T1: "Typeface" Reel Design Film Series

 Typeface, directed by Justine Nagen, is a documentary about the history of wood type printing. The film focuses on the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin and its struggle to sustain in a nearly deserted rural town. Throughout the film Nagen stresses the importance of analog technologies in our digital age. The film weaves in and out of Chicago studios as printmakers and graphic designers discuss their love for wooden type. Although we as a society are becoming more dependent on electronic means of production, there are characteristics and experiences that only working with wooden type can produce. Wood, is a living and breathing material and is at it's best when it's being used. In one point of the film, someone talks about the blemishes and cracks that occur while printing with wood type. Although these blemishes can be prevented in a digital print, it is in the cracks and chips of the wooden type that shows it's history and makes the imperfection something beautiful.

There was another point made by Dennis Ichiyama, a professor of graphic design at Purdue University, that really resonated with me. According to Ichiyama, students who haven't worked with type on a letter press don't have a full understanding of the physical space of a letter and the area that surrounds it. In order to fully appreciate and comprehend type, I feel that all designers that work with letters should experience printing with a letterpress. The task may seem labor intensive, messy and tedious yet it is in the physicality that a deeper understanding and appreciation for type can develop. The smell of ink, the sound of the press, the sweat on your brow are all part of the experience.


  1. This is a very well written overview and opinion of typeface, I enjoyed reading it very much.

  2. is design supposed to be spelled wrong?

  3. I just got the movie and I LOVED it! The cool part is that it came with a letterpressed poster. :D Thanks for writing about the film - that's what my blog's about today too! :D

  4. Billy, it was a typo and I fixed it.

    Mel, I actually wrote this as an extra credit assignment for one of my classes, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Your comments about the means of production effecting the form are particularly important. This is critical when viewing design and type, each choice and "style" is reflective of the cultural, technological and social history and situation.

    Our field trip to the local letterpress shop will be good!