Advanced typography project begins for Visual Communication Design

Lauren Garczynski

In the School of Visual of Communication Design’s advanced typography class, four letters will occupy the minds of students until April: ISTD.

The project is not as simple as those letters suggest, however. The acronym stands for the International Society of Typographic Designers, a global organization of typographers and type designers.

Aoife Mooney, an assistant professor in the VCD College and one of the project’s coordinators, said the internationally recognized organization strives to “set and promote typographic standards worldwide.”

Along with assistant VCD professor Jillian Coorey, Mooney has been implementing the submission-based assessment project for advanced typography for the past four years.

“Each year the ISTD releases a set of briefs which educators implement in their classrooms and students choose one to work on for about a 7-9 week duration,” Mooney said. “The briefs are intended to foster typographic excellence and the use of typography as an instrument to be played rather than a skill to be learned.”

The briefs are extremely demanding and entail thorough research with students explaining why they made each and every decision they did.

“It’s super individualized because you get to pick what you’re interested in, plus the brief, which is different from a normal VCD class because normally you’re all working on the same assignment,” said Grace Harms, a senior VCD student who will be participating again this year.

Mooney tackled the ISTD briefs during her own experience as an undergraduate at the Dublin Institute of Technology. She remembers it as a “challenging, empowering and formative experience which solidified my love for typography.”

What Mooney felt during her undertaking of the project is shared entirely by students who were involved with it in the past.

“I don’t think there’s another single project in my whole time at Kent that taught me that research is important,” said Dean Sweetnich, a senior VCD major who passed the project last year. “I don’t think I’ll do a project the same way again; I think it changed my work ethic.”

Students participating in the rigorous project experience all of the typical pressure of a huge project amplified by the stress of having their work sent to an esteemed organization to evaluate.

“I think it was an interesting thing to have a competition, knowing that it will be judged. You kind of work in a different way, where obviously your professor is your grader, but when you think about other people seeing your work, you tend to work at a higher level,” Harms said.

Mooney views her experience with the project as a milestone.

“The rigor of the assessment, and the opportunity to put my work in the hands of industry professionals who might one day be employers … was a singularly appealing prospect at the time, and one that I feel was truly rewarding,” she said.

For the first few years of the brief implementation, student work was shipped to locations throughout the United Kingdom to be assessed.

However, Kent State has established itself as a significant player in its functioning, as the first assessment held in America occurred in February at Kent State, making the university, “the current base for the ISTD in North America,” Mooney said.

“They’re both the official North American representatives … everyone who does this from every school in the nation will send their final products here,” Sweetnich said. “They are not only responsible for hosting the whole thing and being the primary organizers for all of it, but they help everyone in class and guide us along our research process and critique our work,” he said.

Though the project seems intimidating and certainly requires more than the typical input of effort, students and professors advise to be prepared and smart in accomplishing the project.

“Start now. Get everything you want to look at and take it all and put it in a big folder, get a highlighter and post it notes, sit down for days and just read, highlight and take notes,” said Sweetnich. “Getting that done as soon as possible allows you to keep looking back at your notes and get as much creative exploration as possible.”

Mooney agreed, believing that students should try to go above and beyond.

“This requires a degree of self-motivation and autonomy that might go beyond what they are used to,” Mooney said. “But which, if conceived of in the right spirit, can also be very liberating.”

As someone who is doing the project again, Harms advised students to play to their strengths.

“That’s not necessarily because you want to pass, it’s because you get to show off what you’re really good at and it makes you excited to work on it,” she said.

Students in advanced typography will begin working on the project when briefs are released Sunday, where they will continue to work until evaluations in April.

“In coordinating the assessment scheme in North America, along with professor Coorey, I have found I really enjoy seeing the scheme from the other side,” Mooney said. “Watching our students respond to the briefs and showcase their skills is hugely rewarding, and motivates me to reach out to more institutions, to include more students and educators in this endeavor.”

Lauren Garczynski is a CCI reporter. Contact her at [email protected]