Promoting Speculative Typeface Design

Show us your most experimental and innovative type designs — be they finished, published, or not. Your work may be selected by a notable group of jurors to appear in an exhibition at TypeCon2016: Resound, taking place in Seattle, Washington, August 24th–28th, and in an online gallery right here on protoType. The exhibit will highlight speculation in typeface design in order to help new ideas inform future design efforts and enrich the cultural landscape.

Tell me more.


Promoting Speculative
Typeface Design

Typeface design is living culture. As such it cannot limit itself to being a reliable tool for others to create ground-breaking compositions — it must also mark its own cultural progress in order to stay relevant. A tool must evolve for others to continuously make truly new things with it. Societies go through periods where they promote cultural progress to varying degrees. In the society of typeface design, the 1990s was a period of fervent if controversial inventiveness; one does not need to admire every aspect and product of that era to accept that it did have some fruitful effects, catalyzing the efforts of those predisposed to iconoclasm, and broadening the horizon of many who were not.

The Problem

Today we enjoy an embarrassment of typographic riches, with thousands of fonts flaunting hundreds of judiciously crafted, shape-shifting letterforms, meticulous rendering in various media and support for languages few ever encounter. We capably organize competitions and exhibitions to discover and promote polished, versatile typefaces. And we are not disappointed. There is however an undercurrent of discontent towards our emerging neglect of invention, our apparent increasing aversion to risk; there is also an impression that the OpenType arms race has distracted us from more fundamental dimensions of cultural progress. (References)

Since a typeface is a complex tool and not an end-product, the degree to which it can speak for itself is limited; this is especially true of an innovative design that requires elaboration to fully convey its relevance. A typeface based on a new idea typically lives in hiding until it can be deployed in the mainstream — often an insurmountable paradox. The new idea wilts away.

The Solution

We must give voice to speculation in typeface design, to help ground-breaking designers spread their ideas of cultural progress. To this end, the Society of Typographic Aficionados organized protoType, a competition and exhibition of the most innovative ideas in type design; it aims to promote not only innovative fonts but essentially the speculative ideas behind them, in order to amplify their relevance to future design efforts, enriching the cultural landscape. The selected typefaces will not necessarily be finished products; for the purposes of protoType they essentially serve as vehicles for ideas.

The typefaces selected for inclusion in protoType were exhibited during TypeCon2016, with the intent of having specimens published online and the further possibility of being part of a traveling exhibition. In addition, SOTA will publish an explanatory video of one overall winner chosen by the jury.

The Jury

Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès
Timothy Donaldson
Joachim Müller-Lancé
Hrant Papazian
Mariko Takagi

The Details

There is no cost to enter, and no eligibility timeframe. There is a limit of three submissions per party. No form of anonymity will be implemented.

The party submitting a typeface may be any of its designers, the foundry, or any of its distributors; in the case of a typeface being submitted by multiple parties, all parties will be credited. For typefaces that have no current ownership (typically historical designs) any party can submit, and will be credited.

A submitted design does not necessarily have to be an installable font, although the practical usability of a typeface may be taken into consideration by the jurors (who may request additional information to that end). In the case of a submission in a writing system unfamiliar to the jury, an outside expert may be consulted; failing that the typeface will regrettably be excluded from consideration.

In addition to the specimen PDF/webpage each entry must include a textual explanation (maximum of 300 words) in English concerning the innovation intended by the typeface. This text will be reworked by the jury (possibly in consultation with the submitting party) if the design is selected for inclusion in the exhibition.

Submissions are now closed.

The Results

The jury’s selected typeface designs were announced prior to TypeCon2016 in Seattle.

View the final results.

The References

The automobile industry’s concept car:
Wikipedia: Concept Car

Architectural Review’s Future Projects Award for unbuilt/incomplete designs:
Wikipedia: MIPIM AR Future Projects Award
BBC: In Pictures: Architectural Review Future Projects Awards 2014
BBC: In Pictures: Architectural Review Future Projects Awards 2016

From a thesis study by Ruxandra Duru completed in 2011, updated in 2015:
Type Foundries Today: A study of the independent type foundry industry
Typographica: Type Foundries Today & the Typographica Census

In spite of technological advancements, many contributors regret the lack of experimentation in the typeface design itself. Catherine Dixon mentions homogenization, Mr Keedy, Cal Arts teacher since 1985, talks about the “new dark ages” while Alfredo Triviño, director of Innovation at News Corporation in London, points out that “the more democratic the tool, the hardest it is for true innovation to emerge.” Littlejohn concludes that “perhaps type design’s success as an industry makes it its own enemy.”

— D. Littlejohn, Golden Age, Eye Magazine, Spring 2009

Also from the Duru paper:

Thomas Huot-Marchand … points out as much as the technology has never been as advanced as today, type design itself has never been more consensual. He talks about a new conservatism, and thinks that we focus so much on the details that we lose the overall view. Few type designers, like Peter Biľak are in his opinion, really experimenting with type.

Further reading on originality in typeface design:
Typotheque: Methods of Distribution
Typotheque: We don’t need new fonts…
TypeDrawers: How would you characterize today’s typographic trend?
Eye Magazine: Digital Type Decade
Typophile: Originality in Type Design
Typophile: Originality of type design: Where does inspiration become copying?