[Kim Rogala] With all of the type-centric sites that are out there, how did this one manage to get 70,000 unique visits in its first nine days? It might have something to do with the fact that there are an estimated one hundred million people on this planet who are currently playing social games, more than 20 million people visit online dating sites per month, or that designers enjoy testing their knowledge and finding new ways to address familiar topics. Type Connection, an MFA thesis project by Aura Seltzer, intersects peoples’ passion for type with their love of the game … and of matchmaking. After making a few connections ourselves, we decided to talk to the woman behind the mission.
Tell us how the idea for Type Connection was born.
My brain really enjoys finding a way to organize content, a way to turn the audience into readers … ways that I can encourage viewers to engage with the copy and take in the information. Type Connection stems from an idea I had that typefaces’ personalities on paper are really very similar to those of people. Typefaces also have certain physiques, voices, and virtues, and in certain designs, they would benefit from companionship. I came up with the dating concept as a way to lighten the topic of typography, engage users by letting them experiment, and really teach strategies that people could use over and over in their own projects. I moved from creating what I thought was going to be a user being the dater to the user being the matchmaker instead. This allows people to pair type faces together, and to find out if they’ve made a good match. I wanted it to be fun and interactive, but I wanted it to be a teaching tool also — a way to guide someone step by step through learning something that they can’t really get on paper.
How do these typefaces fit into the strategies you’ve created?
It was difficult to choose typefaces; determining how to limit the scope. My guiding principle was trying to pick workhorse typefaces that I thought young designers would have access to. I tried to use a variety of different inspirations — how they were designed, their history, classifications — to fill the whole spectrum of needs … typefaces that would allow people to use the strategies to create pairs. I also picked the typefaces so that each of the five main characters would have one successful match for each strategy on the site. I chose Adobe Garamond Pro, ITC Century, Univers, Archer and ITC Stone Sans. My hope is that I’ve provided enough to allow people to learn the strategies for pairing.
What are the strategies? How do they work?
The strategies are: Rely on Family, Embrace the Other, Seek the Similar, and Explore the Past. These four methods are used to select matches for each typeface. Of course typography is subjective, so I’m sure there are people who would disagree with some pairings, but I try to use the strategies as a foundation for why a pairing does or does not make sense. For example, yes, one might pair Garamond and Futura together, and Type Connection isn’t about saying that’s wrong, it’s about saying you wouldn’t make that match if your design direction was about pairing two typefaces that have a shared history.
The strategies also encourage users to make a judgment, much like the one they will have to make when creating their own designs. The strategies are a way for users to evaluate how close their pairs fulfill certain goals/needs. It also, I hope, gets users to start thinking about the reasons why they make certain pairings and be able to verbalize those choices. Start with the strategy, and then get to the visual. Starting with the strategies also takes some of the subjectivity out of evaluating the typography.
What happens after a match is made?
After a “connection” is made between two strategically compatible typefaces, they go on a “date.” It seemed natural in the process of the game that after selecting a strategy and picking the right match, users would want to see how things turned out. It’s similar to how dating websites always feature their successful matches right on the homepage. The idea that the design example could also extend the metaphor and represent what activity the typefaces (as people) would do on their date is a fun bonus.
There’s a place to Meet the Matches on the site that features all 20 happy couples from the site. I figured that not everyone would want to play the game 20 times to reap the rewarding type designs. I’d like to think that the “Meet the Matches” page can be a resource for type classes: 20 type pairing examples all in one place. One of my favorite happy couples is Century and Futura, which I saw as a duo who might go skiing and drinking together — so they became a whiskey bottle label.
Here is the description of the Century and Futura couple: “In the battle of moderns, ITC Century and Futura juxtapose ornament and sleek lines. Century’s buoyant intricacies highlight Futura’s elemental purities, while Futura’s limitless ascenders emphasize Century’s predominant x-height. Their lowercase letters and uppercase G couldn’t be more different from each other, so their vertical axis and roundness introduce cohesion. With the right difference in scale, either face could steal the stage.”
Do you think most typophiles would agree with the main strategies of Type Connection?
I do. I feel like these were the common themes that continued to come up in the research I did on the strategies. Whether people put them into practice knowingly is a different story, meaning that I feel like a lot of typographers do this instinctively, saying, “Oh, these are the similarities or contrasts I’m looking for.”
Has Type Connection fulfilled your expectations for your thesis project?
I wanted to create a teaching tool that had a level of humor and fun behind it, something that I had considered was for a specific audience of students and type lovers. But the feedback on Twitter and the site traffic has opened my eyes to who might use it. People are playing … and maybe learning, too.
Aura Seltzer is a graphic design MFA student at Maryland Institute of College and Art (MICA). She is a habitual list maker who is interested in how typography can use humor to engage and inform an audience.
This is not the first time we’ve been impressed by a MICA thesis project. You might remember the story we did on Kern and Burn. We’re beginning to wonder what they’re putting in that Baltimore water.