Sustaining an International typographic tradition at Kent
“The International Society of Typographic Designers, ISTD, is a professional body run by and for typographers, graphic designers and educators. The Society has an international membership who share and support its aim to create and inspire interest in all forms of typographic communication.”
The School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State University has a long history of teaching typographic excellence. Ties to international educational contexts and figures in design history date back to 1973 when the Kent Summer in Switzerland Workshop was established. This program ran nineteen years from 1973–1991. Additional initiatives followed including: the Kent & Pentagram Summer in England Workshop, 1981–1985, and the Kent Summer in Florence, Italy, which ran from 1982–1984*.
These innovative summer experiences connected Kent students and faculty with heavy-weight designers from all over Europe, the UK and North America, such as Armin Hoffman, Paul Rand, Ivan Chermayeff, Wolfgang Weingart, FHK Henrion, Colin Forbes and Alan Fletcher, whose work defined typographic design in the 20th century.
Wolfgang Weingart, 1975, Untitled poster for a Kent State University students’ photography exhibition**.
This legacy of typographic excellence continues at Kent today. With our Type High Press letterpress facility, and faculty research expertise in formal and experimental typography and typeface design, VCD provides a robust foundation for visual communication students entering industry. Typography—the considered arrangement, styling, visual interpretation and presentation of text—is a foundational element of all graphic communication. Strong typographic skills equips students to handle all kinds of content and communication scenarios in an ever-changing media landscape, and is something our students have built a reputation for within the design community.
VCD Professors Coorey and Mooney continue to build upon this typographic tradition with the establishment of the first North American ISTD Annual Student Assessment at Kent State University in 2016. Founded in 1928, the ISTD, International Society of Typographic Designers, is an international body which promotes and awards excellence in typography. Through the annual Student Assessment Scheme, the ISTD invests in the future of typography, by engaging with students who complete project briefs, and educators and industry professionals who assess the work, thus creating a community of practice around typography. Each year over 500 students around the world complete the briefs, and we are excited to provide this opportunity to the School of Visual Communication Design.
“I found the ISTD assessment beneficial because it gave me the chance to dig deep into one project in a way I hadn’t been able to before. It was a great challenge to attempt to create work that would stand on its own when being analyzed by designers who weren’t familiar with me personally, a consideration crucial, I’ve found, to be a part of my career. I appreciated that the process rewarded both depth of research and keen editing, and my final product remains something I’m proud of today.”
—Anna Richard, VCD BFA alumna, currently working at designroom, Cleveland (ISTD Merit awardee)
ISTD challenged me to create thoughtful, experimental works without hesitation. It taught me how to look for patterns and relationships across themes, mediums, and behaviors — and then translate that knowledge into design decisions. Because of it I am more comfortable breaking conventions and sharing the strategy within my work. This relationship between research and design remains the core of my practice today.
—Grace Harms, VCD BFA alumna, currently working at IA Collaborative, Chicago (ISTD Merit awardee)
With assessments taking place all over the world, North American Coordinators Coorey and Mooney continue to grow the network of institutions, educators and industry professionals involved with the ISTD, as well as traveling to take part in the main UK assessment annually. These events connect Kent globally to the typographic community.
This year, undeterred by the restrictions of travel imposed by the global pandemic, the School of VCD is remotely coordinating the ISTD North American Assessment. Coorey and Mooney are also remotely participating in the Main Assessment, typically held in the UK. The participants in the Main UK assessment are truly worldwide,hailing from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Lebanon, Germany, Spain, Ireland, UK, Holland, and the US. The group represents 18 universities worldwide and includes influential designers from industry such as Design By Atlas, Erik Spiekermann, Monotype, Studio Build among others.
Screenshots of the ISTD Main Student Assessment Kick-off Meeting May 1st, spanning time zones from 7am to 11pm, and representing 10 countries and 16 educational institutions***.
The ISTD North America has provided an international platform that connects VCD faculty and students, while showcasing their work to industry leaders. The briefs are research-driven, demanding creative and conceptual thinking.
Our students have found success in their submissions to the ISTD year upon year, and beyond this accolade, have found the experience of taking part enriched their learning experience at Kent and bolstered their portfolios entering the workforce. Past VCD student participants have reflected on their ISTD experience as follows:
“The ISTD challenged me to find inspiration and research in ways I typically wouldn't as a student.
To this day I call back to those lessons and consider ways to formulate comprehensive stories in a similar way. Researching literature lead to research through visuals, and then categorized refinement — it all applies in my career as well.”
—Dean Sweetnich, VCD BFA alumnus, currently working at Firebelly Design, Chicago (ISTD Merit awardee)
‘Learning to Speak’ (awarded an ISTD Merit) Natalie Snodgrass, MFA Kent 2019, currently working at Princeton Architectural Press
‘The Truth’ (awarded an ISTD Merit) Jordan Stephens, BFA 2020
Professors Coorey and Mooney will be hosting additional meetings for the North American Assessment in the coming weeks, and we look forward to sharing updates as their work continues.
* From an interview with Charles J. Walker
*** Participants in the Main Assessment Zoom call included: Jill Spratt, Ulster University, Northern Ireland; Aoife Mooney, Kent State University, USA; John McMillan, Ulster University, Northern Ireland; David Wrenne, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales; John Kortbawi, Notre Dame University, Lebanon; Michael C. Place, Studio Build, UK; David Herbert, Duncan of Jordanstone, University of Dundee, Scotland; Tina Carter, Day1 Design, UK; Andy Uren, Day1 Design, UK; Jo Hamill, Leeds Beckett University, UK; Jack Renwick, Jack Renwick Studio, UK; Clare Playne, Playne Design, UK; Sally Hope, Arts University Bournemouth, UK; Becky Chilcott, Chil3, AUS; Stephen Banham, Letterbox, AUS; Annette O’Sullivan, Massey University, New Zealand; Jonathan Doney, UK; David Quay, David Quay Design, NL; Ryan Thompson, Rydo, Scotland; Jillian Coorey, Kent State University, USA; Gary Gowans, University of Dundee, Scotland; Andy Neal, Falmouth University, UK; Nicola Hardcastle, University of Technology Sydney, AUS; Pablo Martin, Design by Atlas, UK; Belinda Magee, UK; Niall Smillie, 0427 Design, Scotland; Ray Parslow, Extrablack, AUS; Ade Mills, Playne Design, UK; Susie McGowan, Jack Renwick Studio, UK; Alistair Hall, We Made This, UK; Tom Foley, Monotype, UK; Jeremy Goffin, University of Lincoln, UK;John Paul Dowling, National College of Art and Design, IRE;Barrie Tullett, University of Lincoln, UK; Louise Reddy, Technological University Dublin, IRE; Brenda Dermody, Technological University Dublin, IRE. This is a subset of the full group of assessors taking part in the main assessment this year.