Yemi speaking at tech event

5 takeaways from SMW lettering class

Social Media Week Lagos may have come and gone, but the excitement still lingers among attendees. The privilege to learn, connect and take loads of selfies with like minds in a free and relaxing atmosphere makes it a unique experience; one that I’m not willing to trade anytime soon.

It was my first time as an attendee and a speaker. The ambience was soothing but I couldn’t keep calm. You don’t get opportunities like this every time. Social Media Week Lagos is dubbed the biggest tech and innovation conference in Africa with over 20,000 people in attendance every year. It’s a week long festival packed with exciting events and activities to inform, educate and connect people. I was indeed thrilled to be a part of it this year.

My session was scheduled for Monday, Feb. 24th; the first day of the conference. In other words, l literally got the festival off the ground. And that was an amazing way to start the week. I was really looking forward to share with my audience how to leverage lettering to tell compelling stories.

The workshop commenced at exactly 12:15pm. The NXT Workshop stage would be home for the next hour or thereabouts. Slowly the room began to fill up and eventually, we had attendees who were unable to find seats and had to stand during the session. The turnout was massive. At some point I had to pause to catch a glimpse, and I thought to myself: these people are really interested in using lettering as a tool for storytelling. It was one of the moments I would forever cherish.

So I decided to pen down an article for those who missed the session. Well, because I’m such a nice guy.

This is a summary of the lettering class at SMW Lagos. If you couldn’t attend the event for whatever reason, not to worry, here are five key takeaways from the lettering session:

Lettering is not the same as typography 

While typography is an integral part of lettering, they are not the same. By definition, Lettering is the art of drawing letters to attract, engage and build interactions with the target audience. It’s a time tested storytelling tool; and just like words, lettering is as old as human existence. We draw letters to make people act, react and participate. Lettering as an art form is intentional.

Typography, on the other hand, is the arrangement of type in such a way that it is legible and readable. Spot the difference?

Lettering thrive on character formation

The anatomy of each letter allows us to connect a letter to another in order to form a unique character. Letterers tell fascinating stories by making interesting connections between letterforms. Letters are like humans; they have legs,  arms, shoulders etc. and through these parts, we are able to make natural connections with good use of ligature. At the end, combined letterforms look like they truly belong together.

Lettering styles determine how a word is voiced

In storytelling, finding a unique voice is very important. The tone of voice conveys a message in a manner that enables the audience to respond based on how it makes them feel. Lettering styles show how words are voiced. The same word that evokes romance can become a threat when drawn using a different lettering style. Styles such as serif, san-serif, script, vintage, etc. can express different emotions like anger, humour, sadness, happiness, etc.

The beauty of flaws

I also spoke about sketching as an important aspect of lettering. As a matter of fact, lettering involves drawing letters. Nothing more. You don’t necessarily have to be good to start sketching; however, you have to start to get better. There’s beauty in having jagged edges. It humanises the art and makes it look natural. Hand lettering is prone to mistakes, and these mistakes are its uniqueness because it allows the audience to connect with the human behind the art.

Finally,  Type Treatments give meaning to your lettering

Type treatment is basically how letters are rendered. It is the look and feel of the letters. Sometimes you might opt for an aggressive look, and at other times, you want to tell a story with soft rendering. Whatever your choice is, rendering a type provides a kind of unspoken visual language – a code so to speak. People are able to feel and comprehend the context of the art just by looking at the final treatment.

The session ended on a high note. I took questions and recommended resources that could help improve lettering. Perhaps you also wish to improve your lettering, I wrote a book on how to become a Lettering Pro. It sums up my journey from being a novice to a Pro. You may as well register for My Type Series, a workshop that provides designers and type enthusiasts with requisite knowledge for creating stunning illustrative custom lettering. See you in class!

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