dot-font: May the Finest Serifs Win

What’s the most important thing in judging how well a typeface is designed? Legibility? Originality? Outrageousness? Refinement? Precision? Playfulness? Sturdiness? Sparkle? Contrast? Optical size?

These are the kinds of qualities that judges of type-design competitions must think about — these and many others. As it happens, there are several type-design competitions currently open and taking entries.

TDC2 2001
One such competition is one I’m chairing this year: TDC2 2001, the annual type-design competition of the Type Directors Club. (You won’t be able to tell it from the Web text on your screen, but the “2” of “TDC2” is meant to be a superscript, as in “TDC-squared.” This distinguishes it from the TDC’s much-longer-running competition for design with type — that is, typography — which this year is dubbed TDC47.)

The Call for Entries was distributed at the ATypI conference in Leipzig in September, and will be mailed shortly to the general TDC mailing list. The Call this year is a long, narrow, single-sheet form that’s folded into six panels and that opens vertically. It was printed just before the Leipzig conference — just before the conference. In a heroic bit of deadline brinkmanship, the first copies were delivered to Carol Wahler, the TDC’s executive director, a few hours before she left for Germany. But they were not folded. In Leipzig, the day before the conference started, Carol and four volunteers hand-folded 300-odd copies for distribution in the goodie bag to ATypI attendees. It was not intuitively obvious exactly how the six-panel piece was meant to be folded, and the faxed diagram that illustrated the proper approach had somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. As a result, five different people had five different ideas of how to fold the Call for Entries. In fact, none of them was the way it had been designed to be folded — but all of them worked. Attendees could compare and contrast a variety of folding schemes if they looked in each other’s goodie bags.

First things first. The deadline for TDC2 2001 is January 5, 2001. The competition is open to anyone who has designed a typeface, anywhere in the world. The competition covers typefaces that were completed and/or released this year — between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2000. (Yes, there’s still time to design or release a new typeface and enter it in the competition.)

Any alphabet or writing system is eligible, not just the Latin alphabet.

There are several categories: text designs, display designs, pi designs, text/display type systems, and what’s called type superfamilies. Text and display designs are pretty obvious topic, and pi fonts are sort of “everything else” (math fonts, ornaments, dingbats, symbols, and so on), but the last two categories might call for some explanation. (You can find details in the Call for Entries or, within a few days, on the TDC Web site.) A “type system” is a set of text and display fonts that are designed to work together. (An example might be the ITC Bodoni family, which has different designs for use at 6 point, 12 point, and 72 point.) A “superfamily” consists of related fonts in different categories of type design, such as serif and sans-serif typefaces that are designed to work together. (An example might be FF Thesis, which comprises three large families: a sans, a serif, and a “mixed” or partly seriffed face.) The judges will use these categories.

The entry fees, which are lower for TDC members than for non-members, also have categories. There are three rates, depending on complexity: single typeface, type family, and type system or superfamily. In addition, like many design competitions, this one includes a hanging fee for the winners.

The entries selected by the jury will be exhibited alongside the winners of the TDC47 competition, and they’ll appear in the TDC’s design annual, Typography 22. The exhibition opens in New York City in the summer of 2001, and then travels around the country and the world.

The judges for TDC2 2001 are Robert Bringhurst, poet, typographic historian, and author of The Elements of Typographic Style; Tobias Frere-Jones, type designer until recently with Font Bureau in Boston and now with the Hoefler Type Foundry in New York; Helen Keyes, creative director at Enterprise IG and active in the Typographic Circle in London before she moved to New York; and Carol Twombly, one of three principal type designers at Adobe Systems until she left last year. The judges will meet in New York in January to evaluate the entries.

TDC2 is an anonymous competition. That is, when the judges see the entries, there is no indication of the typeface’s name or of who designed it. The famous and the unknown are judged together, purely on what the typeface looks like. The only other factor is how well the typeface is actually presented, since there are only very general requirements for the form of the entry itself.

This year also sees the first type-design competition ever conducted by ATypI (the Association Typographique Internationale). Chairman Maxim Zhukov gave the competition the somewhat playful Russian name “bukva:raz!” which means “letter:one!” Not all details have been finalized, but bukva:raz! will cover a five-year period: typefaces designed or released between the beginning of 1996 and the end of this year.

The year 2001 has been designated the “Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations” by the United Nations. As befits a worldwide organization, ATypI reflects this in its type competition by specifically inviting entries in all scripts and writing systems: Latin, Cyrillic, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Devanagari, etc. The judging will take place in Moscow in December, 2001, organized there by the Type Designers Association.

The jury will be an international one, with expertise in type design for many writing systems. Although the composition of the jury is not final, tentatively the judges are Matthew Carter, Yuri Cherchuk, Akira Kobayashi, Lyubov’ Kuznetsova, Henrik Mnatsakanyan, Fiona Ross, and Vladimir Yefimov.

The fees will be deliberately low, to encourage submissions from all countries.

There will, of course, be an exhibition and a catalog. The deadline will be in the fall of 2001.

In another Russian-based turn of events, a new competition was announced this summer specifically for the design of Cyrillic typefaces: TypeArt, sponsored by CompuArt magazine, ParaType, and Vedi Font Project. The deadline will be March 1, 2001. There are no entry fees or hanging fees.

The judges of TypeArt are Vladimir Dedkov and Valery Murakhveri (CompuArt magazine), Nikolay Dubina (Vedi Font Project), Yuri Gordon (LetterHead foundry), and Vladimir Yefimov (ParaType). All entries will be posted on the competition’s Web site and published in CompuArt; in an unusual process, the judges will be aided — and influenced — by public ratings of the entries.

Other competitions happen from time to time. (If I’ve missed any current ones, I’d welcome information on them.) The design of typefaces is too often a thankless task, appreciated only by specialists and seldom paying the designers very well. Everybody uses type, usually without giving much thought to who actually designed the letterforms and turned them into usable fonts. Competitions like these give us all a chance to focus on the art and craft of type design, and give the practitioners a small bit of the recognition they deserve.

Read more by John D. Berry.


Posted on: October 6, 2000

2 Comments on dot-font: May the Finest Serifs Win

  1. The author is right that contests are an excellent way to hone your skills and sharpen your portfolio. I would love to have a way to find out who is holding design awards and competitions, and how to apply. Thanks.

  2. Contest is always a virtue to make a identity of our self its a great opportunity to prove you skills and an artist what could ask for even better then this ,recently i have won an nokia 5310 phone in a contest.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.