buy all of them, but it is strongly suggested that you seek them out, either at a library or a bookstore. Some of the suggested readings will be essential for completing the assignments.

There will be no midterm exam.

There will be no final exam, but students will be required to present all the work completed during the semester for a final review. At that time any improvements on past assignments will be taken into account and grades will be changed accordingly. Your grade depends on the completion of the assignments on the day that they are due, class participation, periodic reading assignments, and punctuality.


Union Square logo hunt
Logo for a classmate
The Return of Sherlock Holmes cover series
The seven bridges of Königsburg

Union Square logo hunt

Here is your first assignment. There are logos all around you, and for the purposes of this class and for your future work as designers it is good to become aware of them and what you think of them. Break into three teams and go out into Union Square. In one hour, find as many logos as you can in one of the following categories and bring them back to class, in physical, photographed, or sketched form:

Botanical Motifs (Leaves, Trees, Flowers)
Geometric Figures
Greek alphabet
Möbius Strips / Infinity Symbols

Meet back in the classroom and we’ll discuss what your team has found. (List above from Per Mollerup’s Marks of Excellence.)

Logo for a classmate

Go on the Union Square Logo Hunt and discuss.

Lecture: Taxonomic structure of logos.

Readings: Adrian Frutiger: “Development of Form through Writing and Printing Techniques” from Signs and Symbols. Per Mollerup: “History” from Marks of Excellence.

Divide into pairs and interview each other for an hour or so. Get to know each others’ likes, tastes, favorite words, colors, fashions, etc. Take good notes, you will use this information for the next four weeks.

  1. Use the information you’ve gathered in this week’s class to develop a logo for the classmate that you’ve interviewed. Come to class next week prepared to show fifty logo ideas in an organized fashion. From that batch, nominate 3-5 logos to continue developing. We will critique these.

  2. Based on the critique and further development, show how the logos you selected the previous week have progressed. Choose one logo in this group to render in final form. During this finalization process, read pp.69–177 of Paul Rand’s Design, Form, and Chaos to understand what a logo presentation book is, and how to tell the “story” of your logo’s development by thoughtfully introducing and rationalizing its form. Begin gathering materials (writing, illustration, research) for this presentation book.

  3. Present a finalized logo and an initial sketch/comp for your presentation book. We will critique both items in tandem.

  4. Refine the logo and book as necessary. Final critique.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes cover series

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Edition of The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 2005, a prominent New York publishing firm has decided to publish each of the 13 stories separately and release them together in a deluxe boxed set. You have been asked to submit a set of three covers as part of your design proposal. Choose three stories from the list below and become familiar with them. Then design a set of three 24p x 42p book covers to compliment these stories. Designs should not use iconography typically associated with Sherlock Holmes; they should seek to solve the problem in an original way. Designs must function as an identifiable set. Designs may be in full-color or black-and-white. They needn’t be computer-generated. They must relate to the content of stories themselves.

  1. Students present several ideas to the class. Presentations will be formal, either pinned-up or presented in flats on tables. Ideas will be discussed and refined. Students should be familiar with some or all of the stories in order to best participate in the critique. A minimum of three and maximum of ten directions is expected. Students working on the computer must show versions of their work, not just a single solution.

  2. Reading response due for “Paperback Nabokov” due Tuesday before class. In-class discussion of the article “Paperback Nabokov.” Individual meetings. Further refinement and progress monitoring. Final direction selected.

  3. Final critique. Covers should be presented trimmed to size and mounted on a single piece of black foamcore pinned to the wall for critique. Students will make a 5-minute statement of introduction, followed by comments from the class.

Available Titles:
The Adventure of the Empty House
The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
The Adventure of the Dancing Men
The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure of the Priory School
The Adventure of Black Peter
The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
The Adventure of the Three Students
The Adventure of the Golden Prince-Nez
The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
The Adventure of the Second Stain

The seven bridges of Königsburg

In 1736, Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler discovered the solution to a problem that the citizens of Königsburg had argued about for quite some time. He described the problem as follows:

In the town of Königsberg in Prussia there is an island A, called “Kneiphoff”, with the two branches of the river (Pregel) flowing around it. There are seven bridges, a, b, c, d, e, f, and g, crossing the two branches.The question is whether a person can plan a walk in such a way that he will cross each of these bridges once but not more than once. I was told that while some deny the possibility of doing this and others were in doubt, there were none who maintained that it was actually possible. On the basis of the above I formulated the following very general problem for myself: Given any configuration of the river and the branches into which it may divide, as well as any number of bridges, to determine whether or not it is possible to cross each bridge exactly once.

For next week’s class, create a single, black-and-white, 51p x 66p sheet that visualizes the problem and its solution. The purpose of your sheet is to teach others how to solve the Königsburg Bridge Problem, so you must use the tools and conventions of typography to help make the information clearer, and you must use whatever resources you have available to teach yourself more about the problem so that you may thougtfully explain it to an audience by way of your design. You may use one typeface only for your solution. Please note that you only have one week to complete the assignment. Good luck.

This class focuses on critique and working method more than critical reading. Some readings will accompany the project assignments, but there is no master reading list. However, if you haven’t already got it in your library, Robert Bringhurst’s book The Elements of Typographic Style will be indispensible for this class and for all of your future work as a typographer.