Re­viv­ing lost Bauhaus fonts

PRO­FES­SOR, TYPOGRAPHER, DE­SIGNER AND WRITER ERIK SPIEKERMANN ON SKETCHES, PSY­CHOL­OGY AND PUSH­ING YOUR TYPE FOR­WARD BY LOOK­ING BACK

Computer Arts - - Experimental Type -

“You have to make a cer­tain amount of mis­takes to find out how it doesn’t work...”

How do you fin­ish some­one else’s type­face de­signs? And even more in­tim­i­dat­ing, what if those ini­tial type sketches were, in fact, 90-year-old relics of ty­po­graphic trea­sure un­earthed from deep in­side the archives of leg­endary Ger­man art and de­sign school Bauhaus Des­sau?

That was ex­actly the chal­lenge faced by a team of five lead­ing de­sign stu­dents ear­lier this year, when they set about recre­at­ing five undis­cov­ered Bauhaus type­faces as part of Adobe’s lat­est Hid­den Trea­sures cam­paign. Guided by renowned type­face de­signer Erik Spiekermann, the stu­dents started with hand-drawn let­ter frag­ments, ty­pog­ra­phy sketches and – in one case – just a few char­ac­ters from a poster, be­fore painstak­ingly dis­sect­ing the let­ter­ing and de­vel­op­ing it into five beau­ti­ful work­ing type­faces.

The key was to put them­selves into the shoes of the Bauhaus stu­dents. But first they had to dis­card the weight of his­tory and ex­pec­ta­tion. “It’s dif­fi­cult when you pick up art­work that’s been around for 90 years,” ex­plains Spiekermann, adding that one student ini­tially didn’t dare to im­prove the mis­takes of the orig­i­nal ver­sion. “It’s sacro­sanct in a way,” he adds. “We had to say ‘for­get it’. Imag­ine what the de­signer would have done if some­body had given them Font Lab or Glyph or Adobe Il­lus­tra­tor. It would have been eas­ier than just us­ing a cir­cle and set square.”

The goal of the project was to adapt the de­signs for use to­day, while stay­ing true to the orig­i­nal idea and keep­ing some of its hand­made feel. “When­ever you recre­ate some­thing from the past, it’s lame if you sim­ply re­draw it,” ex­plains Spiekermann. “You have to con­sider what the pur­pose is and how you would print it these days. If the tech­nique is dif­fer­ent, the re­sults will be dif­fer­ent.”

For Spiekermann, im­mers­ing your­self into an­other cul­ture or style of type is a use­ful ex­er­cise for push­ing your own craft for­ward. As he ex­plains, an el­e­ment of mod­esty is in­volved. You have to try and feel like the orig­i­nal de­signer did, and to think of the reader. It’s also a good way to bet­ter de­velop your un­der­stand­ing of the psy­chol­ogy of type – which, he warns, there’s no short­cut for.

Dif­fer­ent fonts con­vey dif­fer­ent mes­sages, but the psy­chol­ogy comes in how the font is used. “You can make round cor­ners, which will make the type a lit­tle blunt. You can have spiky edges, which will make it more ag­gres­sive,” he says. “Nar­row and thin will be faster, and cre­ates a dif­fer­ent im­pres­sion from wide and fat, which will be slower. All of this comes into the de­sign, but ul­ti­mately the type­face doesn’t ex­ist on its own – it’s al­ways put into a space.”

He con­tin­ues: “As a type de­signer, you can’t de­cide how peo­ple will use your type. If some­one uses an ex­cit­ing type­face on a blue back­ground, it be­comes quiet. If you use a bor­ing type­face on a yel­low back­ground, you make it ur­gent. The psy­chol­ogy of the mes­sage only comes from the com­bi­na­tion of an ar­range­ment on the page.”

And the only way to de­velop your un­der­stand­ing of this is through prac­tice. “You have to make a cer­tain amount of mis­takes to find out how it doesn’t work,” he says. “You just have to be ac­tive and do it again, and do it again, and let it sit there for a few days and look again, and re­alise it’s all crap, lis­ten to lots of dif­fer­ent com­ments, and then you have to make your own mind up. There’s no short­cut, it just takes time.”

That’s why Spiekermann says it’s a good idea to start by recre­at­ing some­thing that’s hap­pened be­fore. “Put your­self in some­one else’s mind­set,” he ad­vises, “be­cause then you have some­thing to com­pare to later. I think it’s a use­ful method, rather than start­ing from scratch and rein­vent­ing the Latin al­pha­bet. That’s a tall or­der.”

Right Adobe Hid­den Trea­sures (from top to bot­tom) Bauhaus Des­sau: Xants, by Luca Pel­le­grini; Joschmi, by Flavia Zim­bardi; Car­lMarx, by Hide­taka Ya­masaki; Al­farn, by Ce­line Hurk; Reross, by Elia Preuss. www.typekit.com/fonts/hid­den-trea­sures

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