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Machine-Generated Type: RCA Graduate Show Identity by Regular Practice

This year's graphic identity for the Royal College of Art’s Show is built around machine-generated typography, designed by Visual Communication alumni studio Regular Practice: Tom Finn and Kristoffer Sølling.

Machine-generated type has held a fascination for designers since the advent of computers – and the possibilities for automated creation become ever-more apparent. It’s a conversation that resonates with the thinking-through-making practice that’s a feature of Programmes across the College, challenging the notion that drawing by hand is the most natural means for visual expression and exploring new methods of digital design.

RCA alumnus Jonathan Barnbrook’s Machine-Generated Stone Carving (1990) sums up the dichotomy – the gains and losses – of replacing the unique lyricism of a hand technique with the replicable regularity of a machine cutting ready-made letters. The aim is not to mimic the quality of hand carving but to investigate the interaction of the machine and the material, and the creation of a new visual vocabulary.

At the heart of the Show 2018 identity is a machine-generated type tool, which typesets into a grid, allowing the designers to break away from traditional ways of designing with type, and opening up a freer, more expressive way of typesetting.

‘With the tool we don't set so much as initiate, as symbols are in perpetual motion at different speeds, generating new compositions continuously. We have been thinking of this as adding velocity and time to the act of typesetting,’ explains Tom. ‘In many ways we consider this a prototypical modus operandi for graphic design; the field itself being intrinsically connected to the tools and techniques its outcomes are created with.’

Influenced by developments in digital media such as kinetic type, and incorporating the designers’ fascination with letterpress lockups and the permanence of a mechanical type composition, the identity stands on the shoulders of typographic giants  – from the stylistic and technically thematic echoes in Dom Sylvester Houédard’s Concrete Typewriter  compositions, to Jonathan Puckey’s Text Pencil and its undoing/improvement of the Adobe type tools.

One interesting aspect of computation as a design environment is that it is different from other media because the material and the process share the same form: binary numbers. Another is that authentic machine-generated fonts embody the core characteristics of the digital medium and could not have been created by any other means.

‘We shape our own processes and tools, to arrive at results that are located outside the comfortable and expected, that can suggest new behaviours and aesthetics,’ explains Tom. ‘With this year’s identity for the RCA Graduate Exhibition, we wanted to use our ongoing research about how to work and how to produce work, to produce something that’s very simple in its application but detailed in its form.’

Octavia Reeve, the RCA’s brand identity lead, explains how the design was chosen, ‘The identity felt right for the RCA in 2018, because it answered the brief of providing an overarching brand language for the six Graduate Shows – Curating Contemporary Art, Fashion, Architecture, Communication, Battersea and Kensington – while also speaking to the uniqueness of the work of each individual graduating student.‘

‘We wanted to produce a graphic that could be characteristic without being visually oppressive, making an attempt at encapsulating the nuances and complexities of a the diverse RCA student body,’ explains Kristoffer.


The Royal College of Art graduate show is open to the public 12–6pm 23 June – 1 July (closed 29 June), simultaneously across a variety of internal and external venues – see more. 

Show 2018 offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience the very best of emerging contemporary art and design practice. Over 800 art and design postgraduate students will present work of exceptional quality, imagination and technical skill, exhibiting design solutions to pressing global problems alongside fine art that informs and enriches our worldview. The exhibitions are free, with much of the work for sale or commission – ranging from paintings to prints, glassware to jewellery and furniture to textiles. Find out more at www.rca.ac.uk/show2018