As designers, looking to our peers for inspiration is always a driving force for upping the quality of our output and sparking new ideas in our work.
I had the chance to attend the keynote speech at TypeCon 2017, an annual conference dedicated to promoting, studying, and supporting typography and related subjects. It was headlined by Martina Flor, a highly accomplished letterer and designer who works in Berlin. Being able to get a glimpse into Ms. Flor’s journey and work process was incredibly fascinating!
Ms. Flor opened by talking about how lettering has always been about storytelling and how it can give you a glimpse of the story behind what it’s representing. She showed a picture of a Boulangerie (“bakery” in French) that had elegant lettering work for its storefront signage. Through the lettering, you got a sense of time and atmosphere of the place. The golden-brown colors of the lettering helped communicate to the viewer that it was a bakery and stimulated your other senses so that you could almost smell and taste the bread. All of these details help signal that the bakery may put as much care into its craft as they did with the signage.
From there, Ms. Flor gave the audience a brief insight into the process behind the cover of Alicia en el Pais de las Maravillas. Her first step was doing pencil sketches. Her initial drawings were relatively straightforward, but became more refined as she played with shapes, angles, and composition. She went into the computer to finalize her work, showing different steps along the way where she played with colors and embellishments to arrive at the end result. For me, I loved seeing that even the most talented designers start with something simple like pencil sketches. Sketching has always been a part of how I design (and something that they emphasized in design classes), so it’s encouraging to see that even among different types of designers, the work process can be quite similar.
Lettering vs. Calligraphy
In the next major section of her talk, Ms. Flor introduced a past self-initiated project, Lettering vs. Calligraphy, where Ms. Flor and her calligrapher friend, Giuseppe Salerno, design around a letter with a theme (for example, a “sexy” S), post their work, and allow users to vote on the one they liked more. The purpose of the site was for the two of them to challenge each other and improve their skills through friendly competition. The site gained momentum with many visitors and a lot of engagement (both designs and more casual type enthusiasts) from around the world. Ms. Flor mentioned that the main takeaways from this project for her was how important self-initiated projects and showing work to others are to improving your skills.
Sharing Her Passion
Equal to Ms. Flor’s passion for lettering is her enthusiasm for sharing that passion with others. She touched upon several topics that allow her to do just that. The first is her Letter Collections project where she designed postcards and sent them to family, friends, and even complete strangers. Ms. Flor also created a website that allowed people to digitally send the same cards to others. She emphasized about how grateful she is that social media allows her to connect and get inspiration from people around the world. Ms. Flor spreads her love of typography through traveling, teaching, and leading workshops to her fellow type enthusiasts. Lastly, Ms. Flor mentioned that she loves sharing her passion for typography because it gets more people interested in the field and raises the bar for professionals, which is a perspective that I had not thought of before.
Ms. Flor closed by showing the Boulangerie signage again and reiterating that good lettering should evoke emotions in the viewer and create a reaction, which her work certainly does. In summary, I really appreciate her passion for lettering and willingness to share that with others. Design can sometimes feel increasingly homogenous in today’s world, so seeing the detail and care that Ms. Flor puts into her work is hugely refreshing.