Old School New School is small and true

Published:  November 21, 2013


Old School for the New School of Design and Typography (OSNS) is a grassroots initiative of Veronica Grow, who runs a graphic design and typography school out of her home in Coburg, Melbourne. The school stands apart in its focus on nurturing skills through hands-on experimentation, and a rejection of the standardised testing and scoring of students done in larger institutions. Grow aims to change the mechanised perception of design and typography back into highly skilled crafts, while, at the same time, empowering the designer and the industry.


The true definition of the word ‘craft’ may not be around for much longer, and it bothers me. By forgetting to concentrate on acquiring real skill, we are losing everything that comes with it, especially the very definition: to use skill in making. In today’s blogosphere, and more generally, craft has begun to mean a Saturday spent giggling over tea, instead of rigorous process and acquisition of knowledge.

Here in the West we spend more time aspiring to craft and design via blogs than we spend making. The style and photographic skills of these bloggers appeal to our romantic, lifestyle aspirations rather than the often frustrating reality of making something ourselves. They celebrate success, not process – without knowledge of the context or the brief, or if it solved a problem, this appreciation is for a skill in styling, but not craft.

With a philosophy built on the idea that design excellence is founded upon making and that good design takes time, OSNS keeps it small and true. The focus is the inseparable relationship between the individual, good design and craft.

Do whatever it is that takes your fancy, but learn to do it with skill! Care about it!

To invest thousands of precious hours and persist through the trials and tribulations, rejections and tricky problems in making with skill, is ‘to care’. Caring is intrinsic to a sustainable future, and caring is the core reason I left the safety net of teaching within a bureaucratic institution.

This all became part of establishing OSNS. I set about re-privileging the knowledge that Western education systems dismiss. Subsequently, many of our workshops and curricula incorporate sign painting, letterpress, observational drawing and book binding, led by self- taught craftsmen.

Tacit knowledge (the hidden unquantifiable knowledge) is the kind of skill we find difficult to put into words. Playing the guitar or writing by hand uses tacit embodied knowledge – you rely on your hand performing a sequence of repeated acts, transferred into a bodily habit that becomes a skill. Learning through theoretical knowledge alone lacks the power of repeated acts, observation, material skills and stamina to perfect a skill through practice.


The school has been open for more than a year now, and these are just some of those craft-centric areas with which we are concentrating our focus:

CRAFT OF BOOKS AND PUBLICATION DESIGN What makes a 32-page staple-bound book different to a 32-page perfect- bound book? We need to question the notion of ‘substantiality’ when crafting our publications – not just ask how big does it need to be, but how big does it need to look?

Many design schools favour reliance on computer programs, which leaves the student with a basic understanding of what forms a publication, but no grasp of how that transforms into a physical object. The best way to learn is to understand the process. For example, saddle stitch, perfect binding, Japanese binding and sewing through the fold can be accomplished without the need for heavy machinery. This is an important and relatively easy aspect of book design to maintain.

CRAFT OF TYPOGRAPHY AND HAND-LETTERING One of the reasons the hand is so important in the creation of typography is because it is not limited by preconceived structures. Hand-to-paper work is restricted only by dimension, medium and skill. We urge designers to understand calligraphic letterform composition, but not to be bound by it.

OSNS is sharing this knowledge with the public on the streets of Melbourne through a series of Mobile Pop-Up Typography events via the School’s Typo Truck (named Agnes). For example, the first pop-up event will be ‘The Lost Art of the Love Letter’, exploring the art of letterforms though a nearly extinct medium – handwritten love letters.

STUDIO PROJECTS AND OLD SCHOOL PRESS Old School Press works on studio and commercial publishing projects. For students, it ensures skills are current and relevant. One of these publication projects is The Belly of the Beast, which is all about finding your individuality as a designer. It taught us all the successes and failures of writing, editing, designing, making, producing, publishing and independently promoting our first book.

DRAWING Drawing is definitely the first dimension of all art and design. Learning to accurately draw what you see, not what you think, is an empowering and exciting lifelong skill. I spent many years learning the craft of observational drawing before I studied design and I feel it enabled me to understand the how and why of everything visual.



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