“…can a single symbol represent infinite individuality?”Sarah Gephart, “Hypothetical Hack,” Digressions, MGMT, 2018“Much like the stars, the dinkus is a point of navigation.”Daisy Alioto, “Ode to the Dinkus,” The Paris Review, June 8, 2018“By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words.”Pico Iyer, “In Praise of the Humble Comma,” Time, June 24, 2001“I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.”Coldplay, “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,” Mylo Xyloto, Parlophone/Capitol, 2011
Project 1: CharactersThree weeks
In this project we will not exactly work with typography, or lettering, or a typeface, but with something more elementary, more fundamental: characters. Letters or symbols that are printed or written (or, of course, illuminated or projected, on screens). Characters are the raw materials of words, of sentences, of visual communication. As Thomas Phinney, CEO of FontLab, puts it, “A character is the smallest component of written language that has semantic value.” They are composed by us, using their inherent semantic meaning to form further, more complex meanings, but they also often come pre-loaded with semiotic meanings in and of themselves. In other words, characters that are generally understood to mean one thing (semantic), are often interpreted in a given context as something else entirely (semiotic).
These meanings are often ascribed historically and become established through use. But they also attain culturally specific meaning relating to use and association. The visual representation of characters (“glyphs,” in type design terms) add further complexity to characters: how they are designed adds a level of subjectivity to these ostensibly objective shapes. Their apparent black-and-white authority is of course consistently challenged, undermined, and altered, through inventive construction (emoticons) and to articulate complex ideas succinctly, such as conditions ($), authority (©) or warnings (!).
For one half of this project, we’re going to specifically focus on non-alphanumeric characters and, at least for our primary project focus, ignore A–Z and 0–9. The Unicode Consortium, a Mountain View, CA, non-profit that develops and maintains international standards and data relating to text in software, provides a helpful, if daunting, guide for us. Their Unicode Standard assigns a unique number to every single character, no matter what platform, device, application or language. As of June 2018 their most recent version, Unicode 11.0, contains 137,439 characters covering 146 modern and historic scripts, as well as multiple symbol sets and emoji.
The Consortium has gained a wider public recognition in recent years thanks to that latter subject area: yes, they’re the people who decreed that Raccoon, Partying Face, and Bagel (finally!) shall be among 62 new emoji added to Unicode 11.0 in June, coming soon to an phone keyboard near you. Having said this, in addition to our non-alphanumeric character rule, we’re also going to say no emoji characters for at least one half of our assignment focus.
As for the other half of the project, a speculative future character that doesn’t yet exist, an emoji may or may not be the most appropriate way of articulating the idea, principle, or emotion that you're trying to communicate.
You will select, analyse, research, and articulate graphically and in writing:1one existing, historically-established non-alphanumeric, non-emoji character found encoded in Unicode 11.0
As a companion, you will also think about, research, invent, design and articulate graphically and in writing:
2a new speculative character that typographically represents or symbolises a contemporary idea, condition, phenomenon, &c. relating to you, your interests, and/or culture at large, that doesn’t yet exist
Half Letter 5.5 × 8.5 in. (139.7 × 215.9 mm). Binding: to be determined (possibly wire or coiled binding). Produce two sets of designed pages: one for your historical character, one for your new character. For each set: start the page on a right hand page in your InDesign document, with the first page devoted to a large depiction of your historical or new character, along with its name(s) and other basic info (e.g. Unicode number, for the historical character). We will possibly set this first page for each section as a standard design template agreed by all of us, for design and editorial consistency (potentially connecting to a cover design approach)—to be discussed. End each section on a left hand page (so the following student will then in turn start on a right hand page).
Week 1: September 6
Week 2: September 13
Week 3: September 20
Week 4: September 27
Project Notes, References & Resources