in the 1960s, adrian frutiger was part of a team that composed OCR-B. the typeface was engineered by the cutting edge of what was technologically possible then, and (crucially) was equally readable for both its users: men and machines. in 1980, he wrote the book, ‘type sign symbol’, from which i now quote:
the formal expression of every period was determined by the materials and techniques in every age. the material being worked (stone, clay, parchment, paper) has also given rhythm and shape to the script. every script contains the rhythm of its age.
i would imagine a plastic typeface—one whose counters can not only adjust to a story, its reader or the environment; but also morph effortlessly into a different script—to be a modern equivalent of OCR-B. in making such a typeface, the material being worked would be digital bits instead of cast metal; and while knowing how to draw letterforms would be very helpful, this plastic typeface would not be drawn : it would be formulated instead, and thereafter be taught ‘how to’ respond.
a person uses a tool to give form to his ideas, and while a skilful person can work wonders with the simplest of tools, new tools can influence completely unexpected forms: i learned that while practising how to make swashes on letter-glyphs, where, merely choosing a differently-nibbed pen instigated my hand to make forms that i could have neither drawn nor imagined with another nib. clearly, a tool shapes the hand as much as a hand wields the tool.
as i stand today, i do not know how most modern design tools work (i.e., what they can do, what their limits are, and how to employ them), and am ill-equipped to even imagine what a typeface ‘of this age’ can or cannot do.
my undergraduate study focussed on design as a process—touching on visual communication, product design, technology and business in equal measure. i grew fond of writing at the same time as my discovery of how immensely parametric type design was; and fantasised about practising at the intersection of graphic design, technology and writing someday. in my final year of college, i drew letterforms, was introduced to tangible interaction, and helped run a campus news service. in three years hence, i have practised graphic design, and also worked on information architecture, exhibition design and ethnography.
my work so far has been entirely declarative: given a problem and its context, i segregate information, work with constraints, wield my tools and design for that specific problem. growing forward, however, i wish to temper with newer tools of the day and learn how to construct artefact-systems that respond, adapt, and even mould themselves long after their designer has gone away. this is why i am applying to the information experience design programme at the royal college of art.