the Stafford papers
During the 1970s a valuable series of typographic documents was made and published at Stafford College of Art and Design in the English midlands. Here we plan to make some of them available as downloadable pdfs: the first two in February 2007, with more following later. The original authors, makers, and publishers support this form of re-publication. A list of titles appears on the right. If you already know about the Stafford papers and are familiar with the typographic issues which they explore, then you may wish to simply download them by clicking on the title. If they are new to you, then you may find the following note helpful.
Two things to be observed in the work of expert typographic designers is that they make careful and usually precise decisions about the spatial relationships between graphic objects, and that these decisions often involve small increments of space. They then translate the decisions into a specification. But the expertise which grows through repeated exercise of their judgement is acquired slowly, and the evidence on which judgement is exercised is not always easily accessible. So together the Stafford papers offer an answer to this question: how can the kind of visual evidence which experts have learnt to assess over long periods of time be made available to anyone – beginners, learners, peers, critics?
Typographers need this evidence in order to make decisions about visual appearance and to specify those decisions with confidence. Such evidence was hard to get before ‘desktop publishing’, [note 1] which allowed typographers to easily construct it for themselves. Before then, type manufacturers and printers used to produce type specimens to show the visual attributes of typefaces which they imagined would be of interest to their customers. But such specimen material was not often designed systematically or with the needs of typographers in mind. [note 2]
Most ‘type specimens’ were just that, designed to exhibit the shapes of letters and other characters, and so perhaps fostering typographers’ continuing obsession with surface features. Just a few specimens showed passages of text with variations of interlinear space. But even the best of these did not provide visual evidence which helped typographers to determine the relationship between line length, spacing between words, and spacing between lines. Specimens have rarely been produced to show the effects of systematic variations in the configuration and spacing of typeset text. This is why the Stafford papers are of interest. Among them was a series of nine typographic analyses produced in the Design Department between 1969 and 1988, a series initiated by Peter Burnhill and his colleagues Alan May, John Cole, John Burgess, and Roydon Jenkins. The work was careful and painstaking; it often involved students, working under supervision. Small quantities of each document were made, with print runs typically between 100 and 200, for use by staff and students, and to project the Department’s intelligence beyond its local boundaries. They were given away free, not sold.
As Peter Burnhill observed in a retrospect written in 1996 for Information design journal, present-day typographers are in a far better position to produce systematically designed specimen material than those who worked within the old technologies of hand or mechanical composition, and who therefore had to rely upon type manufacturers and printers. Peter Burnhill’s article from Information design journal is available on the right.
Paul Stiff, 13 September 2006
1. A term coined by Paul Brainerd of Aldus around 1984 and used to describe a combination of desktop computer and desktop laserprinter linked by a page description language (Adobe’s ‘PostScript’) and running page design applications such as Aldus’s ‘PageMaker’ or, later, Quark’s ‘XPress’. [Back to text]
2. One exception is Alan Kitching’s labour of love from 1970, his self-designed and -made Typography manual, printed and circulated in small numbers at the School of Art of Watford College of Technology. And a recent one, produced under current technology, is the specimen for the typeface FF Quadraat made by its designer, Fred Smeijers, at Arnhem in 1992. [Back to text]
Stafford papers: typographic analyses, in order of original publication:
Gordon S. Davies. 1969. Information coding. Stafford: Stafford College of Art and Design. (This systematically explores the Monotype 7-alphabet system, providing 210 variant settings of a short passage of text.) [7.6mb]
Peter Burnhill. 1970. Headings in text. Explains and illustrates ‘a system for the co-ordination of the dimensions of intervals on the vertical axis of typographical space’.) Stafford: Stafford College of Art and Design. [A version of this later appeared, under the title ‘Typographic education: headings in text’, in Visible language 4, 1970, pp.353–65] [7mb]
Stafford College of Art and Design. 1971. Comparative settings of narrative text. Supplementary to: Dimensional relationships in the composition of text. Stafford: Stafford College of Art and Design. (This compares 2- & 3- column layouts and variations of space between paragraphs.) [6.3mb]
Edd Brown. 1971. Comparative settings of text. Supplementary to: Dimensional relationships in the composition of text and Comparative settings of narrative text. Stafford: Stafford College of Art and Design. (‘In these specimens the variables explored are: type design, typesize and interlinear space’.) [7.9mb]
Sandy Banks & Bert Aureli. 1977. Word spacing/line spacing in the setting of text. Stafford: Design Department, Stafford College of Further Education. Supplementary to: Dimensional relationships in the composition of text and Comparative settings of narrative text, Comparative settings of text. (‘In these specimens the variables explored are: type size and word spacing/line spacing.’) [1.8mb]
Sandy Banks & Bert Aureli. 1977. Comparative settings of numerically encoded text. Stafford: Design Department, Stafford College of Further Education. (Explores ‘the typographical encoding of copy consisting of four levels of information which have been indexed according to a decimal classification system’.) [19mb]
Peter Burnhill. 1977. Comparative settings of text: the paragraph. Stafford: Design Department, Stafford College of Further Education. (This compares 1-column and 2-column layouts, and also compares different new paragraph markers – none, start new line, start new line with indent, 1 line vertical space.) [16.6mb]
Stafford College, Design Department. 1988. Comparative settings of CRTronic text. Stafford: Stafford College, Design Department. (‘In these specimens the variables explored are: type design, typesize and interline space’. The document is typeset ‘using the Linotype CRTronic 150 phototypesetter’.) [9.6mb]
for background to this work: