Digital Humanities
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“Typography for [Digital] Humanists” Amy Papaelias, NYCDH Week 2016 Fordham University, February 12

“Typography for [Digital] Humanists” was a workshop lead by Amy Papaelias, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at SUNY New Paltz. Her workshop, presented during NYCDH Week 2016, focused on basic typographic design principles and how they can be applied to digital humanities projects. Papaelias began the session with a presentation introducing us to the world of typography, and followed with a tutorial on a typography resource,

Papaelias started off with two quotes that set the stage for what she would be discussing: “Typography is what language looks like” – Ellen Lupton, and “Typography exists to honor content” – Robert Bringhurst. Papaelias used these to explain that the choices we make in terms of typography should support and reflect the ideas we are presenting in our work. She then went into a presentation of 5 principles to consider when making typographic choices. These included choosing the right type of font for the right occasion; contrasting size, weight, and style of fonts to create hierarchy; incorporating negative space; using dashes, ligatures, punctuations, and glyphs correctly; and she also provided examples of typography resources on the web. In going through each point, Papaelias showed good and bad examples and shared expert tips.

At the end of her presentation, we had the opportunity to put Papaelias’ recommendations into practice using the online resource, This site allows the user to try out various font styles and sizes to test out which combinations work best before applying it to a project or purchasing a font style. During this activity, I came to realize how difficult, yet fun, it is to make these design choices, as there are just so many fonts out there, not to mention deciding size, weight, and style!

At this time we also discussed some challenges digital humanists might face and some concerns the participants have when it comes to typography and design. One issue that seemed to resonate with all participants was the issue of the academic time scale; that is, deadlines are tight and design is usually an after thought when it comes to applying for grants or submitting a project. Some participants also seemed slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of making all of these design choices when a deadline is looming. One solution we discussed, for those who are working in an institution, is to collaborate with a design class. The one caveat to this solution is that collaborating with a class means that the project wouldn’t be completed for an entire semester. This led us to consider collaborating with one student or a professor to consult on the project if the deadline is more restrictive.

We also discussed adding design assistance as a line item into a grant application so that design isn’t an after thought, but rather a piece that informs decisions. Adding this stipulation into a grant application ensures that time and money will be applied to design factors, and this aspect of the project will receive the attention it deserves. Another issue we discussed was the dichotomy between flash and merit. I think that this issue can be reconciled by going back to the beginning of Papaelias’ presentation where she advises to choose the right font for the right occasion and to let that choice of font honor your content. For example, for a grant application, you may want to be more conservative in your design choices, as the focus will be on what you’re trying to accomplish and what you will need for your project to be a success. However, when presenting and displaying a project, you may want to make bolder design choices to call attention to your project and what you have discovered.

Lastly, Papaelias discussed the future of typography. One development that she mentioned is responsive web design. This will allow type to better adjust to the kind of device and the size of device being used, as well as adjust to how far away the user is from the screen. Other improvements she discussed were animated type, the use of emojis, and the creation of typefaces for cultures with uncommon alphabets like native languages. These improvements in typography could enhance the user experience for digital humanities projects in the future.

I think that this workshop has been the quintessential DH experience of collaboration. This workshop forced the participants to see their research and projects through the eyes of a graphic designer, rather than through those of a humanist. The presentation of research and findings are a large part of the field, and though standing out in terms of content is essential, I now believe that the way you present your content can be just as important. At the beginning of her presentation, Papaelias compared choosing the right font to choosing the right outfit. If you were to participate at a conference, you are going to pick something to wear that is professional, but also sets you apart. The same should be applied to the design of your project. Sure you want it to look professional, but you also want to your project to stand out. By doing so, there may be an opportunity of receiving more offers of collaborators, or other grant opportunities to expand upon your research. Applying typographic design principles to your presentation can also just make your project and presentation easier to follow and understand.

Though many workshop participants were eager to learn about ways to enhance their projects, I think that it will take time before design truly becomes an important factor for digital humanists. The interest seems to be there, but with issues like funding and time constraints there still may be some hesitation. I did however find it very reassuring that something as simple as changing font size and weight could make a difference in design. With the increase in research and projects, digital humanists will have to find ways to stand out, and typography seems to be a great place to start.

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