Notes For Graphic Design History Class

Notes taken from Graphic Design: A New History by Stephen J. Eskilson

Introduction: The Origins of Type and Typography

Around 1455, Gutenburg published his famous Bible, which was set in a typeset of gothic script called Textura, a name that refers to the dense web of spiky letterforms that fill the completed page, giving it a “textured” look. Textura was an example of blackletter type, meaning that the letters strongly resembled the calligraphic writing of medieval scribes. (p.15)

One of the finest early books printed in Venice using roman type was Eusebius’s treatise De Praeparatione Evangelica, published by a French expatriate, Nicolas Jenson (1420–1480). He proved to have an excellent eye for forms that are both highly legible and beautiful.(p.17)

Around 1500, Aldus Manutius (1449–1515), a Venetian humanist and printer, published the first work in roman italic type. (p.17)

Manutius also produced a number of roman forms, and the one he used in his 1495 volume of De Aetna, by Pietro Bembo, proved highly influential. Along with Jenson-Eusebius, Bembo is the basis for the group of roman type called Old Style, which together are distinguished by their understated contrast, bracketed serifs, and oblique stress. Old Style, followed by Transitional, and then Modern. (p.17)

Another important contribution to Renaissance typography was made by the French printer and publisher Claude Garamond (1480–1561). One of Garamond’s key contributions was an adaptation of Manutius’s Bembo that is perhaps more refined than the original. (p.17)

Philippe Grandjean de Fouchy (1666–1714) was appointed to cut the new type called Romain du Roi, “roman of the king.” The invention of the Romain du Roi probably represents the first time that a horizontal and vertical grid became the basic tool for structuring a typeface. (p.19)

What made the original Caslon so popular was not any dynamic, stylish flair, but rather its solid functionality.(p.20)

The Transitional types created by John Baskerville (1706–1775) were almost universally condemned for what was perceived as their stark, abstract qualities and extreme contrast in stroke widths. A desire to print his typeface accurately had led Baskerville to a number of innovations in the printing process. First, he had invented new inks in order to make the slender, delicate shapes of his letters stand out on the page. He experimented with different paper types, finally settling on wove paper that had a smooth, glossy finish. Baskerville also used a technique called “hot pressing,” whereby he would heat newly printed pages between copper plates, a process that smoothed the sheet while also setting the ink more effectively.(p.21)

Around 1783, Firmin Didot refined his family’s roman face to help create the new Modern style. Didot would soon become the most influential Modern face, because it set the standard for contrast, stress, and geometric structure. (p.21–p.23)

In Italy, Giambattista Bodoni (1740–1813) of Parma introduced the Modern style in the late 18th century. Influenced by the work of the Didot foundry, Bodoni created a beautiful roman that further defined the Modern style. (p.23)

Chapter 1: The 19th Century

Industrial Revolution: the rise of inexpensive, mass-produced printed materials contributed to life in the new urban setting.

The German inventors Friedrich Koenig (1774–1833) and Andreas Bauer (1783–1860) sold their new power press to The Times newspaper of London in 1814. It could produce over one thousand pages per hour. (p.29)

Lithography had been invented late in the eighteenth century by Alois Sanefelder (1771–1834), a German playwright who had sought an inexpensive way of reproducing theatrical scripts. The chemical process he devised allowed for an image to be drawn directly onto a block of limestone and then reproduced in large quantities at low cost. (p.29)

Chromolithography: the invention of process color printing made the accurate photographic transfer of color images more feasible, if not yet commonplace, by the turn of the [19th] century.(p.29)

The pictorial newspaper was one of the most influential types of nineteenth-century publication. (p.30)

Photography was an important technological development during the nineteenth century that would later prove crucial to the evolution of graphic design. The ability to make “drawing with light,” which is the literal meaning of the word “photography,” was discovered simultaneously in the 1830s by a Frenchman, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), and an Englishman, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877). (p.30)

One significant contrast with the European market was the American use of bright, expressive color in advertisements (p.41)

The nineteenth century also witnessed the advent of the color political poster (p.41)

The Victorian age indeed witnessed many examples of the mixing of a multitude of confusing styles in the design of periodicals. (p.45)

One class of type invented in the nineteenth century that has remained influential through to the present day is the sans serif. The first commercial sans serif was released in 1816 by William Caslon IV (1780–1869). (p.46)

The first advertising agency, N.W. Ayer & Sons, was established in Philadelphia in 1869. (p.50)

more to come


First Week of Class

I made it through the first week of teaching. On the first day, I introduced the syllabus and gave students an assessment on HTML & CSS. Out of 19 students, only one had 8/10 right. The majority of the class handed in blank. Although this is an upper level class, I understand why many of them don’t know the basics of HTML & CSS. The curriculum doesn’t put the emphasis on the technical aspect of it. I want to change that. To be in the web field, students have to know how to code or at least they have to understand the language to speak with the developers.

In order to get the students to learn HTML & CSS quickly, I am making the coding assignment as simple as possible. I want the students to learn the new HTML5 elements right away and not have to worry about supporting older browsers. (That should be the job of the front-end developer.) They just need to know the essential elements of web design. I am using my 13 years of experience in web design to provide them what they need to learn in one semester.

On day two, I showed the class HTML5 Boilerplate. I stripped the default template down to its core and walked them through line by line starting from the doctype. They seem to get it right away. For our first project, I asked them to design a web site specifically for smartphone devices only. When I send out my syllabus to have a few professors look at it, they warned me that I should narrow down the scope and give the students some limitations. I went ahead and kept it open. The result was that students came up problems that they want to solve. For instance, one mother came up with a concept of creating a site about food allergies because her two-year-old daughter has severe allergy reaction. I was thrilled that all 18 students came up with each unique concept. We’ll see how they’ll execute them.

As for my own class, I am taking Experiential History of Graphic Design, which is a “hybrid lecture/studio course provides a historical perspective of the evolution of graphic design and examines graphic design’s contribution to culture through writing and design projects.” We’re starting with calligraphy, something I have never done before. I am a bit worried about the midterm and the final exam. I have never done well on tests.

Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, the book I spent reading over the summer, turns out to be not the required textbook for this class. Graphic Design: A New History by Stephen J. Eskilson is the required book instead. Unlike Meggs’ which goes all the way back to how writing started, this book begins right on Johannes Gutenberg. It’s a good read so far.

The Squarespace Brand

I met up with a potential client yesterday and she excited showed me a site for her friend’s business that she really liked. As soon as she pulled up the site, I immediately recognized the Squarespace’s template. What did she like about the site? She loved the big photos, the sliding images and the photo parallax effect.

Even though I am getting tired of hearing Squarespace ads on every podcast as well as the hosts raving about it, I have to give Squarespace the credits for capturing its target audience: small mom and pops shops. My only worry is that all of these small business owners are wanting something like the Squarespace template without realizing that they are losing their own uniqueness. Don’t they want to standout rather than stand-in?

For just $8 a month, they could have a decent site even though it might look like 10 thousand other sites or they can paid designer a much higher price to create a unique experience for thier products and services. The choice is thiers.

Just Enough Research

One of the intriguing challenges of being a designer is that you never know what type of projects come your way. How can you solve the users’ problem if you don’t know anything about the project yourself? This is where Erika Hall’s Just Enough Research comes in handy. From organizational to user to competitive to evaluative to quantitative, Hall has all your researches covered. Read it and apply it because “research can save you and the rest of your team a ton of time and effort.”


Academics & Search Sections

I added two new navigation items to this site. The search item is, well, obvious. The academics section is the place where I document my class projects for Master of Arts in Graphic Design and teaching practices. The new section allows me to separate my class projects from my professional projects. I’ll add more works as I am getting closer to finishing up my MA.

Responsive Design Workflow

When I was an intern many years ago, I asked my mentor if I could watch him work in Photoshop. I was interested in his process. Reading Responsive Design Workflow is like seeing how Stephen Hay goes through his process. It’s fascinating and informative at once. Some of his workflows could definitely be incorporated into my own process, and yours as well.


Foundations of Web Design: Introduction to HTML & CSS

I was searching for an approachable and comprehensive book on HTML & CSS to recommend to students and Thomas Michaud’s Foundations of Web Design fits the bill. The instructions are easy to follow. The illustrations are clear. Most important of all, the contents are up-to-date. I am also glad that Michaud included a chapter on ARIA landmark roles.


Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited

Since part of the course I will be teaching is on usability, I need to find a book for students to read. I spent the past three nights revisiting Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think and it gives me nostalgia. Most usability principles remain the same since 2000 (when the first edition of the book was published), but the third edition is updated with new screenshots and a new chapter devoted to mobile. It’s definitely worth rereading.


The Boys Are Growing

The parenting department has been staled. Life with the boys are challenging but great. Dan is still in his terrible two stage, but he is such a cutie. Yesterday I took him to Flippin’ Pizza, he said “Pizza is delicious. Pizza is good for you. Pizza is good for me.” Last night when I tried to put him to bed, he kept rolling around and kicked my face. I got mad he scolded him, “Go to sleep.” He responded, “I thought you were my friend.” How can you get mad at that?

This year’s family reunion, there were about a dozen of boys and only one girl. Dan got really closed with her even though she is quite older than him. He wanted her to be his friend only and no one else. He would fight others if they tried to get closed to her. Over the weekend, we were at the playground and he came to two Asian girls who were also older than him and started to make friends. He asked them to cook chicken and donuts for him and the girls were gladly played along.

Dao, on the other hand, is growing so fast. At the reunion, he played along with everyone. Our relatives recognized the changes in him from last year. He was very grumpy the previous year, but this year he laughed and played with his cousins. I can’t believe he is starting kindergarden in two weeks. My boys are growing.

Nguyên Khang – Tình Hờ

Trong buổi biểu tình chống Trung Quốc tại Washington DC vài tháng trước, tôi và Nguyên Khang ngồi trò chuyện thì có một bác trai đến hỏi Khang, “Cháu có phải là Đặng Thế Luân không?” Tôi hơi bị đột ngột thì Khang lễ phép trả lời, “Dạ không con là Nguyên Khang.” Khi bác bước đi Khang nói, “Chắc bác này không nghe nhạc Việt Nam.” Tôi mỉm cười đồng ý. Ngoài chiều cao ngang nhau, Nguyên Khang và Đặng Thế Luân không có điểm gì giống nhau cả.

Với album mới Tình Hờ, Khang chứng tỏa vị trí của mình trong làng văn nghệ Việt Nam. Chất giọng Khang càng dày và đậm theo thời gian. Đặc biệt qua “Một Lần” của Dương Phương Linh, Khang hát điêu luyện và nhiều cảm xúc. Qua điệu dương cầm ostinato, Khang hát chậm và đầy niềm tin. Khang trình bài “Trắng” (Trần Quảng Nam) rất có ấn tượng.

Đáng lý ra “Tình Hờ” nghe rất phê nhưng tiếc rằng chỉ được nửa bài. Trong một liên khúc do Diễm Liên và Khang trình diển trong Asia DVD 75, Khang đã cắt ra và cho vào album thay vì thâu lại nguyên bài. Trong khi “Tình Hờ” chỉ có hai phút rưởi còn “Dạ Khúc Cho Tình Nhân” (Lê Uyên Phương) thì hơn bảy phút. Tuy Khang hát rất tới nhưng cách hòa âm không đạt lắm nhất là khi đưa vào tiếng guitar ồn ào. Không hiểu sao Khang lại gồng lên khi hát “Một Ngày Như Mọi Ngày” làm mất đi sự nhẹ nhàng trong lời ca của Trịnh Công Sơn.

Tuy Tình Hờ có một số sơ suất và không có một khái niệm (concept) rõ ràng, nhưng cũng là một album đáng nghe.