Dr Catherine Dixon
Senior Lecturer & Stage 3 Leader BA(Hons) Graphic Design
Typeface design: history and practice
Graphic representation of information
Practice-based research in design
Catherine Dixon is a designer, writer and teacher. As a designer she works mostly with text-based projects, including covers for the award-winning Great Ideas series for Penguin Books. As a writer she has a particular interest in type design and letterform, contributing to the website <publiclettering.org.uk> and co-authoring with Phil Baines the book Signs: lettering in the environment (Laurence King 2003). She writes for Eye magazine, Codex and Imprint, and is a regular speaker at international conferences, as well as an organizer herself of design-related events. In Spring 2011 she took up a one-year post as a Visiting Professor at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. With Phil Baines she co-curates the Central Lettering Record, part of the college’s Museum & Contemporary Collections.
My research continues to be driven forward by my fascination with the form of letters in three main ways.
The pragmatic concern with the description of typefaces, underpinning my doctoral research, now manifests itself in the ongoing exploration of how to realize the more conceptual outcomes of my PhD in terms of practical tools and frameworks for helping students especially to make sense of the current formal diversity of typefaces. Using a set of analytical tools developed within information design I am now starting to confirm the importance of graphic representation in the communication to the end-user of description/classificatory strategy. Here research and teaching interests fuse through an engagement with the consideration of those not only making, but using and being shaped by typeface classifications. Knowledge of existing histories is broadened and current teaching and learning practices challenged through the reconsideration of curriculum and methods.
Work in relation to those letterforms, which inform our public spaces, also continues following publication in 2003 of the book Signs: lettering in the environment co-written with my colleague Phil Baines. While access to visual imagery in relation to the vernacular letterform has probably never been greater, there is still a lack of critical dialogue communicating the essential differences between the practices of typography and lettering, or a common set of tools for qualitatively evaluating the significance and/or success of examples of public lettering. This has resulted in recent research engaging with preservation issues. Letterforms are vulnerable, seen by everyone, yet noticed by very few. Greater understanding of the role they play in shaping our public spaces is necessary if we are to culturally identify and protect notions of good practice, present and future.
More recently a new research interest has emerged, that of letterpress printing and arguments for its revival/survival. First explored within my own under-graduate practice, letterpress is now a concern in terms of articulations around its value as a teaching and learning tool, as well as the value of the vernacular within contemporary design contexts. To explore such themes, has necessitated a re-engagement with letterpress in my own practice. Such co-dependency of research and practice is common to all my work and underpins and draws together each of these separate research strands.
- Forthcoming: ‘Understanding the bigger picture: the graphic representation of overviews of typeform’ in Selected Readings of the 5th Information Design International Conference, SBDI (Brazilian Society of Information Design) [BR]
- Forthcoming: (with Prof Phil Baines) ‘Changing perspectives’ in 6x6: Collaborative letterpress project, a book to be published by the University of Brighton Spring 2013
- 2012 ‘The role of typeface categorisation systems in the typographic education of the printer: a corrective legacy still with us today’ in Farias, P; Calvera, A; Braga, M & Schincariol, Z (eds.), Design frontiers: territories, concepts, technologies [proceedings of ICDHS 2012 – 8th Conference of the International Committee for Design History & Design Studies], São Paulo: Blücher 2012 [BR]
- 2012 (with Dr Priscila Farias & Dr Anna Gouveia) ‘Epígrafes arquitetônicas: pequenos detalhes de uma grande história’, to be published in the book Design e/é Patrimônio, Rio de Janeiro: Subsecrataria de Patrimônio Cultural, Intervenção Urbana, Arquitetura e Design & Centro Carioca de Design [BR]
- 2012 ‘Printing a way to a better future: stories from Xiloceasa, São Paulo’, Matrix 30 (A review for printers and bibliophiles), Risbury (Herefordshire): The Whittington Press, pp.78–84 ISSN 0261-3093
- 2010 (with Henrique Nardi) ‘Letterpress from the street: Gráfica Fidalga, São Paulo’, Matrix 29 (A review for printers and bibliophiles), Risbury (Herefordshire): The Whittington Press, pp.6–13, ISSN 0261-3093 and also featured in It’s all in the delivery magazine, no.1, June 2011, London (UK)
- 2009 ‘São Paulo: a lesson in letterpress’, Matrix 28 (A review for printers and bibliophiles), Risbury (Herefordshire): The Whittington Press, pp.106–14, ISSN 0261-3093
- 2008 ‘Describing typeforms: a designer’s response’, InfoDesign: Revista Brasileira de design da informação [Brazilian Journal of Information Design], São Paulo/Brazil: Sociedade Brasileira de Design da Informação (SDBI) ISSN 1808-5377 [BR]
- 2013 ‘Fleeing the boxes: the systematic description of the fused languages of form in the context of typeface design’ a paper given at the College Art Association (CAA) 101st Annual Conference, New York, 13–16 February 2013 [US]
- 2012 ‘A language of difference in a world of convergence’, keynote paper given at Encontro de Tipografia III, Convergences, 5–6 October 2012, Porto [PO]
- 2011–13 Work shown in Signs for sounds (curated by Jeremy Theophilus), to tour: devon Guild of Craftsmen; Bilston Craft Gallery, West Midlands; Harley Gallery, Nottingham; The Beaney, Canterbury; and Sunderland Museum
- 2011 ‘Understanding the bigger picture: graphic representation and typeforms’, keynote paper given at 5º Congresso Internacional de Design da Informação, 28–31 August, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC), Florianopolis [BR]
- 2010 (with Prof Phil Baines) ‘Cultural crossroads: lettering for the Pozza Palace, Dubrovnik’, The Word, Annual Conference of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI), 8–12 September 2010, Dublin [IE]
- 2009 (with Henrique Nardi) ‘Lambe-lambe letters: Gráfica Fidalga, São Paulo’, Typ09: The heart of the letter, Annual Conference of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) 26–30 October 2009, Mexico City [MX] (see weblinks for the films presented)
- 2009 (with Prof Phil Baines) ‘Letterpress beginnings’, The changing face of letterpress, London College of Communication, 5–11 March 2009, London [UK]
- 2008 ‘Describing typeforms: a designer’s response’, keynote paper given at P&D Design 8, 8th Brazilian Conference on Design Research & Development, 8–11 October 2008, Centro Universitário Senac, São Paulo/Brazil [BR]
Current Research Students
Michael Harkins: Contemporary processes of text typeface design
Jay Clue: Integrating the urban art intervention
lettering + typeface design: history and process
typography: practice and education