Saadiyat means Happiness in Arabic and it is the name of a beautiful island adjacent to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
The island is the home of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and will soon host the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the Sheik Zayed National Museum. Since 2014 it is also the home of the New York University Abu Dhabi, where I teach Visual Design and Communication.
For the Type@Paris Typeface Design Masterclass, I have imagined a brief for a humanist sans serif to be used around our campus.
Five weeks are not enough not just for designing a typeface, but not even to complete a proper research about any chosen subject. In my case I was oriented to books and sources on the Roman Capital and the beautiful book by Paul Shaw “The Eternal Letter” stayed open for all five week: it is an incredible feeling when you are given new vantage points from which addressing a topic once thought as already explored in dept, and this course made me realize how little I knew about type design as a craft! Just to think about the number of type designers who spent years measuring the letters on the basement of the Trajan Column, is reason enough to stop any pretention of designing any valuable type and go back to the library to hit the books (and by the way: it is quite a shame that the beautiful Pascal by José Mendoza y Almeida is not given the same attention and recognition of, say, the Optima by Hermann Zapf).
But that has not been the spirit of Type@Paris and I am so grateful for that. The masterclass has been all about learning by doing; yes, we did had no less than five amazing research visits: the Rare Books room at the National Library, the Bibliothèque Mazarine and André Jammes rare books collection in Paris, and the Museum of printing and Musée Gallo-Roman in Lyon; but the core of the class has been on the craft: from free hand calligraphy and tracing to learning a type design software from scratch (BTW: Glyphs, excellent!) we did not had a moment of rest.
I struggled a lot in finding my own pace in type design and learn valuable lessons in time management: is an afternoon enough for 9 numerals? The answer is no. Not now at least! :-)
The lessons on forms, counter forms and spacing by Jean-Francois Porchez and the amazing team of designer he assembled for the masterclass, hit me on so many fronts I think I still have to recover, as I write this note on the very last day of the course. Basically every day ended with me going through my notes and ordering books over the net while staying awake at night designing letters until my eyes hurt.
Of course, I did not expect to be be able to design a finite, plausible type from scratch in 5 weeks; there is still so much to learn: interpolation, just to say one word! Spacing, if you need a second one; fundamental concepts in type design that require time and devotion to be perfected. I am happy and proud of what I have accomplished in five weeks. My Saadiyat, as it is now, it is nothing but an embryo. A typeface in nuce, with some interesting characteristics that I’d love to elaborate more in the future. For the moment it will look fine on my cards and that’ll be all. ;-)
The great type designer Jose Mendoza Y Almeida said that it takes 15 years of practice before you can call yourself a type designer; I did experiment for 5 weeks. Cool. That means 775 weeks to go; stay tuned for some news from me in July 2030.
The 6-week type design programme that you’ve been waiting for starts on 6 June and ends 13 July 2023.
Our summer programme is in English and covers typeface design and calligraphy techniques, type history, and software practices. Every kind of design professional can learn about type design in a relatively short amount of time.