Carolina Laudon is a Swedish typographer and type designer living in Gothenburg. Laudon studied Fine Art in Painting (Gerlesborgsskolan), earned her Master’s Degree in Graphic Design (University of Gothenburg), then followed that up studying Book History, Intellectual Properties, and Digital Information (Lund University), Practical Design Research and Compulsory Higher Education Teacher Training (Linnaeus University), and Writing as an Artistic Tool, Children’s Book Design and Literacy Classics (University of Gothenburg).
Laudon teaches at Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm, runs a one-woman type design studio Laudon Design, and this year became the first woman president of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI). I was talking to her about the recent ATypI conference, and her role there, when the conversation naturally diverged into education. Her prescient takes, and adept assessment on what’s happening in education today, form the interview below.
What are you seeing in terms of type education today?
Well, I teach in Sweden, and Sweden doesn’t have any formal type education in that sense.
I’ve been teaching for 20 years, and I’ve been jumping around different schools because we have something called the Artistic Academy. With the Artistic Academy, you can be employed on an artistic basis where your practice is seen as an equivalent to education. So when you come into the university, you will be employed for a specific term, and then your term is up which means there hasn’t been such a big effort to make a PhD or to have research. We do have design research in Sweden, but not really in typography like in other areas such as product design, textiles, etcetera. This is something I’m hoping very much will improve.
I moved from theoretical academic work—where there’s a lot of reading and writing theory—and currently I’m at a school called Berghs School of Communication, where it’s practical art all the time. And I really enjoy being practical—a designer who actually does design—not just theorizing design. I’m enjoying seeing creative things.
So yeah. What was your question? I think it was bigger question.
I’m generally interested in higher education. It’s a really open ended question, because it’s something I think a lot about—in terms of how do we teach type? To whom? How do we teach type in a global way?
One of the things that I think is most most important is patience. Doing type is a craft, just like calligraphy. And lettering is a craft you have to get. You have to have patience, and you have to practice, and you have to have room and space—a room in time. A place to be to devote yourself to learn.
As an educator, I notice a paradigm shift where students don’t have time to learn and I find this very, very problematic. I meet students constantly and they are so stressed, or they don’t have time to sit down and actually learn a process. Maybe it’s a phenomenon that exists more in Scandinavia and Sweden, but it is something that worries me. I have a lot of students who don’t want to read. They don’t want to do calligraphy. They don’t want to try. They just want to create a final result and get it out. I think it’s an Instagram generation and it can be very, very stressful.
I have to repeat myself because they’re so stressed out. I feel for them and I do not blame them because I think it’s the society around us where that is encouraged. It is sort of like, what we call it in Swedish is hets, it’s… what’s the English word? Bustle. It’s when you are are standing beside somebody and saying, “start, start, start, start, start,” until they get so stressed out. That’s hets. And I think that it’s not fair, because if you do a craft, you have to have time. You have to calm down. You have to have time and you have to study. I feel that especially in Sweden, students don’t have time to study.
If they travel to another country, there’s a lot of good type education because then they go there for a certain reason. They’re outside their natural habitat and they go and they study. But this could just be something that’s a phenomenon in Sweden that I’ve seen.
I’ve seen it elsewhere as well.
When you throw a ball to somebody, will they catch it? We can do that mentally. For instance, I would ask my students, “when you look around, and you go about your day, how do you find typography today? Where do you see what’s contemporary in typography?” And they just look at me and think, “we never thought about that.” And I was like, “Can you? Can you look around yourself and notice, oh, this is what’s popular, or this is contemporary.” Which kind of typography landscape do we live in today? This is very, very strange question for them to start to observe and reflect and give an answer and to speak in a design-ish way to note that we are seeing these kind of tones and we’re seeing this kind of typographic landscape.
If you’re living in the large city or country, you might constantly get a diverse landscape of design. But if you live in a small community, you might have a higher percentage of being victim of a monoculture, which makes it harder to break out of your surrounding design flavor. When we are forced into a digital online education, it could actually break the spell for some students because they could see something else that will shake them up a little bit.
With the bustle, and students not having time—are there ways that you’ve shifted your teaching style? Are there ways that you find that you’re able to break through to them? Or, to adapt your expectations?
Yes, definitely, definitely. I used to be able to give the students a lot of assignments, like real short, quick, due the next day. They’d do that. I used to be able to lecture and have a seminar for three hours. I would do a lecture, then we would have a seminar and we’d discuss questions. I have to break it up now into more like short sessions, especially if they’re online. Somebody asked me the other day if you can have a lecture for two hours online? And I was like, no, no, no! That doesn’t work. You can’t do that. The students don’t learn that way.
Students don’t learn by me telling them how, by what I say. They learn by themselves, by trying to explain what they see. I think I’m going into much more of a seminar or workshop form than I used to do.
I’m more of a process-oriented teacher. The end result is not really for me to judge them on. I judge the process. So when I look at the student’s work, I’m more interested in what’s going on between when they get an assignment and the end result. Because the process is something—it’s a tool—and you will go to the next assignment with that tool. And that’s where you learn. You can’t take the result [with you] because you’ve already done that.
The end result is not really for me to judge them on. I judge the process.
Also, my students can look up everything on the internet, so they don’t need me to tell them what they can find on the internet. So it’s, it’s a little a bit of what is called a flipped classroom: you can ask them to read-up before I give a lecture.
Something we have started in our school is we bring in a lecturer that maybe talks 30 or 40 minutes about their work. But before this person comes, maybe they have spoken online, the students will engage themselves by actually reading up on this lecturer or designer and then they will ask questions and get engaged with them in a seminar form. That is very eye opening for the students and this is something that we didn’t really do before.
Is there anything else you want to make sure we cover?
In Sweden, it’s an open university, so the courses are free. If you don’t have universities next to you, or you’re not able—in some countries it’s very hard to get into university—but you can still find ways because you can’t stop people from educating themselves. There’s so much online. I mean—for instance—Udemy, there’s so many courses there, or Skillshare. A lot of colleagues are making Skillshares: for lettering, or calligraphy, or type design. And I think that’s something we’re going to see more of in the future.
For me it is very valuable, so I always set aside a percentage of my time for studying. I’m constantly a student, and I think this is also something that is going to see a lot more in the future. By being in a constant state of learning, you get a contemporary education. You can’t freeze your position. You can’t just pour out all the knowledge. You have to also fill it up a little bit. You have to continue to educate yourself all the time, because they’re coming up with new things all the time. And this also gives life a little bit of a pulse.