Just because

Type designers and lettering artists love to take photos of letters from the past.

I know I have held up many groups as I doubled back for a photo of a ghost sign. Or planned a walk in a new city, specifically for that purpose.

I think it’s expert type designer and educator Erik van Blokland who reminds his students that, “just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s good.”

(The closest I can find to a real citation for this is in an interview between him and James Edmondson, where Blokland’s point is paraphrased: “At some point however, we must realize that just because the historical precedent exists, it doesn’t mean it’s actually successful, or that we have to honor it.”)

This is helpful advice while working on a revival of an old typeface, or really holding up any well-established design convention as unquestionably correct. Designing letterforms is in part a balancing act between the conventional and unconventional. When a group of letters is too unconventional, will they still be interpreted as a word? When they are too conventional, has anything actually been made?

Sometimes I get stuck on theory for too long, though, so there is another way I like to frame this for myself.

For those of us who agonize about whether the type or lettering project we’re working through is worthwhile or “good enough,” I try to keep the opposite in mind, too: just because it’s new to me, doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad.

Until next time,