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A Year of Letterform Lectures: 2021

Watch 12 presentations that showcased diverse approaches to letterform history and creation across the globe.

The letterform lecture series continued to be held virtually this past year. It has become an opportunity to practice the radical accessibility Letterform Archive strives for while also fortifying the virtual Type West program. While we look forward to a future where we can also have free and open sessions at the San Francisco Public Library, the nature of these online sessions allowed us to host speakers from across the country as well as other parts of the world. Thanks to support from Adobe Fonts, recordings of these lectures are available to all within a few weeks after each event. We bring to you a roundup of all the talks the Archive hosted in the past year and quick access to the ones you might have missed or wish to revisit.

Basque Lettering: Letters for Self-Assertion
with Juan Luis Blanco

November 17, 2020 — Juan joined us from Zumaia in Basque Country and showcased the origin and history of Basque lettering. He shared the inscriptions and signs of the language on various surfaces and took us through an evolution of brand identities whose designs evolved away from the Basque lettering style to more contemporary designs. All of this research informed his Basque typeface design project, Harri, which is also a part of this talk.


Keeping Occupied
with Cyrus Highsmith

December 8, 2020 — Type designer and graphic artist Cyrus Highsmith joined us from his studio in Providence, Rhode Island and took us through various projects he has been involved with over the years, explaining different approaches that help create multilingual typographic designs. Through this presentation we also got a sense of his thought process in designing and creating various kinds of analog and digital drawings.


Masters of Arabic Letters
with Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar

January 26, 2021 — For the first talk in the new year we were joined by Bahia Shehab and Haytham Nawar, authors of the book A History of Arab Graphic Design. They Zoomed in from Cairo where they both have individual, wide-ranging practices as designers as well as educators. In this talk they introduced us to significant figures who contributed to Arabic lettering and typography. We also got to see letterforms on various materials at different scales, Arabic letters on the sides of coins and an airplane, as well as Arabic Letraset dry transfer sheets.


Atkinson Hyperlegible
with Craig Dobie, Brad Scott, and Elliott Scott

February 16, 2021 — The partners at Applied Designworks presented the creation of Atkinson Hyperlegible, a typeface design project for the Braille Institute of America. The talk covered other work done by Applied for the institute but focused on their typographic approach and process that then informed the typeface created for people with vision impairment.


The Font Detective & the California Cases
with Thomas Phinney

March 2, 2020 — In this talk Thomas described the experience of being an expert witness in legal cases where type is involved. He discussed his ability to understand font technologies and identify and date typefaces that leave telltale marks which help to build a case that holds up in court. The talk is structured like a typographic thriller filled with puns and anecdotes held together by type history.


Nüshu, a script created by self-educated women in a remote region of China
with Lisa Huang 黄丽莎

March 16, 2021 — French and Chinese Type Designer Lisa Huang joined us from Paris, France to talk about the only writing system that was developed and used by women in the Southeast region of China back in the 9th century. She took us through her process of learning about an unfamiliar writing system and harnessing documentation to design a digital typeface for it. Lisa also talked about the role of Nüshu in modern times. The talk was followed by a lively and extensive Q&A session.

Stone Carved Lettering and the Digital Age
with Nicholas Benson

March 30, 2021 — The renowned stone cutter Nicholas Benson broadcasted from his shop in Newport, Rhode Island, taking us on a tour of his workspace and showcasing live examples of his stone carvings, as well as work by others associated with the history of his shop. We also got a demo of pencil and brush work that forms the basis of his designs cut in stone. He also talked about his analog practice and the relevance of the humanist craft in a world that is increasingly digital.


A Script That Pleases The Eye
with Iyad Naja

June 22, 2021 — Through this lecture, Lebanese multidisciplinary artist and Designer Iyad Naja introduced us to his sculptural work with Arabic letterforms. His historical context explored the evolution of letterforms before taking us through his personal practice and creation of contemporary three-dimensional Arabic calligraphic designs.


Elementype, a practical guide to typographic use
with Sandra García, Dafne Martínez, Mónica Munguía

July 13, 2021 — In this lecture the three Mexican authors of Elementype, Sandra, Dafne, and Mónica, talked about the motivation behind their project and gave us an extensive overview of the book. The Spanish-language publication addresses basic questions about typography and how to best use your fonts for professional projects.


Exercises in Style
with Ellmer Stefan

July 27, 2021 — Austrian Type Designer Ellmer Stefan joined us from Oslo to talk about the many hats he wears to run the Pyte Type Foundry. He gave us a glimpse of his extensive letter-related work, but also showed us his approaches and experiments with materiality in both analog and digital spheres.


Typography OF/AS Content
with Lucille Tenazas

August 3, 2021 — Filipino-American educator and designer Lucille Tenazas talked about her origins as a designer, as well as inspirations and other elements that informed her design practice. Her talk — filled with samples of her sketches and designs alongside commentary about her purpose and process — helped us get a sense of the effort, skill, and especially conceptualization that goes into all of her work.


An Exploration of Angel DeCora’s Design and Lettering Work
with Neebinnaukzhik Southall

October 19, 2021 — Neebinnaukzhik Southall, who has a diverse practice as a graphic designer, artist, photographer, and writer specializing in working within Indigenous communities, joins us from Santa Fe, New Mexico. As a companion to her December 2020 article, she expounded on the graphic design, lettering, and artwork of Angel DeCora. As a Ho-Chunk designer, artist, illustrator and educator at the turn of the last century, DeCora worked on a host of publication projects informed by Native American culture.


Letterform Archive Salon Series

Our Salon Series events take a closer look at specific collections or themes within the archive. The past year we continued our trip around the world through objects in the Archive with part two of A Brief Typographic Trip Around the World. Stephen Coles presented grid-breaking examples in Breaking the Swiss Grid as well as samples of Jugendstil and Viennese Secession movements in Letterforms of the Viennese Secession. We also had a session on book jackets by Sally Beale, which draws on the Archive’s deep collection of twentieth-century books. Salon recordings are a member benefit; visit your account page to view them. Not a member? You can join now! Know someone who would appreciate these videos? Gift a membership!