One of the current great ironies of typography is that despite the galaxy of typeface options available to us, fewer and fewer creative professionals know why we choose each typeface we use, or even why what works “looks good.” While there are multiple reasons for this relative lack of typographical education, the result is often the same: even simple, fundamental exercises like type pairing become minefields of mishaps. Seeking to combat that problem head-on, Ramp Creative partners Michael Stinson and Rachel Elnar founded TypeEd in Los Angeles, operating (respectively) as lead instructor and producer for marathon sessions in typographical education.
This past weekend AIGA SB invited Michael and Rachel to Santa Barbara for something slightly less serious but no less relevant: our own “Wine & Type Pairing” at Corks n’ Crowns in the fabulous Funk Zone. Sure, the figurative pairing of typography with wine and food pairing was a nice touch, but why not balance a noble purpose like typographical education with simply geeking out about wine and type on a Saturday night? We’re not ashamed to admit that we did both—frequently and flagrantly.
Michael presented on typographic fundamentals specifically relevant to pairing typefaces, accessible enough for designers of any skill level and often with real-time InDesign demonstrations. He spoke about 1) contemplating classification (serif vs sans); 2) examining a typeface’s anatomy from baseline to x-height to cap height; 3) studying character width using the relative width of a typeface’s em dash; 4) pondering further anatomical details like bracket, stem, leg, tail, and spine.
Advising us to “pair sans serif with serif, select typefaces with multiple variants and weights, and think about proportion when pairing,” Michael noted the importance of thinking beyond type as well—harmony between images and text on the page is just as important as harmony between typefaces. He also alluded to the distinct “genetics” of typefaces and the importance of not combining fonts from the same families and superfamilies, or fonts with clashing personalities. “There is such a thing as too much personality,” he said. “Styles should complement each other, so achieving harmony is challenging, but fewer typefaces will make your task easier.”
Following that, Rachel produced a “type pairing challenge” game for all attendees (prize being a TypeEd t-shirt): in teams of 4-5 people, attendees would race to pair her selected typefaces as quickly as possible based on 3 criteria: 1) pair a sans serif and a serif typeface with similar x-heights and character widths, 2) pair two sans serif typefaces from two different classifications, and 3) pair two serif typefaces from two different classifications. The winning group blazed through the challenge quicker than you could say “kern and burn.”
Host Madeleine Smith and her Corks n’ Crowns staff kept us all happy with several recent local and regional vintages of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and rosé (plus some IPA and stout for us beer snobs). Ingrid Gettleson of event sponsor Neenah Paper showed off her company’s latest samples, which were snapped up quickly by all in attendance. TypeEd designed special coasters for the event, printed on Neenah paper by our sponsor V3.
AIGA SB thanks TypeEd for producing and presenting on a special Saturday night, Neenah paper for their generous sponsorship (without which this event wouldn’t have been possible), Corks n’ Crowns for accommodating everyone, our volunteer board of directors for the literal and figurative heavy lifting, and last but not least our membership for attending from as far afield as Pasadena and San Luis Obispo.
Photos by Patty Devlin-Driskel, Rachel Elnar, Keir DuBois, and Emily DuBois for AIGA Santa Barbara.