Project 1: Early letterform (Due Dates)

Project 1: Early letterform should be posted to blogs by 8:45 am Thursday, September 23. Our critique for this project will be on Thursday, September 23.

There will be no class in the lab on Tuesday, September 21, as the lab will be closed that day.
Please check the blog that day for the link to the online reading assignment that will take the place of class for Tuesday, September 23.

Project 1: Early Letterform

Select a letter from the Phoenician or Greek alphabet, research the letter, and write approximately 100 words.

Create four two-color designs, each distinctively different, using black and red as shown in the examples. Incorporate your copy into each design. In the first design make the symbol the most prominent element. In the second make the display type the most prominent element. In the third make the text type the most prominent element. All design elements should be two-dimensional. In the final comp make the symbol the most prominent element again.

Each design should be 8" x 8".
It is your choice which of the colors, red, black, or white is used for the page, for the symbol, for the text and display type.
For your text and display type, use one of the 5 typefaces we have been working with thus far:
Century Schoolbook
Remember to consider the issues we have been wrestling with so far in our exercises:
Colors and textures created through letter, word, and line spacing.
Legibility based upon tracking and leading.
Shape created by counterform and the influence on the perception of the composition.
These will be among the topics discussed in critique.
Posted to blogs by Tuesday, September 21. We will critique the electonic versions of these projects on Tuesday, September 21.

Early Letterform

the original project brief


Printing in Germany

Johann Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany, some time around 1397. Little is known about his early years, but it is clear that he was the right man in the right place at the right time.

Gutenberg was the right man because of his familiarity with the craft of the goldsmith and die maker. He was in the right place because Mainz was a cultural and commercial center. It was that right time because the Renaissance thirst for knowledge was creating a growing market for books that could not be satisfied with the traditional handwritten manuscripts.

Handwritten manuscripts were made to order and were usually expensive. They were laboriously copied by scribes who had either to read from a manuscript or have it read to them while copying. This process was not only time-consuming, but led to many errors, which had to be corrected.

Adding to the expense was the scarcity and high cost of vellum and parchment. As a result, these handwritten manuscripts were limited to a select few: clergymen, scholars, and wealthy individuals.

A relatively inexpensive means of producing multiple copies of books seems to have been developed just a little before Gutenberg began his experiments with printing. This was the so-called block book whose pages had illustrations and minimal text cut together on the same block. The carved blocks were inked, and images were transferred onto paper in multiples by rubbing or by the use of a screw press. Block books are believed to have been made for semi-literate, preaching friars who brought the word of God to the urban working class and the poor.

Gutenberg's genius was realizing that printing would be more efficient if, instead of using a single woodblock to print an entire page, the individual letters were cast as separate blocks and then assembled into pages. In this manner, pages could be corrected more rapidly, and, after printing, the type could be cleaned and reused.


Helvetica is a sans serif typeface of Swiss origin. Although typefaces without serifs were used in the nineteenth century, it was not until the twentieth century that they became popular. In 1957 the Haas foundry introduced Haas Grotesk, designed by Max Miedinger (with Eduard Hoffmann), later to become known internationally as Helvetica. Helvetica's large x-height, slightly condensed letters, and clean design make it a very readable typeface. In general, sans serif typefaces have relatively little stress, with optically equal strokes, and should always be leaded.


Century, the first major American typeface, was designed in 1894 by Linn Boyd Benton for Theodore Lowe DeVinne, the printer of The Century Magazine. After Bodoni, type designers began to search for new forms of typographic expression. Around 1815 a typestyle appeared that was characterized by thick slab serifs and thick main strokes with little contrast between the thicks and thins. This style was called Egyptian. Century Expanded is an excellent example of a refined Egyptian, or slab serif, typeface. The large x-height and simple forms combine to make this a very legible typeface.


Didot is a Modern typeface, named for the famous French printing and type producing family. Firmin Didot cut the letters and cast them as type in Paris. His brother, Pierre Didot, used the types in printing. At the end of the eighteenth century, a fashion grew for faces with a stronger contrast between the thicks and thins, unbracketed serifs, and a strong vertical stress. These were called Modern typefaces. All the older faces became known as Old Style, while the more recent faces just prior to the changes were referred to as Transitional. Although Didot has a small x-height, it appears very wide and black. Because of the strong vertical stress, accentuated by its heavy thicks and hairline thins, Didot should be well leaded.


Baskerville, an elegant, well-designed typeface created by the Englishman John Baskerville in 1757, is an excellent example of a Transitional typeface. Transitional typefaces are so called because they form a bridge between the Old Style and the Modern faces. Compared to the Old Style, Transitional typefaces show greater contrast between the thicks and thins, serifs are less heavily bracketed, and the stress is almost vertical. Baskerville characters are very wide for their x-height, are closely fitted, and are of excellent proportions. Baskerville is considered one of the most pleasant and readable typefaces.


Garamond is a classic Old Style typeface. Claude Garamond, who died in 1561, was originally credited with the design of this elegant French typeface; however, it has recently been discovered that this typeface was designed by Jean Jannon in 1615. Many of the present-day versions of this elegant typeface may be either Garamond or Jannon designs, although they are all called Garamond. This is a typical Old Style face, having very little contrast between the thicks and thins, heavily bracketed serifs, and oblique stress. The capital letters are shorter than the ascenders of the lowercase letters. The letterforms are open and round, making the face extremely readable.

TYPE ARRANGEMENT/Paragraph Indications

Type Arrangements
Create a layout for each of the five typefaces following the arrangement constraints provided.
Use the text provided on the bottom link, the text that refers to the specific typeface. Point size for display type is 72. Point size, tracking, and leading will vary from comp to comp, but should be determined in an effort to provide a pleasing arrangement, a balanced and legible design.

Using the text provided by the text link, use each of our five typefaces once to create five different designs demonstrating five different ways of indicating paragraphs. Please view all 30 examples before beginning. Do not copy the examples, but rather come up with your own new and creative way based upon them.