Critical Approaches to Typography

Location: Het Brantijser, University of Antwerp, Sint-Jacobsmarkt 13, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium

Date: 21 - 25 August 2023

Application deadline: 17 June 2023

Partners: Museum Plantin-Moretus and Plantin Institute of Typography

Content description

​​Today everyone who uses a computer is practically a typesetter and typography is hardly considered a specialism anymore. Conventions are automatically maintained: practitioners of typography – professionals and amateurs – base their typographical decisions on what is considered common. The legibility aspect, for example, seems easy to control by selecting type that is generally accepted, without the requirement of knowledge of what legibility exactly comprises. As a consequence the conventions and related conditioning are basically never questioned.

Art historian Ernst Gombrich notes that the stimulus patterns on the retina are not alone in determining our picture of the visual world, and that its messages are modified by what we know about the ‘real’ shape of objects. In other words: ‘One cannot see more than one knows.’ But what exactly do we know of type and typography and what do we consequently see? What forms the basis of the typographical conventions and how solid is this basis anyway? Could research, whether scientfically based and/or empirically oriented, tell us more about this basis? Furthermore, would the resulting knowledge be useful for the practitioners of typography?

This summer school will investigate and discuss the value of research for typography. The five keywords are ‘Perception’, ‘History’, ‘Convention’, ‘Technology’ and ‘Legibility’. Answers to the related research questions will be, for example, distilled from the study of artifacts in the collection of the famous Museum Plantin-Moretus. After all, the typographical conventions were fixed with the invention of movable type (and related technical constraints) during the Renaissance.

Present-day font technology is developed with the same conventions and even Renaissance technical constraints in mind still. Hence, during the course also the focus will be on how digital font technology has developed since the early 1970s. The technical possibilities for Latin and non-Latin scripts will be further investigated, theoretically as practically, in relation to the typographical conventions.

Target group

​The target group comprises Bachelor & Master students, and professionals, with an interest in typography and related technology.

No specific expertise in the field of type design, nor any knowledge of (the development of) historical type and typography, is required.

Study credits (ECTS)

​The course represents 3 ECTS. To gain these, the students have to write a paper containing answers to the five research questions, an evaluation of the programme, and a personal reflection on the five keywords.

​All certificates of completion are issued as a micro-credential. 

Social programme

​Participants will be able to get in touch with peers attending other summer schools at the Antwerp Summer University. A visit to the beautiful city hall, a networking reception, a guided city walk, a quiz night, a football game and a day-trip to another Belgian city such as Bruges or Brussels are only some examples of these activities.

All activities of the social programme are offered free of charge, in some cases participants will be asked for a deposit which will be reimbursed upon participation to the activity.