A preview: Roger Black on #newstype at #SNDDC

Legendary designer, art director and SND Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Roger Black will launch a typography series, News Type, at SNDDC next month. With decades of experience designing and consulting for publications like Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Esquire, MSNBC.com and The Baltimore Sun, Black is harnessing his expertise to plan this special program. The day-long event focusing on branding, voice and typography will take place Thursday, April 9 at The Washington Post (registration is free for SND members and anyone signed up for the annual workshop). Registration is open here, so please let SND know you are coming.

You’ve worked as an art director and design consultant for over 40 years, designing magazines, newspapers and websites. How has the design culture changed? Are there key takeaways from your vast industry experience that can be applied to current and future projects?

If I’ve learned anything in this time, it’s that human nature is not changing. People still like storytelling, and they still are primarily interested in other people. If you keep your attention on the user (the reader) and not on the morphing business or culture, you can succeed.
Since you’re helping launch a typography session at SNDDC, can you share some background on your work with Font Bureau?

Font Bureau has always been a custom type foundry first. That is, we make typefaces for specific customers and specific uses. Eventually most of these fonts go into our library for general release. It’s turned out that making this fonts which someone actually wants (instead of what we imagined they’d want) has built a collection that’s still finding new customers. For example, Bureau Grotesque was originally designed for Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly. A search of Fonts In Use shows it’s still popular.

For some of the great papers, Font Bureau has produced lasting typefaces: David Berlow’s LA Kis for the Los Angeles Times, Christian Schwartz’s Houston for the Houston Chronicle, Cyrus Highsmith’s Escrow for the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Carter’s Rocky for the late, lamented Rocky Mountain News.

You’ve said that design is the link between the customer and the product. Can you expand on the relationship between design and content? And what does that mean when it comes to designing for a publication across platforms?

With publications, the designer is orchestrating the arrangement of the visual content, with the text. Both are being read by the customers. The first goal is to make it easy to read! But at the end of the day, the designer has to find ways to help tell the story. I think we’ve failed to tell stories on the web. We throw roadblocks in front of the readers—hideous, flashing ads, forced page links, illegible type. In 20 years, we’ve just about killed the habit of reading newspapers. But I don’t think it’s too late to find great ways to immerse people in digital news publications.

You’re presenting a special day-long News Type program at SNDDC. I’m curious, what is your philosophy when it comes to typography?

Well, I go back to the idea that if a typeface and a type layout look good after, say, 50 years, they will probably still look good in six months. So I’ve based most of my work on the revival of traditional forms. I started with the publications and books of the 1920s, which themselves were revivals of the early printing of the Renaissance. And I’d fallen in love with robust 19th century commercial typography—including the first big newspapers, the first mass media. The mix is what provides energy. I remember showing my first teacher a letterpress title that combined Tuscan or broad-gauge wood type with the Jenson, Centaur. He was horrified. But I still think it looks great.
Broadly, the News Type sessions at SNDDC will focus on branding, voice and typography. Tell me about your vision for the program?

This is a fast-paced day with 10 speakers approaching the subject from all different angles. We’ll get history, theory, practice, and predictions. It’s the best way to get a quick course in news typography.

News Type will cover a range of topics including the future of typography, typographic traditions, and the editorial experience. Can you give me a preview of some of the issues and case studies that will be highlighted in the program?

The case studies are: The Boston Globe (the first big responsive news site) and the Washington Post (extending a great brain cross-platform). Plus we have the hip IL magazine from the Il Sole 24 in Milan.

One of the great stories is the First Type War, between Linotype and Monotype in the early days of the newspaper boom. To contrast with this, an in-depth look at the different ways type appears on screens today. And, the nitty gritty of news type design from one of the reigning practitioners.

We have a practical side, too: How to actually choose a typeface! And a great round up on the role of type in editorial design.

With this amazing lineup of speakers:
Kevin Larson
Indra Kupferschmid
Francesco Franchi
Christian Schwartz
Dan Rhatigan
David Berlow
Greg Manifold
Dan Zedek
Sue Apfelbaum
and Juliette Cezzar

What do you hope attendees will take away from the sessions?

Well, I hope we’ll rub off a bit of knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm. I think SND folks will be happy they came to Washington a day early!

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of SND.org.

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