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Getting Creative With Type….

April 30th, 2012
As with most graphic designers, being sure that we examine and choose the most effective, unforgettable and stimulating designs is a essential aspect that underpins every challenge we undertake. For us, the beginning of a new challenge has never been as easy as asking ourselves what might be the best avenue to take and then sitting down at a computer and striving to fulfill that idea. 



After studying the subject matter, we will nearly always begin with a sheet of paper and pen and draw out a assortment of design options to help bring together and develop the breadth of concepts that are maturing in our minds. In this article, we will examine the use of drawing and mark-making as an essential part of the creative method. We have found that exploring design choices on paper using drawing and mark-making is a great way to be sure that we are moving in the right direction with a project; plus, we don’t think this operating process can be beaten for stimulating surprising methods that would otherwise have been very unlikely to see the daylight. We‘ll focus on various types of drawing and mark-making as problem-solving tools and skills; they form a vital part of imagining and discovering design solutions that involve quantities of type, with or without graphics.

Why Textural And Tonal Qualities Of Type Should Be Tackled In Drawing



Letterforms, lines of type and words come together with various tonal values as well as different features of patterning; dependent on the darkness of tone created, together with the range and characteristics of texture, a viewer is attracted to a greater or lesser degree. Some great cases of this can be found by looking at the newspaper and magazine designs of Jacek Utko. Looking at all of the sample pages below, we are struck by the number of dynamic levels of text created by numerous typefaces, point sizes, weights and measures, as well as the imagery. The modifying tonal values especially tempt and guide the reader through the pages in a certain sequence.



The textural and tonal qualities in designs are used as much to help guide the viewers in a certain order as for aesthetics. These qualities should be successfully captured through drawing and mark-making if the visual of a concept is to be effectively realistic to enable adequate design judgments to be made. This can be fairly easily achieved by using a relatively speedy design shorthand practiced by and familiar to many designers. Larger type is lettered in, catching the stylistic essence, weight and proportions of the desired letterforms; text can be lined, or “greeked,” in using a mix of mark-making techniques, pens, pencils and/or varied pressure to indicate textural and tonal differences. The illustrations featured in this article go only some of the way to representing and capturing the infinite rhythms and varieties of typographic alternatives and combinations, but they do still demonstrate that even during early-stage drawing of visuals, capturing subtleties and variations of pace is essential. Drawing and mark-making styles can be developed to indicate and capture the textural and tonal difference that are present when working, for example, with all-caps sans-serif letterforms, as opposed to the very different visual “beat” that comes from uppercase and lowercase characters.

Finding The Right Marking Tools And Paper



In highlighting the refinement of this type of design drawing, we should also briefly comment on the tools that can be used to express these subtle typographic nuances. We work with a smooth lightweight paper that in the UK is called layout paper; the semi-transparent properties of this inexpensive material are great for tracing through from one sheet to another, making for speedy refinement of drawings. Many of the creative designers we speak to use a mix of mark-making tools, depending on the characteristics they wish to create; some work with marker pens, others prefer fiber-tipped fine-line pens, and some draw with soft pencils. The one aspect that these choices seem to have in common is that they enable the designer to vary the quality of the mark simply by varying the pressure: press hard to create a thicker, darker mark, and press more gently to create a lighter, finer tone.

Developing Your Own Design Shorthand



Returning to the description of this style of visualizing as being “relatively speedy,” in reality, this process can be time-consuming, and while the results are not necessarily great in detail, this is thoughtful work that we certainly find to be the most time-efficient and creative way to work, especially when confronted by completely new design challenges. The drawing and mark-making in visuals that we are discussing here function on a number of levels. They capture alternate options of the textural and tonal details of layout; they are also a great way to explore different compositional options; and they can be really helpful when used as templates or styles to help streamline the process from marking to final design. Typographic texture and tone will make various facets of a design more or less prominent. Choices of face, color, type size, tint, weight, inter-character spacing, line spacing and overall spatial distribution will affect the density of type and, therefore, the lightness or dark of the work. All of these aspects can be captured well with drawings and mark-making, influencing not only tonal values, but also the subtle textural qualities of type. Too often, visuals capture only the scale and position of type, without showing more detailed qualities.

Why Is Visualizing So Helpful To Designing With Type?



We take the view that using drawing and mark-making to produce visuals is an excellent way to develop ideas and extend design in order to explore creative possibilities. Drawing often pushes us into unexpected and exciting avenues of design that we might not have otherwise considered. An amazing link is made between the brain and hand, effectively enabling the interpretation and visualization of even the most subtle design ideas, such as textural and tonal variations. The act of drawing is an expression of this link. There are plenty of well-known quotes about the connections between the head, the heart and the hand. John Ruskin, the British artist and writer, said in the late-19th century, “The education of a young artist should always be a matter of the head and heart and the hand.” Art and design, Ruskin said, “must be produced by the subtlest of all machines, which is the human hand.” When the most effective combination is decided upon, the relationships and combinations can then be developed and applied across other micro aspects of the design challenge. Taking a number of these successfully resolved micro-visuals, we would progress to our second level of visualization: macro-visualizing. By using the semi-transparent properties of layout paper, we would speedily trace through and bring together a group of micro-visuals to form an entire “page” grouping. It is at this stage that we would draw in the page’s factors and try out different relationships of scale and varied compositional possibilities.



Beginning a new design in this way, we would always begin by seeking out the most complex aspect of the project. Figuring out a design system to tackle the most complicated scenario first makes it easier to apply the resulting design systems and connections to simpler aspects of the project. There are no hard and fast rules to sequencing the various aspects of visualization. We have found that the order in which we draw by hand and work on the computer varies, and the two methods are sometimes merged. However done, using these two methods of development in collaboration is an excellent way to maximize design ideas.

If You’re A Skilled Designer, Is Visualizing Really Necessary?



In a totally new design project, the technique outlined above helps to ensure that our result is not in any way restricted by the starting point on the computer or by the relatively simple manipulations that are often tempting to pursue but not always the most appropriate or stimulating. Illustrating helps to put our most effective design concepts squarely at center stage and forces us to then find the best way to achieve the desired result. If we start with a blank sheet of layout paper and pencil and, of course, undertake analysis to get inspiration, then design-wise, the sky’s the limit. Were ever inclined to simply reuse a colour pallette of typographic styles that worked in a previous project, simply for ease and speed? We know we were, but taking the time and effort to try out alternatives and to develop entirely different options would have improved the result and, for that matter, increased our satisfaction. We had our eyes on the clock and produced alternatives that were satisfactory but certainly not the most effective, stimulating or satisfying.

Translating Drawing Into Design



A vital aspect of this process is being able to translate the nuances of mark-making into the final work. This requires making a detailed and precise evaluation of the drawings. The subtle contrasts of tone and texture in your visuals should help to build a valuable picture of the type and imagery and, for that matter, every other aspect of the design. Look carefully at the subtleties in the visuals, and use them as a starting point in selecting the nuances of typeface, weight, tracking, kerning and even leading. Making the transition from smaller paper visuals to Web or print design can be difficult, and we discuss this issue often with our students. One system that seems to work well for now — albeit, one that relies totally on the images being proportional in size to the final design — is to scan or carefully photograph the visuals and then drop them into the background of a digital file to be used as a template for the final artwork. When the design is adequately rendered, the design can be deleted.

One more Reason To Draw: As Inspiration For Working With Type And Image



The ease and instant satisfaction of rapidly producing a design right on the computer screen is very appealing. Acceptable concepts can be and are produced this way. But if a designer aspires to a wider spectrum of fascinating and usable visual concepts, then achieving this by working solely on the computer is unlikely. In no way are we belittling the computer; the tool is invaluable to the designer. But we strongly believe that it should not replace the instinctive pathways between the head, heart and hand. Drawing by hand first and then by computer is not set in stone; either may come first if we use them in tandem to explore and develop the most effective solutions for viewers and designers alike. Paper and pencil ideas must be a part of the design process if ideas are to be maximized. There are no rules or precise styles that designers need to follow, although ample precision and detail is needed in order to be able to make well-advised judgments. Our cut-and-paste way of working with found samples of type and adding together unusual combos can also be an inspiring starting point. While there are no set do’s and dont´s in the design method, an appropriate amount of drawing, mark-making and trial and error is bound to improve the final result.
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