Getting to grips with specification: hands-on with the collections

On the first day of term, Paul Luna and Jeanne-Louise Moys kicked off the part 2 book design project with an inspiring workshop using hand-drawn specifications from our collections. Highlights from the collections included: Paul Stiff’s exquisitely-detailed information design specifications and George Mackie’s book specifications.

The workshop examined the ways in which drawing can help students internalise typographic knowledge and empower them to effectively plan and implement designs. We explored different kinds of design drawings from quick sketches to wow clients in meetings, through sketches used in our own design planning and exploration, and finally to detailed specification layouts for communicating with typesetters and printers.

The students also had an opportunity to practice rendering type by hand in editorial specifications, using our Linotype type specimens.



 Prof Paul Luna engages our part 2 students with a Paul Stiff specification that effectively demonstrates how typographic hierarchy and detail can be encoded simply through variations in lines.



Visiting student from Ravensburg University, Severin Mantel studies Paul Stiff’s soil chart specification up close.



Part 2 students (from L to R) Ed Hendry, Jessie Webb and Phoebe Madden try out their drawing skills with our specifications and type specimens for inspiration.

Using the collections: thoughts from the 2014/15 winners of the Michael Twyman Bursary

Michael Twyman Bursary awards winners, Monica Olveira and Sergio TrujilloPerez, have both commented on their experience of working with the collections in Typography.

Sergio said:

“I have been exposed to an eye-opening teaching philosophy which combines theory, practice and history . . . we as students have been encouraged not only to explore but also to interact with the items found within the Department’s collection of printed material. Everything from antique books, newspapers, posters and ephemera, to original sketches, production pieces and printing tools, has been at our disposal. The close contact with these collection pieces provides the historical context needed to better understand, appreciate and practice any design profession. It is definitely a unique experience to work in such a historically rich and creative environment, and I am extremely thankful that I was able to do so.”



Monica used material from the collections for her professional assignment project, which involved assisting with curation, and designing an exhibition:

“One of the reasons that made me decide to enrol in the MA Book Design was having the opportunity to explore the archive and come face to face with so many materials that I had only seen before in books or the internet. Since day one of the MA I tried to sneak in to the reading room and timidly into the archive but not really knowing what to look for yet. This finally happen when we were given our professional assignment and my tutor suggested that I developed a forthcoming exhibition at the Department curated by Eric Kindel.

This exhibition brought together two periodicals — Future and Fortune — to show the diversity of graphic information during the post-war years. Future magazine was part of the Isotype Collection held in the Department’s archive while Fortune belonged to private collections.

To acquaint myself with the materials I spent a few days in the archive going through different issues of Future and Fortune. Getting to know better both periodicals helped me to devise a more informed graphic language for the exhibition as well as understand how to structure it. The final stage was bringing all the elements together, from the magazines on display inside the cases, the text panels and large images on the wall, to the booklets and website.

Putting together such an exhibition was quite a laborious process due to the various elements involved, but one that made me come across so many unknown materials. The archive is full of boxes, drawers and shelves still there to explore, some of them I hope to discover in my final year.”

Inspired by ephemera



Cameron Armstrong, who has recently graduated from Typography, has won an Examiners’ Award for his self-directed project which was inspired by material from the Maurice Rickards Collection of Ephemera. Here are some examples from the book he designed showing creativity and ingenuity in a variety of nineteenth- and twentieth-century letterforms and design.

Isotype at Design4Health


Sue Walker curated a small exhibition at the Design4Health conference at Sheffield Hallam University 13–16 July 2015.

‘Isotype: Fighting tuberculosis’ showed full-size examples of some of the 20 ‘educational charts’ produced in the 1930s for the National Tuberculosis Association in the USA.

The charts were well-received. Conference participants, comprising academics and health practitioners, commented that both the content and the style of presentation were relevant today.

Identifying prints: what is the process and how is it done


This 3-day course, Tuesday 23 – Thursday 25 June 2015, was run jointly by the Typography Department at Reading, the V&A and the AHRC Design Star Consortium. Delegates included PhD students, curators and librarians from National Portrait Gallery, the V&A, the Ashmolean Museaum, and Kew Gardens, and members of the Baxter Society.

The first two days were hosted by Martin Andrews who, with Alan Hardie, introduced delegates to hand-on letterpress, intaglio and lithographic printing using the presses in the Typography Department. Martin used prints from the collections and archives to support close observation using hand lenses to explain what to look for when you are trying to identify the printing processes used.

The third day was spent at the V&A where Elizabeth James, Senior Librarian, National Art Library Collections, and Annemarie Bilclough, Assistant Curator in Prints and Drawings introduced treasures from their Departments, and gave delegates the challenging task of identifying the printing processes that were used. In the afternoon, Michael Twyman from Reading led a session on lithography and chromolithography.

Zorian Clayton, Assistant Curator of Prints, V&A said:

Seeing the processes done in the studio and seeing so many examples of each type as we were talking through them.  Being able to have a go drawing directly on copper plates and stone was invaluable for understanding the process and getting a more all-round understanding of the complexities of print making. 

It was also good to meet people from other institutions and to compare what sort of queries and questions come up regarding their print collections.

[The course] has given me the confidence to identify numerous different types of printing which is necessary in my current job at the V&A.  We routinely respond to public queries and have an opinions day where members of the public can bring in their personal objects for appraisal so it will be very useful then also.  I also do a lot of cataloguing of prints so I feel I have a more grounded expertise now and look forward to putting it into practice.