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The Beauty of Typographic Communication

Hi everyone,
This is a guess post from my friend and fellow designer Tim Smith.Things to know about Tim:
    He was born in England
    His wife’s a gymnast
    Loves the Lord
    Drinks a lot of Lady Grey Tea
    And is one of the best up and coming designers
Keep your eye on him…


I find myself sketching a Bodoni uppercase ‘A’ on a notepad while I’m talking on the phone. It’s a fairly accurate rendition; I’ve done it hundreds of times before. The fact of the matter is that I am obsessed. Letterforms, to me, are far more than simply functional units that we use to make up words. They are individual art-forms, each with their own identifying characteristics and opportunities for creative exploration. I have filled a great number of sketchbook pages with stenciled letters, hand-drawn type, cutout text, and compositional studies that explore “the letterform as a design element”.

To think that as designers, we are limited to our 50 or so favorite fonts and an Adobe color palette is a huge mistake. It’s amazing how much you can convey with type if you approach it differently and find it’s character. I remember sitting in a type III studio at the Rhode Island School of Design a few years ago; in just ten minutes the class came up with over 100 ways to make type descriptive (and there are infinitely more). Anything from “burn it, twist it, fold it, rip it, smudge it”, to “collage it, bake it, illuminate it, photograph it, construct it, and carve it.”

Attachment8A willingness to experiment with type seems the key to making it expressive, which in turn creates an emotion beyond your ‘Black 12pt Times New Roman, auto kerned and leaded’. At RISD, I saw an Optima ‘Q’ become a flower vase, and a Helvetica cake. I saw hand-stitched foam type floating down the Providence River. There was always blue masking tape messages adhered to the walls of the campus, advertising some upcoming event. I found letterforms in the scratches on tabletops, in ornate iron railings, in a junkyard heap, in the pose of a musician, and even in groupings of hairs stuck to the plastic walls after a shower. At that time, the world was my toolkit and creativity was everywhere. So why should I lose this world of opportunities– just because I finished school? No.

This keen experimentation has led me to a career of approaching design projects differently – I’ll always
ask myself first, “can I convey this message with type alone? And if so– How?” I draw, I paint, I collage, and I think. And ultimately, this fascination with the beauty of type and discovery of letterforms has taken me down any number of paths that have led to what every designer craves in communication – uniqueness.

Tim Smith is a freelance designer in Boston, MA, and was recently recruited as a lead designer for Staples Inc. He received a BFA Graphic Design, RISD ’07 and a BFA Painting, UNH ’04. A portfolio of recent works can be found at

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