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  TRIBE 03: M SQUARE: The keyboard

The keyboard: a Tool Kit.

Typography is more than the arrangement of textual content. A letter is more than a glyph. Instead of just looking at letters, we read pictures. The graphic shapes of characters derive from objects or abstracts, the symbolic representation of a letter gives it its value in communication. Re(de)constructing the alphabet, can be an investigation for a new visual language. A letter can be anything, anything can be a letter.

In contrast to the old typewriter, with its static typewriter letters, the personal computer offers the infinite flexibility to apply thousands of typefaces to its keyboard, including the customization, manipulation and mutilation of typeface designs.

The search for originality and distinction stimulated extensive experimentation with not only the esthetics of letterforms, but their symbolic meaning as well. Questioning the institutionalized alphabet and typefaces and the deserted territories of legibility and symbolic values were the exploration fields of a handful experimenting pioneers (Emigre, LT, Fuse, TYP) in the mid 80s.

Replacing the character set with anything else than the standard alphabet, changes the function of the keyboard in its originally intended sense. Dingbats, or picture fonts are a useful way to use the keyboard for additional signs and symbols. The range from a well crafted legible typeface designs to a completely abstract visual system can be very broad.
As a visual composing tool kit, the possibilities of the keyboard are endless. Experiments, not just to redefine type or typography, but to redefine the keyboard, is possibly most useful to expand the territories of graphic design, typography and visual communication in either print or dynamic media.
In a society with such an competitive information overload, distinction and differentiation becomes

essential. Strong corporate identities, strong branding policies or original identity concepts are essential communication tools. Logos, symbols, typefaces and design styles, become part of visual concepts of communication policies. As far as letterforms are concerned, the more they are individualized and customized, the more they'll express an individual identity. It is a basic concept, which applies to any level of visual communication: an identity program for a corporation, or a single sign for a garage sale.

Custom designed typefaces and letterforms define individual identity in visual communication, distinct one product from others. The increasing need for noticeable identities is the biggest excuse for development and design of new typefaces. The speed of consumption of information in a competitive and constantly fluctuating communication industry, stimulates the creation of new spices for the ever changing taste experiences.

The merge of the ‘old’ school typography into visual communication, confirms the point that typeface and symbol design must be a part of the educational program of visual communication. And as much as photography, motion graphics, illustration and image processing, it will offer the future designer a serious tool for the enhancement of individual identity concepts.

Max Kisman, April 2003.

A letter can be anything. A workshop at CCA, San Francisco. In this issue of Tribe.
El teclado: una caja de herramientas. Typográfia, revista de diseño, #57, Agosto Septiembre 2003, Buenos Aires Argentinia. Extract of article in Spanish
The Key board: a Tool Kit. The whole article in English at Icocrada.org