Adventures in Type Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Post-digital typography education with digital fabrication: CAD design, 3D printing and CNC milling

Taekyeom Lee,  Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, Appalachian State University

Explorations made by a group of young graphic students from an innovative interdisciplinary typography course with the emerging digital technologies.

I had an opportunity to bring innovative learning experience into a typography course and response to the rise of the emerging digital technologies. Through this paper, I like to share my experience and explorations made by a group of young graphic students who are interested in the interdisciplinary study of digital fabrication and typography. The interdisciplinary studio course was structured to provide hands-on experience with the new digital tools and opportunity to transfer conceptual and practical skills that students have developed
in during the study of graphic design to various dimensional typography projects. It involves creative research and studio works using CAD design, 3D printing, CNC milling, and working with materials.

As a design researcher and a design educator, I have had two questions: Where does typography belong in the post-digital age? How do we combine digital and physical materials to enable a new typographic experience? There are a few ongoing discourses regarding the term “post-digital,” and there are mixtures of hopes and concerns between being human or being digital. I believe the debate should focus on the exploration of new avenues and possible ways to bridge digital and physical relationships. Many things that exist as digital data could be translated into physical or combined into physical space in the post-digital age to bridge the gap between digital and analog. It is already undeniable that we are facing a paradigm shift in many forms of art and design under the development of technology, and it is necessary to develop, test, and find the place of the emerging technologies in the design process and creative practices.

Under the development of digital technology, the exciting and rapidly changing digital environment has influenced typography and typographic experiences. Technological advancement and new manufacturing processes using Computer Numerical Controls like 3D printing, CNC milling, and laser cutting have broadened creative possibilities and the perception of crafts. They have become more refined, common, accessible, and cheaper. Also, these new technologies have tested to push the boundaries of the medium both regarding concept and materiality. Specifically, students were introduced to the world of digital fabrication techniques: CAD design, 3D printing, and CNC milling. The course provides opportunities to learn new tools, test ideas, explore possibilities, and how to implement the techniques in design projects. Mainly, I like to introduce three assignments: 3D modular type, type furniture, and interactive environmental graphics. Students revisit their modular type assignments to turn them into 3D modular type with CAD software. The type furniture required them not only to play with form, structure, and material but to prove the design concept through prototyping and CNC milling. As a final project, they also proposed and executed interactive environmental graphics projects based on new tools they have learned in the course. Although every project was challenging in different ways, they learned that there are more things they can do with these new tools and they could be combined with traditional creative practice.

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