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Constructed Letters in the Classroom: Methods, Creativity, and Meaning

Constructed type and lettering projects are popular assignments in design and typography studio courses, and with good reason. Students find preliminary exercises and examples engaging, and common tools like Fontstruct and F%NT are accessible and easy to use. Not only that, the products are visually appealing and can be applied in many ways. Using historical and contemporary examples of constructed scripts and samples of student work, and my own research, I will suggest how distinguishing between different construction methodologies can help instructors enrich and expand these projects. In this presentation, you’ll see the differences between rasterized construction, where designers translate predefined letterforms into an arbitrary formal grid; rationalized construction, where designers reduce and regularize letterforms and design spaces into a parsimonious system; and modular construction, where designers find letterforms as they negotiate their understandings of what letters should look like with the finite vocabularies of shapes generated by a design space. These methods encourage different kinds of creativity and suggest different ways to encode meaning in form. In particular, the differences emphasize a distinction between hylomorphic and textilic creativity, along with the distinction between letters and type as semiotic media and semiotic modes. Understanding these methods and their differences can help students assess and critique their work more effectively, refine and extend their designs further, ask critical questions about the design process, methodology, and find new connections between other formal visual systems of meaning.


Maurice Meilleur

Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Iowa State University

Maurice Meilleur is a graphic designer, design researcher, and writer. Meilleur is an assistant professor of graphic design at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, and teaches typography, generative design, semiotics, and design ethics. Currently, Meilleur is writing a book on the methodology and history of constructed scripts. Meilleur has presented his research at ATypI, TypeCon, and the Cooper Union. Meilleur’s experimental and modular typeface, kast, was a jury finalist in the Society of Typographic Aficionados’s 2016 protoType competition. Meilleur explores digital animation as part of a larger investigation into typographic representation and algorithmically-defined formal systems.