2001: A Font Odyssey Feb 03 2014
It's Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don't recognize from anywhere.
It's Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don't recognize from anywhere.
Finally! A Japanese company called Type is selling eyeglasses that evoke the Helvetica and Garamond typefaces. It's like webfonts for your face.
Oh, wow. Tobias Frere-Jones is suing his business partner Jonathan Hoefler over ownership of world-reknowned type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones.
Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones claims he has been cheated out of his half of the company by his business partner, Jonathan Hoefler. In a blistering lawsuit filed today in New York City, Frere-Jones says he was duped into transferring ownership of several fonts, including the world-famous Whitney, to Hoefler & Frere-Jones (HFJ) on the understanding that he would own 50% of the company.
"In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all of the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded," the suit claims.
The full complaint is here. A descendant of Whitney (Whitney ScreenSmart) is what you're reading right now and I was an early beta tester of H&FJ's webfont service. This is gobsmacking news...I have no idea what to think about it. What a sad and strange situation. (via @khoi)
Update: H&FJ has released a statement from their general counsel:
Last week, designer Tobias Frere-Jones, a longtime employee of The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. (d/b/a "Hoefler & Frere-Jones"), decided to leave the company. With Tobias's departure, the company founded by Jonathan Hoefler in 1989 will become known as Hoefler & Co.
Helvetica has gone on to become arguably the most ubiquitous and widely used typeface in history.
It is in this spirit that we have created the ultimate Modernist perfume -- a scent distilled down to only the purest and most essential elements to allow you, the content, to convey your message with the utmost clarity.
Air. Water. You.
2 oz. of distilled water. Precious bodily fluids, Mandrake.
Glen Weisgerber is a wizard at the art of hand-lettering. Make sure you watch all the way through for the big flourish-y finish.
More than 80 photos of marvelous wood type alphabets in this Flickr set.
While researching the etymology of the word "fave", a noun that's in the process of being verbed1, I noticed that, according to Google's ngram viewer, the word was much more popular in the 1600-1700s than it is now.
A bit of investigation reveals that Google's book-scanning software is at fault; it can't recognize the long s commonly used in books prior to the 1800s. So each time it encounters "save" with a long s, it sees "fave":
 "Fave" (n., adj.) is slang for "favorite", a usage that started in the US in the 1920s, as in "Teddy Roosevelt was totally my fave President". Recently, "fave" (v.) has come to mean liking or marking an item as a favorite on social media services like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Stellar, etc. (IMPORTANT: It's "fave", not "fav". Let's get this one right, people.) ↩
To me, that was really fun because if you think about New England in the '60s... it's not like most places would be staying on top of the most current trends in type, using typefaces that were released that very year. So, using something from the '40s made sense to me. If you think about a small, conservative New England town, lord knows all the printers and designers in town are probably still using type from years ago. I think when people think about historical type references, they often don't think about that. You should be reaching from that time period to 15 - 20 years earlier and then you'll be getting stuff that's quote-unquote "current."
And she's releasing the typeface commercially so everyone can use it! Yay!
It was just me and Barack, but now Hoefler & Frere-Jones' web fonts are available to all.
From the AIGA, a lovely short film on type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. I love the bit about starting a typeface design with the O, H, and D. Elsewhere, Hoefler recommended other potential starting points:
Work out the B, the ampersand, and the bullet before you get too far: you'll have to confront decisions about thinning strokes, intersections, and shapes without any counters, which might inform what you do on the other letters.
(via daring fireball)
Before personal brands were something to be seared into the minds of a rabid fanbase, brands were symbols that were literally burned into the flesh of livestock to keep track of ownership. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a guide to designing your own cattle brand.
Smithsonian Magazine's Jimmy Stamp has more info on what cattle brands are all about. For more info on what personal brands are all about, spend more than 30 seconds on Twitter.
Stephen Coles of Typographica says that 2012 was "a strong year" for new typefaces. He asked dozens of designers and font makers to nominate their favorite 2012 typefaces and here's what they had to say.
The independent foundry has also cemented its place as the new foundation of the industry. Most of this year's selections are from very small shops, several of which are entirely new to the market. It's also significant that, in addition to offering their fonts through retailers like FontShop, MyFonts, and the newly revived Fonts.com, most of these indie foundries now sell directly to customers through their own sites. In some cases they have eschewed outside distribution altogether. The "majors" have not simply laid down, however. Monotype, Linotype, Font Bureau, FontFont, and H&FJ are all represented in this year's list, each with releases that are remarkably characteristic of their respective brands.
I'm happy to report that in this update, I added the Open-Dyslexic font by Abelardo Gonzalez. Its bottom-weighted characters are designed to reduce letter-swapping and increase differentiation between similar-looking letters, which improves readability for people with dyslexia. It's now the bottom-most option in the font list in Instapaper's text-controls ("aA") panel.
You may remember a short piece by Errol Morris in the Times a few weeks ago that was more of a quiz than a essay. Well, the quiz turned out to be a smokescreen for how people's opinions change when the text is set in different typefaces.
Each Times participant read the passage in one of six randomly assigned fonts - Baskerville, Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Comic Sans and Trebuchet. The questions, ostensibly about optimism or pessimism, provided data about the influence of fonts on our beliefs.
The test consisted of comparing the responses and determining whether font choice influenced our perception of the truth of the passage.
The results pointed to a small but noticeable effect in the authority of each font.
DAVID DUNNING: Baskerville seems to be the king of fonts. What I did is I pushed and pulled at the data and threw nasty criteria at it. But it is clear in the data that Baskerville is different from the other fonts in terms of the response it is soliciting. Now, it may seem small but it is impressive.
ERROL MORRIS: I am completely surprised by this. If you asked me in advance, I would have guessed Georgia or Computer Modern, something that has the imprimatur of, I don't know, truth - truthiness.
DAVID DUNNING: The word that comes to my mind is gravitas. There are some fonts that are informal - Comic Sans, obviously - and other fonts that are a little bit more tuxedo. It seems to me that Georgia is slightly tuxedo. Computer Modern is a little bit more tuxedo and Baskerville has just a tad more starchiness. I would have expected that if you are going to have a winner in Baskerville, you are also going to have a winner in Computer Modern. But we did not. And there can be a number of explanations for that. Maybe there is a slight difference in how they are rendered in PCs or laptops that causes the starch in Computer Modern to be a little softer than the starch in Baskerville.
ERROL MORRIS: Starchiness?
DAVID DUNNING: Fonts have different personalities. It seems to me that one thing you can say about Baskerville is that it feels more formal or looks more formal. So that may give it a push in terms of its level of authority. This is, of course, speculation. I don't really know. What one would do with, when you get surprising results is you now have to think about, O.K., what do we do to take that back-ended speculation and support it with data?
Update: Pentagram's Michael Bierut weighs in on Morris' article.
Whether or not a typeface can do any or all of those things, I do agree the landscape has changed. Once upon a time, regular people didn't even know the names of typefaces. Then, with the invention of the personal computer, people started learning. They had their opinions and they had their favorites. But until now, type was a still matter of taste. Going forward, if someone wants to tell the truth, he or she will know exactly what typeface to use. Of course, the truth is the truth no matter what typeface it's in. How long before people realize that Baskerville is even more useful if you want to lie?
Lovely type and illustration on these architectural stationery vignettes collected by BibliOdyssey.
The images in this post all come from Columbia University's very large assortment of commercial stationery (featuring architectural illustrations): the Biggert Collection.
The vast majority of the images below have been cropped, cleaned and variously doctored for display purposes, with an intent towards highlighting the range of letterform/font and design layouts. The underlying documents are invoices (most), letters, postcards, shipping records and related business and advertising letterhead ephemera from the mid-1800s to the 1930s.
See also the Sanborn fire insurance maps.
Typographica shares their favorite typefaces of 2011.
The idea is simple: I invite a group of writers, educators, type makers and type users to look back at 2011 and pick the release that excited them most.
Type designer Matthew Butterick sent a letter to director Brad Bird about the use of Verdana in captions and subtitles in the latest Mission Impossible movie.
Second, it's not stylistically suitable. Verdana is a built-in font on nearly every Windows and Mac computer. It's used on zillions of web pages. It's ubiquitous. Therefore, the person who uses Verdana suggests to readers "I couldn't be bothered to pick anything better." It's also well-known as the corporate font of IKEA -- probably not the association you're going for.
The Internet Archive is hosting a copy of the American Specimen Book of Type Styles put out by the American Type Founders Company in 1912. It's a 1300-page book listing hundreds of typefaces and their possible use cases.
An excellent 26-minute talk by Jonathan Hoefler of the Hoefler & Frere-Jones about how they think about designing typefaces and webfonts in particular.
Today, as webfonts are buoyed by a wave of early-adopter enthusiasm, they're marred by a similar unevenness in quality, and it's not just a matter of browsers and rasterizers, or the eternal shortage of good fonts and preponderance of bad ones. There are compelling questions about what it means to be fitted to the technology, how foundries can offer designers an expressive medium (and readers a rich one), and what it means for typography to be visually, mechanically, and culturally appropriate to the web. This is an exploration of this side of web fonts, and a discussion of where the needs of designers meet the needs of readers.
A lovely collection of hand-lettered American department store logos from the late 19th and early 20th century.
From Fathom, a copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein constructed from found type on the web...as the book goes on, the type gets less legible.
The incomplete fonts found in the PDFs were reassembled into the text of Frankenstein based on their frequency of use. The most common characters are employed at the beginning of the book, and the text devolves into less common, more grotesque shapes and forms toward the end.
When I heard the news, my immediate reaction was not positive. There may have been an expletive uttered. I am happy for the crew at Typekit, several of whom are my friends, but Adobe products do not fill me with joy when I use them. No one I know is filled with joy when using Adobe products...mostly the opposite. Typekit is a great service; I hope Adobe keeps it that way.
Moritz Resl took all of the fonts installed on his computer and averaged them together to make a new font: the average font.
Emigre has made their type specimen catalogs available in PDF format.
Absolutely beeeeeyooootiful typography on these Sanborn fire insurance maps.
Sanborn's fire insurance enterprise produced not only excellent and detailed urban maps, but they also maintained an elegant aesthetic in the headings and legends on the maps themselves, and in the title pages of the (larger) city volumes. The ornamental flair is diverse -- I don't think any of the examples above repeat type styles -- and lends an air of individuality and refinement to each of the towns surveyed.
Although this sort of artistic embellishment was unlikely to have increased map sales on its own, it's a charming addition which will have perhaps made the purchasers feel a sense of pride and a little more secure about their own unique town. And it's certainly in keeping with the cartographic tradition of decorative trimmings.
Chris Ware must have a stack of these babies near his drawing table from which to crib.
Christian Boer designed a typeface especially for dyslexics called dyslexie.
Research by the University of Twente indicates that the typeface decreases reading errors by dyslexics.
Andy Clymer of H&FJ built a prototype tool that uses facial recognition to design fonts.
I love these two related typefaces by Klim Type Foundry: Metric and Calibre.
Metric & Calibre are a pair of typefaces that share a fundamental geometry yet differ in the finish of key letterforms. Metric is a geometric humanist, sired by West Berlin street signs. Calibre is a geometric neo-grotesque, inspired by the rationality of Aldo Novarese's seldom seen Recta. They were conceived as a pair but function independently of each other.
The development of Metric & Calibre is based upon two ideas-1: "engineered geometry" and it's application to street signage, 2: alternate letterforms in typefaces.
Chartwell is a type family you can use to build all kinds of graphs and charts. Stringing letters and numbers together into ligatures, you can make things like this:
As you might have heard, MoMA recently acquired 23 typefaces for its Architecture and Design collection. I was curious about how such an acquisition works, so I sent a quick email to Jonathan Hoefler, one of the principals at Hoefler & Frere-Jones, a New York City type foundry that contributed four typefaces to the MoMA.
Kottke: Three of the four H&FJ typefaces acquired by MoMA are available for purchase on your web site. Did they just put in their credit card info and voila? Or was there a little more to it?
Hoefler: MoMA's adopting the fonts for their collection was much more complex than buying a copy online (and not only because Retina, one of our four, isn't available online.) I should start by stating that you can never actually "buy fonts" online: what one can buy are licenses, and the End-User License that surrounds a typeface does not extend the kinds of rights that are necessary to enshrine a typeface in a museum's permanent collection. The good news is that H&FJ has become as good at crafting licenses as we have at creating typefaces, an unavoidable reality in a world where fonts can be deployed in unimaginable ways. This was a fun project for our legal department.
It was actually a fascinating conversation with MoMA, as we each worked to imagine how this bequest could be useful to the museum for eternity. What might it mean when the last computer capable of recognizing OpenType is gone? What will it mean when computers as we know them are gone? How does one establish the insurance value of a typeface: not its price, but the cost of maintaining it in working order? Digital artworks are prone to different kinds of damage than physical ones, but obsolescence is no less damaging to a typeface than earthquakes and floods to a painting. On the business side there are presumably insurance underwriters who can bring complex actuarial tables to bear on the issue, but I think it's an even more provocative issue for conservators. 472 years after its completion, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel underwent a restoration that scholars still find controversial. What might it mean for someone to freshen up our typefaces in AD 2483?
Researchers at Princeton have found evidence that making something more difficult to learn improves long-term learning and information retention. More specifically, changing the typeface from something legible (like Helvetica) to something more difficult to read (like Monotype Corsiva or Comic Sans) increased retention in actual classroom settings.
This study demonstrated that student retention of material across a wide range of subjects (science and humanities classes) and difficulty levels (regular, Honors and Advanced Placement) can be significantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read.... The potential for improving educational practices through cognitive interventions is immense. If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered. Fluency demonstrates how we have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.
I agree with Lehrer...get David Carson on the horn. (thx, lara)
Matt Jacobs has made a bookmarklet that you can use to find out which Typekit fonts a given site uses. Useful!
Here's a teaser trailer:
From the film's website:
Linotype: The Film is a feature-length documentary film centered around the Linotype typecasting machine invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler. Called the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by Thomas Edison, the Linotype revolutionized printing and society, but very few people know about the inventor or his fascinating machine.
The Linotype completely transformed the communication of information similarly to how the internet is now changing it all again. Although these machines were revolutionary, technology began to supersede the Linotype and they were scrapped and melted-down by the thousands. Today, very few machines are still in existence.
A tour of the level of detail that goes into Hoefler & Frere-Jones' fonts.
In the middle of Gotham, our family of 66 sans serifs, there is a hushed but surprising moment: a fraction whose numerator has a serif. So important was this detail that we decided to offer it as an option for all the other fractions, a decision that ultimately required more than 400 new drawings. Why?
As you'll read below, it's something that we added because we felt it mattered. Even if it helped only a small number of designers solve a subtle and esoteric problem, we couldn't rest knowing that an unsettling typographic moment might otherwise lie in wait. We've always believed that a good typeface is the product of thousands of decisions like these, so we invite you to join us on a behind-the-scenes look at some of the invisible details that go into every font from H&FJ.
Want to see the state of the art in web design using web fonts and Typekit? Check out Lost World's Fairs. It's all good, but Frank Chimero really knocked it out of the park with the 1962 Atlantis World's Fair. With HTML5 and web fonts, experimentation with web design seems open and fun again; reminds me of the 90s a bit.
Back in July, Ben Terrett wrote a post about how many instances of the word "helvetica" set in unkerned 100 pt Helvetica it would take to go from the Earth to the Moon:
The distance to the moon is 385,000,000,000 mm. The size of an unkerned piece of normal cut Helvetica at 100pt is 136.23 mm. Therefore it would take 2,826,206,643.42 helveticas to get to the moon.
But let's say you wanted to stretch one "helvetica" over the same distance...at what point size would you need to set it? The answer is 282.6 billion points. At that size, the "h" would be 44,600 miles tall, roughly 5.6 times as tall as the Earth. Here's what that would look like:
The Earth is on the left and that little speck on the right side is the Moon. Here's a close-up of the Earth and the "h":
And if you wanted to put it yet another way, the Earth is set in 50.2 billion point type -- Helvetically speaking -- while the Moon is set in 13.7 billion point type. (thx, @brainpicker)
It is not a list of my favorite typefaces, nor is it a list of the most popular typefaces. Instead, it is a list of typefaces that have been "important" for one reason or another. However, I am not going to provide my reasons. Instead, I am going to let the readers of this blog see if they can figure out the contribution that each of these ten faces makes.
Great song by Cee-Lo, who you may know as one half of Gnarls Barkley.
NSFW in both the visual and audio departments for extensive use of the phrase "fuck you".
I love Anil's comment that the video is "a little bit Tobias, and a little bit Sasha". And indeed the typeface in the video is Champion Gothic, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones' partner, Jonathan Hoefler.
This is the origami alphabet:
When a piece of paper is folded according to these directions, a 3-D extrusion of the alphabet will result. The alphabet's creators have also devised an alphabet made by the hinged dissection of a square.
From Google Books. Here's a sample page:
(via ministry of type)
Yulia Brodskaya makes elaborate typographic creations entirely out of paper. She calls them PAPERgraphics.
This is like Si Scott in 3-D.
The Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA has made a, er, symbolic acquisition of the @ symbol.
The acquisition of @ takes one more step. It relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that "cannot be had" -- because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747's, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @ -- as art objects befitting MoMA's collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA's collection also apply to these entities.
I like these Alphaposters by Happycentro, especially the gorgeous Lowercase F Island:
Clever idea: you can measure the amount of ink required to print different typefaces simply by writing them out with ballpoint pens. The pens themselves become the usage graph:
Update: You can also use this technique to represent which colors you draw with most often.
To beat fat, 1683, "If a Press-man Takes too much Inck with his Balls, he Beats Fat."
A lengthy discussion of the typeface for the London Underground, both the old version by Edward Johnston as well as the refresh.
"We continue to make subtle changes" Ashworth admits, "but we're very wary about doing too much and are always happy to roll back changes if they end up not feeling 'right.'
"The most recent major change was to the numbers 1 and 4 earlier this year. Not a lot of people noticed until a poster appeared advertising engineering work on the 14th of February -- then I got A LOT of emails."
Jesus, this is nerdy (and hilarious): a Lady Gaga parody about a typeface.
This will change the way you design websites. Add a line of code to your pages and choose from hundreds of fonts. Simple, bulletproof, standards compliant, accessible, and totally legal.
I haven't had a chance to play around with this yet, but hope to soon. And hey, you can use Silkscreen with Typekit.
Emigre has released a sans serif companion for Mrs Eaves, Mr Eaves.
Mr Eaves was based on the proportions of Mrs Eaves, but Licko took some liberty with its design. One of the main concerns was to avoid creating a typeface that looked like it simply had its serifs cut off. And while it matches Mrs Eaves in weight, color, and armature, Mr Eaves stands as its own typeface with many unique characteristics.
Very handsome. I've always liked the attitude and flourishes of Emigre's typefaces. (via quips)
Jeff Veen has a look at how Typekit protects fonts served through the service.
Those Base64 encoded strings are then placed right into the CSS file. And even better than that, the fonts are split up into multiple files and recombined using the CSS font stack. Pretty clever stuff.
The intentional misspelling in the headline caught my eye: Edward Rondthaler, Foenetic Speler, Dies at 104. Turns out that Mr. Rondthaler was quite a fellow. He was a pioneer in the field of phototypesetting, cofounded the International Typeface Corporation & the Type Directors Club, and was a advocate of a phonetic spelling system called SoundSpel. Rondthaler's fascination with letters began at an early age:
At 5, Edward received a toy printing press as a gift and began publishing his own newspaper. (It was a very small newspaper, about the size of a postcard, his son said.) Only a few years later, he and a friend opened a print shop in a nearby basement, doing jobs for paying customers; they ran the business through high school and for a year afterward, to earn college money.
Rest easy, Mr. Rondthaler.
Update: A few years back, Rondthaler did a charming video on the pronunciation complexities of seemingly simple words for House Industries, a type company that owns the physical assets of Rondthaler's company, Photo-Lettering, Inc.
The Typography Manual looks like a nice little iPhone app for designers.
The Typography Manual has several useful features and resources for designers, including a visual type anatomy glossary, a font size ruler, an em calculator, and a enough content to fill a 60 page book. It has the all the essentials of a desk reference in a regularly updated pocket resource.
From Neville Brody and Jeff Knowles:
Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the typographical philosophy of the Foundries, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of typefaces... I pledge myself to a New Deal for the American people. This is more than a font. It is a call to arms.
(via my design observer comrades)
That's where Typekit comes in. We've been working with foundries to develop a consistent web-only font linking license. We've built a technology platform that lets us to host both free and commercial fonts in a way that is incredibly fast, smoothes out differences in how browsers handle type, and offers the level of protection that type designers need without resorting to annoying and ineffective DRM.
What a great idea. And web entrepreneurs pay attention, this is how to make a compelling online property: take an idea that everyone loves in theory but doesn't use in practice because it's a pain in the ass (in this case, embedding type on the web) and offer a hosting service to solve that problem. YouTube did this with videos, Blogger/Blogspot, TypePad, & Wordpress did this with blogs, Flickr did it with photos, etc. etc.
Both houses of Congress have recently passed credit card legislation which will cut down on credit card companies abusing their customers. The NY Times has a guide to what the new legislation could mean for consumers. The bill that passed the House contains some interesting provisions on how card companies can use type.
The House throws in what ought to be called "The Fine Print Rule." Card companies must print their account applications and disclosures in 12-point type or greater. A supervisory board will also probably declare certain hard-on-the-eyes fonts off limits. The Senate is silent on typeface but imposes many other communication requirements.
SEC. 14. Readability requirement.
Section 122 of the Truth in Lending Act (U.S.C. 1632) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:
"(d) Minimum type-size and font requirement for credit card applications and disclosures. -All written information, provisions, and terms in or on any application, solicitation, contract, or agreement for any credit card account under an open end consumer credit plan, and all written information included in or on any disclosure required under this chapter with respect to any such account, shall appear-
"(1) in not less than 12-point type; and
"(2) in any font other than a font which the Board has designated, in regulations under this section, as a font that inhibits readability.".
I haven't seen a credit card application or bill in years (we're paperless)...what unreadable fonts are these companies using? Do they set their terms and conditions sections in 6-pt Zapf Dingbats a la David Carson?
After a thorough review, Typographica has chosen their favorite typefaces of 2008.
Sensationalism aside, it's significant that the ever-increasing quality in type design these days -- dubbed by some as the new "golden age" of type -- has caused this year's list to supersede previous lists in many ways.
Responding to a query from an NPR science correspondant about prime numbers, Hoefler & Frere-Jones researched the lengths involved when typesetting the largest known prime number, which has almost 13 million digits.
Joe liked the idea of measuring how long this number would be if it were set in type, which immediately called into question the choice of font. The number's length would depend chiefly on the width of the font selected, and even listener-friendly choices like Times Roman and Helvetica would produce dramatically different outcomes. Small eccentricities in the design of a particular number, such as Times Roman's inexplicably scrawny figure one, would have huge consequences when multiplied out to this length. But even this isn't the hairy part. Where things get difficult, as always, is in the kerning.
In some cases, properly kerning the number resulted in a difference of more than 1000 feet for 12 pt. text.
Jeremy Mickel shares the story of making his first font, which took him about a year and a half.
But then a funny thing happened. I kept correcting and correcting, and all of a sudden I had sanitized the font and there was almost no personality left in it. What I was left with might as well have been VAG Rounded. In a very early draft, I had played with the idea of exaggerating the swellings in the strokes from the original sign. Now I resurrected that, and found the true character of the font.
The result was Router. I also liked this bit:
It's been said that type design is the art of making unequal things appear equal. Noordzij's theory of the Stroke of the Pen is apparent even in monoweight sans-serifs. Flip Helvetica's A, V, or W sideways, and you'll see that the diagonal strokes are slightly unequal. Rotate the O in Futura, which I was always told was a perfect circle, and you'll see why that's not true.
(via shaun inman)
The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway details the use of type in signage, maps, and manuals for the NYC subway. A must-read for type and subway fans.
As if this plethora of signs were not enough, the subway system also had a bewildering variety of other porcelain enamel and hand-painted signs. The porcelain enamel signs, either hung from the ceiling or posted on the walls, were directional as well as informational. The directional signs included those on the outside of the station entrances as well as those intended for the corridors and platforms underground. Many of the informational signs warned against criminal, dangerous or unhealthy behavior: no peddling wares, no leaning over the tracks, no crossing the tracks, no smoking, no spitting. The directional and informational ones were made by Nelke Veribrite Signs and the Baltimore Enamel Company, while the behavioral ones were the product of the Manhattan Dial Company. Most were lettered in some form of sans serif capitals-regular, condensed, square-countered, chamfered, outlined-though some were in bracketed or slab serif roman capitals. They were usually white letters on a colored background (often dark green for the IND and dark blue for the IRT and BMT), yet many were also black on a white background. There was no house style.
What is to modern eyes a beautiful disorder of tiled text and hand-painted enamel became an embarrassing shambles in the 70s and 80s. It was only in late 1989 that Helvetica became the official typeface for New York City subway system signage...about 20 years too late to prevent the current signage from looking dated.
The pixel font circa 1567 is cool, but more interesting is Jonathan Hoefler's assertion that the pixel is nearly dead -- except as a design cliche.
The pixel will never go away entirely, but its finite universe of digital watches and winking highway signs is contracting fast. It's likely that the pixel's final and most enduring role will be a shabby one, serving as an out-of-touch visual cliche to connote "the digital age."
Giampietro has put out a call for someone to develop a Williams Word Generator. Drop him a line if you can help out...shouldn't be too much different than the many "words within words" generators scattered around the web.
Rives shares a typographic fairy tale in three minutes. It's a O}-< meets Q<= story.
Mark Simonson takes an extensive look at the typography of Mad Men and concludes that a surprising amount of the type is set in fonts that either weren't around in the early 60s or weren't yet popular in the US.
Then there is the Gill Sans (c. 1930) problem. Gill is used quite a lot in the series, mainly for Sterling Cooper Advertising's logo and signage. Technically, this is not anachronistic. And the way the type is used -- metal dimensional letters, generously spaced -- looks right. The problem is that Gill was a British typeface not widely available or popular in the U.S. until the 1970s. It's a decade ahead of its time in American type fashions.
There's also the Arial problem in the ending credits.
Mad Men gets a C- for using Arial in the closing credits instead of original-and-still-champion Helvetica. Time for Sterling to have a chat with the art department.
Pencil, telephone, hourglass, diamonds, candle, candle, flag. Mouse, scissors, ball, mailbox, mailbox, mailbox!
That's Wingdings talking.
Fontsmith designed the Mencap typeface to be highly readable and legible for those with learning disabilities. See also the Clearview typeface used on the new highway signs in the US. (via ministry of type)
A comparison of typographers' fonts with their handwriting...among them Erik Spiekermann, Mark Simonson, and Marian Bantjes. (via le waxy)
Struggling to understand what could possibly be good about Comic Sans, Valerio -- together with partners Hugo Timm, Filip Tydén and Erwan Lhussier -- found that the doggedly goofy font's irregular forms made it one of the easiest typefaces for dyslexics to read. The designers also liked how it undermined the authority -- and changed the meaning -- of texts set in it.
Mark Simonson notes that the period typography in the Indiana Jones movies is pretty good, except for that used on Indy's travel maps.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) which is set in 1936, we see ITC Serif Gothic (designed in 1972). The wide spacing feels right, and it does have an art deco feel, but it's 1970s art deco.
This is a page from a book called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
Any guesses as to when it was published? The title, Latin text, yellowed paper, and lack of page numbers might tip you off that it wasn't exactly released yesterday. Turns out that Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was published in 1499, more than 500 years ago and only 44 years after Gutenberg published his famous Bible. It belongs to a group of books collectively referred to as incunabula, books printed with a printing press using movable type before 1501.
To contemporary eyes, the HP looks almost modern. The text is very readable. The typography, layout, and the way the text flows around the illustration; none of it looks out of the ordinary. When compared to other books of the time (e.g. take a look at a page from the Gutenberg Bible), its modernity is downright eerie. The most obvious difference is the absence of the blackletter typeface. Blackletter was a popular choice because it resembled closely the handwritten script that preceded the printing press, and I imagine its use smoothed the transition to books printed by press. HP dispensed with blackletter and instead used what came to be known as Bembo, a humanist typeface based on the handwriting of Renaissance-era Italian scholars. From a MIT Press e-book on the HP:
One of the features of the Hypnerotomachia that has attracted the attention of scholars has been its use of the famed Aldine "Roman" type font, invented by Nicholas Jenson but distilled into an abstract ideal by Francesco Biffi da Bologna, a jeweler who became Aldus's celebrated cutter. This font -- generally viewed as originating in the efforts of the humanist lovers of belles-lettres and renowned calligraphers such as Petrarch, Poggio Bracciolini, Niccolo Niccoli, Felice Feliciano, Leon Battista Alberti, and Luca Pacioli, to re-create the script of classical antiquity -- appeared for the first time in Bembo's De Aetna. Recut, it appeared in its second and perfected version in the Hypnerotomachia.
In that way, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is both a throwback to Roman times and an indication of things to come.
The MIT Press site also notes a number of other significant aspects of the book. As seen above, illustrations are integrated into the main text, allowing "the eye to slip back and forth from textual description and corresponding visual representation with the greatest of ease". In his 2006 book, Beautiful Evidence, Edward Tufte says:
Overall, the design of Hypnerotomachia tightly integrates the relevant text with the relevant image, a cognitive integration along with the celebrated optical integration.
Several pages in the book make use of the text itself to illustrate the shapes of wine goblets. The HP also contained aspects of film, comics, and storyboarding...successive illustrations advanced action begun on previous pages:
All of which makes the following puzzling:
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of the most unreadable books ever published. The first inkling of difficulty occurs at the moment one picks up the book and tries to utter its tongue-twisting, practically unpronounceable title. The difficulty only heightens as one flips through the pages and tries to decipher the strange, baffling, inscrutable prose, replete with recondite references, teeming with tortuous terminology, choked with pulsating, prolix, plethoric passages. Now in Tuscan, now in Latin, now in Greek -- elsewhere in Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and hieroglyphs -- the author has created a pandemonium of unruly sentences that demand the unrelenting skills of a prodigiously endowed polyglot in order to be understood.
It's fascinating that a book so readable, so beautifully printed, and so modern would also be so difficult to read. If you'd like to take a crack at it, scans of the entire book are available here and here. The English translation is available on Amazon.
Typographically inspired movie titles, including Full Meta Jacket, Bembo: First Blood, and He-Man and the Masters of the Univers.
A bunch of examples of contemporary typography...lots of ideas to riff off here.
FontStruct is an awesomely simple online font creation tool. Just draw on a grid with simple Photoshop-like tools, save, and download a TrueType version of the fonts you've just created. If this had been around when I made Silkscreen, it would have taken so much less time.
Over at H&FJ, the H talks about the &.
As both its function and form suggest, the ampersand is a written contraction of "et," the Latin word for "and." Its shape has evolved continuously since its introduction, and while some ampersands are still manifestly e-t ligatures, others merely hint at this origin, sometimes in very oblique ways.
He goes on to describe several ampersands they've designed for their typefaces. When designing the ampersand for Silkscreen, I came up with a solution that many continue to dislike:
If you're logged in to Flickr, you can see it action at a more appropriate size in the "prints & more" label above a photo. The symbol is basically a capital E with a vertical line through the middle...an e-t ligature that's really more of an overstrike. I fashioned it after the way I hand-write my ampersand, which I got from my dad's handwriting1. I don't know where he got it from; it's not a common way to represent that symbol, although I did find a few instances in the list of fonts installed on my computer.
I didn't think about this way at the time, but the odd ampersand is one of the few distinguishing features of Silkscreen. There's only so many ways you can draw letterforms in a 5x5 pixel space so a lot of the bitmap fonts like Silkscreen end up looking very similar. The ampersand gives it a bit of needed individuality. (The 4 is the other oddish character...it's open at the top instead of diagonally closed.)
 Now that I think about it, I borrowed several aspects from my dad's handwriting. I write my 7s with a bar (to distinguish them from 1s), my 8s as two separate circles rather than a figure-eight stroke, and my 4s with the open top. Oh, and a messy signature. ↩
Gar, I missed another one of Tobias Frere-Jones' NYC Typographic Walking Tours but luckily Jason Santa Maria -- a fellow so nice they named him thrice -- has photos. Photos from his first tour here. (via airbag)
Here's the trailer for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
It was done by a fellow named Pablo Ferro; it was his first movie trailer. Steven Heller writes:
After seeing Ferro's commercials, Kubrick hired him to direct the advertising trailers and teasers for Dr. Strangelove and convinced him to resettle in London (Kubrick's base of operations until he died there in March 1999). Ferro was inclined to be peripatetic anyway, and ever anxious to bypass already completed challenges he agreed to pull up stakes on the chance that he would get to direct a few British TV commercials, which he did. The black and white spot that Ferro designed for Dr. Strangelove employed his quick-cut technique -- using as many as 125 separate images in a minute -- to convey both the dark humor and the political immediacy of the film. At something akin to stroboscopic speed words and images flew across the screen to the accompaniment of loud sound effects and snippets of ironic dialog. At a time when the bomb loomed so large in the US public's fears (remember Barry Goldwater ran for President promising to nuke China), and the polarization of left and right -- east and west -- was at its zenith, Ferro's commercial was not only the boldest and most hypnotic graphic on TV, it was a sly subversive statement.
Ferro worked with Kubrick on the iconic and fantastic main titles for the film as well.
Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen. Yet only after the film was released did he notice that one word was misspelled: "base on" instead of "based on". Ooops!
If you want that hand-lettered look for yourself, Pablo Skinny is a font by Fargoboy that closely duplicates Ferro's handwriting.
Ferro went on to make several well-known movie title sequences, including those for Bullitt, the original The Thomas Crown Affair, and To Die For, but not Napoleon Dynamite. He collaborated with Kubrick once again on the trailer for A Clockwork Orange, another classic.
Update: According to this Wikipedia article, the work of Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Arthur Lipsett caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick after an Oscar nomination for his short film, Very Nice, Very Nice and, more importantly for our business here, that Kubrick directed the Strangelove trailer himself in Lipsett's style after Lipsett refused to work with Kubrick on it:
Stanley Kubrick was one of Lipsett's fans, and asked him to create a trailer for his upcoming movie Dr. Strangelove. Lipsett declined Kubrick's offer. Kubrick went on to direct the trailer himself; however, Lipsett's influence on Kubrick is clearly visible when watching the trailer.
The two are stylistically similar for sure, but Ferro is credited with having designed the main title sequence (according to the titles themselves). That passage doesn't appear to have been derived from any particular source, so I looked for something more definitive. From a 1986 article by Lois Siegel
After his Academy Award nomination, he received a letter from British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The typewritten letter said, "I'm interested in having a trailer done for Dr. Strangelove." Kubrick regarded Lipsett's work as a landmark in cinema -- a breakthrough. He was interested in involving Lipsett. This didn't happen, but the actual trailer did reflect Lipsett's style in Very Nice, Very Nice.
An endnote to a 2004 profile of Lipsett by Brett Kashmere describes what Kubrick wrote to Lipsett in the letter:
Kubrick described Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) as "one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen." Kubrick was so enthused with the film he invited Lipsett to create a trailer for Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1965) an offer Lipsett refused. Stanley Kubrick, letter to Arthur Lipsett, Arthur Lipsett Collection, Cinematheque québécoise Archives, Montreal, May 31, 1962.
It's not clear what the connection is between Lipsett's work and the trailer that Ferro ended up producing for Strangelove, but several sources (including Heller) say that Ferro developed his quick-cut style directing commercials in the 1950s, work that would predate that of Lipsett.
Lipsett more clearly influenced the work of another prominent filmmaker, George Lucas. Lucas found inspiration in Lipsett's 21-87 in making THX-1138 and borrowed the concept of "the Force" for the Star Wars movies. Lucas' films are littered with references to Lipsett's film; e.g. Princess Leia's cell in Star Wars was in cell #2187. (thx, gordon)
Ampersand usage varies from language to language. In English and French text, the ampersand may be substituted for the words and and et, and both versions may be used in the same text. The German rule is to use the ampersand within formal or corporate titles made up of two separate names; according to present German composition rules, the ampersand may not be used in running text. In any language, the ampersand's calligraphic qualities make it a compelling design element that can add visual appeal and personality to any page.
A list of 63 must-have grunge fonts. Back in 1996, this would have been my thing. Is grunge type coming back?
Jonathan Hoefler on how a joke version of OCR-A with swashes came about...and then ended up in an issue of Rolling Stone.
I tacked this specimen of Estupido Espezial!!! to my wall, where it immediately became a litmus test for visitors. Most people would say nothing, but woe be unto anyone who admired the thing in earnest: "hey, cool font!" would immediately land any visitor on the Suspicious Persons list. The best were those who would stare for a moment with bafflement before bursting out laughing, a few of whom became good friends, good clients, or both.
Craig Oldham's Nudist typeface is flesh-colored with some bits pixelated out. Other "weights" include a fig leaf version and a black censor bar version. Entirely SFW.
Short post about the favorite letters drawn by H&FJ type designers, including the awesomely named Sulzbacher Eszett character.
The designers at H&FJ are often asked if there are particular letters that we especially enjoy drawing. Office doodles testify to the popularity of the letter R, perhaps because it synopsizes the rest of the alphabet in one convenient package (it's got a stem, a bowl, serifs both internal and external, and of course that marvelous signature gesture, the tail.)
I would love to see a collection of those office doodles.
Typographica's list of their favorite typefaces of 2007. Some great work in that list. I also enjoyed Mark Simonson's explanation of the difference between a font and a typeface:
The physical embodiment of a collection of letters (whether it's a case of metal pieces or a computer file) is a font. When referring to the design of the collection (the way it looks) you call it a typeface.
Oh and also good was that they were thoughtful enough to wait until 2007 was actually over to make their selections.
Interview with Susan Bradley, who did some graphic design and designed a typeface for Pixar's Ratatouille. I enjoyed her response when asked about "one thing everybody should do today":
Something backwards or something analog you'd normally computerize.
They were very big around 1970 or so. Bookman set the example, even though it's from much earlier. By the mid-seventies, they were adding Bookman-style swashes to everything. They were usually called Whateverthefontwascalled Flair.
Scroll down the page for samples of Univers Flair, Franklin Gothic Flair, etc.
All but a few of the title sequences of Woody Allen's films are set in one typeface: white Windsor on a black background.
A photographic tour of some unique lettering and signage in Brooklyn. Seems to have skipped Dumbo & Vinegar Hill though. Here's another collection of old NYC signage. And don't forget Forgotten NY (via quipsologies)
I feel like this happens to a lot of authors...the covers of their books end up being the opposite of what they should be.
Does one's choice of typeface affect the grade you get on a college paper? Papers written with Georgia and Times New Roman (serifs) got As while those with Trebuchet (sans serif) got Bs.
In light of the Mitchell Report, Yanksfan vs Soxfan has proposed a record book annotation system so that sports fans can tell which records were set under the influence of which substances. The asterisk is for straight-up steroids and some of the other marks are as follows:
! = Amphetamines
$ = Gambling
|| = Cocaine
~ = Alcohol
. = Dead ball era
∞ = Wore glasses
† = Crazy religious freak
X = General douchebag
The Goodie Bag podcast has an entertaining little video on Trajan, the font used ubiquitously in movie credits and posters:
Like indoor plumbing and toga parties, Trajan hails from Rome. Matter of fact, you can find almost 2,000-year-old inscriptions on Trajan's column, where they have totally off-the-leash keggers on Saturdays... Russell Crowe has co-starred with Trajan three times now.
Eric Gill was a respected British artist and typographer -- Gill Sans is his most famous typeface -- but according to his diaries, he also regularly engaged in sexual relations with his sisters, his daughters, and the family dog.
For some of Gill's fans, even looking at his work became impossible. Most problematically, he was a Catholic convert who created some of the most popular devotional art of his era, such as the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, where worshippers pray at each panel depicting the suffering of Jesus.
These details of Gill's private life were revealed in a 1989 book by Fiona MacCarthy...here's a NY Times review of the book soon after it was published.
In the past few weeks, I've seen several people mention the 50 Years of Helvetica exhibit at the MoMA along with some variation of "Woo! I might need to take a trip to New York to go see this!" You should know that this exhibit takes up just a small corner of the Architecture and Design Gallery on the 3rd floor...it's essentially a case and a handful of posters and other specimens. If you're in the museum already, definitely check it out, but you'll be disappointed if you make a special expensive trip just to see the Helvetica stuff.
The 2008 version of Pentagram's big-ass wall calendar is now available, featuring the typefaces of Matthew Carter. If that's not to your liking, there's always this calendar by Massimo Vignelli set in, you guessed it, Helvetica.
Jon Hicks has a nice slideshow of typography from the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (via waxy) Design Observer did a piece on the typography of Order of the Phoenix becoming its own character.
It is The Daily Prophet which emerges in this film as a secondary character, performing interstitial cameos made all the more exhilarating because the camera sweeps in and out, ricocheting off the page, magnifying and dramatizing a typographic vocabulary that combines a slightly mottled, letterpress-like display face with great portions of illegible calligraphy.
Erik Spiekermann on FE-Mittelschrift, the typeface used for German license plates.
The official typeface for our license plates is now called FE-Mittelschrift, with FE meaning it is Fälschungs-Erschwert, i.e. difficult to forge. Apparently car thieves, terrorists and notorious law-breakers had been exploiting DIN's geometric construction principle and turning E into F or 3 into 8 etc by simply using a bit of black tape or white paint.
Here are all the alphanumeric characters:
Note the tamper-resistant differences between the 6 (no notch) and 9 (notched), the E & F, the I & 1, the O & zero, the P & R, and so on.
This past weekend, Tobias Frere-Jones led a typography tour of lower Manhattan for the AIGA, which I'm sad I missed (out of town guests + didn't get a ticket in time). Luckily several people have uploaded photos from the tour (set 1, set 2, set 3, set 4), including a shot of one of my favorite lunchtime destinations, the Cup & Saucer. Love that sign (see close up).
Long piece about the changes being made to the typography of the US highway signs, switching from Highway Gothic (on which Interstate is based) to Clearview.
The newly designed US$5 bill is the worst one yet...the phrase "typographic train wreck" comes to mind. The purple 5 in the lower right, while useful, is one of the most amateur design choices I've seen on something that's destined for such a wide market. (thx, tom)
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