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background information

Typeworkshop.com origines from workshops given by Underware during the last years. Most of the stuff which you see on this website at the moment, derives from these workshops. However, we are looking for more people to cooperate with us on this project, it's not a project of only Underware. Every idea and proposal is welcome, just send us an email. If you want to be kept up-to-date about future workshops, just subscribe yourself to the mailing list.

To provide a better view on the approach of the workshops done so far, here is some background information:

part of an email correspondence between Anne Melcer from Etapes Graphiques (French design magazine) and Bas Jacobs (one of the Underwarers).

From: "Underware, Bas" bas@underware.nl
Date: Mon Nov 10, 2003 17:27:21 Europe/Amsterdam
To: "anne" amelcer@pyramyd.fr
Subject: Re: Étapes questions about workshops

When have you teached your first workshop and where was that?
I guess that was in 2000 in Lahti, Finland. Our workshop was part of the HelveticaTimesExtraBold conference, which is a type event organised by Ritu Leinonen from the Lahti Polytechnic School of Art & Media in Lahti. We did something from which we thought it would look like a workshop, but maybe in the end it didn't be like that at all. I am still not sure. Soon after this a workshop on interactive videoclips followed at the UIAH in Helsinki.

Maybe you have the impression we are doing this full time, but that's not the case at all. We didn't really plan this in advance, it more or less just happened. We got more attention for doing these workshops when we made a website during a two week workshop. This was in October 2002, with a combined workshop between the 2 art academies of Lahti & Helsinki. Our idea by making this website, was bringing the students in contact with people outside the academy. By giving other people from outside the academy the possibility to react on what students created, participants of the workshop got extra stimulated by the critics of professionals. Before continuing the workshop in the morning, these reactions got read by the participants and influenced the process in a nice way. Also, in this way participants get in contact with professionals with whom they might never get in touch with otherwise. They can also get in touch with other students, type freaks, and who ever is out there.

During the following workshops we decided to stick at least to the idea of making this website for every workshop and updating this site daily when the workshop is running. By doing this we created a spot which shows a collection of researches and experiments in type design. While doing this, we also decided to put other information on that website which we needed during every workshop. A collection of links to other places on the web for example. That's fairly handy for somebody who is totally new in the field of type design. We might be acquaintance with a portal like typographi.ca, but for lots of people it's something unheard of. During those workshops we made sketches to explain the basic issues of type design, in the way we approach it (for sure there are many other ways of approaching it). Also this we didn't plan this in advance, but in this way the website www.typeworkshop.com was born. This site is growing naturally, and we don't have a clear idea where it might end up. At the moment we are looking for other people to participate in www.typeworkshop.com. Although I don't have a concrete idea in which form, it's something we are thinking about. We are open for all proposals from others.

What is your intention with these workshops? What kind of vision or values did you intend to teach?
Sharing knowledge and the pleasure of creating something with a group of people. The traditional master-student approach is not our attitude. We think we can learn as much from students as they can learn from us. But of course, on a certain area we have some knowledge they probably don't have, and we are happy to share this knowledge.

Can you show me an example of one of those values and its positive effect?
This can't be shown in one picture, but can only be seen in the whole result of a workshop I think.

What do you teach to the students? Basics of type design or/and tools to think and to elaborate clever questions on type?
First of all it's depending on the amount of time. A four day workshop is something different than a two week workshop. Type design is a relative long and slow process, at least in the way we do it. It's not realistic to create a whole new typeface in only one week. We wouldn't be able to do that ourselves as well. It's more realistic to find the right approach in solving one typographic problem. For example, during the 'thin & tiny type' workshop in Tampere, a font called 'Nuts' was the result by the tiny group. They made a research in the essential aspects of a typeface which is meant to be printed in extremely small sizes. The final font is not finished, nor complete or perfect. But it does contain some of the essential decisions for a typeface which can be used in small sizes. Even then, it's fairly hard to achieve this result in five days. We try to solve this be letting a group of people working together on one typeface. Dividing the labour makes it more realistic to achieve a satisfying result, and cooperating in a group creates the opportunity to learn a lot from each other. I believe students can learn as much or even more from each other, as from a teacher.

As type design is the subject of our workshops, we concentrate on an interesting, but not extremely difficult definition of the typographic problem to start with. Most of the participants don't have a clear idea on type. This is fairly often an empty, unexplored area for most of the participants. I would rather see this as a big advantage. Rigid and rigorous decisions are made more easily if one isn't limited by convention. It's useful to be aware of tradition. And having a thorough knowledge of a certain subject, creates possibilities you didn't have before. Let that be our task during a workshop. Combining this with an unconventional reaction of a participant creates new situations nobody could have predicted in advance.

Applying the newly created typeface is essential. Creating a typeface without applying it doesn't make any sense at all. Applying is the only way to see if the typeface really fits for the situation it was meant for. For example: if a typeface which is meant for sign systems is hardly readable on a real sign system, you might have made a funky typeface, but I am not sure if that made so much sense. A typeface is always made for a certain goal. You can't always say 'that's a bad typeface' or 'that's a really good typeface'. It also depends on the way it is used. Maybe the typeface is not too bad, but if it's not applied in the way it was meant for, it might look like a very so called 'bad' typeface. In the workshop we consider this to be an essential aspect: apply the font in the right environment.

Why should they prefer your workshops?
For no reason. They should decide themselves.

What does a student need to do to have a good chance of succeeding in these workshops (creativity, technical skills, independance, ambition)?
To be curious about type, to be eager to learn something they don't know, to be open to anything which comes on the path and to be able to cooperate.

What’s the general “roadbook”, progress of a workshop?
There isn't. We try to make every workshop different. For the last three workshops you could at least say that everybody cooperated in a group of people. After individually sketching, one sketch was democratically chosen to be developed further by the whole group. After bringing this typeface to a certain point, the font gets applied. But besides of this, everything varied from workshop to workshop.

What amazes you while doing a workshop?
It can be a chaos or a catharsis on the last day. This makes these workshops a thrill, for us, and for the participants.

What have you learned as a teacher from the workshops? And as a professionnal? What have you learned not to do anymore?
This last question is an interesting one. I could think of a few answers. The first one which comes to my mind is concerning the energy we expect. 'Alles geben' is for sure something which counts for our workshops. This German saying means as much as '100% energy', 'go straight forward', or 'complete concentration'. Maybe that is just the way we work ourselves, and that is what we expect from other people as well. If we manage to get other people enthusiastic, we get enthusiastic ourselves as well. A sentence like 'if I stay just a bit longer today, I could maybe even achieve this and that result today' comes to our minds very quickly. And sometimes we manage to transfer this same spirit to students, which is just awesome to see. It's an essential part of creating a good vibe, which again helps to create an interesting result. But sometimes we went too far in this maybe. People kept working all night to achieve a mind-blowing result instead of a good result. It happened one time that a guy woke up on the keyboard with the mouse still in his hands when we arrived on the academy in the morning. As soon as he saw us (we catch him in the act), he directly continued working! Yes, amazing spirit, but I think we pushed it a bit too far.

Do you choose the subject of the workshop specially for the workshop only or is it something you were thinking about before as a professional?
It's both. Of course the starting point shouldn't be too complex. Creating a second italic for Helvetica would be way too hard if you have never thought about the rhythm of black and whites shapes. However, it should be something we find interesting as well. It doesn't make any sense to give a workshop about an area which doesn't interest you. If you are not fascinated by something, how can you expect to get other people fascinated or enthusiastic about it?

What is a successful workshop?
That's hard to say, it depends what participants do with it afterwards. And this we don't always know. Creating a good atmosphere where people are stimulated to get curious about a certain subject is maybe on of the most important aspects. If somebody isn't curious to know everything about a subject, it doesn't make so much sense. However, if somebody gets interested he/she will be mostly capable enough to find a personal route within this area. Sometimes this happens, not always. Not everybody who participated will continue designing typefaces afterwards. This doesn't mean that the workshop was useless. At least they had a view in the kitchen of typefaces, and as a graphic designer they might have a bigger awareness of choosing a typeface for a certain job (let's not mention buying a typeface for a certain job...). Some others who participated got enthusiastic about type design and continued afterwards. They continued on the projects they started during the workshop, or started whole new projects in type design. There have been a couple of exhibitions with type works from those students one year after the workshop. In other cases a whole group can be really proud of the end result in the end of the workshop. In those cases I think the workshop was successful.

What about your projects, ambitions, upcoming developments as 'workshoppers'?
Let's see... We don't plan our lives so much.

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