Pictured above. A collection of old signs and letters on display in the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading. Photo by Rachel Bray
Notebook 18 June 2017 | DEGREE SHOWS | TYPOGRAPHY
Reading with a cap ‘R’ – the Thames Valley, Crossrail boomtown; home to the rock festival and the gaol where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated; and home for a while, to poor old Jude Fawley in Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure. Once upon a time I spent a week in Reading hospital having my appendix whipped out. It was my first encounter with a scalpel (a few years later I was to learn that the ’10a’ scalpel blade was the graphic designer’s preferred blade of choice). And in 1974 or so, I would have tottered on my platform shoes into Reading’s Top Rank nightclub to see the legendary singer Edwin Starr perform. The ugly old station-side nightclub has long since disappeared and been replaced by smart office blocks but the town is still rather dull and congested with traffic. But if you head south-east out of the centre you run into attractive, wide, leafy streets with large Victorian houses, and then the University of Reading campus. Tucked away on the far side of the campus, across the lake, are an assortment of unassuming single storey 1940’s buildings which house the University’s Department of Typography and Graphic Communication – an institute of learning and excellence with a world-wide reputation. Ex-students include luminaries such as the type designer Paul Barnes of Commercial Type.
The Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading. Photo by Rachel Bray
The Department is made up from the 3-year BA undergraduate course in graphic design; an assortment of MA postgraduate courses such as book design, information design, design research and typeface design; and an unrivalled library which holds a collection of graphic design and printed ephemera. At the centre of the department is an exhibition space and past exhibits have included historical and contemporary graphic design, typography and print – such as sweet packaging, celtic inscriptions and newspaper design. I’d come to see their current exhibition – Emigre Magazine (which runs until the 14 July), and to take in the end-of-year BA degree show.
Emigre was a ground-breaking journal of experimental typography and graphic design writing and was self-published by the Dutch designer Rudy Vanderlans in California from the mid 1980s until 2005. Early copies were large format, later copies smaller, and then smaller still. The magazine coincided with the birth of the new Apple Macintosh computers and Vanderlans and his partner Zuzana Licko were inspired to design their own custom typefaces for the mac – and set up the Emigre type foundry which still exists today. Whole issues of the magazine would focus on particular designers of the day including Jonathan Barnbrook, Vaughan Oliver and David Carson. There’s a fascinating assortment of Emigre items on display at Reading which have been pulled together from the University’s own collection and from the collection of design writer Rick Poynor who also teaches in the Department. Some of the exhibits are pictured below.
Cover and spread from issue 11 1989. This issue was devoted to a collection of interviews with designers about their experiences of using the new Apple Mac computers
Issue 50 1999. Type specimens for Vendetta by John Downer
Issue 55 2000. Vendetta and Cholla Slab type specimens using texts from the 1901 book The Desert by John C Van Dyke and photos from a road trip to the Mojave desert
Palm Desert photo essay book
Next up was the end-of-year Graphic Communication degree show. It’s a graphics course with an understandable bias towards typography as well as problem solving and information design, across both print and digital. There was plenty of good work on show and because of my background, I naturally found my eye zeroing in on the editorial design and fine typography. Several students had wrestled successfully with the demands of designing a double-page-spread and footnotes, from Shakespeare’s Henry V, and many of the results were exquisite and showed a real understanding and feel for type. Other students had produced newspaper and magazine designs and I particularly enjoyed looking at Katy O’Hare’s Jaunt magazine and Susann Vatnedal’s Hygge newspaper pictured below. All work was well captioned and easy to understand. A minor criticism was that the exhibition space felt a little cluttered and wasn’t allowing the work to breathe.
Jaunt magazine by Katy O’Hare
Spread from Henry V by Susann Vatnedal
Hygge newspaper by Susann Vatnedal
Newspaper designs from Anna Scully, Eleanor Harris and Izzy Wedgwood
Discovering Reading website design by Claudia Smith
The Department’s library has a fantastic collection of printed ephemera and graphic design and this is a great resource for students. Head archivist Laura Weill showed me around and my eyes widened as she pulled open drawer upon drawer of old prints and posters. Some of the goodies in the collection include old manuscripts, ornamental Victorian playbills, old magazines (including Emigre) and the Isotope collection of early twentieth century information graphics – and even Egyptian hieroglyphics on papyrus!
Archivist Laura Weill displays a striking 1950s health and safety at work poster
With my visit complete, I made my way back into Reading town centre and crossed over the river Thames into the suburb of Caversham to visit an old friend from my student days at the Royal College of Art. As we chatted about the past and swapped anecdotes, he reminded me that one of our old RCA tutors, Ken Garland, had also taught at the University of Reading on the Typography course.
Why Emigre mattered – and still matters. Rick Poynor’s exhibition review for Creative Review magazine