Diode is a modular type system examining the interplay between positive and negative space

London-based designer Natasha Lucas and MuirMcNeil collaborated on this new typeface developed into three versions.

26 October 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

What can we understand from language when the conventional structure of a letter is manipulated? The subject has long interested the designer Natasha Lucas, most recently in her latest project, Diode, developed collaboratively with MuirMcNeil, the collaborative practice of Hamish Muir and Paul McNeil. “I find it fascinating to explore ‘incomplete’ letterforms that verge on the abstract, yet preserve the qualities of alphabetic letters,” Natasha tells us.

Hamish and Paul met originally when teaching together on various design workshops and quickly discerned a mutual interest. Paul – a designer, author and former MA course leader of Contemporary Typographic Media at London College of Communication – describes the appeal of type and how it communicates: “The constant, beautiful friction between its function as a carrier of language and as an autonomous system of graphic marks.”

Meanwhile, Hamish – who is also co-founder of design studio 8vo and co-editor of Octavo – says he loves working in this medium, “because type, at a certain level, is as close as design can get to pure abstraction, with no defined values, messages or intentions.” MuirMcNeil’s projects are unique, as the pair classify themselves not so much as type designers but as “graphic designers who make type as a way of exploring the possible connections between the form of text and language”. Their projects address specific aspects of this, and Diode, the modular geometric type system created in collaboration with Natasha, is no exception.


Natasha Lucas and MuirMcNeil: Diode (Copyright © MuirMcNeil, 2020)

Developed into three versions (one positive and two negative) and in three sets of individual letter component fonts designed to register precisely with one another in layers, Diode offers its user an immense range of visual interactions. With a hint of the optical illusion about it, Diode rests somewhere between abstract and legible, in the liminal space intersecting communication and interpretation. “The highlight was – and is – seeing it teeter on that edge,” the designers add on this careful balance between positive and negative space.

Having previously worked with Natasha, a graphic designer currently working at Accept & Proceed who also shares an interest in systems, the three developed the experimental project: Natasha designing the type system, with MuirMcNeil helping to develop it. At first, however, Diode started out as a series of visual investigations into the interdependence of positive and negative spaces, when it comes to typographic forms. Natasha had explored these facets in a previous project, Bisect, a type system published in 2018 by MuirMcNeil, which is also part of a larger project exploring playwright Harold Pinter’s works through typography.

In the playwright’s works known as his “memory plays”, Pinter questions how false memories and perceptions lead to negative emotions and harmful conclusions. In several of his notable works, such as In Old Times and No Man’s Land, the protagonist narrates events from memory which may or may not be factually accurate. Interrogating this captivating concept through design, Natasha sought to “express the progressive fragmentation of language as it is eroded by the selective, faulty nature of memory”.


Natasha Lucas and MuirMcNeil: Diode (Copyright © MuirMcNeil, 2020)

She tells us of her practice more generally: “I am interested in grid systems that restrain the conventional structure of a letter – this usually means denying the conventional proportions usually relied upon for legibility, forcing the designer to find new solutions.” Working in a systematic and iterative way to generate exciting creative outcomes, Natasha’s creative process both adheres to the strict parameters of the design process and challenges it at the same time. It’s a philosophy similarly appreciated by Hamish and Paul, who adapt this mentality in order to produce “many different kinds of outputs rather than fixed, one-off solutions”.

Impressively, Diode uses only three different geometric modules in the construction of its alphabet. Together the designers investigated ways in which “form and counter form could operate in a harmonious balance”. Positive and negative space become playfully ambiguous ways of defining the boundaries of other letters. Individual letters retain their accessibility in being recognisable while subtly altering the viewer’s perception of what constitutes legibility. The resulting Diode culminates in “a type system that is structurally incomplete but maintains its visual integrity and legibility by optimising the use of space.”

GalleryNatasha Lucas and MuirMcNeil: Diode (Copyright © MuirMcNeil, 2020)

Hero Header

Natasha Lucas and MuirMcNeil: Diode (Copyright © MuirMcNeil, 2020)

Share Article

About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.


It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.