When Dafi told me that more than 100 participants had already completed the Typographic Printing Program, and that he was planning an exhibition to show a selection of 100 posters to the public, I suggested a publication to accompany the event. Yes, it’s nice to see all the posters, but I think it’s even nicer to have a little more context to better understand the results.

Typographic Printing Program

About my insights into the program

I did the program in 2020 and have been working in Dafi’s studio ever since. I have also assisted him in the following TPP sessions. So I have experienced the program first hand and know what it is like, but I have also had the opportunity to observe the program from a more distant perspective as an assistant. For me, one of the key takeaways from the program is that limitations give you opportunities because they help you see your design sketch from a different perspective. This is very helpful when you get stuck in a design process. Most likely, it’s not the whole design that doesn’t «work» but some important minimal details. You «just» need to know which details.

The limitations of the program are:

a) The technology of letterpress itself. There is a lot that can be done with letterpress, in particular in combination with today’s digital tools, and Dafi is a big fan of pushing those limits (especially the limits of precision, so that a letterpress-printed poster does not look like a letterpress-printed poster). However, not everything is possible, and you will eventually hit those limits.
b) The available material. Dafi has spent a lot of time researching, collecting and rescuing materials and tools from the scrap heap since setting up his studio. He really has a lot of stuff, but he does not have everything you might need (for example, there are no unlimited characters like in digital typesetting).
c) The recurring task of creating a poster for a fictional event for Näfels and the step-by-step restrictions Dafi gives you in designing this poster. He wants you to explore all the minimal iterations to get the most out of your design. A poster that visually reinforces the meaning of the text and content. This approach is called semantic typography and is achieved through the deliberate selection and combination of several typographic elements. As a viewer, you usually do not need to see these elements—you just need to feel the atmosphere when you look at the poster. But as a visitor to the exhibition, I wanted to give the viewer this context.

Typographic Printing Program

How the publication came about

The publication is 8 pages of brain food. The cover shows roughly where the fictional events will take place in the rural town of Näfels in the canton of Glarus (e.g. many people preferred an event in the historic Freulerpalast or an event on one of the many lakes around Näfels). Inside the publication you’ll find some short texts that give you the context of the program, Dafi’s view on typography, and the exhibition. The publication also catalogs the 100 posters on display and their creators.

The heart of the publication is the infographic in the center. In addition to the content index, it lists and analyzes the design elements of the posters. The decomposition of the posters into 11 of their design elements (for example reading levels, title wording style, word count, paper color or printing material) demonstrates how various typographic designs and atmospheres were created despite the limitations. The graph is like a heat map showing what was used the most and what was used the least. Just by looking at it, you get an overview of all the posters that you could not get just by looking at the 100 posters in the exhibition.

Typographic Printing Program

What you can learn from this infographic

For example, the graph shows that 81 participants used linoleum as their printing material. This illustrates that you really do not need a fancy material or metal/wood type to print typographic posters. A simple and versatile material allows you to realize almost all of your design ideas.

72 posters use only sans fonts. Well, this is due to the fact that Dafi has many more sans than serif fonts. But people do not start by choosing a font for their poster—meaning it is not the primary factor that leads to it. People start with visualizing their concept, and one of the very last steps before producing the poster is choosing a font. This figure suggests that after a rigorous design process, people end up using (similar) sans because they do not feel they need an extravagant font to convey their message. Their composition already does the job.

Another interesting fact is that 37 posters use only two font sizes, but almost as many (36 posters) use more than 5 font sizes. I think this is also due to the analog approach. When you draw by hand, it’s much easier to change the size of individual letters. In fact, it’s automatically done because it’s very hard to keep your font size perfectly consistent. As graphic designers, we are often trained to reduce design elements to the maximum. The software supports this attitude because it is much easier to use the same font specifications in a text box. But somehow, through this manual approach, people realize that many font sizes for individual letters help their message. They end up using many font sizes, and yet their posters have a reduced look and do not look chaotic.

Typographic Printing Program

If you want to know exactly who used which parameter, you can trace it back using the link numbers. It will probably take some time, but it will show you the recipe for each poster. For those who still cannot get enough of the publication, it includes a supplemental blue inlay. For 8 of the 100 posters on display, this inlay provides detailed information about the event concepts that participants had to write before designing their poster, as well as the individual printing process.

Yes, the publication is only 8 pages (plus inlay), but there is a lot to explore!