Rob McKaughan is one of those people who can be trusted to come up with an interesting angle on things. Coming to the MATD from software engineering, he researched pattern languages (a methodology created by Christopher Alexander for architecture, which has spread to software and interaction design, amongst other fields) and their application to typeface design. Here’s a good explanation of pattern languages, from Rob’s introduction to his dissertation:
Each pattern in a pattern language is a rule of thumb abstracted from existing proven designs. More specifically, a pattern is a description of a problem and its solution in a particular context. These patterns are not recipes; they balance concrete physical descriptions while abstracting the pattern’s concepts for use in other designs. The patterns focus on the characteristics of the product, and not the process used by the designer.
Rob outlined the generation of pattern languages, and gave an illustration of how patterns can be used for typeface design (for his dissertation Rob focused on newspaper typefaces, with interesting observations on small size / low resolution text typefaces in general).
The lively discussion (including my immodest observation that some design courses follow a very similar approach to teaching, bar the nomenclature) touched on exciting topics, not least the relationship of pattern languages to innovation in design – much on the forefront of MA students at the beginning of their year…