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Design by "Dial"

Posted by admin at Jan 21, 2015 03:37 PM |
There is really no right and wrong in design, just whether the solution is appropriate to the problem... #typeonthecob

Getting fired up for Type on the Cob with the Ladies of Letterpress! I'll be teaching a couple of sections on Experimental Letterpress including paper dampening (see Baskerville for some hints!) and participating in a panel on letterpress production and design...

I think the last panel I was on dealt with typographic finesse, which is something I am still particular about. That is, the typographic considerations to which, if we care to bother, we should really be paying more attention. 

Things like increasing the weight of punctuation for fonts used in small sizes (obviously appropriate to 21st C digital process, unless you are Didot or Bodoni ;-), being aware of and correcting bad letterspacing, etc. 

Many of these things are (sadly) not anywhere near as exciting to many new printers as overlaying multiple layers, pattern printing, experimental and accidental serendipity, non-tradtional relief surfaces, steamrollers, etc. ;-)

I see all design process as existing on a multidimensional grid, by which I mean that every aspect of every decision actually demands that we deliberately ‘set the dial’ on a broad domain of choices. Each choice is itself on a continuum /dimension, which is defined by its extremes and the way that we navigate between them.

Each of these choices is affected by the previous. So the first, top-level, decision is often largely made for us, in that we are given a specific domain to work in; ie, a poster, a business card, a book; and a time constraint; ie, before Friday, a month, as long as it takes…

Given the constraints of the project itself, we begin making these design choices, each one "setting the dial”, say, on a continuum which, for instance, might have as its extremes "fast/sloppy/dynamic/exciting" and "careful/precise/timeless/contemplative” (just one of the many)

There is no “correct" setting, but we aspire to make settings, which as long as we are deliberate and conscious and aware of the continuum, will be appropriate to the project domain.

I believe this is true in every aspect of the design and very much also in the physical printing. So, one important ‘dial’ for letterpress printers is the “deep impression<>kiss impression” - Which is correct? It depends entirely on other previous intentional choices which constrain the end-points of the ‘dial’…

So, with ‘deep soft damp’ stock, we would naturally dial up the impression depth, while on 'glossy hard dry' stock we’d dial it back… an “incorrect” setting for a specific effect should therefore be a deliberate one, not one based on ignorance of the continuum (or the craft!)

If we don’t know the craft, we’re constrained to a very narrow dimension of possible settings on our ‘dials’. A printer like Amos P Kennedy, Jr is capable of very precise and deliberate impression on exquisite handmade paper. However, the majority of his work, by choice, is heavily inked, printed on chipboard, and very imprecise. His chosen domain demands that the graphic-gut feeling is more important than keeping the counters from filling up with ink in the small type. I love his work, since it is completely true to his intention. And because I know he chooses where to set that ‘dial’… 

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