Forms, Methods and Tools Friday, June 8th, 2018

Making 3D Typography

Amir Berbic, Associate Professor of Graphic Design, University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Design

Presents analog and digital methods of making 3D typography defined by action verbs: extruding, projecting, folding, layering, and cross sectional morphing.

Digital fabrication technology has expanded the possibilities in model-making and prototyping, significantly transforming the way designers generate form. In the realm of typography, designers have made use of laser cutters, CNC routers, and 3D printers to construct three-dimensional letterforms. How has digital fabrication affected the way graphic design students engage the physical act of making? What types of new typographic forms have emerged?

This presentation discusses pedagogical research and curricular development for a 3D typography class taught within an undergraduate graphic design program. Through exercises defined by key action verbs students employ methods such as extruding, projecting, folding, layering, and cross sectional morphing to explore material and spatial formulations of typography. While some exercises involve analog tools and manual processes others rely on the use of the school’s digital fabrication lab. The experience with a range of approaches require students to learn to negotiate the varying limitations imposed by material and technique with the constraints of letterforms anatomy and typographic composition.

The case studies expand on the author’s investigation into how letterform anatomy can inform the techniques for producing 3D typography. It also references an earlier study of the reciprocal relationship between two-dimensional graphics and three-dimensional form. Physical models are made to perform as subjects in a photographic image as much as fabricated designed objects. The process goes back and forth between the physical manipulation of form and engaging photography and lens-based media to analyze the spatial characteristics in 3D letterforms. Students control light, shutter, depth of field, and perspective to emphasize dimensionality and test typographic clarity. Building on the experience from method-based exercises, students work to develop one of their studies into a larger system of forms. They engage context, content, and communication of meaning as ultimate aims of the projects.