I’ve spent the last week preparing for today’s class lecture on grid systems. Actually, longer than that: I started it on vacation, after Finn and Jen were asleep and I had a beachside couch to myself and a fresh bottle of Corona. This one has been a challenge, because there’s a lot to cover and I want my lectures to be more exciting than the Whaaaah-whaa-whaa-whaaaaa sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher made in the animated specials.
I’m on the third and final draft, having originally started with an explanation of the Swiss Grid, the Golden Ratio, and then a bunch of boring pictures of page layouts. Instead, I rewrote it last night to include a mention of Adrian Frutiger, who passed on Monday, then an introduction to grids with a real-time demonstration in InDesign, and then back to the deck for a case study.
The example I’m using is inspired by the cache of vacation materials from our family’s trip west in 1981, which included a handful of original brochures from the National Park Service using the Unigrid system designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1977. After doing some extensive research, and being lucky enough to have a coworker bring me back some updated brochures from his vacation this summer, I was able to put together a solid 45 minutes on the utility and flexibility of strong grid systems, biographies on two important design figures of the 20th century, with printed before-and-after materials to show the class.
I also dug up a PDF copy of Vignelli’s design manifesto, a scanned PDF of the original New York Transit System design guide, and a fantastic reference site on the National Park System’s publication history, featuring a ton of pre-Unigrid brochures available as PDFs.
The class itself is going pretty well, but it’s challenging. Typography is a tricky thing to teach, because it’s made up of a couple of loose rules and a lot of individual feeling and opinion. If a student doesn’t have a natural aesthetic for choosing and setting type, how can I teach it to them? My solution has been to review the history of type, try to describe each of the categories and where their influences came from, and then help them learn what to look for and what to avoid.
I’m definitely doing a lot more prep work this semester than I did for Type & Image, and if the students don’t feel like they’ve gotten a decent education out of this class, I sure feel like I have.