It’s a cover up

Really inspired by all the projects I saw today.

I wondered if you guys could help me out with the cover of my booklet.

My initial design looked like this:

Alternative covers A

Will felt that having text over text didn’t work and also didn’t like the boxes very much.

As an alternative I have tried three other approaches:

Alternative covers B

Alternative covers C

Alternative covers D

I think the third choice is probably best, but what do you think? Perhaps a totally different design? Any suggestions would be welcomed. Hope you are all okay.


Visualising the signage system – Ben

Hi all, hope things are not too stressful in the run up to hand in. I know I’m starting to worry, but I’m trying to be optimistic!

I’ve been asked to create a proposal for the signage system at the museum before getting permission to put the signs up and photograph them. It seemed to me like a good opportunity to tie the project up by creating a booklet with all my research and the signage proposal. So all this week I’ve been beavering away at book design – given the scrutiny that design gets it is no mean task!

However as part of writing the proposal I decided to create some mock-ups of what the signs could look like when they are in place. When I first visited the museum I saw the excellent Victorian tiles and wondered if I could tie them into the design:

white-tiles yellow-tilesI thought no more about it for a while but while speaking to David Jury I had the idea of using my lettering directly on the tiles instead of using my own tiles (if you see what I mean!) So I’ve been experimenting with some mock up images and here are the results:

Gas-Engine-Room-v2 Engine-exit Electirc-Room

And here is a zoomed in image:


As you can see I’ve tired to use the tiles as a grid structure for the letters, so each character is two bricks high, with one brick of leading (two bricks to distinguish separate entries). I’ve also designed some pointing hands. Hopefully they add a touch of jollity to the work and are also appropriate to the Victorian era (David tells me they were known in the trade as ‘fists’ for some obscure reason).

Anyway Withnail & I is on the telly so I’ll go to sleep watching that now.

All the best dudes!



Tile design – Ben

Hello all!

In my last post I mentioned the idea of creating a tile system with raised lettering which could be used by the museum. The initial idea was to 3D print these tiles, but for now I have made them by cutting the letters from 3mm thick black Perspex and mounting them onto white Perspex tiles.

I mounted the letter by cluing them in place and in order to line them up I used the engrave function of the laser cutter to engrave an image of each letter as a guide for mounting them. It’s still a tricky process to get the letters precisely in place.

Here are a couple of images of the finished result:

Boiler-House-tiles Boiler-House-tiles-angle

The advantage of this system is that duplicates of all the letters can be made so as signs get worn out they can be easily replaced and if a need arises for new signs they should be easy to make new ones (another advantage is that misspellings are easy to fix – something I’d find particularly useful!). If these were designed for a 3D printer then letters could be made to order. Although at the present date 3D printing costs of large items is still much more expensive than the laser cutting approach I have taken.

The other advantage of using tiles is that the side bearings can be used to space the letters. I must admit that I am not quite sure on how to space the letters. I did try measuring the spacing on the original signs as a guide:


But as you can see there is quite a lot of inconsistency in how the letters are spaced. I have also played with the idea of creating a large cap for the initial letters of each word – although that might be a bit too much to chew on at this letter stage and I still want to refine the characters I have. Anyway here is an impression of how the large caps could look:


I took care to measure the small cap letters of the original signs and have made these letters the same size so that I can place them alongside the originals for comparison.

Anyway that’s all for now, good skills everyone!


Taxonomy of a typeface

Hello all!

I’m stuck at home waiting for a delivery so I thought I would update you guys on what I am up to on my project. Will and I discussed my work and he suggested I should do a taxonomy of the Cambridge street signs. With this in mind I have been scouring the town taking pictures of as many street signs as I can. (Note I am only interested in the 19th century sign designs not the modern ones).

The next stage has been to categorize them, not an easy task since the various styles constantly mix and blur into each other. I have identified three main categories of design (although this system is open to dispute!):

The old style:


These designs are characterized by thick strokes and blobby (to use a technical term!) bracketed serifs. The contrast between the thin and thick strokes is very high.

The next category is what I have called ‘neat’ or ‘condensed’:

Devonshire-Road-NEAT Saint-Johns-Street-NEAT

This typeface is more ‘well mannered’ than the previous one. The casting appears to be better, as well as less worn. The face is not as wide, serifs are neater. Even in this ‘class’ there is a fair amount of variation, in the examples above Devonshire Road has a tall and thin typeface, whereas the Saint Johns Street sign has a more short and squat appearance.

The final category is the ‘Quirky serif’ face. This is the main inspiration for my typeface design:

New-Square New-Park-Street Hobson-StreetGranchester-Road

The distinguishing feature of this face is the missing serifs on the lower outside stem of the N H and R. This might appear to be some sort of mistake, but it’s repeated throughout the examples I have found. It appears that if one of these letters begins the name (an initial letter) it keeps all its serifs, but loses them if placed anywhere else in the letter. The following example of Gilbert Road shows that the R in Road has all its serifs, but the R in Gilbert has lost one:


Despite these peculiarities (notice also the curled L) the face is well balanced and consistent. Much more so than the old style which feels heavy and has blobby brackets.

Here is my current draft typeface, based on the above aesthetic. I can see many tweaks I can make now that I have more photographic evidence of the original designs to work with (click to enlarge):

Typeface-4-landscapeFinally I showed most of you my letter cut design, but I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet so here is a picture of it:


Having discussed this design with Will he has suggested I should look at creating a system of raised lettering on titles which could be slotted together. This could be designed to be 3D printed so that replacement letters would be easy to generate for future lettering projects. It’s an intriguing idea, especially as much of the inconsistencies in the 19th century signs probably came from inconsistent manufacturing processes – something that 3D printing can solve. Then again perhaps it is the inconsistencies which give Cambridge street signs their handmade quirky character!

What do you guys think about my system of categorization? I reckon there are more sub-categories to be made in the ‘neat’ style, but there is so much variation it makes it hard.

Anyway I hope you are all enjoying the Easter break!



Going into the third dimension

Hi all,

Just wanted to update you all with where I am with my 3D lettering project. I’m currently on the third draft of the lettering. I’ve been looking at alternative thick/thin relationships. In the first draft I decided on a 2:1 relationship, then I experimented with a 4:1 relationship:



I have also been investigating different forms of brackets and how the bowls on the likes  B, P and R operates. The next stage has been to create the letters. To do this I have used the university’s laser cutter to cut the letterforms from a sheet of 3mm thick black prespex:

The laser cutter in action

The laser cutter in action


Here are the cut letterforms against a white background:

Cambride letters

I am also interested in the possibilities of using the left over sheet to create recessed letters:

Cut out letters

The left over board. The A counter form has gone missing!

This has opened up new ideas for the possible usage of this lettering. Something like a modest version of the superb British Library lettering designed by David Kindersley might be possible:


The lettering for the British Library, designed by David Kindersley

See you all next week.


Typeface design – Ben

Since my last post I have been looking for a suitable typeface for the environmental typeface design at the museum. Will suggested I look at some of the late Victorian cast iron signage which is unique to Cambridge. The Museum of Technology has actually preserved some of the original signs which I photographed while I was there (click to enlarge):


Some signs of this type can still be seen around town. This typeface has some unusual characteristics. It appears to be based on a Clarendon model but there is some eccentricities and some letter designs vary between signs. This could be an opportunity to design a typeface with alternative characters and use the OpenType features to implement it.

Anyway the main point of this post is to show my DRAFT version of the typeface. This first version is very shaky as I’m learning typeface design as I go, but hopefully it at least provides a base from which I can refine, refine and refine again. So, gulp, here it is (click to enlarge):


I have provided images of the original letters for reference. Clearly there is a lot of work to do as several of the characters are looking awful at the moment. However it has been a very useful exercise as it has allowed me to learn about the relationships between stroke thickness, rules regarding serifs and how counter forms can be used to design type. For example I designed the counter form for the B and by scaling it up I created the bowl of the letter. Some of these letters are too stretched out (The E, F, K, L, U and V), the W and J are eccentric (although I LIKE the J) and the stroke on the X looks too thick. Also generally I think the thin strokes could be thinner (they are currently half the size of the thick strokes).

Obviously I was hampered by not having images for all the letters, and in some cases I had to use the “capital” letters as a model. I should explain the signs use an uppercase and a small caps case, so by capital I mean the large letters at the start of each word:


So for example in the above example I used the large F as a model which is not ideal (also on this sign the type seems more condensed (narrower) than on other signs.

I mentioned eccentric designs and below is some of the alternative character designs and my version of them:


Some of these are condensed versions of letters (I think the condensed E and F are far more elegant – although I do not have a photo of a regular small cap F). The bizarre H and N alternatives are very odd, but I like the curved in serif on the alternative L. This appears to be a feature peculiar to Cambridge signs and has been mentioned by other designers.

My ultimate plan is to produce three dimensional letters from these models. I think I might use a laser cutter to do this due to the cost and difficulty of access to a 3D printer – although I believe the School of Art may just have taken delivery of one. I also have a friend who has the ability to cast designs in metal – which would be great if it’s financially viable.

I then hope to design a way finding system for the museum which would make use of the typeface, as well as a main sign for the museum entrance.

I think that’s enough for now!

Thanks, Ben

Matthew Carter on typeface design

Hi all, I’d thought I would share this nugget of information on typeface design taken from Matthew Carter during his interview for the Helvetica movie (which is available from our library – or will be when I return it!) I think it’s of general use to those of us designing type. I hope it’s useful.

It’s hard to generalise about the way type designers work, there really isn’t a generality of us. But I think that most type designers, if they were sitting in this chair, would essentially start in much the same way.

I would probably start with a lowercase h, it tells me first of all whether this is a sans serif or serif typeface. Are the serifs heavy or light? What is the nature of the serif? Is there a lot of thick thin contrast in the letter form? What are the proportions of the cap height to the x-height?

Then because the h is a straight sided letter I would then do a round letter like an o alongside it so I can get a sense of how the weight of the curved part of the o relates to the weight of the straight part of the h. And already there is a huge amount of DNA with just a couple of letterforms like that.

I’d then probably do something like a lower case p because it’s half straight and half round and also it has a descending stroke which is another vertical element I am interested in establishing.

I would then build on that, if you have a h you’ve got a lot of information about n, m and u in lowercase. If you have a p you have a lot of information about q, d and b. And then just as soon as possible I would get them into words or something that looks like words because for me the experience of reading something is so critical in judging it as a typeface because I find that is the acid test really for how a typeface performs.

A typographic sightseeing tour and design ideas – Ben

Hi all, just an update to show you some of the environmental type design I have seen around Cambridge. I am hoping that some of these designs may inspire me for the choices I make for the signage at the Museum of Technology.

I made this trip on Tuesday, 4 March – on a rare sunny day!

IMG_1034 IMG_1041 IMG_1046 IMG_1058 IMG_1064 IMG_1067 IMG_1075 IMG_1078 IMG_1081 IMG_1086 IMG_1087 IMG_1088 IMG_1089 IMG_1090 IMG_1092 IMG_1097 IMG_1190

As you can see, I’ve focused on three dimensional and engraved designs as I am interested in using these styles in my work. As far as that is concerned I am looking at the possibility of using a cog wheel as a motif in the design work.

Initially I thought of trying to reflect the different ages of technology the museum represents, steam, gas and electric technology. In this vein I came up with the following logo design:

Logo 3

And in situ (I’m slowly figuring out the vanishing point tool and blending modes in Photoshop!):


However, this design may be too fussy for the purpose. Also the museum is more about Victorian (and early 20th century) technology – lot’s of cogs and pistons. The word “technology” makes me think of laptops and mobile phones, which is not what the museum is about. I want a design that is more reflective of this. I decided to take the cog motif and look at simplifying the logo. I also wanted to reflect the fact this is a working museum with engines running on open days. To reflect this I had the idea of designing a cog that rotates to light up the name of the museum in someway:


I’ve set the text to run clockwise round the cog. It was suggested I might set two lines of text both running left to write to aid legibility / readability as in this rather handsome plate:


However by setting the text to go round in a clockwise fashion I reflect the clockwise motion of the cog itself.

This clearly needs some thought and development. For example the museum is open only during the day so doing things with light might not be the best approach. I may therefore consider the use of shadow instead.

That’s all for now. Ben

Finding a purpose for my designs – Ben

I decided I needed a purpose for my designs, as an essential element in 3D or architectural type is how it harmonises with the building it is designed for.

With this in mind I looked at some of the many museums in Cambridge to see if I could design not only lettering for the entrance to a museum but also designs for the signage and information stands inside.

I initially considered proposing a design for one of the big Cambridge University museums such as the Fitzwilliam Museum or the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (CMAA).  However as these museums already have good clear designs (especially the CMAA which has won prizes) I decided it would be better to take on a project where there is a clearer need for a redesign.

I therefore decided to make contact with the Cambridge Museum of Technology which is based in River Lane. The museum is housed within a Victorian pumping station and features examples of steam, gas and electric powered machinery as well as early calculating devices and even a letter press.

Having visited the museum I was impressed by the machinery on display, as well as the building itself with it’s grand chimney:





However I was much less impressed with the way the information about these exhibits is currently displayed, with a mush-mash of styles and typefaces:

Display-stand-4 Display-stand-3 Display-stand-2 Display-stand

I see a real opportunity to design a typeface for the building itself, as well as designing a style and layout system for the information boards inside the museum. I am also interested in designing directional signs to aid people visiting the museum. Having talked to visitors a lot of them missed the fact there is a letter press there because it is not clearly signed.

Hopefully this will be a way for me to put some purpose behind my design work and give me some material to think about. I am now considering what sort of type or logo design would best reflect the nature of the Victorian building as well as the ideas of technology, machinery and interactivity (on open days you can see the machines working and there are models you can see in motion).

Thanks for reading, Ben

The third dimension and thoughts on environmental typography – Ben

Hi all,

This is just an update to show you how I have converted the two dimensional “digital” typeface I mentioned in my last post into a 3D design which could be printed (still waiting for the 3D printer to become available!)

Here is the original three by five square typeface:



And here it is converted into the third dimension using Google Skethup (with some amendments):



And an alternative render:

Digital alphabet coloured SW render


You can click on the images for a large view.

Alongside this work I have been reading Nicolete Gray’s Lettering on Buildings. It’s a very interesting book. One of the main things I have taken from it is that environmental typography is a very different beast than typography for the page. Whereas often on the page the designer is concerned with clarity and ease of reading, environmental typography is more concerned with the symbolic impact on a sign. As an example Gray writes:

“Is it not much easier to notice the familiar sign of the multiple chemist Boots or the white and gold of the Lyons teashop than to find one’s bank, the name of which is recorded in the same orthodox Roman letters as those of all the other banks, so that one has in fact to read them all?”

To explain the anachronism of this quote, Gray was writing in 1960 before banks all developed their own signage. But the point is that in environmental terms typography is more about creating a distinguishing symbol which is easy to recognise than with actually being read. Therefore the “rules” on readability are less significant and legibility (in terms of being recognised and distinct) is more important. Also the geometry of environmental typography puts different considerations to the designer. The typeface should take into account the type of building it is attached to, or if placed in the more general environment it needs to take the forms found in that environment into account. A designer may seek to harmonise the design with the building or may (I think) deliberately offer a counterpoint to the building – but must do so with an understanding of the architectural language which the design fits in.

With this in mind I intend to look around Cambridge for some buildings or street / park scenes where a piece of typography could fit in and take this new understanding into account. If anyone has any suggestions for interesting buildings I could consider then please leave a comment.

As I mentioned Lettering on Buildings was written in 1960 so I’m sure there have been many developments in environmental typography in the 50-odd years since it was written. However one of the main differences I would point out is the ubiquitous corporate signage and branding which is applied to shops and businesses without any regard to the design of building they are fitted to. This has turned our high streets into identikit designs which makes it hard to distinguish one shopping area from another. I hope to make a designs or buildings or street / park scenes which will be solutions specific to the locations they are designed for.

Anyway sorry for the long spiel but this has help me get some of my divergent thoughts together.

Cheers! Ben