We mustn’t allow craft skills and typography to drop off college curricula


Dalton Maag’s Nokia Pure and Johnson Banks’ client-specific typefaces notwithstanding, there’s nothing new about custom-designed fonts. They’ve been with us for years, with seminal examples including the Nat West font created by David Quay and Freda Sack some 20 years ago and Erik Spiekermann’s quirky typeface for Glasgow’s 1999 stint as UK City of Architecture and Design.

The question now isn’t whether custom fonts are being commissioned by clients and consultancies, but who will create them for the new generations. While we are fortunate in having typographers of the calibre of Sack, Bruno Maag, Jonathan Barnbrook and Jeremy Tankard on the case, the future is less certain given the demise of craft training.

Typography is one of the ’arts’ underpinning design that are slowly disappearing from college curricula – something celebrated practitioners, notably The Brand Union’s Glenn Tutssel, have railed against. One eminent 3D designer has said he quit tutoring postgraduate students because he was having to introduce them to the basic principles of product design rather than help them explore revolutionary concepts. Government cuts in education can only reinforce that shift if we don’t act to help college heads understand what is fundamental to good design practice.

There are pockets of renewed interest in craft in academia, but most stories are of craft teaching in decline

There are pockets of renewed interest in craft in academia. Birmingham Institute of Art & Design and Birmingham City University have joined forces to create a Typographic Hub to research the history, theory and practice of typography. But most stories are of craft teaching in decline.

There is an opportunity though to change this. The Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group is fostering a Design Commission inquiry into design education with commissioners such as Dick Powell – Seymour Powell co-founder and chairman of D&AD – advocating radical change. The craft lobby would do well to engage with this initiative if we are to maintain the skills we need.

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