Non-Techno Types

The Role of Non-technological Approaches and Craft


How can typographic solutions be modern and professional without being technologically driven? In this blog entry, you will search for and review at least two articles that address how this might be done, then share your conclusions.


Select articles similar to the Art Chantry interview in the readings that are either about or make prominent reference to designers or design firms that do one or more of the following:

1. Eschew the use of mainstream technology yet cultivate strong design solutions
2. Use a hands-on approach to important design problems that emphasizes craft.

In your analysis of these articles, consider the following points:

1. What are the benefits and liabilities of avoiding mainstream technology, either largely or completely?

2. In the examples you found, were successes related to this approach, or in spite of it? How were aspects of craft importance to this balance?

3. How does this jibe with your own experience in avoiding mainstream technology? You may use examples from Project B or other experiences.

4. How ready should a designer be to resort to unconventional techniques when faced with a design problem? What is your recommendation based on the articles reviewed and your own experience?

Erik Spiekermann

Erik Spiekermann is considered in some design circles, as the father of modern, digital typography for his typefaces, such as: Officina Sans, Officina Serif, FF Meta, Nokia Sans, Nokia Serif, Bosch Sans and Bosch Serif. Spiekermann founded MetaDesign in 1979 and FontShop in 1989. Today, he is managing partner and creative director of Edenspiekermann and Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany. As of 2011, he received the German Design Award for Lifetime Achievement as well as the TDC Medal in New York and the SOTA Award (FontShop).

Despite Spiekermann’s kitsch moniker, his methodology continues to follow a conventional typographic technique: sketching. Art Chantry states, “The versatility of the eye combined with the hand has carried human creative endeavor through a quarter-million years of history. There is no more direct path to ideas than hardwired mind-to-fingers” (May).

Gestalten TV’s interview with Spiekermann captures his approach of designing type, his articulation of typographic rhythm (the “black notes” and “white notes”), philosophy of working in teams, the importance of communication (and the vernacular) and his hysterical take on myopic, government views– in particular, one such U.S. government “slip” hinging on an infamous design flaw.

Spiekermann is constantly engaged in typographic research, process and collaboration with other designers. However, what I found most interesting during his forty years of experience, is that he hasn’t completely converted to digital techniques. He now has someone else convert his typographic sketches for him.

Spiekermann is quoted below:

“I just sketch. I just use a very rough 2B pencil and do sort of smallish sketches that aren’t very good… but to me they’re little exercises… I don’t go into detail.”

“I then do four or five characters… there’s an “A,” “N,” an “E” and a “S,” sometimes a “G” and that defines the character… I then sit down with my professional type designers, who will then turn that into data.”

“I have a second method that is even more realistic. If I find something that I really like, that I think will work for the client but it is already used by somebody else or it’s too old or I can’t afford to buy it or whatever, or it would be a rip off, then I look at that for a long time… I look through books, I draw it and then I sketch over it… and then I put it away and the next day, I sit down and draw it from memory… and then it’s different (obviously).”

“My life’s work isn’t what I’ve done, but it’s the people that I’ve influenced. I find much more satisfaction in having trained or educated a few hundred people in the last 35-40 years. I’ve done few things on my own, it’s mostly with other people. For me, my responsibility is to show that this is always teamwork, there are no geniuses, there is no single incredible people that do all of this as a Michaelangelo (and he had assistants too)… that this work is by definition a work in teams, a cooperative, and that is important now and again we do things that will change the place that we live in.”

Louise Fili

While I had an urge to profile letterer and illustrator, Jessica Hische, I decided instead to refocus on one of my other personal favorites (Hische’s mentor), Louise Fili. Hische, however, found her inspiration for typography during her undergraduate experience when faced with little money for only buying mediocre type (DesignSponge, Hische). Instead, she chose to hand render her own typefaces, thus discovering a new, personal frontier. Hische’s inspirational stumble, thanks to tight funding, is a great example of resorting to traditional means to achieve greater results. Of course, it helps to have talent on your side.

Fili’s inspiration, like Speikermann, derives from traveling and embracing the cultural (and gastric) differences outside of her own. At the age of sixteen, Fili was inspired by a trip to Italy, where her parents originally immigrated from. She was immediately drawn to the food, culture and especially, the typography.

Scripts Book Cover

Louise Fili, "Scripts." Book cover design.

Le Monde

Louise Fili, "Le Monde." Shadow lettering.

Design Connoisseur

Louise Fili, "Design Connoisseur." Book cover design.

Calea Nero

Louise Fili, "Calea Nero." Wine labels.

Late July

Louise Fili, "Late July Crackers." Packaging design.

Looking at Fili’s collection, one cannot help but realize how her passion, personal investment with hand-rendered techniques, a keen sense of romanticism and masterful craft has established her as a leading designer for the restaurant identity and food packaging industry. Unsurprisingly, Fili’s process is grounded in the traditional method of sketching letterforms from her experience as a book jacket designer. Fili admits that the most difficult part of her process is doing something completely different, yet that her love of lettering and design never ceases (DesignSponge).

In an interview with Lancia TrendVisions, Fili is asked two specific questions regarding process and style:

Q. In your publication “Typology” you dealt with typographic design from the Victorian era to today. What impact has digital technology had on design, in terms of visual aesthetics and of the production process?

“The computer is a wonderful tool for designers. One can now design a book jacket in a matter of hours, whereas twenty years ago it would have taken two or three weeks. However, at my studio we make a great effort to make the work look as though it wasn’t created on the computer, in order to achieve a level of authenticity. I also try to have the final product printed in letterpress whenever possible, since it adds a tactile quality that is missing from our hyper-technical lives.”

Q. What is the secret to responding to the client’s needs while always maintaining a recognizable style?

“Solving the design problem is what is most important. But I have a very personal approach to type and image. I never design anything that conflicts with my aesthetics or interests. So, fortunately, it is easy to maintain a personal signature.”

Works Cited:

DesignSponge. “Interview With Jessica Hische.” YouTube. Web. 26 Oct 2010. Accessed: 24 Feb 2012.

DesignSponge. “Interview With Louise Fili.” YouTube. Web. 26 Oct 2010. Accessed: 24 Feb 2012.

FontShop. “View Fonts by Designer: Erik Spiekermann.” Font Shop. Web. Accessed: 28 Feb 2012.

Gestalten TV. “Erik Spiekermann– Putting Back the Face Into Typeface.” Vimeo. Web. Accessed: 28 Feb 2012.

Lancia TrendVisions. “Interview with Louise Fili.” Web. Accessed: 24 Feb 2012.

May, Christopher. “Art Chantry.” Under Consideration: Speak Up. Web. 18 Nov 2002. Accessed: 24 Feb 2012.