A surprising thing happened at my
university: In a typography class that I’ve taught since 1994, which relates abstract
sound and design, I suggest that one of my students explore the theme of making a
typeface interact with abstract sound files. And although I realize that at this time
in the morning—halfway between breakfast and English Composition—my student
is half asleep, I explain that this project is a component of my own research and I’m
anxious to open it up to students. So I ask him (Joe) if he wants to work with me.
He agrees, does very well, earning himself a good grade, and the result proves once
again that my premise to integrate type and sound is valuable both as a teaching tool
and as a practical working method.design
All of this was in the spring of 2003. I told Joe that I’d show his interactive
typebook along with other student works at the Alliance Graphique Internationale
Congress in Helsinki that September, where I was to make my first presentation as
a new AGI member. And I told him that I wanted to include his piece in an article I
was preparing for Graphis about these ideas of mine, and the artistic and
educational successes we have had in class. I mentioned to Joe that he would receive
credit for his work as both designer and student and I would be credited as both art
director and professor.design
At this point Joe decided that he wanted to help me further with my research.
I applied for a grant, which would pay for equipment costs and a student research
assistant. The grant was delayed, but Joe was still interested enough to sign up for
a directed study in spring 2004—with no guarantee of payment (a sure sign of
Spring came, and the grant was still delayed. I couldn’t buy the new software
and hardware and I couldn’t pay him. So I did the next best thing—I asked him to
assist me with current projects for my clients as well as our second student show.
The client work meant I could pay him for his efforts on the student show, and
although we were not working on my research, he was learning what it takes (a
great deal of effort) to do good design for real clients.
What happens next is where this story takes an unexpected turn.
Joe was graduating at Christmas, and by fall he needed a grade for the
directed study he’d done with me the previous spring. He and I had decided at the
time that he should take an incomplete and do a second version of his 2003
typebook over the summer—since with our best efforts, we couldn’t begin my new
research without the equipment, and I couldn’t grade him on work he’d done for
clients of mine. By fall, Joe and I had reached a disagreement over his grade for the directed study: His second version of the interactive typebook—created on his own over the summer—was not very interesting and I believed it was worth a lower grade; he disagreed. He wanted to negotiate the grade, and when I declined to do this, he became upset. Students are under incredible pressure at graduation—when all expectations come rushing in from parents, faculty, university administrators— and most of all from themselves. Joe was probably feeling all this very intensely. My concern was that my research had not been advanced by his directed study. So I came up with a solution: I asked Joe to make one small correction in the drawing of a letterform that had been bothering me since the 2003 interactive typebook and then give me the source files. I could then take these where I felt they needed to go as a teaching tool—with new students. I could give him a better grade for directed study because he would now have helped my research. And he would still have both the first and the second books to use in his portfolio.design