"The designing of whole alphabets and the study of historical letter forms remain indispensable to the teaching of the form. At the same time, however, new paths must be explored so that a sense of the finest distinctions can be cultivated, so that the basic elements of our letters can appear in a new form, and so that those special abilities for combining are developed which lettering will demand in the future. The creation of all those symbols and logotypes which are an ever and more striking feature of the world in which we live calls for a new and fresh approach to lettering on the part of the designer. In these logotypes the combination of letters can be more or less obvious; but only deliberately contrived encounters of elements and confrontations of values can lead beyond the letters to new forms of expression."
- Armin Hofmann, 1965
from Graphic Design Manual, Principles and Practice
I was young and impressionable the first time I heard an Autechre track. It was illuminating, to say the least, and changed the way I thought about music. In my young mind it was impossible to separate the sound of Autechre from the look of the sleeves, created for them by The Designer's Republic. The sleeves were similarly enlightening.
It is only fitting that my first post would be about Emil Ruder’s masterpiece, Typographie. I bought my first copy in 1994 from Recycled Books in Denton, Texas. It was a 1982 paperback repress, which left out the chapter on color and was reformatted to a portrait style. I was broke, but felt obligated to buy this book. Career wise, it was probably the best money I’ve ever spent; it also started my book addiction.
Typographie sat around my apartment for a while and I would read bits and pieces. Eventually it became commonplace for me to pick up the book and just stare at each page for an extended period of time. After doing this for almost a year, I had a breakthrough. For the first time, I felt like I really understood what Ruder was teaching about space, juxtaposition, layout, and geometry.
Looking back, this manual was the cornerstone of my education in design. It taught me so many things that schools do not teach, and with authority. Ruder could do this with ease, because he taught typography for over three decades, published Typografische Monatsblätter, and helped start the International Center for the Typographic Arts–and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are very few people that have credentials as solid as Ruder’s, and he has the work to back it up.
It’s hard to totally explain the design environment in the early 90’s. In my opinion, design was interesting, but 99% of “graphic design” was “cleverly-boring” work for businesses. The professors in collage poised you for doing that type of work. I was attending the University of North Texas and they would bring in some great speakers. The first one that ever clicked with me was Dana Arnett from VSA Partners. He was a wilder guy, rode a motorcycle, and wore crazy jewelry. At one point in his speech he showed some of his ideas on a bar napkin and this just blew my mind. He made it seem like you could actually have fun with the creative process, something I knew little about. Then Gert Dumbarvs spoke and really opened up the flood gates (with beer, not water) to my misconceptions.
In college, we learned about everything that Ruder talks about in his book, but the modernist ideals were not there. In the 1990’s, the tone is more relaxed and there are some rules, but they are not rigid. Ruder’s tone is anything but soft. He has specific rules with concise ideas and I ate it up. I became versed on how to juxtapose type, how to use geometry in design, and learned about the relationships of objects within space. These concepts are easy to find now and some are actually are superficially “in style,” but back then you had to dig deep to find this information. Typographie covers a wide range of topics and takes the reader from the origins of type layout through the International Typographic Style. No design book collection is complete without this manual, or education complete without reading this at least once. This book is distributed and sold by, RAM Publications.