When typeface designer Thomas Jockin took his first typography class at Parsons School of Design, he was dreading the new discipline, expecting it to be stern and mechanical. But it only took one semester for Thomas to fully commit to the world of type. It was a sudden and unequivocal change of heart, all thanks to typeface designer Joshua Darden who taught the class, and had an immense impact on Thomas. “I wanted to have a mind like his, and I wanted his way of thinking,” Thomas says of Joshua, whom he later interned for. His sharpness of the mind was what drew Thomas into the field, and Thomas’ perception of typography still, to this day, merges the theoretical with the visual. In fact, this Long Island-based designer speaks of typography in terms borrowed from philosophical discourse, mixing together aesthetics, logic, and ethics.
“People who choose to be interested in type are a specific kind of nerd that really have a commitment to wanting to learn and grow,” Thomas shares from experience. In 2015, he initiated a monthly meetup under the name of Type Thursday, aimed at bringing together this letterform-loving crowd. What started out as a group of friends meeting over drinks, pointing their phone flashlights to their design work-in-progress in a bar, quickly grew to be much more. This series of events currently hosts seven monthly chapters around the globe, attracting over 3,000 participants annually, and welcoming a variety of creatives from type designers to letterrers, illustrators and UX designers.
Sharing typographical knowledge
Type Thursday is a fun social event that revolves around group critique. It invites designers to share their type-centric projects and receive honest feedback from other participants. For the large part, giving and receiving design critique is a practice reserved for academia or the workplace. But Type Thursday calls for the discussion of projects in-the-making in an encouraging, non-judgmental setting, where the contributors are your knowledgeable peers, rather than your superiors.
“Knowledge of typography is not that common,” Thomas states, referring to the field as somewhat nebulous. “Through dialogue about the work, a lot gets revealed in terms of type terminology and anatomy of the letterform,” he adds, viewing group critique as a shared experience of learning, rather than a lecture. This exchange of ideas allows for the work to grow more refined – but for Thomas, critique goes beyond the revising of one’s kerning or ligatures. Sometimes, a discussion might raise questions about the overall aim and purpose of the design, or as Thomas puts it, could reach “higher level ideas of discernment about the right way to use type and think about it.”
Questioning the use of type is a topic that sparks much curiosity for Thomas. “We deal with type so commonly, and it’s so important to our society. Yet we just wash it over and take it for granted,” he remarks. “Having a place where people consider it seriously, intently, and with a lot of vigor is refreshing and rewarding.” For Thomas, typography and design are more than a vocation – they come with a set of values. He appropriately defines design as “a way of seeing.”
The values of good design
For most of us, seeing the world through a designer lens comes as second nature. When, for example, we pick up a new product at the store only to obsess over its packaging, typography, and use of color palette, it feels like a mental road that we can’t help but go down. And as far as Thomas is concerned, this little habit of ours is a hymn to the values we as designers hold most dear – beauty, aesthetics, and composition. He even goes as far as to say that the upholding and cultivating of these values are our responsibilities as designers.
Design, just like any other discipline, he claims, “has value systems and principles that matter, and are unique to design. I talk to programmers and engineers and it’s fascinating to see that they use ‘beauty’ too, but in a different way than we do.” While engineers would link beauty with efficiency, says Thomas, designers tie the same notion together with harmony, proportion, and composition. And this difference of perceptions means that designers are the ones to advocate for their own virtues and priorities, just as other disciplines give the sales pitch for theirs, until eventually reaching a favorable agreement between all parties involved.
Type Thursdays, too, champions the values of unique to design. There’s a special quality to design in that it allows for self expression while also requiring to adjust and answer to other parties’ needs. Designers are required to perform a delicate balancing act of empathizing with clients, engineers, and marketers’ needs, all the while making a strong claim for the principles of good design, Thomas tells us. And taking these many different factors into account means that “you cannot be too self centered so as to just express your own isolated vision,” he sums up. For this reason, group critique such as that held in Type Thursday makes sense – because there is objective and rational meaning to be found in design, so that when addressed by a group of like-minded designers together, it can be scrutinized under an agreed upon set of values, and made better.
“I liked all the constructive feedback I received,” designer Hector Torres told Type Thursday after his presentation at the Los Angeles chapter last year. “I could tell there was a genuine interest in getting the type to the best place possible,” he said. And for Thomas, this is what the meetups are ultimately all about. “It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in your little studio, or at that coffee shop where you work. There are other people who care about this too, and more importantly, care about you being a better designer.”