Crafting Type

Riding the Wave of Type Interest in Portland and Beyond

by Thomas Phinney

Is a government conspiracy adding something to the water that has caused a surge of interest in typography and type design? Whatever the reason, growing interest has sparked a traveling type design workshop—Crafting Type—coming here to Portland March 15–17, 2013.

I honestly don’t know what it is. When I started getting serious about type in the early 90s there were no schools teaching type design as a degree program, or even offering a certificate. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology, which offered a specialization in typography and design within their MS in Printing, but there was no type design class available, let alone a program. I created and taught a font production class there myself the next year (spring 1997).

The past 10 or 15 years have seen a steady growth of interest, starting out slowly but gaining steam. In my talk for WebVisions New York, “Typography Is the New Black,” (reprising in Portland in May), I half-jokingly blamed David Fincher and the opening credits of the film Se7en for spurring this new interest in fonts and typography. But the truth is, I don’t know the reason. (If you do, drop me a line and tell me, or comment on the blog post! I really want to know.)

Thus today you can get a type design degree from the Royal Academy in The Hague or Reading in the UK (where I have done guest lectures), or get a certificate from Cooper Union in NYC, from either a condensed summer program or a long evenings/weekends program. Individual type designers teach type design at a number of other schools. Demand for all of these is booming and people are attending in droves. Twenty years ago finding a single class might have been a challenge.

The field is also increasingly diverse in the age, gender and ethnic backgrounds of its participants, instead of being solely aging white men like me. (I wrote about this at more length in my article for the I Love Typography blog.)

Despite this growing interest in type design all over, I was shocked when I first heard the response some of my type designer colleagues got for the first “Crafting Type” type design workshop for beginners, in my home town of Edmonton, Canada. “Are you kidding me? 40+ people for a five-day type design workshop…in Edmonton?!” I couldn’t believe it. Plus, two of them were friends of mine, Dave Crossland and Eben Sorkin. Then they went on to do workshops in Ukraine, Boston and Chicago (March 8–10).


I have since forgiven them for not inviting me as they didn’t know it was my home town…but it got me thinking: Why not do something like that here in Portland? With TypeCon coming to Portland in August, that might engender even more interest in attending such a workshop, to get more background.

So I talked to Dave, Eben, Octavio Pardo and Alexei Vanyashin, the lead guys in the Crafting Type anarcho-syndicalist collective. And we cooked up a scheme to run a workshop here in Portland. I’m joining them to help teach it, and we get to share our obsessive love of font crafting with a few more people.

You might wonder if folks are buying enough fonts to support so many new type designers. On the one hand, the market for independent and new fonts remains good. Yes, not that many people do it full time for a good living—but I do know folks who have been able to quit their day job after a year or three, whether it is Laura Worthington in rural Washington, or Jos Buivenga in the Netherlands. But the truth is that not all students even try to become type designers as a profession. Many people taking these classes aren’t aiming to become full-time type designers.

That is even more true for our previously-mentioned 3-day workshop coming to Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Art in just a few days (a week after the Chicago event), which assumes no background at all in type design. While some may do that (and the workshop will be a good start), attendees may also be graphic designers just trying to expand their repertoire. Others will just be trying to get a deeper understanding of type—whether web designers, hobbyists, artists, architects or even just font fans.

The other instructors for this event each have an MA in type design from the University of Reading in the UK, and actively work in type design today. For my part, I am a former repeating guest lecturer in that same program, and former product manager for fonts & typography at Adobe, now in a similar role at Extensis while doing type design on the side.

With current registration trends, it looks like the Portland event will have me, Dave and Octavio, maintaining our target ratio of 7–12 students per instructor. As a special bonus, AIGA members get a 20% discount! Perhaps we will see some of you there?

For more info and registration, visit the website, email or phone us (Dave at 415-343-5226 or Thomas at 206-399-9287).

By aigaportland
Published March 8, 2013
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