It's no secret I think Dr Barry Spencer (aka speculatype) is Ace. I truly believe his work on speculative type design is a game changer for our industry - specifically in the way we define, think about, and understand what letterforms are (and have the potential to be).

I am looking forward to interviewing Barry about his seriously mind blowing typographic explorations for this blog in the New Year but today I wanted to share Barry's latest side project -


Earlier this year Barry took park in a 100 Day Project (initiated by Elle Luna and The Great Discontent) this was the same 100 day challenge that I conducted my 100 days of counting in pencil. Although Barry was much more disciplined in his practice than I was and helped hold me accountable throughout the process! (Thanks B!)

For his project Barry chose to develop a new grid/pattern every day for 100 consecutive days based on spontaneity and with no forethought.

Using only a black fine liner, a red fine liner and a 17x17 unit working area, Barry set up some rules and constraints for the project:

  • I was not allowed to plan or prepare for any design
  • As soon as my pen touched the paper I had to draw whatever came to my mind
  • I was not allowed to stop or leave the sketch once I had begun to draw no matter how long it took
  • Any and all mistakes had to be incorporated into the overall grid or pattern, no exceptions
  • A project of endless possibility I wanted to present evidence of the flexibility of a simple square grid and the exploration that could come from randomness coupled with not designing for a particular purpose.

After completing the 100 grids Barry choose to vector and tessellate each pattern. 5 of which have since been turned into non-orthagonal gridded sketchbooks (with the view to build a series and publish the following 95!)

I am super excited about this project. And was lucky enough to get my hands on a set of the first 5 earlier this month. They are an absolute joy to draw on (seriously addictive - I kept getting sucked back to these for play time when I should have been focused on client work!).

I filled grid #84 first as this was a personal favourite from the project. I found it was excellent to draw Tuscan and ornamental letterforms on. (H below is on #84) I had really lofty ideals of using a page per letter and developing an alphabet per grid but quickly threw that idea out the window as I realised that wouldnt let me explore each systems potential, as using the grid at different scales and orientations unlock new possibilities with the construction lines and allow for entirely different shape grammar (much more flexible and exciting than your standard 5mm square grid!)

Of course you dont have to use the books to draw letters - Follow the lines, colour them in, or simply scribble over the top of the grid... These A5 size, 36 page booklets are brilliant!

Check them out (and purchase!) here. You can bundle buy all 5 and save. Each sold notebook helps towards the print costs of the other 95 excellent spontaneous grid patterns!

Barry Spencer was featured in Volume 02 of TypographJournal, Presented his approach to Transformation, Speculation and Letterforms, at Typism this year. He is a Teacher, Doctor, Type Designer, and Legibilitator. What is a Legibilitator?! you ask... Barry combines his threads of research and practice as a Speculative Type Designer. He creates letters that may or may not look like letters in order to explore and advance the typographic genre. This inquiry into the potential of typography has transformed the way Barry creates, perceives and understands the shapes of the alphabet. Get in touch with Barry and see more of his awesome work here.