Where type comes from
Printing, ink, and variations of beautiful type definitely exemplify the early movements for why designers today are so obsessed with typography and lettering. However, before any thought about printing aesthetics even began, the simple desire to communicate through writing was the only concern of our ancestral designers. Over 200,000 years ago, cave paintings of animals began. From there, more abstract signs and symbols started to come into play, and the elementary pictographs represented things that were happening in that region (whether it was warning future visitors about hunting, or telling stories which happened in their lifetime). These images then, became the beginning of the spoken languages in some way or another. Over several centuries these small simple drawings became more abstract, and represented syllables. This kind of writing/ language was called Cuneiform, in its most developed stage. The scribes who were chosen (before the age of 10, mind you) to write in this demanding form had very important jobs reserved for them and magical ceremonies even took place with this type of writing. With the discovery of cuneiform, there was an information bang, to say the least. Tablets filled with information about history, religion, math, etc. and from this stemmed society, as we know it. Laws could be written, and stability within cultures began. Eventually, the Egyptians took over the writing reigns as hieroglyphics became more flexible in the way it was written. The advantages of hieroglyphics begun with the different languages they could be presented in, the direction in which they could be read, and of course the giant step forward with the invention of papyrus paper. The development of hieroglyphics and paper alone lead Egyptians to a diverse combination of both pictures AND words, which was revolutionary in Visual Communications. Once communicating in written form was invented, the Asian culture not only created a language method, they beautified it. Calligraphy: the merely graphical language fashioned by the Chinese, was achieved with a brush and ink on either paper or silk. Because of the scope of design possibilities, it was rightfully considered the highest art from in China. The beginnings of the design principles that we as graphic designers have in the forefront of our minds today are displayed in this early kind of communicating art form. From the structure of each letter, to the shape, the negative space around the figures, the thickness of the strokes, the relationship from one line to the next, and the arrangement of the writing as a whole, the designer mindfully considers every element.
And then came the one invention that could make all that time, energy, and focus useless – printing. When the Chinese invented printing, a stamp was the initial form. It made the calligraphy form much easier to reproduce. However, this definitely took away from the aesthetically though-out handmade beauty that went into it.
The history of the written language and the evolutionary steps it has taken, has not only shaped how people design today but also how people communicate and view the world. I believe in order to become a great designer, one must not only follow the trends of the present-day, but also look into the roots of type and language. New and innovative concepts are always going to be essential to designing well, but looking back at the raw discoveries of where it all came from is key.
Meggs, Philip B. "The Prolouge to Graphic Design." A History of Graphic Design. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. 4+. Print.