Feedback for a Typographic assignment

Hi all, newbie here posting for the first time apart from intros.

I have been taking an online certificate course in typography from Calarts on Coursera. Although the course is well structured and easy to learn from, the downside is that it is peer reviewed. And normally it’s fine when peers critique properly, but it’s frustrating when you put in the effort to critique others’ work only to have yours reviewed by people who leave 1-2 word reviews like “nice” and “good job”. I was hoping for a little more elaborate feedback than that on this assignment because I want to know if there are flaws in my design and improve upon them.

The assignment was to research a typeface, learn how to typeset it and in the final one make a typographic poster with that info using all concepts we had learned so far. The assignment also required us to note down our thoughts/feelings/ideas about the typeface and if it happened to be a person, what would their personality be.

My notes:
“For the title, I varied the weight, size and color of each letter to resemble symmetry found in architecture from that period. For the paragraphs, I’ve tried to depict feelings of upward movement and fun; a rise in arts and culture after the world war. I used elements of art deco in a minimalist way so as to not take away too much focus from the type. If Gill Sans were a person, I imagine they would be elegant and the refined sort - cultured and intellectual, yet slightly whimsical and someone who occasionally doesn’t play by the rules.”

Sorry for the long-ish post and thank you in advance to anyone who reads this and has any feedback to offer!

Well, Eric Gill was definitely someone who didn’t play by the rules – and not in a good way.

Gill Sans is my guilty pleasure. It has so many things wrong with it, but so many things that are inherently beautiful. Most things Mr Gill did, are. Perpetua and Joanna are also beautiful faces. His sculpture and prints are absolutely stunning and often play out the dichotomy between his religious beliefs and his sexual deviance.

Gill Sans is all the adjectives you used, and some. However, I don’t think what you have produced is at all in the spirit of either the design or the time. You have ascribed an Art Deco interpretation (which I’m am afraid what you have produced, does not), when in fact, Gill was more closely allied to the Arts and Crafts movement. The typeface has become about as quintessentially ‘British’ as you can get.

Honestly, I think you need to do a lot more research into the typeface, it’s designer and it’s usage.

Sorry, it’s not more positive, but everything about it is just not very ‘Gill’.

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Hi Sprout,

Thank you for the feedback! I’m learning about type for the first time and any useful critiques really help me so, I truly appreciate your time.

I did read about him being a part of the arts and crafts movement but didn’t research the movement itself, which I now realize was something I should have looked into.
I’ve read up only a few pages on the Gill Sans and about Eric Gill (and his deviancy too) but I haven’t done too much research in detail due to time constraints on the assignment. I do plan to read up more in detail in the future.
When I personified the typeface I was trying to divorce the designer from it but I suppose that is hard to do when art or design is essentially part of the creator!

I shall try and rework the poster with more research as you’ve suggested. Thank you.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the half of the headline that’s in italics and running away from the half that isn’t. The second thing I noticed was all the type that’s set on a diagonal. After those two things, I noticed the overall layout.

In other words, the quirky pieces of your layout are drawing attention to themselves and drawing attention away from the composition as a whole. That can be totally fine when it’s intentional and purposeful, but somehow I don’t think it was.

Picking up on what Sprout said about Gill Sans not really being an Art Deco face. Yeah, it really isn’t. It’s sort of caught in a transitional state between the remnants of the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau and the first glimpses of Art Deco.

Interestingly, though, that’s how I would describe the design of your layout too. That’s not a criticism, though — in many ways you’ve captured the essence of Gill Sans, which is pretty impressive given that it’s used so often in ways that have little to do with its inherent personality.

Setting aside the diagonal and italic type, I really like what you’ve done. I like the lines and the colors and the time period look. I’m not too sure about the saturated cyan-colored type, but maybe it’s OK.

Quoting one of your less-than-articulate peers, you’ve done a “good job.”

Have you read Eric Gill’s Essay on Typography? It’s a small book that I have sitting right here about four feet away from me on my bookshelf. It’s must reading for anyone serious about typography. Despite Gill’s shortcomings as a person, it’s difficult to ignore his talent, influence and the work he produced — even though I wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with the guy after work.

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I have just woken up and reread my first response. When I intitally commented, I was ‘wide awake at 3am’, so apologies if I sounded a bit too negative and brusque.

I didn’t get into the specifics of the layout, because, as I said (a little too curtly) I thought the whole thing missed the mark, in terms of representing the flavour of Gill Sans. Not by miles, but enough that your layout would have suited a few other typefaces better.

Although you have achieved a feel for a period of time, for me, there is something more minimal about the flavour of this particular typeface. I think you had the well-thought instinct to go minimal (as per your notes), but in fact, you did the opposite, trying to fit in too many elements and over-thought – but well-intentioned – ideas.

It’s a difficult typeface to choose, because it is very easy to miss the mark by either, as this piece has done, illustrating the period, or swinging too far the other way and ending up with a pastiche of the whole London Transport / British wartime poster feel (Keep Calm and Carry On). [Don’t get me started on those millions of ‘keep calm and carry on knitting’ derivatives that seem to be everywhere now.]

I would suggest that it is probably best not to try too hard to directly/literally illustrate things like the ‘upward moving and fun’ with the slanted type. It is good thinking and absolutely the right way to go, as typefaces are all about tone of voice, but literal interpretations tend to look a little over-bearing and obvious. This is best done with subtle use of space and font weight. Same applies to the heading with multiple styles, weights, sizes and colours. I can see where you were going with your thinking, but even if you had used an art deco font, it would have come across as too much.

Take your guide from the man himself and as Just-B said, read Gill’s Essay on Typography. Even if not directly for this project, it is a must-read for any designer. My copy, too, is never too far away.

Let us know how you get on and post any revisions.


Thank you so much for your kind feedback! I do see now, how the italics and diagonal typesetting are distracting to the overall layout. I agree about the saturated cyan as well.

Wow, I see! Thank you for that information. I didn’t realize that the influences spanned over 3 different movements. Makes me want to read more about that and see how my design ties in with that (or doesn’t).

No, but I’ll make sure to get my hands on it as soon as I can :slight_smile: Thank you for the recommendation!

Thank you for elaborating the problem areas! It is so much clearer to me now.

Got it :slight_smile: I’ll work on that to bring better focus on the typeface than the other elements.

Thank you! This was an eye-opening point and I’ll be more cautious and stay away from trying literal interpretations.

I’ll definitely make sure to read Essay on Typography. Thank you again for your time and patience!

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