Type@Cooper Condensed Program

I usually post in portuguese but since most of the students who apply for Type@Cooper (or have interest to know about it) are international, I decided to write this post in english.

The Condensed Typeface Design Program happens once a year at the Cooper Union in New York. It is a 5-week rigorous and intensive program to study type design. Students learn the structure of letters from calligraphy exercises and then develop their own typeface.

I should say that there is a very good and popular post on about the condensed program and that helped me a lot. But that was not the first time I heard about the program. Actually, a friend of mine told me about it. Bruno Mello told me he had came back from New York a while ago because he was studying type design at Cooper. It wasn’t very hard to notice he had a passion for type and his work was very good. He highly recommended this course and showed me the post on ilovetypography.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it and it was just a matter of time for me to apply.

Calligraphy, drawing letters, type history & library visits

There was 14 of us. Each one with very different nationalities and backgrounds: some had already done a few typefaces and felt very confortable with the broad nip pen while others had never tried calligraphy before nor did a functional type in a program like Fontlab or Robofont. The approach each one wanted for their project was very different too. There were people who had an inclination for display typefaces or something with a very strong personality (the word “de-funkfication” was created during a critic) and others who wanted to create a font for books or newspapers.

We were instructed by Hannes Famira and Just van Rossum and our starting point was calligraphy with broad nip pen. From the very beginning we were encouraged to write words and phrases to get conscious about spacing and that made all the difference in our next steps.

We learned how to write roman characters and after a while we moved on to italics. We were slowly learning the contrast of the letters, their structure in its essence.

So this is what we had for the first weeks- we wrote in the morning and in the night time and we also had lectures about the history of type with Sasha (Alexander Tochilovsky) in the afternoon. He is also the curator at the Herb Lubalin Study Center and we had access to their material which is amazing and provided great ideas for our own projects.

Big inspiration also came from a walking tour organized by him in Brooklyn to see type in architecture and from two library visits (Columbia University and NY Public Library) where we had access to old and rare books (1400s, 1500s and so on).

After we learned the structure of letters, we started drawing them. Everyone got excited about it and now we could tweak a little, add different serifs, try bold versions of our letters, etc.



Our own project

After drawing and writing letters non-stop, we started thinking about our project and bringing our ideas to class. Some of us already came with an idea from the lectures or the walking tour or whatever, while others tried to get inspiration from sketching a lot. I only knew I wanted to design a typeface for books. For my first project in type design I really wanted to do a workhorse font readable in all sizes. I wanted it to have a tall x-height, calligraphic virtues, strong characters and a rhythmic and dark color on page. Something very functional but with a strong personality.

During this process we got feedback and critiques from different people: students from the Extended Program, Andy ClymerJesse RaganCyrus Highsmith and of course Hannes Famira and Just van Rossum. That means we got different opinions about our work and that was very very positive but I think it took a while for everyone to notice that in some level there is no absolute truth about our type and we had to make choices and follow our own path.


Picture by Quique Ollervides

In Cyrus’ critique he mentioned he was impressed by the quality of everybody’s work and that this process was very hard because we were learning how to design a typeface and also how to design our own typeface. We were also learning how to use Robofont. It was not just another July vacation. It was very hard but totally worthy.


Weekends at the Public Library. Picture by Quique Ollervides.

After 5 weeks of hard work all 14 students had great projects. Some of us want to be type designers, others want to use that learning to be better graphic designers. I know it was an enriching and rewarding month for everyone there. I can’t believe how much I learned and it was amazing to see everyone’s work getting better and better. It’s important to say it’s a very intensive program that demands lot of dedication and effort. After we started drawing letters everyone started to jump breaks and lunch time got shorter. Socializing and exploring the city were not a focus and weekends were also dedicated to type. But it was lot of fun though. It was an inspiring month and a big start in type design. I guess everyone will keep working on their project and sharpening the eye to make their fonts even better but I’m still amazed by our results for this summer.


Kafka Serif

This is the result of Kafka Serif, my final project at Cooper. It will be released soon. View this project here. 





1 Comment

  1. Hannes Famira

    Hey Gabriela, thank you so much for this post. I am sure it will help people who are considering applying to the program, but more importantly, it reminds me of the very special summer of type we all experienced together.


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