TypeDrawers diversity postmortem postmortem

joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122

I printed out the entire TypeDrawers “diversity” discussion and the “postmortem” (37 three-column pages of 10½-point Freight Micro). Everyone here knows about saccadic reading, so I cannot claim to have read every word, but I do claim to have read the discussion more carefully than anyone else.

  1. TypeDrawers is an Internet discussion forum. It is not “life.” Participants constantly mixed up what happens in this small discussion forum with what has happened elsewhere (not even what happened to them half the time); with their political ideologies; and above all with toxic neologistic slogans that actively repel many people. “Think of how women are treated outside of this forum” is an inducement to change the subject, which in fact is this forum.

    The discussion was excruciating at times as people brought into it everything from a groping at a type conference to the kitchen sink. Most egregious was copying and pasting – not metaphorically but literally – theories, memes, and buzzwords from social-justice warriors as though they were applicable to this forum. It was barely endurable to read what must be the least credible “professional” type designer on earth lecturing us about our privilege.

  2. “Stay out of this discussion” is no way to carry on a discussion. I read quite a few orders from aggrieved women and/or minorities that whites and/or males should stay out of the discussion (“[s]hutting up for a minute”). I respect women’s discussion spaces (e.g., Peak Trans Moment), but this isn’t that kind of forum. Telling people to shut up and get lost is the antithesis of discussion, but the previous threads took that as A‑OK if those issuing the diktats were of Correct Thought.

    Besides, this isn’t a spoken conversation. Somebody made a comment you disagree with? Post your own comment. Nothing’s stopping you. You aren’t interrupting and you aren’t being silenced. But under the system advocated several times in the previous discussion, you would be told to keep quiet if you were, say, white and male or simply didn’t have an opinion the ruling junta agreed with.

  3. No one ever explained how talking about type design would be improved by “diversity.” Stephen Coles: “This forum will only improve with increased diversity.” How? Another contributor: “The fact that this thread even exists proves there is a problem.” How?

    Linguistic and cultural variation improves discussion of type design. The standard example is Belorussian forms of Cyrillic, but it’s easy to think of others (Arabic writing styles, Hebrew/Arabic/Cherokee “italic,” French insistence on dotting capital I, Basque letterforms). So let’s call that “diversity” and let’s all agree it would help this forum’s discussion of type design.

    But being a woman, nonwhite, gay, or whatever else? It has not been explained how that would help discussion of type design, largely because those are irrelevant factors.

  4. Women and racial minorities do not face barriers in type design. In the days of Beatrice Warde, when “typography” meant hot-metal composition on a factory floor, there were manifest barriers to entry.

    And there were barriers to discussing type. That isn’t supposition: I looked through all 64 downloadable issues of The Monotype Recorder and took note of bylines. While only a couple were ambiguous or pseudonymous (“J.W. Printer”; “Member of a well-known Printing Office”), 38 bylines were men’s, 39 were initialized (half of those to R.C. Elliott), and zero were women’s. I would expect some of the initialized bylines would be women’s, but not many. In the first half of the previous century, typography – really typesetting – was a gentlemen’s club.

    We don’t live there now.

    The day it became possible to design your own outline fonts for computers was the day the guild system died. Yes, there are and were type vendors like FontShop (now Monotype owns seemingly everything), and within those houses overt or covert biases might be at work, but the fact remains you suddenly did not have to enlist a real foundry, one that melts metal ingots, just to produce a typeface.

    As I like to say because it’s true, the typeface doesn’t know you’re a girl. Other people do, but the font doesn’t. Since shortly after the introduction of PostScript, there have been no barriers to entry into the field of typeface design for women and nonwhites. Or gays or transgendered persons or anyone else, save for one group.

    There still are barriers for persons with disabilities, but the entire TypeDrawers discussion refused to deal with that issue, especially after I brought it up.

    Now, that doesn’t mean there are no barriers within the industry. The previous discussion, while largely off-topic about TypeDrawers, established that there is sexism and in the type industry. TypeDrawers is not a discussion forum about “the type industry.” Or real life in general. It’s a vertical-market discussion forum with a tight focus.

  5. Those most apt to complain about TypeDrawers seem to overlap with those who don’t understand interleaved posting. I cannot emphasize enough that those who are the most offended by “blunt” (really just concise) responses to questions here clearly overlap with people who top-post their E‑mail. They have no experience with interleaved posting (quote just the question, write your response below it, send). They need to essentially rewrite every question just to answer it.

    TypeDrawers does not top-post. You quote little or nothing and you write your answer after the quoted part. This is highly unfamiliar to young people raised on Gmail, an E‑mail‑like online service that breaks completely if not top-posted.

    One moderator mentioned “the differences in the ways people communicate” but missed this structural issue completely. A tightly-trimmed question immediately followed by a brief answer comes off as rude to young people who just don’t understand how this medium works. (Terms used: “bluff manners”; “male manners.”) It especially comes off as rude to young women of the precise and limited sort who tend to get offended at things. But this is how threaded discussion forums work. It isn’t personal and it isn’t about you.

  6. It is a fact that the majority of the type designers with the most experience are men. So what’s the outcome if TypeDrawers shuns them? If you put everyone here in a room (I’ll get back to that in a minute) and handed each person an index card and a pen, we all could fill both sides with the names of female type designers, past and present. We’d need many more cards to fit the names of male type designers. This is simply the historical reality.

    TypeDrawers is a type-design discussion forum. We want new designers to ask questions. Who do you think is going to know the answers to those questions – other newbies? Institutional knowledge is mostly vested in male type designers due to the history. If you deride or marginalize those men, you amputate limbs from the living organism that is type design.

    Coles: “Everyone at TypeDrawers is deprived when someone chooses not to contribute – whether it’s a question or an answer.” We’re deprived more when a highly knowledgeable old man decides not to answer because he’s been discouraged from doing so. Knowledgeable contributions are worth more than others.

    Nobody in the “diversity” discussion could quite figure out that spending an entire adulthood eking out a career as a type designer, amassing expertise in this pervasive but marginal and unappreciated field, getting your work stolen left and right, and just being isolated and fragmented might possibly make old-timers a bit snippy. Old men tend to be crotchety. The young people doing the most whining about diversity are naturally unaware of this fact because they aren’t old (or men). But please get a grip. When crotchety old type-design guys sound crotchety, it’s because they’re old. It isn’t about you. (So little is.)

  7. The population of type designers, typographers, and those seriously interested in type is small. We can’t afford to ostracize anyone. Not only could you fit everyone in typography inside a lecture hall, we do exactly that several times a year at conferences. Yet TypeDrawers has been engineered, at great effort, to keep Hrant H. Papazian off it. We’re not really allowed to talk about that, but it’s the truth.

    Hrant was a problem back in the day. I may be the only person to publicly tell him off (if you did too, please write in). But I read Hrant’s Twitter and these days he’s fine.

    Do you think it really makes sense to set up enemies lists in typographic discussion forums? It’s happening. I don’t see much complaining about this official ostracism. The inevitable result of “diversity” complaints here would be to ostracize even more people (this means even more men). Throttling and limiting old-time males’ postings to TypeDrawers was openly contemplated several times.

    How does muzzling some people improve diversity? It doesn’t, but it represents one of the quasi-fascistic undertones of the discussion.

  8. Typophile already crashed and burned. If TypeDrawers does the same, we’ve got nothing. Back in the day, we had Typo‑L (also Usenet). That fell out of favour when Typophile emerged, because threaded discussion forums on the Web work better than in E‑mail (yes, due to top-posting). Typophile was shut down in a fit of pique, though Twitter also nibbled away at its raison d’être. TypeDrawers feels the same effects from Twitter, but it is still alive.

    If, for any reason, TypeDrawers becomes an officially hostile environment, with rules coming out the ass that are specifically directed at men, old men, males, or anyone that young social-justice-warrior manquée wymmynz and racial minorities identify as the oppressor, I am telling you right now the result will be newbies word-policing other newbies while not knowing enough about type to solve their actual problems. Then TypeDrawers will die too.

  9. TypeDrawers is not operating with the consent of the governed. Before writing this posting, I E‑mailed all the moderators to ask them two questions: Are you a native speaker of English, and what is your lived experience with online discussion forums? My contention is that non-native speakers will miss important nuances (they will), and inexperienced persons simply will not have what it takes to “moderate” a medium they barely know.

    All six TypeDrawers moderators ignored the questions. Three of them clearly are not English native speakers. I have no evidence that any of them are really experienced with discussion forums (or to the contrary). Whereas I’ve been using them for 25 years, so I feel qualified to judge.

    Coles again: “Please let me know how the management... can make TypeDrawers more welcoming and inclusive.... How can we do better, both as members and as moderators?” Answering that question for the new moderators: Stop threatening experienced users – and burn the banned-persons list.

  10. The flagging system does not work if there isn’t also a special forum to talk about TypeDrawers. I say this every time a discussion forum is on the brink of failure. Quit doing what is known not to work and only do what is known to work. And what is known to work is the model of MetaFilter.

    You can flag postings on MetaFilter. Moderators may edit or delete such postings if they deem it necessary, and/or add to the relevant thread. But, crucially, there exists the entire MetaTalk forum just to talk about MetaFilter. If your comment gets flagged or if anything else at all is going wrong, you can bring it up in MetaTalk.

    I made the same point to and about Typophile and the Mormons ignored me. MetaFilter works and type discussions kind of don’t. TypeDrawers makes mob rule possible with its flagging system, with behind-the-scenes moderators who can bury a post or ban a user, all of that without providing a forum to talk about the talk. The previous discussion included many complaints about the flagging system and how it was abused. And guess what: Women made some of those complaints.

    This is another way in which TypeDrawers does not operate with the consent of the governed. We are structurally prevented from talking about what happens on TypeDrawers.

  11. Maybe the best revenge is making good type. Don’t like the atmosphere here? Design good typefaces and make a good living selling them and you’ll have the last laugh. A typeface discussion forum is kind of optional at that point, don’t you think?


  1. Start a Newbie Questions forum. “No such thing as a stupid question” would be the theme of this forum, which the previous discussion identified as a need several times.

  2. Start a MetaDrawers forum. Exactly like MetaTalk on MetaFilter, set up a forum where we can meta-discuss TypeDrawers, its rules, and what could be called the People Factor in general. The existing bug-reports forum could be renamed and merged into MetaDrawers.

  3. Drop the banned-persons list. That is conduct unbecoming a profession and is – again – quasi-fascistic.

  4. Quit threatening members.


  • I was banned initially for some time when James Puckett first started this forum. I don't hold grudges but I do have it on my list to ask him what that was all about.  Moderators: is there STILL a banned persons list? 
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,957
    edited March 2016
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,367
    From this thread, it looks like all are welcome these days.
  • Saga SöderbackSaga Söderback Posts: 42
    edited March 2016
    There's room for everyone. It's not a zero-sum game.

    I sure as shit hope that when I'm an old white dude that some fresh young voices are talking more loudly than myself. I want to know that the things I am interested in continue to thrive after I'm gone, and limiting the audience to those approved by some supposed gatekeepers is no way to promote vitality. (And frankly, if some old white dudes feel pushed out by people who aren't the same as them, I'm not going to fight for their right to continue dominating the conversation.)
  • nevermind.
    I will, or won't, or whatever neverminding a thing involves. Done.
    (I'm assuming that's what you meant.)
    Have I not made a positive contribution here?  I will accept help on opentype scripting issues for Indic fonts as atonement.

  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,957
    (I'm assuming that's what you meant.)

    I deleted a post that, on reflection, seemed liable to derail the thread. 

  • (I'm assuming that's what you meant.)

    I deleted a post that, on reflection, seemed liable to derail the thread. 

    OK. nevermind.
  • Thierry's last point is an important one. These are subjects that express themselves in subtle turns of language, in which those who are native speakers have a hard enough time, let alone those who are not native to English. There are cultural differences, too, not only from country to country, but within groups, as well, and from generation to generation. In the U.S., after all the years of the Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and Gay Rights movements, we still lack a neutral dialectic in which fruitful discussions can be held across group lines. That's not to say that we haven't made real strides, but that progress is very slow and sometimes takes backward steps. Be that as it may, I believe the subjects set out by Joe Clark stretch the possibilities of a forum such as this one beyond its natural boundaries. We'd be much better off sticking to the subjects we can discuss fruitfully, and by that I mean the world of type design in an era in which every script has been, or is being, liberated from its earlier confines. There's a lot worth celebrating and even more worth learning more about. (Note that I wrote "type design," not "typography," which is a poor relation around here.)

    No one is asking you to be altogether nice, just to be nice enough so that discussions and participants don't get squashed. We value opinions, but we can only get to them through tolerance.

  • Hin-Tak LeungHin-Tak Leung Posts: 359
    edited March 2016
    Interesting both of the last two replies are rather difficult to understand :). I think they both means how I feel sometimes about news reporting in China: some natural disaster happens in some part of China, and the official news keeps going on and on about how great the local or national leader is responding to the event.

    It may make the people who wrote about it and those being written about feel good themselves, but it does not help those who actually suffered.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 294

    I'm sorry Hin-Tak, I don’t understand your analogy either… I can figure out about 3 or 4 different interpretations.

    Diversity and inclusion is not so difficult. Why not encourage it?

  • Diversity and inclusion is not so difficult. Why not encourage it?

    Well, exactly. Somebody going on and on, and obsessing /philosophizing about his own acts and his own thoughts is hardly the way towards diversity/inclusion... :)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,102
    Cantankerous is an epithet oft applied to old folks, but they also say that one mellows with age. Go figure.

    I had a lot of nasty bantering with Hrant Papazian on Typophile, but we are quite friendly at type conferences. I don’t think it’s worth getting upset about what people type on the internet, it’s not the same as speaking with someone in person.
  • The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • attarattar Posts: 209
    I had a lot of nasty bantering with Hrant Papazian on Typophile, but we are quite friendly at type conferences.
    Moderation is not about personal feelings, it's there to bring clarity to the forum and make it a place where everyone can discuss properly, have relevant discussion threads etc.
  • What I object to is the creation of a ghetto.
    And when you ban somebody from a forum's very inception, that's what you've created.
    I have an old schoolmate who is very, very profane on Facebook. The jerk posted something on somebody else's timeline and got banned for a month.  He deserved it and he knows it, too.
    I think everybody should be given a chance.  And if there's a history of rudeness or any inappropriate behavior, exluding someone for a short period of time as a dust-off; a cooling off period, will usually do the trick.  And how about an old fashioned apology?
    I seem to remember feeling the need to deliver a few of those back in the days of Typophile.
    I don't see any need for a policy that is all black or all white. 
This discussion has been closed.