Vouwblad: Presentation

Vouwblad 06 was presented on 26th September 2008 to an audience of 150 people on the machine floor at Lenoirschuring. Presented originally in Dutch the text has been translated into English.

Welcome everybody,

I am very pleased to see that so many of you have made it here to Amstelveen. I would like to thank Arie Lenoir for giving me the opportunity to design and present number six in the Vouwblad series.

As long as I can remember, since my earliest school days, writing has been a problem for me. That is to say: not the writing in itself, but writing without spelling mistakes. Reading was never a problem: I eagerly devoured the maximum three books that you could borrow weekly from the public library. But spelling…aargh!… I was always so conscious of the next mistake I was inevitably about to make. Nowadays it’s termed dyslexia and recognized as a learning disorder; but when I was at school this was not the case.

From reading came a love of words and a passion for the letters themselves. For me it was not only important to spell without making mistakes, it was just as important to write BEAUTIFULLY. Writing for me was never automatic; I always had to battle with the letters, to get them in the right order – at best faultlessly and always beautifully written. Maybe it was that struggle, that made me so sensitive, so conscious of ‘words being a sequence of letters’ and also the form of those letters. People who are dyslexic, are often so called ‘image thinkers’. That is precisely what it is: I did not think in text, I did not see words in front of me… in my head I saw them as an image, most of all the forms of the individual letters, moving around, a kind of alphabet soup.

In my youth I read all the classics, from Jules Verne to Tolstoy and everything in between. I was enamoured with all those beautiful words I discovered; words touched me, words moved me.

When I was twelve I already knew what I wanted to be – a commercial artist. At that time I had no idea that type design was a profession. What a great discovery when I realized that it was possible to change my hobby, actually my passion, into a real job and that is exactly how I got into typeface design. My approach as a typographer/ type designer is to try to give something extra to the words, trying to lend more meaning to the design in relation to the text.

In 1967 – I was nineteen – I started my first job in a London studio. As most of you might remember, text in those days was set in lead. Our studio had a good relationship with a Clerkenwell typesetter with one of the best reputations in London. Last thing before we left the studio we sent our marked up text by courier to them. The proofs were always back the following morning, sometimes still wet and at times we had to use fine chalk powder to help the ink dry.

The process from design to print was a relatively long one, many people were involved: the designer, the presentation artist and then, when the client had approved the design, the typesetter, the photographer, the photographic retoucher, the illustrator, the art worker, the filmmaker, the platemaker, and last but not least the printer. Every task demanded its own specific knowledge – one such being the expert knowledge needed to set good text. Before graphic design was a profession in its own right, the printers arranged the text.

Around 1980 the use of the computer was introduced into graphic design. Certainly the computer was used before (since the seventies), but in the first years the text was still set in a traditional way. It was only with the coming of the personal computer, more specifically the Apple Mac, that most typesetters disappeared in a very short space of time and with them all their expertise; knowledge that had been gathered over the centuries was dissipated.

Designers and Desk Top Publishers now have to look after all these different tasks themselves, whereas before many other professionals were involved, and were needed. This makes designers sometimes ‘Jacks of all Trades and Masters of None’. Let’s be honest, less mistakes were made when all the specialist tasks were done by professionals. Then the designer concentrated on the design; what followed was the remit of colleagues in the whole process to publication. That process was also a social interaction because of the necessity to work together with so many other disciplines.

Nowadays a type or graphic designer is able to work from home, often in isolation, focussed only on the computer screen in front of them; this also happens in studio situations – in studios today there is sometimes an almost deathly hush.

It is definitely not my intention to cast myself as een oude zuurpruim, an old curmudgeon. That the technological changes in our profession have had to be grasped, is obvious; many of our colleagues will recognize and admit this. The younger ones amongst us however may laugh and chide us: they have been raised and are familiar with the computer. But the change-over from drawing by hand to drawing on screen, learning the ever more sophisticated software programs, all of this –speaking for myself – wasn’t that easy. Nevertheless I very quickly realized the advantages that the new developments brought and it took me only a short time to embrace the computer – that magnificently designed Mac. It was also this technology that made it possible for me as an independent designer to work from almost every imaginable place in the world, around twelve to fifteen years ago that was unthinkable – the software also makes many things much easier.

At the same time the new developments put more responsibility on the designers shoulders. Now more tasks are the designer’s responsibility. Of course, the designer still has to co-operate with the client and needs the expertise of the printer, but he cannot rely any more on all those experts in between who were involved in the process of previous years. All those people who checked and spotted the mistakes the designer often didn’t see; this can happen when the work becomes all too familiar.

Designers today seem extremely concerned with style rather than content, so the text becomes of secondary importance. Text sometimes is degraded to a grey pattern, that has to fit neatly in the layout. ‘What do you mean, it has to communicate? No problem, as long as it looks okay!’ This can’t be the intention of graphic design… Here an example (not shown): unreadable, printed silver on semiglossy paper. I think this is an insult to both the writer and the reader. In England we have two words for the Dutch word ‘leesbaar’, legible and readable. This example is neither!

Thank God there are many exceptions. Worldwide there are many professional and exceptionally skilful graphic designers who can combine form and text outstandingly; where the message comes first and their ego’s second.

And now back to the typesetter and his specific expertise. Which brings me to my motivation for text and design of this Vouwblad. I must admit that the incorrect use of the apostrophe, hyphen anden-rule has always been my hobby-horse. The invitation to design Vouwblad 6 gave me the opportunity to get this all ‘off my chest’. But it is not only the small irritations, it is also beauty and logic of correct use that I find very interesting and intriguing that I also wanted to show in this Vouwblad.

Vouwblad no. 6 can be seen as a general guide to typographic detailing. Although there is much more to typographic detailing than is possible to show on this one sheet, I have tried to show some of the more common usages. However most publishers and designers have their own editorial and typographic house-style where they make their own interpretation of the rules. With a light heart I have come to the end of this talk… I hope you will find this this Vouwblad both useful and interesting.

Thanks you so much for your attention.