What is Realness? Freeing Type from a Fixed Viewpoint

6:30 PM – 8:30 PM


From The Cooper Union:

Can a single typeface express diverse viewpoints through its own functionality? Partners from two design studios, Polymode and XYZ Type, discuss their collaboration to bring notions of expansive personal identity into typographic form.

The unexpected road to their typeface Polymode Sans began by viewing a historical type revival through a queer lens, and led them to harness variable font technology as a form of cultural code-switching. Working on an abstract theoretical foundation, they created an entirely pragmatic tool: a typeface with both the versatile utility of a sans serif and the vigor of a decorative display face. This talk will follow their process through from initial idea to chameleonic applications, posing questions about collaboration, dialogue with history, and how designers express personal identity.

Ben Kiel is a typeface designer, an educator, and a partner in XYZ Type. Ben worked for several years at House Industries, with a specialty in solving complex problems at the overlap of design and technology. He received his MA in Typeface Design from the University of Reading. He currently teaches at Washington University in Saint Louis and Type@Cooper.

Jesse Ragan runs the small type foundry XYZ Type with business partner Ben Kiel, and designs custom typefaces and lettering independently in Brooklyn, New York. He has served on the board of directors for AIGA/NY and has taught at Type@Cooper (which he co-founded) and Pratt Institute.

Silas Munro is a designer, artist, writer, and curator. He is the founder of the LGBTQ+ and minority-owned graphic design studio Polymode based in Los Angeles and Raleigh that works with clients across cultural spheres.

Brian Johnson, a member of the Monacan Indian Nation, is an award-winning designer, writer, and curator. He is a partner of Polymode where he focuses on amplifying marginalized and forgotten voices through poetic research, learning experiences, and impactful design.

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