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Typography is a craft with its own set of
rules, limits and values, which belong to
tradition, to the present and …
to the future.
Typography is not art, but it certainly is an
art. Once you understand the diﬀerence
you are ready to practice the discipline as
a philosophy in action.
A knowledge of good design principles,
history and its implications, contributes to
your appetite. Such knowledge serves as
a starter, not as the main menu.
True knowledge is derived from knowing
how to see, learn, love, play, act and share.
It can transform serious business into
Typography is used to communicate with
others, but in order to do so we first have
to learn to communicate with ourselves.
This ability becomes an attitude by
learning how to ask questions. If such
questions are absent there will be no
To be an allround human being is more
important than to be a designer, but
sometimes it helps.
As long as your client asks you‘What does
this seduction scene on the cover has to
do with the fine art of fondue cooking?’
you might have missed the point, or need
We need exercise as an experience,
because it teaches us in a natural way. We
do things, make mistakes and improve by
adjusting to reality and its demands.
Please, relax and take your time. The
deadline is only twenty minutes ahead.
It will take you three weeks to learn the
art of optical letterspacing and get THE
QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE
LAZY DOG just right. Tough lessons are
always blessings in disguise. When the
going gets tough, the tough get going
and ready for surprise!
Practice does not leave much room
Desktop publishing made designers
aware that they need a basic
understanding of typography … and …
of projectmanagement, use of
technology, collaboration and do
business with real clients. Hmmm, You
thought design was art?
New media gives you the power over all
the tools of production. Designers had an
advantage until now because they are
visual and typographic literates. But the
language of new media is rapidly
becoming the territory of architects,
artists, gamers, filmmakers, musicians and
scientists. While growing out of its infancy
it will become a whole new language. So
where is the dictionary?
Education has its limits. It can never give
you all the tools you need. Be open
minded! Read books, meet people that
seem to matter to you, go practice and
take your chances!
The most mysterious part of design is 'the
interesting'. The interesting is hard to
describe, but we know that if something
has meaning for us it will also have
meaning for others. That is why only the
best is good enough, but what is best is
dependant on goals and budget.
Styling is the use of a tone of voice that
relates to people that live today in the
language of today. Which does not mean
that a designer should be fashionable or
make l'art pour l'art.
Respect is the basic ingredient of
collaboration, but it needs to be shared.
In print you have to rely on the craftsmen
you work with. Without a relationship
they will only do‘exactly’what you want.
That’s where most things go wrong. If
they like you, and notice a mistake you
made, they will help you out. Make
friends by being one.
All disciplines of typography hold a
challenge and their own rewards.
Every challenge makes you perceive
yourself and your expertise in a new way.
It is better to regret to have taken a
chance than to regret letting the
opportunity go by.
98% of graphic design is trash. The other
2% is sanctioned into designersheaven.
Ever talked about trash with your local
trash collector? There is much more value
in trash than you ever imagined. Trash is
our natural environment. Be aware of that
and once in a while: Go out and collect
some trash! Get rich by becoming
inspired and humane!
Nothing is fixed, everything must change,
such is life. To be honest: There are no
rules or prescriptions. The secret of
typography is a question of manners. A
way to behave yourself, to act proper and
decent. Once learned it gives you access
to all areas.
Duke Ellington was once asked if he
rejected certain types of music. His
response: Oh No, … its all music. I guess
the same counts for type.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. If
you cannot improve the latter take up the
first. Some people are specialists, while
other are generalists. If you can join these
forces nothing will stop you! If you can’t,
nothing can stop you either! Just be who
you are until the end.
Teaching typographic literacy is not an
end in itself. There will always be a
diﬀerence between theory and practice.
In theory you develop a method, in
practice you go beyond.
This essay is published as a contribution in the Anthology of Steve Heller:
The Education of a Typographer, published by Allworth Press May 2004.
School of Design, New York NY, USA.