BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE

13 November 2006
Luis Siquot, tipoGrafica 58: Year XVII, October, November 2003
Luis Siquot, tipoGrafica 58: Year XVII, October, November 2003

A sensitive approach to typographic design involves a metaphor that compares "ants" and "butterflies" taken as rhetorical figures that explain the dual and simultaneous communication and aesthetic functions of typography. This comparison reopens the ongoing discussion on text and display type design.

Nucleus
Contemporary type designers live in a world of technological marvels that infinitely increase our creative freedom. Our tools are now totally different from the burin and file of the initial days of typography, and we do not need drawing tools to work with ink on paper, as in the time between the pantograph and photocomposition. The tools of the digital era, however imperfect they may be, are so powerful and efficient that they leave no room for excuses with regard to the execution of ideas. Within reason, our work no longer has technical restrictions insofar as time or aesthetic freedom is concerned.

I would have liked to have had these digital tools when my vocation first flowered. In 1967, after having looked for a method unsuccessfully for a number of years, I produced Cuadrata on paper. This typeface conformed to the idea of producing all characters in the same width and height, in other words, in a quadratic manner, like Chinese ideograms. Counters and corners had to be circular or semicircular. In short, an excessively formalistic and modular regime. Having followed these rules rigorously, I soon perceived the difficulties in obtaining an optimal result when viewed with a typographic eye.

I needed to learn and the only way to do so was to go back to the drawing board. How did professionals draw? What tools did they use? On what type of paper or surface did they work? What size should the drawings be? I found no answers to any of these questions, nor books to shed light on the subject. I therefore applied the same technique I used for my graphic design originals: Sch ller cardboard, Rotring 0.3 and its compass adaptor, a No. 3 brush and white tempera.

My second experience was Unilinea, a project I started in Cordoba, Argentina, and completed in Hamburg between 1969 and 1970. My first design was monospaced, the second was monoline. I knew about Blippo, a North American design supposedly inspired in the Universal Alphabet of Herbert Bayer, but I was not happy with the execution of certain letters. I therefore decided to go the whole road and learn by doing, trying to find better forms, in particular for the lower case e and some of the upper case letters of this family.

I was not mistaken with regard to the preference for the Bauhaus style at that time. In 1970, Letraset published Pump, which had certain differences, and possibly a few improvements, over Blippo; and also Optex, in my opinion an optimised double line design. These developments signified the end of further progress on Unilinea. In 1972, upon hearing about a contest to be sponsored by Letraset, I finished a double line design which I, appropriately enough, baptized Doble. Stubbornly determined to complicate things unnecessarily, I wrapped up my three designs and left them in London, on my way back to school in Hamburg.

Today I view the results of so much failed work with a blend of indulgence and compassion. I am fully aware that had I had a digital tool, once I had solved the basic idea of each letter with a quick pencil sketch, I would have been able to complete my Cuadrata font in two or three days, with perfect and unobjectionable strokes. However, that is not the main issue. With time I have learned to choose better points of departure and roads to follow, and to solve perceptual problems in an optimal manner. This knowledge, combined with the fruits of technology, is what has enabled me to produce projects unimaginable in the past.

Since 1996, I have published eleven fonts in ITC (International Typeface Corporation), examples of which are included in this article (for more information visit www.siquotdesign.com/fonts.html). I consider it worthy of note that absolutely all the typographic material in this article is made in Argentina. The Letras Latinas website is also of importance for a more comprehensive view of Latin American typographic production, in that it shows the emergence of a generation of strong young designers, some of whose work has merited international awards. Evidently, the significant development of Latin American typography is worthy of being borne in mind.

I believe that typography fulfils a double and simultaneous role: that of communication and of aesthetics, the two inseparable sides of the same coin. When designing type, the basic graphic structure, which endows the character with identity, must be kept intact for the message to be understood immediately and positively. We type designers operate exclusively on the outer space of the character (on the level of the meaning of the significant, according to Roland Barthes).

Our task consists of obtaining new forms which, without modifying the essence of the characters, serve to communicate yet also create a special atmosphere within the act of communication that transmits or promotes a multiplicity of subjective aesthetic sensations to the recipient.

This double function is, metaphorically speaking, proper both to ants and to butterflies. It is debatable (although more space is required to go into this matter in depth) whether butterflies really privilege the aesthetic function more than ants. I believe that text type should be (or is) less expressive that display and ornamental type, but I do not accept the idea of divesting it of aestheticism. Below I show two text styles with different purposes: the basis of what will be the Siquot Antigua family for books and magazines, and Arquetipo for both text and display type. Aesthetics, in my view, fulfils a decisive role in both cases.

I am presently working simultaneously on two calligraphic projects, Salsa Picante and Caligrama, as well as on the text type projects mentioned previously. My "ants" will soon emerge from their nests and see the light of day. Meanwhile, I hope the reader public will enjoy the "butterflies" I have set free.

Interview with Luis Siquot by Ramiro Espinoza

How and when did you begin to work in graphic design?
In 1964, while working as an assistant in the Nova agency in the city of Cordoba I participated and was awarded first prize in the national design competition for the "Cordoba Week" promotional poster. As a result I was taken on as art chief at the Tesis agency, which had just opened. Later on I travelled to Brazil and worked as a layout designer in the Abril publishing house in Sao Paulo, where I worked for the first time in editorial design and typography. Back in Argentina, I worked as graphic designer and producer of the Sunday supplement of the Cordoba daily, Los Principios.

In 1967, I was taken on as art director at SRT (Radio and Television Broadcasting Services of the University of Cordoba). I resigned from SRT in 1969 and moved to Channel 12 until I left for Germany toward the end of that year. From 1964 to 1969 I was awarded several prizes, and also, in 1968, a scholarship to study at the HfG Ulm (Hochschule fur Gestaltung).

How did you become interested in studying at the HfG Ulm?
Architect Elkin, who had been art director at Nova for a few months, was a friend of Mario Forne, a student at HfG Ulm, and my interest in this mythical school arose during our many conversations. I was studying architecture at the time, though I did not graduate as I was more interested in design, photography and cinema. I decided to learn German as I wanted to study at HfG Ulm and, in 1967, I began the formalities to obtain a scholarship, which I was awarded in 1968.

However, unfortunately the school closed that year for lack of funds and political reasons. As I knew of no other school with the same approach, I waived the scholarship until I finally got a chance to study at the Department of Visual Communication of the Higher School of Arts in Hamburg.

Who was your teacher?
Von Sichovsky, a friend of Jan Tschichold, was the professor of typography at the Hamburg School. He held that typography is taught with a composing stick. However, I am left-handed and there were no composing sticks for left-handers in the workshop. I found I definitely disliked typographic composition, and that I was really interested in learning to design alphabets. The School was not the place for that, and what I should have done was to go to Berthold, Bauer or Stempel as an apprentice. But, instead, I addressed myself to semiotics and cinema.

What did you do once you completed your studies in Germany?
It was a two-year scholarship, and in 1972 I returned to Cordoba, Argentina, and formed the MetRo studio. However, I found the political and social climate very rarefied, and when, shortly after, I was offered another scholarship in Hamburg, I returned to Germany to complete my studies. To increase my income, I worked for Deustche Gramophone, the Die Zeit newspaper, Zeit-magazine, the fashion supplement of the Hamburguer Abendbaltt daily, the Riebe's Fachblatt rock magazine and the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper, where I experienced the switchover from hot typesetting to photocomposition.

I completed my studies in 1975, stayed on for a semester as a teacher at the school and then moved on to Barcelona. I returned to Argentina in 1980 and was taken on by the Oxford agency to reorganize and modernize their art studio, however shortly after I opened my own studio.

What led you to work in digital typography?
I was working as an art director at Oxford during the 1989 inflationary crisis, and for several reasons, Menem among them, I decided to move to Equipo Cero, an important agency in Valencia. Three years later, I opted for independence and again opened my own studio. In 1991, I bought my first Mac including FontStudio and Fontographer software, and in order to practice, I digitised a number of alphabets from American Wood Type: 1828-1900 book by Rob Roy Kelly. ITC Florinda is a product of that experience.

What method do you use to design alphabets?
I don t have a single method for font creation. It depends on the specific case, for instance, if for headlines or for text. You can scan drawings or draw on the screen; you can draw with Illustrator or FreeHand, or draw the forms directly with Fontstudio or Fontographer. Sometimes I conceive a project on the basis of the available tools. But whatever the technique used, it is essential to prepare a detailed plan to organize the work.

As regards design, I first work out the letters: "Aa," "Gg," "Q" and "S" as they are the ones that provide a face with identity. And on that basis I begin to work on each character in alphabetical order. If it is a project for ITC, for example, I complete the key word: Hamburgefons.

When did you establish your relationship with ITC?
I wanted to publish some of my designs with a well known company, since I had not been able to interest anyone in Europe in developing an independent type foundry. In 1995 I took advantage of a trip to the U.S. and faxed some examples of Juanita to Adobe, ITC and Letraset. Adobe rejected them, but ITC was very interested and Colin Brignall sent me a letter telling me that he liked the project. ITC had just been taken over by the Swedish company Esselte, who were also the owners of Letraset, therefore Juanita is part of the same "family."

Could you describe the origins of ITC Cali, a script font developed as a result of your difficulty in handwriting?
Being left-handed, I have always been a bad calligrapher. I never learned to use a pen without blotting the page. I have to write and then wait for the ink to dry, and in the process I lose my natural fluidity. In spite of this, I have always liked to use a pen to write, although I lie when I write, because in fact I draw the calligraphy because it does not flow naturally. As a result of this frustration, and with the help of a pen for left-handers, I drew the basis for Cali, which is in part my actual handwriting and in part an idealization of what I would have liked to be able to do naturally.

What is your opinion of the design and adaptation of alphabets to indigenous cultures?
I am reluctant to design special characters for a language. In the first place, to represent the phonetics of a language that has not produced writing till today, one would have to have a very good command of the language. Our western alphabet, which is decidedly phonetic, is a formal miracle that evolved and took shape over centuries. I believe that the phonetics of any existing language can be represented by means of all the available characters and necessary diacritics.

The designation of characters to represent the sounds of a language is, primarily, the task of linguists and, only then, that of type designers. It involves teamwork and the use of conventions that cannot be carried out by a designer on his own.

You are known as a designer of display fonts; however you have also designed text fonts ...
So far, I have only published display fonts, and therefore this is my speciality. I have been working on two text fonts for a long time: an old font and another constructivist one. Text font design is a major task that involves a lot of study and work. Sometimes when looking at the quality of some designs I ask myself if it would not be preferable for their designers to spend their time designing good display fonts rather than bad text fonts. There is an abyss between the creation of a new eye and the makeup or deformation of an existing one.

Text font design is a tremendously responsible task because it involves the responsibility to make reading easier now that it is imperative to preserve the habit of reading. It is not just an aesthetic expression. Miguel de Lorenzi once asked me: Why design one more typeface if there are so many and such good ones? Maybe every type designer should ask himself that question at least once in a lifetime. With each new alphabet, the creation of a face that is not just one more is precisely the objective, even though this may be incomprehensible to the neophyte who is not totally committed to the subject.

My work is the result of thirty years of anxiety, of drawing letters while waiting in a bar or restaurant. If you asked me what I would like to do, I would answer: Start again, but with everything I have learned up to now already incorporated. I would surely make better letters.

Captions

1. ITC Juanita (1996). This family consists of six highly distinct variants.
2. ITC Florinda (1997). Conceived for large sizes that today, in digital form, can be used in miniature.
3. ITC Portago (1997). Is part of the Mac os x, Jaguar, operating system.
4. ITC Abaton (1997). Typeface designed to be used for few words; its quality can only be appreciated fully in large sizes, 48 points or more.
5. The use of colour is the objective underlying the design of Juanita Deco, Lino and Xilo.
6. Cuadrata (1967). A preliminary effort produced graceful characters although with substantial problems.
7 y 8. Unilinea (1969-70). Errors are noticeable when the letters are black on white.
9. Doble (1972). Can be considered a catalogue of errors with regard to proportion and strokes.
10. Siquot Antigua. Currently under construction, it is designed for Multiple Master and Open Type formats.
11. Arquetipo Sans y Arquetipo Serif. An ambitious project for a vast family that still requires innumerable adjustments to optimise reading.
12. ITC Arecibo y Arecibo Too (2002). This design has the potential for many combinations in graphic composition.
13. ITC Cali (2002). Font based upon the author s personal calligraphy.
14. Salsa Picante. Formalization of personal handwriting with a felt marker.
15. Caligrama. Strokes with a broad edged pen produce energetic, high impact letters, but close the counters in the small point sizes.




About Luis Siquot
Luis Siquot studied architecture and modern letters in the city of Cordoba, Argentina and graduated in 1975 from the Department of Visual Communication, Higher School of Arts, University of Hamburg. He currently specializes in typographic design, and lives and works in Cordoba.

Translation
Peggy Jones and Martin Schmoller