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TYPE

A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles

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TYPE

A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles

Volume 2 1901 – 1938

Edited by Cees W de Jong With text by Peter Biľak

TASCHEN

Content

Highland in Letterpress

IX

The Golden Age

X

Introduction

XII

Highland in Letterpress IX The Golden Age X Introduction XII Chapter One 1901-1908 2 Chapter Two

Chapter

One

1901-1908

2

IX The Golden Age X Introduction XII Chapter One 1901-1908 2 Chapter Two 1909-1916 56 Chapter

Chapter

Two

1909-1916

56

XII Chapter One 1901-1908 2 Chapter Two 1909-1916 56 Chapter Three 1917-1924 106 Chapter Four 1925-1930

Chapter

Three

1917-1924

106

One 1901-1908 2 Chapter Two 1909-1916 56 Chapter Three 1917-1924 106 Chapter Four 1925-1930 154 Chapter

Chapter

Four

1925-1930

154

One 1901-1908 2 Chapter Two 1909-1916 56 Chapter Three 1917-1924 106 Chapter Four 1925-1930 154 Chapter

Chapter

Five

1931-1938

206

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

X

Highland in Letterpress

To begin with, lets be clear that conceptual type is an oxy- moron. A typeface cant really be conceptual, because it is dependent on its execution. Typeface design is a craft, so the process that transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Before the typeface is executed, it is not a typeface, it is simply an idea. A few years back I was part of the jury at an art school in Antwerp, where a student proposed a conceptual font. Instead of defining the shapes, he came with a set of written instructions, so the capital E was defined as three evenly spaced horizontal lines crossing one vertical line. It was fun and very clever, but technically it was merely a description (however witty) of the alpha- bet, not a font, which is based on the repetition of shapes.

Sol LeWitts famous quote Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution does not apply to type design. There are plenty of examples of nicely designed and successfully exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere else is revivalism as popular as in type design, and recycled ver- sions of proven models seem to form the core of most type libraries. For example, how many versions of Garamond or clones of Swiss neutral sans serif do we really need?

Lets have a look what the term conceptual means in other disciplines. We can skip music, architecture, illustration, ceramics or dance, which similarly to typography are also dependent on performance or execution. Obviously, there are some exceptions ” John Cage’s 4²33³ , for example, or some projects of Rem Kolhaas or Peter Eisenman ” but in essence all craft-based disciplines rely on the transformation of abstract ideas into material form. Should the idea remain in its seman- tic form, one has to rethink the whole frame of the discipline. Would you hire a conceptual plumber to fix your sink?

Highland in Letterpress

conceptual art is generally semantic rather than illustrative, a

self-referential, non-material meta-object, art of the mind rather

than

the senses. The work of Yves Klein, Robert Rauschen-

berg,

Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt or the group Art & Language

challenged viewers expectations concerning the limits of what can be considered art. It even tried to be an anti-art.

Type design, by contrast, was originally dependent on the expertise of the maker: the final typeface was only as good as the skill of the punch-cutter. The first examples of type design separate from the craft of manufacturing come from the Enlightenment period. Romain du Roi, an exclusive typeface commissioned by the French King Louis XIV, departed from

the traditions of calligraphy and worked with analytical and mathematical principles of drawing type. This then, if you like, could be considered the first conceptual typeface. The commit- tee of the Academy of Sciences proposed a grid of 48—48 units, inventing the notion of vector outlines by defining characters in terms of geometry rather than physical mass. The committee

also invented the notion of font metrics and suggested the idea

of bitmap. fonts. Some 50 years separated the conception of the typeface and the execution of a complete set of punches for it.

Romain du Roi, a typeface commissioned by King Louis

XIV in 1692, for the exclusive use of the royal printer.

Where the term conceptual really prospers is in the domain of modern art. This term came into use in the late 1960s to describe a philosophy of art that rejected the traditional art object as a precious commodity. Instead, the typical work of

XI

Type Foundries:

The Golden Age

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

To begin with, lets be clear that conceptual type is an oxy- moron. A typeface cant really be conceptual, because it is dependent on its execution. Typeface design is a craft, so the process that transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Before the typeface is executed, it is not a typeface, it is simply an idea. A few years back I was part of the jury at an art school in Antwerp, where a student proposed a conceptual font. Instead of defining the shapes, he came with a set of written instructions, so the capital E was defined as three evenly spaced horizontal lines crossing one vertical line. It was fun and very clever, but technically it was merely a description (however witty) of the alpha- bet, not a font, which is based on the repetition of shapes.

Sol LeWitts famous quote Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution does not apply to type design. There are plenty of examples of nicely designed and successfully exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere else is revivalism as popular as in type design, and recycled ver- sions of proven models seem to form the core of most type libraries. For example, how many versions of Garamond or clones of Swiss neutral sans serif do we really need?

Lets have a look what the term conceptual means in other disciplines. We can skip music, architecture, illustration, ceramics or dance, which similarly to typography are also dependent on performance or execution. Obviously, there are some exceptions ” John Cage’s 4²33³ , for example, or some projects of Rem Kolhaas or Peter Eisenman ” but in essence all craft-based disciplines rely on the transformation of abstract ideas into material form. Should the idea remain in its seman- tic form, one has to rethink the whole frame of the discipline. Would you hire a conceptual plumber to fix your sink?

Where the term conceptual really prospers is in the domain of modern art. This term came into use in the late 1960s to describe a philosophy of art that rejected the traditional art object as a precious commodity. Instead, the typical work of

conceptual art is generally semantic rather than illustrative, a self-referential, non-material meta-object, art of the mind rather than the senses. The work of Yves Klein, Robert Rauschen- berg, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt or the group Art & Language challenged viewers expectations concerning the limits of what can be considered art. It even tried to be an anti-art.

Type design, by contrast, was originally dependent on the expertise of the maker: the final typeface was only as good as the skill of the punch-cutter. The first examples of type design separate from the craft of manufacturing come from the Enlightenment period. Romain du Roi, an exclusive typeface commissioned by the French King Louis XIV, departed from the traditions of calligraphy and worked with analytical and mathematical principles of drawing type. This then, if you like, could be considered the first conceptual typeface. The commit- tee of the Academy of Sciences proposed a grid of 48—48 units, inventing the notion of vector outlines by defining characters in terms of geometry rather than physical mass. The committee also invented the notion of font metrics and suggested the idea of bitmap fonts. Some 50 years separated the conception of the typeface and the execution of a complete set of punches for it.

More recently, a type design project that approached the definition of conceptual art was FUSE, launched by Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft in the early 1990s. FUSE con- sisted of a set of four original typefaces with corresponding posters, and an accompanying essay. Each issue had a theme such as religion, exuberance, (dis)information, virtual real- ity, etc., but the designers had complete freedom as to how they interpreted that theme. In the first issue, Wozencroft described FUSE as a new sensibility in visual expression, one grounded in ideas, not just image. Carrying forward the ideals of the avant-garde, Brody and Wozencroft wrote with an impassioned rhetoric as if they saw themselves as fighting the repressive typographic establishment by making fonts that rejected functionality as the reason to design type. The fonts ranged from purely formal exercises to completely

XII

abstract shapes independent from Latin construction, pur- ported new forms of writing. FUSE typefaces were curiously diverse, making it hard to discern any criteria for selection.

And this is precisely the problem with the use of term concep- tual: very often it is simply synonymous with idea or intention. Since every act of creation arguably stems from intent, regard- less of the function of the product, is every artwork, object or typeface therefore conceptual? Mel Bochner, American conceptual artist, disliked the label conceptual, because the word concept is not always defined entirely clearly, and is there- fore in danger of being confused with the authors intention.

I believe that the topic of this conference is to look at the underlying ideas of typography, the intentions of authors, rather than to claim that type itself is conceptual. That makes the discussion less problematic, but still not easy, since there is probably no other discipline where the difference between the intention of the author and intention of the user can be so great. For example, the original intention behind Fedra Sans was for it to be the corporate type of the insurance company that commissioned it, and it was designed precisely according to the stipulations of the companys brief. The original client, however, was acquired by a bigger fish, and development of the corporate font came to an abrupt halt. That was a disappointment at first, but a blessing in disguise in the longer term, as I could expand the family and offer it to the public myself. In the years that Fedra Sans has been available for licensing it has been used in all kinds of applications from building facades to children books, to Bible typesetting, to the identity of a terrorist organ- isation, but as far as I know, not a single insurance company.

Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas, or Revolutionary Strug- gle, a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek government buildings, banks and the American embassy in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have formally designated Revolutionary Struggle as a terrorist organization. Epa-

Type Foundries

nastatikos Agonas has been quite consistent in using Fedra Sans for its flyers. And no, they didn’t buy the licence.

Children books, Bibles, terrorists it becomes quite obvious that the type designer has no actual say in how the typeface is actual- ly used. While the concept of the typeface might be very clever and original, what happens when the typeface is never used the way it was intended? Does it make the typeface less inventive? How about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenbergs Erased de Kooning Drawing demon- strated that destruction could also be conceptual art. Ac- cording to Rauschenbergs example, I narrowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when a thief broke into our studio and stole my com- puter and all the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed responsibility. have become the designer of a rare example of conceptual type ” by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, press purpose of erasing it as an artistic state- ment. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitts statement The idea becomes the machine that makes the art can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known

also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts, they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have

a

greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do.

It

makes sense then for designers themselves to reclaim this

field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the struc- ture of a bitmap font and interprets it in multiple ways.

XIII

Introduction

To begin with, lets be clear that conceptual type is an oxy- moron. A typeface cant really be conceptual, because it is dependent on its execution. Typeface design is a craft, so the process that transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Before the typeface is executed, it is not a typeface, it is simply an idea. A few years back I was part of the jury at an art school in Antwerp, where a student proposed a conceptual font. Instead of defining the shapes, he came with a set of written instructions, so the capital E was defined as three evenly spaced horizontal lines crossing one vertical line. It was fun and very clever, but technically it was merely a description (however witty) of the alpha- bet, not a font, which is based on the repetition of shapes.

Sol LeWitts famous quote Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution does not apply to type design. There are plenty of examples of nicely designed and successfully exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere else is revivalism as popular as in type design, and recycled ver- sions of proven models seem to form the core of most type libraries. For example, how many versions of Garamond or clones of Swiss neutral sans serif do we really need?

Lets have a look what the term conceptual means in other disciplines. We can skip music, architecture, illustration, ceramics or dance, which similarly to typography are also dependent on performance or execution. Obviously, there are some exceptions ” John Cage’s 4²33³ , for example, or some projects of Rem Kolhaas or Peter Eisenman ” but in essence all craft-based disciplines rely on the transformation of abstract ideas into material form. Should the idea remain in its seman- tic form, one has to rethink the whole frame of the discipline. Would you hire a conceptual plumber to fix your sink?

Where the term conceptual really prospers is in the domain of modern art. This term came into use in the late 1960s to describe a philosophy of art that rejected the traditional art object as a precious commodity. Instead, the typical work of

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

XIV

conceptual art is generally semantic rather than illustrative, a self-referential, non-material meta-object, art of the mind rather

than

the senses. The work of Yves Klein, Robert Rauschen-

berg,

Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt or the group Art & Language

challenged viewers expectations concerning the limits of what can be considered art. It even tried to be an anti-art.

Type design, by contrast, was originally dependent on the expertise of the maker: the final typeface was only as good as the skill of the punch-cutter. The first examples of type design separate from the craft of manufacturing come from the Enlightenment period. Romain du Roi, an exclusive typeface commissioned by the French King Louis XIV, departed from the traditions of calligraphy and worked with analytical and

mathematical principles of drawing type. This then, if you like, could be considered the first conceptual typeface. The commit- tee of the Academy of Sciences proposed a grid of 48—48 units, inventing the notion of vector outlines by defining characters in terms of geometry rather than physical mass. The committee

also invented the notion of font metrics and suggested the idea

of bitmap fonts. Some 50 years separated the conception of the typeface and the execution of a complete set of punches for it.

Romain du Roi, a typeface commissioned by King Louis

XIV in 1692, for the exclusive use of the royal printer.

More recently, a type design project that approached the definition of conceptual art was FUSE, launched by Neville

Brody and Jon Wozencroft in the early 1990s. FUSE con- sisted of a set of four original typefaces with corresponding posters, and an accompanying essay. Each issue had a theme

such as religion, exuberance, (dis)information, virtual real-

ity, etc., but the designers had complete freedom as to how

they interpreted that theme. In the first issue, Wozencroft

described FUSE as a new sensibility in visual expression, one grounded in ideas, not just image. Carrying forward the ideals of the avant-garde, Brody and Wozencroft wrote with an impassioned rhetoric as if they saw themselves as fighting

the repressive typographic establishment by making fonts that rejected functionality as the reason to design type. The fonts ranged from purely formal exercises to completely abstract shapes independent from Latin construction, pur- ported new forms of writing. FUSE typefaces were curiously diverse, making it hard to discern any criteria for selection.

FUSE, quarterly forum for experimental typography in- itiated by Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft in 1990

And this is precisely the problem with the use of term concep- tual: very often it is simply synonymous with idea or intention. Since every act of creation arguably stems from intent, regard- less of the function of the product, is every artwork, object or typeface therefore conceptual? Mel Bochner, American conceptual artist, disliked the label conceptual, because the word concept is not always defined entirely clearly, and is there- fore in danger of being confused with the authors intention.

I believe that the topic of this conference is to look at the underlying ideas of typography, the intentions of authors, rather than to claim that type itself is conceptual. That makes the discussion less problematic, but still not easy, since there is probably no other discipline where the difference between the intention of the author and intention of the user can be so great. For example, the original intention behind Fedra Sans was for it to be the corporate type of the insurance company that commissioned it, and it was designed precisely according to the stipulations of the companys brief. The original client, however, was acquired by a bigger fish, and development of the corporate font came to an abrupt halt. That was a disappointment at first, but a blessing in disguise in the longer term, as I could expand the family and offer it to the public myself. In the years that Fedra Sans has been available for licensing it has been used in all kinds of applications from building facades to children books, to Bible typesetting, to the identity of a terrorist organ- isation, but as far as I know, not a single insurance company.

1902 Behrens Schrift und Zierat, Rudhard’sche Gieɮerei, Offenbach am Main

Type Foundries

XV

insurance company. 1902 Behrens Schrift und Zierat, Rudhard’sche Gieɮerei, Offenbach am Main Type Foundries XV
XVI 1818 Manuale tipografico Volume secondo , Giambattista Bodoni , Parma Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas,

XVI

1818 Manuale tipografico Volume secondo, Giambattista Bodoni, Parma

tipografico Volume secondo , Giambattista Bodoni , Parma Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas, or Revolutionary Strug-

Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas, or Revolutionary Strug- gle, a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek government buildings, banks and the American embassy in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have formally designated Revolutionary Struggle as a terrorist organization. Epa- nastatikos Agonas has been quite consistent in using Fedra Sans for its flyers. And no, they didn’t buy the licence.

Children books, Bibles, terrorists it becomes quite obvious that the type designer has no actual say in how the typeface is actual- ly used. While the concept of the typeface might be very clever and original, what happens when the typeface is never used the way it was intended? Does it make the typeface less inventive? How about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenbergs Erased de Kooning Drawing demonstrated that destruction could also be conceptual art. According to Rauschenbergs example, I narrowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when a thief broke into our studio and stole my computer and all the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed responsibility, he could have become the designer of a rare example of conceptual

type ” by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Koon- ing, which he obtained from his colleague for the ex- press purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitts statement The idea becomes the machine that makes the art can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts. they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have a greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do. It makes sense then for designers themselves to reclaim this field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font and interprets it in multiple ways. By deciding to design the process rather than controlling the end result, Letterror embraced the possibilities of un- expected results. It is the machine that makes the type.

Selection of LTR Python Robot: 50 fonts designed by Python scripting, distributed by Letterror.

1818 Manuale tipografico Volume primo, Giambattista Bodoni, Parma

Chapter 1 1901 – 1908

Conceptual Type?

A

typeface can’t really be conceptual, because it is dependent

on

its execution. Typeface design is a craft, so the process that

transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Before the typeface is executed, it is not a typeface, it is simply an idea. A few years back I was part of the jury at an art school in Antwerp, where a student proposed a conceptual font. Instead of defining the shapes,

he came with a set of written instructions, so the capital E

was defined as ‘Three evenly spaced horizontal lines crossing one vertical line’. It was fun and very clever, but technically

it was merely a description (however witty) of the alpha- bet, not a font, which is based on the repetition of shapes.

Sol LeWitt’s famous quote ‘Banal ideas cannot be rescued

by beautiful execution’ does not apply to type design. There

are plenty of examples of nicely designed and successfully

exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere else is revivalism as popular as in type design, and recycled ver- sions of proven models seem to form the core of most type libraries. For example, how many versions of Garamond

or clones of Swiss neutral sans serif do we really need?

Let’s have a look what the term ‘conceptual’ means in other

disciplines. We can skip music, architecture, illustration, ceramics or dance, which similarly to typography are also dependent on performance or execution. Obviously, there are some exceptions — John Cage’s  4’33” , for example, or some projects of Rem Kolhaas or Peter Eisenman — but in essence

all craft-based disciplines rely on the transformation of abstract

ideas into material form. Should the idea remain in its seman-

tic form, one has to rethink the whole frame of the discipline.

Would you hire a ‘conceptual’ plumber to fix your sink?

Where the term ‘conceptual’ really prospers is in the domain

of modern art. This term came into use in the late 1960s to

describe a philosophy of art that rejected the traditional art

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

6

object as a precious commodity. Instead, the typical work of conceptual art is generally semantic rather than illustrative, a self-referential, non-material meta-object, art of the mind rather than the senses. The work of Yves Klein, Robert Rauschen- berg, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt or the group Art & Language challenged viewers’ expectations concerning the limits of what can be considered art. It even tried to be an anti-art.

Type design, by contrast, was originally dependent on the expertise of the maker: the final typeface was only as good as the skill of the punch-cutter. The first examples of type design separate from the craft of manufacturing come from the Enlightenment period. Romain du Roi, an exclusive typeface commissioned by the French King Louis XIV, departed from the traditions of calligraphy and worked with analytical and mathematical principles of drawing type. This then, if you like, could be considered the first ‘conceptual’ typeface. The commit- tee of the Academy of Sciences proposed a grid of 48X48 units, inventing the notion of vector outlines by defining characters in terms of geometry rather than physical mass. The committee also invented the notion of font metrics and suggested the idea of bitmap fonts. Some 50 years separated the conception of the typeface and the execution of a complete set of punches for it.

More recently, a type design project that approached the definition of conceptual art was FUSE, launched by Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft in the early 1990’s. FUSE con- sisted of a set of four original typefaces with corresponding posters, and an accompanying essay. Each issue had a theme such as religion, exuberance, (dis)information, virtual real- ity, etc., but the designers had complete freedom as to how they interpreted that theme. In the first issue, Wozencroft described FUSE as ’a new sensibility in visual expression, one grounded in ideas, not just image.’ Carrying forward the ideals of the avant-garde, Brody and Wozencroft wrote with an impassioned rhetoric as if they saw themselves as fighting the repressive typographic establishment by making fonts that rejected functionality as the reason to design type. The fonts

ranged from purely formal exercises to completely abstract shapes independent from Latin construction, purported ’new forms of writing’. FUSE typefaces were curiously diverse, making it hard to discern any criteria for selection.

And this is precisely the problem with the use of term ‘conceptual’: very often it is simply synonymous with ‘Idea’ or ‘Intention’. Since every act of creation argua- bly stems from intent, regardless of the function of the product, is every artwork, object or typeface therefore conceptual? Mel Bochner, American conceptual artist, disliked the label ‘conceptual’, because the word ‘concept’ is not always defined entirely clearly, and is therefore in danger of being confused with the author’s intention.

I believe that the topic of this conference is to look at the underlying ideas of typography, the intentions of authors, rather than to claim that type itself is conceptual. That makes the discussion less problematic, but still not easy, since there is probably no other discipline where the difference between the intention of the author and intention of the user can be so great. For example, the original intention behind Fedra Sans was for it to be the corporate type of the insurance company that commissioned it, and it was designed precisely according to the stipulations of the company’s brief. The original client, however, was acquired by a bigger fish, and development of the corporate font came to an abrupt halt. That was a disappointment at first, but a blessing in disguise in the longer term, as I could expand the family and offer it to the public myself. In the years that Fedra Sans has been available for licensing it has been used in all kinds of applications from building facades to children books, to Bible typesetting, to the identity of a terrorist organ- isation, but as far as I know, not a single insurance company.

Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas, or Revolutionary Strug- gle, a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek government buildings, banks and the American embassy in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary

in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have formally

of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have formally designated Revolutionary Struggle as a terrorist organization. Epa- nastatikos Agonas has been quite consistent in using Fedra Sans for its flyers. And no, they didn’t buy the licence.

1901 Album d’Applications, Fonderie de G Peignot & fils, Paris

Children books, Bibles, terrorists… it becomes quite ob- vious that the type designer has no actual say in how the typeface is actually used. While the concept of the type- face might be very clever and original, what happens when the typeface is never used the way it was intended? Does it make the typeface less inventive? How about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing demonstrated that destruction could also be conceptual art. According to Rauschenberg’s example, I narrowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when a thief broke into our studio and stole my computer and all the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed responsibility, he could have become the designer of a rare example of conceptual type — by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Koon- ing, which he obtained from his colleague for the ex- press purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 8 project is Bitfonts, computer code

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

8

project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font and interprets it in about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

1901 Neu-Deutsche Schriften und Ornamente, Genzch & Heyse, Hamburg

about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called

a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing demonstrated that destruction could also be conceptual art. According to Rauschenberg’s example, I narrowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when

a thief broke into our studio and stole my computer and all

the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed respon sibility, he could

have become the designer of a rare example of conceptual type — by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Koon- ing, which he obtained from his colleague for the ex- press purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitt’s statement ‘the idea becomes the machine that makes the art’ can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known

also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts, they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have

a greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do.

It makes sense then for designers themselves to reclaim this field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing demonstrated that destruction could also be conceptual art. According to Rauschenberg’s example, I nar- rowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when a thief broke into our studio and stole my computer and all the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed responsibility, he could have become the designer of a rare example of concep- tual type — by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Koon- ing, which he obtained from his colleague for the ex- press purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitt’s statement ‘the idea becomes the machine that makes the art’ can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts, they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have a greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do. It makes sense then for designers themselves to reclaim this field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font and interprets it in

tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font

9

1901 Neu-Deutsche Schriften und Ornamente, Genzch & Heyse, Hamburg

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitt’s statement ‘the idea becomes the machine that makes the art’ can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts, they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have a greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do. It makes sense then for designers themselves to reclaim this field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font and interprets it in multiple ways. By deciding to design the process rather than controlling the end result, Letterror embraced the possibilities of un- expected results. It is the machine that makes the type.

I’ll conclude with one of my current projects, for which the background idea is more interesting than the resulting forms. For centuries, art has been defined as something that gives rise to an aesthetic experience. Capturing beauty and avoid- ing ugliness were considered to be the prime responsibilities of the traditional artist. In this still untitled project I have tried to identify the most beautiful examples of typography known to mankind. I settled on a series of serif typefaces designed by Giambattista Bodoni in the late 18th century.

In the second step, I tried to identify the ugliest examples of type that we know. That was a bit more difficult, but finally the prize went to eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution. This reversed-contrast typeface was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention by defy- ing their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and strokes that were thin became thick — a dirty trick to make freakish letters that stand out in the increasingly saturated world of commercial messages.

This project (later released under the name Karloff) is not interesting because of the forms, which have been explored

interesting because of the forms, which have been explored before, but because it creates a tight

before, but because it creates a tight link between the two extremes, between the beauty and the ugliness. Time will tell if this project finds some suitable application, or whether it remains purely an aesthetic exercise, a ‘conceptual’ type.

Designing Type Systems

I remember a conversation from back in my student days

where my typophile friends and I debated what the ultimate typeface of the 20th century was, a typeface that summed up all of the era’s advancements and knowledge into a co- herent whole, one that would be a reference for years to come. Helvetica was one of the candidates for its sheer ubiq- uity, proof of its overall acceptance. Another, more subtle proposal was Jan van Krimpen’s Romulus, one of the first typefaces to have related Sans and Serif versions. And an- other, my personal pick, was Univers by Adrian Frutiger.

Univers goes beyond the quest to design individual letters, attempting instead to design space, to create a system of rela- tionships between different sets of shapes which share distinc- tive parameters. Prior to Univers, type designers concerned themselves with the relationships between letters of the same

set, how an 'a' is different from a 'b'. Univers creates a situation in which there are a’s of many different shapes, and each has to be positioned on the axes of weight and width, distributed suffi- ciently far away from the next, but no further, in order to create

a usable system. How heavy ought the Medium to be in order to

leave space for yet another weight, the Bold, and how will this translate into a design with condensed proportions? These were all new questions for type designers, and Frutiger opened up completely new territory for those who were to come after him.

Thanks to Frutiger it is now common practice to pro- duce a dozen or more styles when working on a new type family. In terms of typeface innovation there is much more room for originality than when you only look at the individual lettershapes. Thus to create truly useful new

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Thus to create truly useful new 10 Chapter 1: 1901–1908 11 works, type designers need to

works, type designers need to examine not only how char- acters relate to each other within a style, but also how different styles relate to each other within a family.

Gardener vs Architect

I’ve designed large typeface families before. Fedra, for example, now has over 116 individual styles supporting 170 languages, and has been used in the most complex typographic situa- tions from dictionaries to newspapers, Bibles and information graphics. But it is not really an example of a font designed to be a typographic system from the start. It started in 2001 as

a

relatively small family of Sans, and over the next 10 years

it

grew to include Serif, Monospaced, Condensed and Dis-

play styles, as well as different language versions. Fedra is an

example of a bottom to top approach, in which a relatively simple design gets larger and more complicated over time. Composer Brian Eno calls this the gardener’s approach:

nurturing simple things towards greater complexity, carefully planting seeds, and helping them grow to their full potential.

The opposite organising principle, again in Eno’s words, is the architect’s approach. An architect traditionally starts with a

concept, developing the complete idea first, working from top to bottom. History (2008) is an example of the architectural approach, in which each individual style contributes to a greater purpose, sharing proportions with the rest of the family.

History (2008) as an example of the ‘architectural’ ap- proach and Fedra (2001-2010) as an example of the ‘gardener’ approach to creating a type family.

Greta Sans is another example of this approach. It has been carefully planned from the outset, designed as a system of interrelated styles. From the very beginning, work pro- ceeded on multiple styles simultaneously; not only when sketching the extreme and middle styles on paper, but also when converting the resulting shapes into digital format, the emphasis was on testing how certain letterforms react to extremely compressed dimensions as well as very generous ones. Only after being tested at each end of the proposed spectrum would the designs be selected and adopted into the typeface family-to-be. Each glyph would have to anticipate all its variations and maintain a basic structure that could function across all designated width and weight variations.

1905 Germania, Aktiengesellschaft für schriftgieɮerei und Mashinenbau, Offenbach am Main

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12 Chapter 1: 1901–1908 13 1902 Nationale Ornamente , Hof- Schriftgiesserei Poppelbaum , Vienna Different design

1902 Nationale Ornamente, Hof- Schriftgiesserei Poppelbaum, Vienna

Different design masters were conceived and drawn at the same time, investigating how the same design characteris- tics would be translated into extreme weights and widths.

The Problem With the System

The nature of systems is to dictate a certain direction; the role of designers is to recognise when the original design idea ceases to work within the system, and then to create exceptions to the system rather than letting the system have a negative impact on the design. In large type families of related styles this impact is usually that while the starting point is usually characteristic and recognisable, the design becomes blander and less interesting as it is stretched across its variations. My intention was to design a highly flexible system while also ensuring that the resulting shapes were not just compromises, but maintained the strong personality of the Greta typeface.

Sketches from 1901:

planning the Greta Sans type system.

For example, at the lighter end of the weight axis, the cir- cular dot over ‘I’, (or in diacritics and punctuation) has to become a rectangle to avoid becoming too small. On the width axis, shapes would sometimes have to be modified even more dramatically: the double storey ‘g’ typical for Greta becomes a single storey ‘g’ in Compressed width, where the lack of space demanded greater simplification. Dollar and cent signs have full crossbars in the wider versions, but divided crossbars in the condensed versions. Dozens of other changes happen when taking the design to extreme dimensions, in order to maintain the general design char- acteristics and preserve the natural look of the shapes.

Some of the exceptions to the linear interpolation of the Greta Sans type system: dots change from circu- lar to rectangular; dollar signs lose their crossbars, and ‘g’ uses a single-storey form in Compressed widths.

While the Fedra Sans family was created from two design masters, Light and Bold, (Book, Demi and Medium were interpolated), Greta Sans’ 13 design masters were individual- ly designed, as were another 13 masters for italics, and all 26 included Small Caps. The masters (Hairline, Regular, Black), were interpolated and expanded to 10 weights. Four widths were imagined and implemented, resulting in 80 styles.

The process of drawing Greta Sans started in the middle of the imagined design space (1), and from there the extremes were explored (2). The idea was to adapt the design to the available proportions, while preserving the main design characteristics. When creating the design masters, we made the heavy weight as heavy as possible, even when those exact weights would not be used. It is easy to interpolate and make the Black weight lighter; making it heavier is complicated. This allowed us to keep the design space as large as possible (3), and reduce it later when we made the final selection of styles. We decided not to use the Compressed Black as a master, and stepped it down one weight. We also dropped extra-compressed styles. On the other hand, we added an extra weight to the Extended styles (Super), when we saw there was available space at that end of the spectrum.

Continuous Optical Sizes

In the earliest age of movable type, optical sizes became the main organising principle of typefaces. For example, Jannon’s caractères de l’Université from the 1530s include numerous optical versions ranging from 6 to 36 points, each slightly different. The design of the typeface would be reinterpreted at each given point size, often resulting in different weights, different proportions, different letter spacing. These differ- ent designs would blend into a harmonious size progression and function as one design. Optical sizes disappeared with the transition from hot metal press to photocomposition sometime in the 1950s. After about 50 years of neglect op- tical sizes have made a comeback, and many typefaces now come with versions specifically designed for text and display

applications. Optical sizes, however, represent a range of variations. In the old days, as in

applications. Optical sizes, however, represent a range of variations. In the old days, as in the Jannon example, type- faces would come in as many as 15 optical versions. All the in-between sizes progressively added or removed features, getting continuously darker and looser when meant for small sizes, or continuously lighter and tighter for large sizes. The word continuously is important here. There weren’t text or display versions as is common now. Each size was discretely adjusted for to maintain the characteristics of the typeface.

Jannon’s caractères de l’Université from the 1530s includes 15 optical versions ranging from 6 to 36 points. On the left is a 7pt sample scaled 425% to match the 36pt version. Note the difference in contrast between the thick and thin strokes, and overall differences in details between the two versions.

Greta Sans was designed as a continuous optical size system. While the basic text styles (Regular) are spaced and kerned for small sizes, the surrounding extremes (Hairline, Black) are designed to be used as Display types, and therefore tightly spaced and kerned. The resulting interpolation then runs continuously from Display to Text to Display use. A similar pattern (Extended, Condensed, Extended) can be

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

1927 Fette Koch Antiqua, Gebr Klingpor, Offenbach am Main

seen on the width axis, as the Normal styles are most suited for small text, and extremes are optimised for large sizes.

Design Space

While the key characteristics of most typefaces are defined by the outlines of the letterforms, Greta Sans’ design also extends to the gaps between styles. All its characteristics, including the visual contrast between styles, weights and widths have been orchestrated into a unified typeface system. Greta Sans explores the entire space of possibilities and is designed for extraordinary design flexibility. It is a toolbox that addresses a broad spectrum of design situations from the simplest to the most complex, offering multiple options for establishing a visual hierarchy.

Next

Greta’s Latin fonts set up some formal parameters, but the most exciting phases of this project are still to come. While such a versatile system of similar proportions is rare within the context of Latin typefaces, it is unheard of in the domain of non-Latin type. We intend to bring this system to a number of non-Latin styles planned for 2013–14. There is no reason why only Latin type should benefit from these advances in typography.

Type design competitions

Last autumn I was in Buenos Aires, where I sat on the jury for Letter2, a type design competition. Just like bukva:raz!, the first AtypI competition in 2001, Letter2 celebrates the best typefaces produced over the past decade. Out of 561 submitted entries the jury selected 53 that represent the previous decade based on their design excellence.

No sooner had the results been announced than the wheels of the font marketing machine rolled into action as some of the selected designers and foundries began to trumpet that their typefaces were among ‘the best of the decade’.

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1908 Behrens Antiqua, Gebr Klingpor, Offenbach am Main

their typefaces were among ‘the best of the decade’. 14 1908 Behrens Antiqua , Gebr Klingpor,

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 16 1906 Specimans of Wood-Letter , Harrild

1906 Specimans of Wood-Letter, Harrild and Sons, London

But ‘best of the decade’ is a somewhat problematic assertion because not all designers have an equal appetite for competi- tions. While some award-hungry designers actively seek out all kinds of contests and prizes, others simply ignore them. So the promise of ‘best of the decade’ is reduced to ‘best of the submissions’. And very often the submissions don’t include the highest quality work. For example, renowned author and type designer Fred Smeijers hasn’t participated in type competitions for almost 20 years. Gerard Unger, another celebrated Dutch type designer, enters competitions only rarely. Unger says, ‘I want younger designers to have a chance.’ And in fact these events typically include a disproportionately high number of young designers looking for recognition of their work.

Matthew Carter is designer whose work has received numer- ous awards, and FontBureau, the foundry which has released most of his fonts, sometimes submits them to competitions. But Carter himself says, ‘I have become less interested in competing with other type designers and more concerned with helping the acceptance of type design as something on a par with other forms of graphic and industrial design.’

František Štorm, an established Czech type designer gives a more pragmatic reason for avoiding competi- tions: ‘I simply have no time for it.’ But then he adds, ‘I do however feel that contests are for the young design- ers. Older designers that otherwise might clearly win them should find something more worthwhile to do.’

And finally, Peter Verheul, a Dutch designer of high profile type- faces, never sends his work to competitions, one reason being that the judging criteria are inherently vague. ‘there is no expla- nation why a typeface has been picked to become a winner,’ says Verheul. ‘I don’t really believe that a fair judgement is possible, given the different nature and diversity of the material to judge.’

Of course, one might say it is easy for recognised designers not to participate in contests; they have won them all already. However while the stated aim of the contest is to recognise type design professionals, almost a third of the selected projects are by non-professional designers entering their student projects.

So what is the value of these competitions? Do they rec- ognise talent and stimulate creation? Or is it just cheap marketing? And is there a viable alternative? Borrowing inspiration from such prestigious awards as the Turner Prize or the Nobel Prize, one could imagine replacing the call for entries with a committee of experts who would nom- inate the best work. But the type design profession is so small and insular, with no outside critics or curators, that assembling a committee of recognised experts would nec- essarily exclude a large percentage of possible contenders.

Type design competitions will likely remain problemat- ic as long as the type design community remains so small. Perhaps organisers should accept the fact that such com- petitions often fail to attract well-established profession- als, and focus their events on younger designers. Perhaps this emphasis on younger designers could include making the judging public, so that all can benefit from the jurors’ feedback. And perhaps we should all learn to take the pub- licised results of such competitions with a grain of salt.

What is Typography?

Before starting any discussion or argument it is useful to define the terminology and to make sure that the words which are used are generally understood. Typography is a craft has been practiced since the Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type. According to the latest Encyclopedia Britannica core definition of typography is that ‘typography is concerned with

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

Encyclopedia Britannica core definition of typography is that ‘typography is concerned with Chapter 1: 1901–1908 17

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the determination of the appearance of the printed page’. Other dictionaries, such as Collins English Dictionary from 2004 define the typography as ‘the art, craft or pro- cess of composing type and printing from it’. Understood this way, no typography was made before mid-15 century, as it is strictly linked to the invention of the Printing Type. Understood this way, digitally created letters that appear on an electronic screen also escapes this definition.

That is of course problem of definitions, which are not as flexible as the activities which they define. In the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, where I teach part time, most useful definition of typography comes from the long term teacher Gerrit Noordzij, saying that ‘typography is writing with prefabricated letters’. Unlike the dictionary definitions, this one is deliberately avoiding connecting typography to any specific medium, as they tend to change, yet the discipline continues evolving. Noordzij’s definition also implies a complete distinction from lettering, handwriting or graffiti, which are also concerned with creating letter-shapes, but don’t offer a repeatable system of setting these letters.

Digital technologies stimulated unprecedented possibili- ties which blur even most open definitions of typography. If repetition of shapes was the central concept of typog- raphy, many designers are working in ways that challenge this concept. OpenType fonts can include random features, which can simulate unpredictable behavior of handwriting, or simply present seemingly incoherent library shapes.

For the past year, I’ve been working with dancers from Neth- erlands Dance Theatre in The Hague on creating a tool which translates text into simple choreographies. User types a word in a typesetting-like application which plays back this word as an uninterrupted dance sequence where dancer’s body temporarily makes positions recognizable as letters.

Is this typography? Project like this, as many others using exist- ing digital possibilities seems not much worried about it, but use

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 18 typographic principles to create autonomous work
Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 18 typographic principles to create autonomous work

typographic principles to create autonomous work which cross boundaries of various disciplines. It seems that typography itself matured into a new creative discipline in which majority of typographers work in a way which is guided by historical understanding of the word, yet there is room for experimen- tation which explores the boundaries of the profession.

1902 Nationale Ornamente, Hof-Schriftgiesserei Poppelbaum, Vienna

In other disciplines, such debate is in fact a sign of new self-con- sciousness. Novelist Milan Kundera argues that a contempo- rary novel is no longer defined as a fictional narrative in prose, but can include various forms of writing: poetry, short-story, or interview. Kundera’s books include parts which are philo- sophical, political, comical, while still being firmly part of a novel. The ability to absorb these various forms is Kundera’s definition of novel. Similarly, larger understanding of typog- raphy, which is no longer defined by technology, but evolves with it, may open this discipline to new create endeavors.

with it, may open this discipline to new create endeavors. 1902 Proben, Schriftgießerei E.J. Genzsch, Offenbach

1902 Proben, Schriftgießerei E.J. Genzsch, Offenbach am Main

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

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A View of Latin Typography in Relationship to the World

It is generally acknowledged that it was Gutenberg who invented movable type printing in 1436. It is generally for- gotten that what is missing in that statement is the necessary qualifier “in Europe”. Thanks to the present-day dominance of Latin script we have largely forgotten that there are parallel histories outside of Europe, but the first recorded movable type system was more likely created in China around 1040 AD by Bi Sheng. His early type was made of wood, which was later abandoned in favour of baked clay, which produced smoother imprints. Unlike Latin script which uses 26 letters, Chinese script uses thousands of characters, making type composi- tion particularly complicated. Nevertheless, movable type has been in continuous use in China since the 11th century.

Elsewhere too, printing progressed. Choe Yun-ui, a Korean civil minister, made the transition from wood to metal mov- able type around 1230 AD. Metal movable type was also invented independently of the Koreans in China during the Ming Dynasty. During the Mongol Empire movable type moved further west. According to legend, Laurens Janszoon Coster, a respected citizen of Haarlem, could have been the first European to invent movable type, if the account present- ed by Hadrianus Junius is true. But the story is not widely believed, which brings us back to Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, who invented movable type a decade later. In Europe.

Even today, typography as a discipline continues to be plagued by a Euro-centric bias. If any of the major typogra- phy reference books are to be believed, the development of typography has generally been limited to Western Europe. In Type & Typography (2002), the otherwise excellent book by Phil Baines and Andrew Haslam, the authors make a note that the history of writing and the alphabet goes back thou- sands of years, but they do not elaborate more on this. It goes without saying that their history of typography is only the

history of Latin-based typography. Other books are even more blunt when it comes to the scope they cover. Classic volumes such as Updike’s obviously nationalistic Printing Type, first printed in 1922, or Harry Carter’s also already somewhat dated A View of Early Typography (1969) can be overlooked. But even recent books such Designing Type (2005) by Karen Cheng or A Typographic Workbook (2005) by Kate Clair & Cynthia Busic-Snyder don’t bother to mention that there is more to typography than Latin typography.

Most of the existing typographic classification systems also apply exclusively to Latin type. In catalogues of the tradi- tional type foundries such as French Imprimerie Nationale, the house of Garamont, Didot and Romain du Roi, typefaces other than Latin are referred as “Orientales”. Most contem- porary digital type foundries such as Monotype call these fonts “Non-Latin”. These terms certainly have rather colo- nial overtones, suggesting the idea of “the other”, describing foreign scripts in negative terms as “non-European”. In other disciplines, language and terminology have adjusted to the wider environment of the global village, reflecting the pro- gress that the society has made in the last couple of decades, and we no longer find a boxed set of paints with the name “flesh” given to a light beige color. Only typography contin- ues to display a shameless bias towards western civilization.

Some common type terminology is also inappropriate for typefaces which didn’t evolve in Western Europe. The term “Roman” is customarily used to describe serif typefaces of the early Italian Renaissance period. More recently, the term has also come to denote the upright style of typefaces, as opposed to the word “Italic”, which refers to cursive typefaces inspired by the handwriting of Italian humanists. Thus Linotype offers fonts called Sabon Greek Roman and Sabon Greek Italic, (de- signed by Jan Tchichold), based on 16th century models. But by using terminology which is typically associated with Latin type and evokes the history of Italian typography, Linotype makes a careless statement. “Greek Roman” and “Greek Italic”

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are contradictions in terms, mixing two very different histo- ries. Such slanted versions of Greek or Cyrillic types should properly be described in more technical terms such as inclined, oblique, or cursive. Roman and Italic suggest that the Greek version has been Latinised, borrowing too much not only of the terminology but also of the formal characteristics of Latin type, ignoring the rich Greek traditions of typography.

The news is not all bad, however. Recent changes in technology such as the introduction of the Unicode system and Open- Type font format have inspired type designers to consider the previously overlooked domain of “non-Latin” typography. It is estimated that in the last decade, more Greek fonts were created than in the entire preceding century. Books such as Language, Culture, Type (2002) have been published, promoting cultur- al pluralism, admitting that English and the Latin alphabet account for only one segment of global communications today. (According to 2006 Encarta statistics, the number of native English speakers is less than the number of native Hindi and Arabic speakers, and roughly one-third the number of native Chinese speakers.) Such books are very important because they also present models for alphabets less explored than the Latin one, and offer a comprehensive history of their use.

Latin one, and offer a comprehensive history of their use. In his concise book, The Solid

In his concise book, The Solid Form of Language (2004), Robert Bringhurst proposes a new classification system of world’s various written languages and scripts. This approach promotes a consciously inclusive approach to typography, and considers the whole history of hu- manity and its relationship to script and meaning.

The new possibilities are exciting for designers working with “non-Latin” type. There is a modest interest in Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, or Indic scripts, and even type design com- petitions have responded to the new situation by creating special categories. The new development is also good news even for designers working exclusively with Latin typog- raphy: while we might think that most of the possibilities

of Latin type have been explored, traditions of typography from Greece, the Middle East, India and elsewhere can help

us to rediscover how we understand Latin type today.

In search of a comprehensive type design theory

Have you ever heard a conversation between two type design- ers? Even the most patient, well-intentioned outsider might find himself smiling embarrassedly, excusing himself and looking for an exit, dumbfounded. Type designers, like computer pro- grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural scientists are marked by an unintelligible jargon and slavish devotion to their pursuits; what sets them apart, however, is the seeming unimportance of their discussions. We type design- ers might be convinced that our profession is vital to society, but we wouldn’t risk going on strike to test how indispensable we really are. Like printer cartridges or pen refills, fonts are undoubtedly very practical and serve their function, but the public seems to take them for granted and largely ignores them.

Writing about fonts is equally difficult as talking about them. Articles on type design rarely appear outside the realm of the trade magazines, probably because of their highly technical nature. (The development of type has always been inextrica- bly connected to the development of printing technology.) Writing about type and typography in the mainstream media is somewhat of a rarity even in the Netherlands, a country which is renowned for its highly-developed typographic culture, not to mention other countries where type design is still waiting for any sort of recognition. Yet searching through the past year’s issues of The New York Times reveals a surprising half dozen articles on typography, and even weekly satirical paper The Onion, carried an article on type, ‘Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys’, thus confirming the public’s interest in type design. (Of course, this article, which reports on the winner of a fictional annual font award, appeared next to other ‘news’

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

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1906 Fragmente zur Reklameschrift Negativ, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

‘news’ Chapter 1: 1901–1908 21 1906 Fragmente zur Reklameschrift Negativ , Gebr Klingspor , Offenbach am

like ‘Sheepish Secret Service Agent Can’t Explain How Vacuum Cleaner Salesman Got Into Oval Office’, which perhaps gives us a better perspec- tive of the general public’s true level of concern in matters related to type.)

What is there to discuss about fonts for the outsider? Legibility studies have caused utter confusion even within the ranks of type designers. Aesthetic or interpretive evaluations of type are vague at best, and as far as functionality is concerned, every designer insists that his fonts work the best. All of which only leads to a larger question: how can we define criteria for good fonts? The French type designer Jean-François Porchez responds:

‘the only criterion I rely on is simple: a good typeface fits the need of the subject.’ This rather ambiguous answer points to the problem: how can a type designer design a typeface when he is not in control of the subject? Does it mean that we need to have an endless library of typefaces to fit an endless number of subjects? Can a particular typeface perform better than another particular typeface? The lack of clear values is dangerous, and together with the predominantly technical nature of the discussion, hinders typography in receiving the proper attention that is regularly given to other art forms.

It may seem that some kind of theory would help to facilitate discussion; after all, every self-respecting discipline has one, even obscure treatises such as Ludology Theory or Theory of

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Honest Signaling present comprehensive systems of accepted knowledge which are distinct from actual practice and help to explain some domain of inquiry. A theory can elevate the level of discussion as well as formulate the frame for such discussion. Type design, however, seems to resist attempts to establish an encompassing theory by its very nature. Type design is not an intellectual activity, but relies on a gesture of the person and his ability to express it formally. Even if a theory existed, it would not be very useful, since type design is governed by practice. There might be detailed ‘How to’ instructions, but those do not qualify as general or abstract principles for creating type. Dictionary definitions of ‘font’ usually refer to the printing process, and although type is reproduced by other means as well, the essence of type is in its ability to be reproduced. Fonts are essentially modest semi-products; they don’t have much meaning until they are used. And although type foundries and distributors often attach adjectives to fonts before they are used, in reality new typefaces are like blank sheets of paper. They can be used to represent anything, and just as paper manufacturers cannot control what is printed on their paper, so type designers can hold no responsibility for what their fonts are used to communicate. This is not to say that font choices are purely arbitrary, but rather that fonts acquire meaning only through use, and that we judge fonts not only according to how they fit into the existing nomenclature of font classi- fication, but by how they refer to our previous experiences.

So far, I have deliberately been focusing on the appearance of type, thus running the risk of separating the design processes involved in type development from the technical processes in- volved in production. But hopefully we have learned something from the valuable lesson of the British Arts & Crafts movement, which centered precisely on the impossibility of detaching design from craft. Design is an inseparable element of the quality of type, however the function of typefaces must also be considered and respected. Through mastering proportions, bal- ance and optical corections, the type designer can achieve his

and optical corections, the type designer can achieve his 1907 Kalender Vignetten , J. G. Schelter

1907 Kalender Vignetten, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

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designer can achieve his 1907 Kalender Vignetten , J. G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Chapter
designer can achieve his 1907 Kalender Vignetten , J. G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Chapter
designer can achieve his 1907 Kalender Vignetten , J. G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Chapter
designer can achieve his 1907 Kalender Vignetten , J. G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Chapter

aim, be it improved legibility, historical accuracy or originality of expression. In the end, most of the existing discussion of type chronicles the problem-solving aspect of typography. This also explains how many successful typefaces were created: they were creative solutions to existing design or technological problems.

But frankly, the fonts presented in our type collection solve no problems. There were no problems to begin with. One could go so far as to suggest that the primary motivation for making these fonts was the same as for making any art: the urge to create, to express oneself. While discussing typography amongst the general public is a relative rarity today, there seems to be a moderately increasing interest in typography among the general public. (I recently spoke with a writer, a confessed typophile who studies the anatomy of typefaces late into the night.) This interest in type can perhaps be attributed to a new level of self-consciousness, our attempt to understand even the smallest building blocks of our existence. Just as the purpose of DNA analysis is to identify the location and function of every human gene, so the study of typefaces can be seen as an attempt to understand the formal appearance of the smallest unit of the written word. And just as skeptics of human genome research argue that studying DNA will not shed any light on the true nature of human behavior, so studying type may not reveal anything about real communication. Still, an informed discussion of this often marginalized field may help to focus the attention of the professionals and inspire the general public.

Dutch type design

The Netherlands is a small country with some 15 million inhabitants. It is flat, and has no geographical particularities. It is situated on the western border of Germany, the north of France and Belgium, and the east of England across the North Sea. As a comparatively small country, the Dutch people have always felt the influence of surrounding countries. If they attempted to be a part of international styles, they risked dissolving the national characteristics of the small nation.

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

On the other hand, if they tried to stay untouched by foreign influence and keep to themselves, they could easily fall into provincialism. However, they have succeeded in creating one of the most remarkable and outstanding cultures.

The homeland of Piet Mondriaan, Theo van Doesburg, Gerrit Rietveld and Piet Zwart now produces designs of the highest abstraction—designs of letters. “Holland today has more type designers per capita than any other country in the world, a remarkable fact considering that there is now not one surviving Dutch type foundry,” says Gerard Unger, one of the most important typographers in Holland. Unger, a very active typeface designer and lecturer, stands somewhere between the classic typeface designers and the experimental ones. Among Unger’s work are the typeface for the Amster- dam Metro, Demos, Praxis, ITC Flora designed for Hell company, Amerigo and Oranda for Bitstream, and his latest drawings include the newspaper faces Swift and Gulliver.

According to Unger, this has to do with the low-lying land and cool skies of the Netherlands. “Hollander is one of my designs to reflect the inescapable Dutch horizon. The hori- zontal parts of the curves are stretched, the resultant gentle arches combining with the large serifs to assist the letters in joining visually to make words and lines,” describes Unger the typeface that follows the best traditions of Dutch typography.

Is it possible that the physical character of the landscape forms characteristics of graphic design? For the answer to this question we go back to the beginning of the century. While most of Europe accepted “Art Nouveau” as the “last international-spread art movement” that influenced archi- tecture, craft, and fine arts, the Dutch rejected Art Nouveau as frivolous. Dutch artists considered themselves pragmatic and realistic. Thus, they rather turned themselves towards conventional realism that later evolved into abstraction.

Forty years ago, the Dutch society was still solidly bourgeois, puritanical and strongly influenced by religion. It is the change

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after the second world war from a politically neutral country to an active member of transatlantic and European alliances that had far-reaching cultural effects. It totally changed the Dutch perception of their own nationality, and revised the traditional Dutch values. From a very religious country the Netherlands developed into one of the most liberal societies in the world. Life in the Netherlands became much more open and hedonistic oriented. The prosperity of the nation in the 60s also helped to create a mood of great expectation; instead of looking abroad for models, the Dutch understood the advantages of being themselves. No, this was not a sudden turn in the history of the nation; the Dutch stayed as they have always been, open towards international developments.

It is very unlikely that the countryside (even though it is

so remarkable in its flatness) is the only determinant of art development in the Netherlands, although it is undoubtedly

a source of inspiration for Dutch artists. Holland has always

been an unusually tolerant place. It is the place with many political parties, many different views and opinions. Individ- uality here is a very important element. It seems that with the world-wide availability of graphic software, the nation- al characteristics of graphic design and typography would disappear. How is it possible that there is such a phenomenon as “Dutch design” in today’s international style? And, what are the characteristics of Dutch design? Reading the art history books, I can say that realism, sobriety, outspokenness, clari- ty, moral integrity, and social responsibility were frequently marked as typical Dutch virtues. But these characteristics do not in themselves define style. And even if they did, the same qualities are related to Modernism (International style), another movement that didn’t influence Holland very much. The Dutch found their own interpretation of Modernism.

Gerard Unger in his essay Dutch landscape with letters wrote:

‘the national character is only one of the components needed for a recognizable style of type design. The chief elements of style are the product not merely of the country, region or city

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

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1909 Salzmann Schriften, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

the country, region or city Chapter 1: 1901–1908 25 1909 Salzmann Schriften , J. G. Schelter
in which the designer happens to live, they are also molded by his own personal
in which the designer happens to live, they are also molded by his own personal
in which the designer happens to live, they are also molded by his own personal

in which the designer happens to live, they are also molded by his own personal qualities and the age in which he works.’ Maybe a foreign observer can better describe what is hard to see for the Dutch themselves. Erik Spiekermann, a German typographer, puts it like this: “All the Dutch type designs I know, even the historical ones, have a vertical oval as one of their basic shapes. They are narrow compared with French designs like the types of Excoffon, which are actually broader at the top than they are at the bottom. Clarity and openness and high contrast are also clearly identifiable characteris- tics in Dutch types. The clarity and openness are part of the construction and contrast in, say, the alternation of rounded and angular forms. The structure is always clearly visible in the work of Dutch designers. The Dutch are more concerned with the structure, the basic shape. You can follow the syntax of the design process—the design can be understood im- mediately. At the same time they are also sophisticated.”

There is too much of it. Contemporary Dutch design can be stylish and eclectic, inventive and trains-historical, sys- tematic and non-functional, provocative and convention- al, conceptual and random, pragmatic and nonsensical, witty and stiff, anarchic and traditional and it still keeps its characteristics; it is still so Dutch. It fluctuates between rigid logic and total senselessness. In other words, there is no style of Dutch design. Or, in the words of designer Max Kisman, the style of Dutch design “is style of styles. There is pluriformity which is unique to Holland.”

Kisman pioneered the use of computers in 1977, when he was the first designer to create stamps for the postal/telecommu-

nications services PTT on an Amiga computer. Kisman is also known for his belief that legibility is a code that depends on the impressions, rhythm, and expression of symbols which may or may not be letters. Kisman has become increasingly skeptical of designing new type, and since 1992 hasn’t de- signed any new fonts. “Because my angle is shifted I am less interested in type. There is so much of that stuff and I wonder what I could add which hasn’t been done before. Too much I see now is somehow related to what I did years ago. Of course, I recognize some very good designs but to me the revolution is over and repetition began a while ago. There is no meaning in type design, all is decoration. Everyone can do what some- one else is doing. Type design becomes an average taste to express a general life style. Type is available anywhere at any time. Concepts of type are available anywhere at any time. Like the jersey you wear or the shoe you choose. Nothing more, nothing less. All this fuzz about type becomes a bit irrelevant, I think sometimes. Of course, it’s a big industry, a lot is involved, many typographical magazines appear, lots of students are waiting to bring in something new. This massive run on type is an escape from an essential question. Wheth- er graphic design will survive or not. And if so, how? More important at this moment is to redefine graphic design.”

1908 Liturgisch, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

While in 1989 Gerard Unger could say that “Dutchmen are a folk for text types, not headlines,” today he admits that young designers have proved otherwise. One of the most prolific contemporary type designers is the duo Letterror, formed by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum. At the ages of 24/25, they designed their revolutionary Randomfonts. Since then, they have produced many best-selling typefaces. In the short

1908 Kalender Vignetten, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

typefaces. In the short 1908 Kalender Vignetten , J.G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

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time of 4 years they created 17 typeface families published by FontShop International, excluding their

time of 4 years they created 17 typeface families published by FontShop International, excluding their font contributions for Brody’s FUSE project. Beowolf, their first randomfont, is the typeface that for inspiration goes somewhere to pre-Gutenberg time. Instead of the traditional system of writing—repeating of graphical forms that become visually so unobtrusive that they are virtually invisible, Letterror developed a special technol- ogy that allows the random changing of letters. Randomfont technology generates each letter separately and differently. No two letters are the same. For instance, if you type two “A’s” in row and print them, they look different depending on the level of randomness you choose. This new invention is not limited only to changing letterforms. “We could change typographic awareness of computer users around the world by creating a font virus that would slowly transform every Helvetica into something much more desirable—the Post-modern typog- rapher’s revenge, or we could create letters that would wear out through frequent use, combined with a feature that uses up certain often used letters.” Van Blokland and van Rossum devoted their research to humanizing type design. “A font that does not work overtime” and “a font that adds typos” go

not work overtime” and “a font that adds typos” go to the extreme in their attempts

to the extreme in their attempts to add “the human quality” to computer typography. They believe that the computer can

bring back subtleties that were lost during type evolution due economic considerations. “Recognition does not come from simple repetition of the same form, but it is something more

intelligent, something that happens in our minds

ness and change can add new dimensions to print work”

Random-

The experiments of the Letterror duo certainly have a great potential. We can add some data to a digital typeface, and it can act very intelligently. It may adjust its shape according the form of medium we are using it in, change its contour according to its size and relation with color background.

The Netherlands has 13 design schools. Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum, Peter Verheul, Martin Majoor, Peter Mat- thias Noordzij, (Luc)as de Groot, Evert Bloemsma, Fred Smeijers, are all their recent graduates, and already interna- tionally recognized ones. Most of them emerged from The Art Academy in Arnhem and the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague (Gerrit Noordzij and Petr van Blokland teach in The Hague). None of the above mentioned ty-

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1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

The Hague). None of the above mentioned ty- 28 1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente , J. G.

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The Hague). None of the above mentioned ty- 28 1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente , J. G.

pographers gave me the opportunity to summarize what “the Dutch style” is. My hope is that even in a new united Europe, where things are going to get all mixed up, the Dutch personal creativity will prevail.

Experimental typography. Whatever that means.

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography, experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘To experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implicit disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by creating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response.

In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothe- sis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others can build. It requires all measurements to be made ob- jectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action.

An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how.

transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. A scientific approach
transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how. A scientific approach

A

scientific approach to experimentation, however, seems

to

be valid only in a situation where empirical knowledge is

applicable, or in a situation where the outcome of the experi- ment can be reliably measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure

reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Rad- ical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized design- ers to define their understandings of the term experiment.

As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: ‘experimental typography does not exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulat- ed by the American designer David Carson: ‘experimental is something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest that

the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result. There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that

to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient

for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach — today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty

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1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions. This is directly op- posed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base of knowledge. In science

a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design ex-

periment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist

against the background of other — conventional — solutions.

In this sense, it would be impossible to experiment if one were the only designer on earth, because there would be no stand- ard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional. If more designers joined forces and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, and the former convention would become anti-conventional. The fate of such experimentation

is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular,

cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom.

Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the abili- ty to communicate. Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibil- ity while physically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to conventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Minis- cule becomes an abstract reduction of the alphabet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon

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the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning

of the 20th century. The practical

contribution of both projects is limited, since the reading process

is still guided by the physical

limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-March- and and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions.

The second dominant notion of experiment in The Typographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Worthington, a British

designer and educator based in the USA: ‘True experimenta- tion means to take risks.’ If taken literally, such a statement is

of little value: immediately we would ask what is at stake and

what typographers are really risking. Worthington, however,

is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact

outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged.

A similar definition is offered by the E.A.T. (Experiment And

Typography) exhibition presenting 35 type designers and typographers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which coincidentally will arrive in the Netherlands shortly. Alan Záruba and Johanna Balušková, the curators of E.A.T. put their focus on development and process when describing the concept of the exhibition: ‘the show focuses on projects which document the development of designers’ ideas. Attention is

paid to the process of creating innovative solutions in the field

of type design and typography, often engaging experimen-

tal processes as a means to approach unknown territory.’

An experiment in this sense has no preconceived idea of the outcome; it only sets out to determine a cause-and-ef- fect relationship. As such, experimentation is a method of working which is contrary to production-oriented design,

1908 Schriften und Zierat, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

und Zierat , J.G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Type: A visual history of typeface &

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

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where the aim of the process is not to create something new, but to achieve an already known, pre-formulated result.

Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language. The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape.

Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project. Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ’an exercise in perception, a stim- ulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-di- mensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font.

Although this kind of experimental process has no com- mercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilat- ed, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosi- ty, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it

was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which are recog- nized separately but rarely combined. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly inter- ested in spoken languages and in the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, however, venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken language. Typographers on the other hand are con- cerned with the appearance of type in print and other repro- duction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent.

These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media.

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to 16 characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud return- ing the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading.

Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms be- cause it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that

it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly
it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly
it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly

Quantange would be particularly useful

to foreign students of French or to actors and

presenters who need to articulate the inflectional aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold.

Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he

designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of

Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on

record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s type- faces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited,

yet like the other presented examples of experiments in

typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field.

Although most of the examples shown here are marked by the recent shift of interest of European graphic design from forms to ideas, and the best examples combine both, there is

no definitive explanation of what constitutes an experiment

in typography. As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of experimentation and become aware of its moving boundaries.

History of a new font (notes on designing Fedra Serif)

Type design, like many disciplines, has often been driven by technology. Each wave of technological change in printing provoked the development of new approaches enabled by the new possibilities. In the eighteenth century, for example, new typefaces exploited innovations in papermaking and improved inking techniques to greatly increase the contrast between letters’ thick and thin strokes. The introduction of pantographic punch- and matrix-cutting in the late nine-

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles Top – 1912 Zeuner , J.G.
Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles Top – 1912 Zeuner , J.G.

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

Top – 1912 Zeuner, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

Bottom – 1912 Scheift, D. Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main

teenth century enabled numerous variations of a typeface to be manufactured from a single drawing. This understanding of the mechanical scaling of forms changed the idea of the alphabet; it was now a flexible system, resulting in a vast range of typographic variants — compressed, expanded, extruded, ad infinitum. In the mid-twentieth century the adoption of photocomposition systems meant that spacing and kerning could be adjusted with greater precision; among the many novelties that photo technology enabled, more fonts simu- lating connected handwriting were developed. And most recently the personal computer spurred a wave of new fonts based on previously unexplored motives, such as modularity or randomness. With each of these technological changes, typeface libraries were updated to reflect the changes.

Type designers are very fond of the problems imposed by the technology. They work in a discipline where re- strictions and conventions define the frame of work. A problem is the type designer’s muse, and in the last dec- ades we were blessed by enough problems to solve.

While working on the typeface to be called Charter, Matthew Carter was confronted with a peculiar technical problem. Early computers were not able to process font files over a certain kilobyte limit, so Carter quickly offered a solution: a typeface that would consist mainly of straight lines, thereby keeping the file size small by limiting the number of points needed to construct the letters. Proudly he claimed to the technicians, ‘I think I solved your problem…’ ‘What problem?’ the technicians asked; an even quicker fixing of the comput- er’s limitations would render Carter’s ‘solution’ useless.

Seeing type design solely as a problem-solving exercise is limiting, reducing type design to a response mechanism – a craft detached from its own history. When the idea of cul- tural progress is supplanted by technological progress, the more implicit motives of type design, such as continuity or self-awareness are neglected. Solving a particular technological

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problem is only a short detour in history’s path. Solving all the technical problems would mean the end of the type history, but this history can itself be the prime inspiration for new designs.

Carter, alongside many of the great punch-cutters, designers, and printers, has participated in the sequence of discoveries, summed up - for the sake of comprehensibility - as History. They contributed to the History of the profession by respond- ing to current situations. Their aim was not to reinvent the existing, but to reveal an unknown aspect of the art itself. Typefaces designed to fulfill the needs of their times contrib- ute their small part to the knowledge accumulated across the centuries; not necessarily by inventing anything revolution- ary, but by extending and adapting collective knowledge to contemporary conditions. The spirit of continuity is crucial:

each new creation is an answer to what has come before and each new typeface contains accumulated knowledge.

So: contemporary type design is necessarily histori- cal. Typefaces are results of the processes, they are re- sponses to the conditions in which they were created, and they immediately take a part in the history.

On the other hand, revivals, or typefaces teleporting their inspirations from concluded periods of time, are unre- lated to contemporary demands. They discontinue the series of inventions, becoming a game of pastiche, merely repeating what has already been created. Revival typefac- es are, then, ahistorical, as they place themselves outside their natural history. They create their short-lived par- allel histories and fail to participate in the big story.

History has been gravely abused, and an excuse for many misdemeanors, but it always outlasts those who tried to abuse it. History’s only enemy is the end of the progress. Repeating what has already been created closes the circle of discoveries. The value of understanding history as an infinite source of accumu- lated knowledge is manifest in the intangible processes as much as the tangible results. The history is driven by intellectual

Top – 1914 Jacoby-Boys Bracour, Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main

Bottom – 1914 Jacoby-Boys Bracour, D. Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

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, Frankfurt am Main Bottom – 1914 Jacoby-Boys Bracour , D. Stempel AG , Frankfurt am
, Frankfurt am Main Bottom – 1914 Jacoby-Boys Bracour , D. Stempel AG , Frankfurt am

pursuits. Most historical discoveries are the isolated discoveries of introvert individuals rather then mainstream technologies.

The Austrian writer Herman Broch, author of a number of formally inventive and intellectually ambitious novels, used to repeat this mantra: ‘the sole raison d’être of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover’. My con- clusion is equally optimistic: the purpose of type design is to explore its own possibilities by its own means.

Beauty and Ugliness in Type design

In 2010 I was invited to a design conference in Copenhagen to speak on the subject of conceptual type. The organisers were interested in examples of typefaces whose principal design fea- ture was not related to aesthetic considerations or legibility, but rather some underlying non-typographical idea. In my address I argued that there is no such thing as conceptual type, since type design is a discipline defined by its ability to execute an outcome; the process that transforms the pure idea into a func- tional font is a critical part of the discipline. Having rejected the topic of the conference, I nevertheless went on to speculate on what a true example of a conceptual typeface might be like.

At the time I was also interested in the idea of irreconcila- ble differences and how two extremes could be combined into a coherent whole. As an example, I looked for the most beautiful typeface in the history of typography — as well as the ugliest one — and for a way to meld them.

The Beauty

While any choice representing beauty is bound to be very personal and subjective, many agree that the high-con- trast typefaces created by Giambattista Bodoni and the Didot clan are some of the most beautiful in existence.

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Bodoni was one of the most widely-admired printers of his time and considered amongst the finest in the history of the craft. Thomas Curson Hansard wrote in 1825 that Bodoni’s types had “that beautiful and perfect appearance, which we find it difficult and highly expensive to equal”. In his Manu- ale Tipografico of 1818, Bodoni laid down the four principles of type design “from which all beauty would seem to pro- ceed”, namely: regularity, clarity, good taste, and charm.

His close competitors in France were the Didots. Not only did François-Ambroise Didot invent many of the machines used in printing, but his foundry endeavoured to render the types more beautifully than his rivals Baskerville and (later) Bodoni. Some considered Didot’s works the most beautiful types that had ever been used in France (up to that period), though others found them delicate but lifeless.

The Ugliness

I have to admit that dealing with ugliness was a lot more interesting than revisiting the beauty contests of the classi- cist printers. The search for ugliness triggers a certain primal, voyeuristic curiosity, and from the designer’s perspective there is simply a lot more space to explore. Capturing beauty has always been considered the primary responsibility of the traditional artist, and even now it is rare to find exam- ples of skilled and deliberate ugliness in type design, (al- though examples of inexperience and naivetÉ abound).

The eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution was a clear choice. This reversed-contrast type- face was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention by defying their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and vice versa — a dirty trick to create freakish letterforms that stood out in the in- creasingly saturated world of commercial messages.

1908 Schriften und Zierat, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

creasingly saturated world of commercial messages. 1908 Schriften und Zierat , J.G. Schelter & Giesecke ,

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1908 Schriften und Zierat, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

und Zierat , J.G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig No other style in the history of

No other style in the history of typography has provoked such negative reactions as the Italian. It was first presented in Caslon & Catherwood’s 1821 type specimen, and as early as 1825, in his Typographia Thomas Hansard called the type a “typograph- ic monstrosity”. Nicolete Gray called it “a crude expression of the idea of perversity” , while others labeled it as “degenerate.”

The goal of my project was to show just how closely relat- ed beauty and ugliness are. Donald Knuth, an American computer scientist with a special interest in typography identified over 60 visual parameters that control the ap- pearance of a typeface. I was interested in designing type- face variations that shared most of these parameters, yet included both the ugliest and most beautiful letterforms.

Karloff, the result of this project, connects the high con- trast Modern type of Bodoni and Didot with the mon-

strous Italians. The difference between the attractive and repulsive forms lies in a single design parameter, the contrast between the thick and the thin.

I asked Pieter van Rosmalen for help, and both of us

worked on both versions. While at the beginning I looked at the Didot from Imprimerie Nationale as a reference, Pieter departed from this model and made the project more personal. We worked on both models at the same time, trying to be very strict about mathematically re- versing the contrast between two weights. The advantage of working on both versions together was that we could adjust both of them to achieve the best forms, rather than creating one as an afterthought of the other.

Towards the end of the project, I worked with Nikola Djurek, our frequent collaborator, who helped with inter- polation and fine-tuning of the fonts. Having designed two diametrically opposite versions, we undertook a genet- ic experiment with the offspring of the beauty and the beast, interpolation of the two extremes, which produced

a surprisingly neutral low contrast version. Karloff Neu-

tral required only minimal intervention, because the master

weights from which it was interpolated were well defined.

The history of History

Type design, like many disciplines, has often been driven by technology, each wave of change in printing technology provoking the development of new approaches to design. In the eighteenth century, for example, innovations in paper- making and inking techniques inspired new typefaces with much higher contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the characters. The introduction of pantographic punch- and matrix-cutting in the late nineteenth century enabled numer- ous variations of a typeface to be manufactured from a single drawing, transforming typefaces into flexible systems with vast ranges of typographic variants. In the mid-twentieth

1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

century the adoption of photocomposition systems meant that spacing and kerning could be adjusted with greater precision, inspiring (among other things) the development of more fonts simulating handwriting. Most recently, the personal computer has spurred a wave of new fonts based on previously unexplored motifs, such as modularity or random chance.

Seeing type design solely as a problem-solving exercise is limiting, however, reducing type design to a response mecha- nism‚ a craft detached from its own history. When the idea of cultural progress is supplanted by technological progress,

cultural progress is supplanted by technological progress, Chapter 1: 1901–1908 the less obvious motifs of type

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

the less obvious motifs of type design such as continuity or self-awareness are neglected. Solving a particular technological problem is only a short detour in history’s path. Solving all the technical problems would mean the end of type history, but this history can itself be the prime inspiration for new designs.

The History type system was in development longer than any other project I ever worked on. Its beginnings can be traced to the early 1990’s when I experimented with decorative layering systems inspired by 19th century types, trying to dissect Tuscan typefaces into their structural components.

While most historians and designers regard this period with horror, and many history books call the typefaces decadent or regressive, I found Tuscans very charming and inspirational. I started drawing a layering font that incor- porated the possibilities of Tuscan types, but because of technological limitations, I never completed the project.

Years later (2002) the project took a new twist as I worked on

a proposal for the Twin Cities typeface. Instead of proposing

one new typeface for St.Paul and Minneapolis, I presented the idea of a typeface system inspired by the evolution of typography, a conceptual typeface that reused existing fonts.

I called this proposal ‘History’. A user would select ‘History’ from the font menu, not knowing what font would be used. History would be linked with the computer’s calendar and with a predefined database of fonts, presenting a different font every day. For example, one day it would use the forms of Garamond, but the next day when you opened the same document, the font would change and present the text in a new typeface, say Granjon, that was created later than Gara- mond. The idea was that the constant changes would confront the user with the continuous development of typography.

And finally around 2004 I started working more intensively

on a system of layering letterforms that could be recombined.

I kept adding new styles, and because every style had to use

the same proportions as the previous one so that they would

39

40

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

41

40 Chapter 1: 1901–1908 41 work together, it was getting increasingly more complicated to draw them.

work together, it was getting increasingly more complicated to draw them. The danger was that this could be a never-ending project, and I could keep adding more and more styles, which would take more and more time to incorporate. In 2008, I finally decided to limit the number of styles to 21. It was an arbitrary decision, but I liked the number, as it reflected the 21 centuries of typographic history encompassed by the project.

Based on a skeleton of Roman inscriptional capitals, Histo- ry includes 21 layers, 21 independent typefaces which share widths and other metric information so that they can be recombined. Thus History has the potential to generate an infinite number of unique styles through the superimposition of layers encompassing humanist renaissance, transitional, baroque, script-like, early grotesque, 19th century vernacular and digital types. While careless use can generate freakish results resembling Frankenstein’s monster, more careful experimentation can produce not only amusing, but surpris- ingly fresh and usable typeface samples. With History, one can replicate typographic history or, on the other hand, extend it. For example, you can take a hairline skeleton of letters inspired by Roman inscriptional capitals from year 80 AD (layer 1), dress it up with a high contrast of thick and thin strokes as Bodoni used in his work (layer 3), and finally apply 18th century ultra thin serifs (layer 10) to emulate the style typical of the

thin serifs (layer 10) to emulate the style typical of the work of Didot and Bodoni.

work of Didot and Bodoni. Or you can take a low contrast model of letters with oblique stress (layer 2) and combine it with bracketed serifs derived from a broad nib pen (layer 8) to end up with letters reminiscent of Nicolas Jenson’s Roman from 1470. Making approximations of historical typefaces is instructional, but not very interesting, (and frankly, one should use real Didot or real Jenson typefaces); it is far more interesting to extend history and mix styles which historically have not co-existed. Take, for instance, bitmap letterforms found in early low-resolution computer screens (layer 7), and combine them with the thin serifs of Bodoni (layer 10) to get something unexpected. And add the swooshes found in 15th century humanist calligraphy (layer 17) to top it off.

Realising that controlling 21 different layers can be a daunting task, I proposed to supply not just the 21 font files, but also the History Remixer application. This web-based software pro- cesses text input through an interface which allows the user to work with the layers, activating, deactivating, arranging, setting colour, and luminosity. The application generates an open PDF file which one can then fine tune in Illustrator or some other programme. Using the Remixer is fun, but playing with History in InDesign, although is much more work, is probably more enjoyable because unexpectedly fresh letterforms result. One can happen across new possibilities, and this game of discov-

1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

ery was one of the important reasons why I did this project.

I chose ‘History’ as a deliberately irreverent, cheeky

name, but by no means intended it to be disrespectful. It is mostly a direct reference to the fact that I embraced no single point in the past, but rather a very large part of history of typography. My sincere intention was to par- ticipate in the sequence of typographic discoveries and allow the user to actively engage in this process as well.

I should acknowledge some sources of inspiration behind

this project. Of course the history of typography was the primary inspiration. In addition, however, there are some works which were particularly inspiring to me at the time. The ‘polyhistorical’ model of Milan Kundera’s Immortality

provided the theoretical foundation of the project in the way

it mixes personalities of the past and present, describing an

imaginary dialogue between, say, the German poet Goethe (1749-1832) and the American novelist Hemingway (1899- 1961), even though those two could never really have met.

But there are also some precedents in the history of typogra- phy that allowed me to explore the area of multiform works. Oswald Cooper’s experiments from 1936, which involved applying 15 serifs applied to stems of similar weight to test their influence in letter design, was of particular interest.

And more recently, Matthew Carter’s typeface for Walker Art Center opened my eyes to new possibilities. I should also mention other useful experiments, such as the early manifestation of Multiple Master technology documented in typefaces such as Adobe’s Penumbra designed in 1994 by Lance Hidy. With the use of Multiple Master, Penumbra can continuously change from sans serif to fully serifed.

Some reviews and user responses suggest that History is more of an educational tool than a functional typeface system. Yes, surely one can use it to explain and explore the constructions of Roman letterforms, but I still would like to emphasise

the practical aspect of the system. I sincerely hoped, but couldn’t predict, that fonts would be used commercially.

Running a type foundry for a decade, I’ve learnt that though

our clients are often extremely creative professionals, they don’t have time to learn too many new things, and many features of our fonts go unnoticed. It is all very well and good to create style sets, extended language support and ways to make sure that a different (slightly higher) hyphen is used automatically when the text is converted to capitals, but does it all matter when most people don’t even know what OpenType fonts are?

I don’t have precise usage statistics, but my guess is that 90% of

our clients use only the basic character set and never realise that the font, which they licensed for quite a bit of money, can do a whole lot more than respond to the computer keys they push.

As evidence I can quote occasional conversations with users of our fonts who complain that small cap fonts are missing (when in fact they simply need to be activated by

an OpenType feature), or that when they type English text

it is still in English even though the font claims to support

Russian (indeed the font doesn’t translate words automat- ically, but only renders the content). So does it make sense

to spend nearly 15 years of (discontinuous and at times not very intense) work on an even more complex font system that cannot be used properly in Microsoft Word, and is rather challenging to use in design applications as well?

Now, more than a year after the original publication of History,

I can say that it was probably worth the effort. The fonts are

indeed being used, and I am continually amazed when I see their real-life applications. I am not sure if I only see the beauti- ful samples because people don’t bother sending me the horrible ones, or if it’s the high barrier of difficulty of using History that puts the system in the hands of dedicated designers. Whatev- er the reason is, seeing History in use is deeply satisfying.

One things that I’ve learned from this project is that despite the ubiquitous market research in design and the calculated

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

42

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 42 decisions of designers, it is still

decisions of designers, it is still worthwhile to do projects that I personally believe in. Even the day before History’s release I had no idea if anyone would ever use the system, but that was less important, as I found the work gratifying, and I focused on the creative process rather than its market potential. It is satisfying to see that this naive approach can work even in a world driven by commercial pressures. It gives me the courage to dedicate time to personal research which, when it is rigourous enough, can find its application in the wild.

Font hinting

Hinting, or screen optimising, is the process by which fonts are adjusted for maximum readability on computer monitors. I have been designing type since the early 1990s, and for as long as I can remember, type designers have been saying that hinting would soon be made obsolete by new advances in hardware and software. Now, almost 20 years later, hinting seems to be more relevant than ever.

The problem is that typical modern fonts are not designed primarily for the 72–96 dpi resolution of computer screens, but for the much higher 1,200+ dpi resolution of print media. The letterforms are designed and stored as outlines, mathematically perfect lines and curves which look great at high resolutions, but can be distorted or even illegible when converted into groups of pixels, the on-or-off dots that make up a computer’s display. And although there has been much discussion about high-definition computer monitors for decades, the fact of the matter is that my 5 year old mobile phone still takes photos with finer detail than my brand new computer can show on its screen.

This is the reason that webpage designers have long been more or less limited to a dozen or so fonts (Verdana, Georgia, Arial, etc.) that have been fine-tuned by hand so that typical text sizes (9–14pt) display well at low resolutions. These fonts are so common that most computer users think of them as

free, but the reality is that Verdana, for example, is probably the most expensive, labor-intensive font ever produced. It includes characters used to write an extremely wide range of languages, and each of these characters had to be adjusted to be readable at every point size between 9 and 60 (at 60pt the resolution is sufficient to display the letterforms accu- rately). In other words, each of more than 890 characters was ’redesigned’ dozens of times, once at every point size.

Outlines of Fedra Sans Screen at various sizes. Notice how different the outlines are in order to achieve the optimal legibility of screen. Every letter is ba- sically designed for each point size again.

This is exactly what hinting is about: programming instruc- tions that fine-tune a font’s rasterisation, the process by which its mathematically ideal outlines are mapped onto a monitor’s pixels. Hinting can control the heights and widths of a font’s uppercase and lowercase letters, the widths of its individual lines, the amount of white space around letters, the size at which uppercase letters start to use different stem-widths from lowercase letters, how the angle of italic characters changes to best fit the pixel grid, and many other extremely technical details, all on a pixel-by-pixel basis. If this sounds like a rather tedious, time-consuming activity, it is, (even for type designers, who are accustomed to tedious, time-consuming activities).

Last year there was considerable hype about the @font-face declaration, a function that makes it possible for a webpage to display any font, freeing designers from dependence on the ‘Web-safe’ fonts and opening new design possibilities (not the least of which is the creation of visual identities which are consistent across both print and web media). On the other hand, this also raises new issues, including poor onscreen display of non-hinted fonts. And because hinting is tedious, time-consuming and widely believed to be nearly obsolete, 99% of all fonts, even commercial ones, are non-hinted.

1901 La Fonderie Typographique, Organe de la chambre des maîtres- fondeurs typographes français, Paris

non-hinted. 1901 La Fonderie Typographique , Organe de la chambre des maîtres- fondeurs typographes français ,

1902 Jubiläums und Victoria, Bauersche Gießerei, Frankfurt am Main

und Victoria , Bauersche Gießerei , Frankfurt am Main Type: A visual history of typeface &

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

44

Hinting TrueType and PostScript fonts

Even when fonts are hinted optimum onscreen results are still not guaranteed, as different font technologies approach hinting differently. In the PostScript system most of the font scaling

is handled not by the fonts, but by the rasteriser software,

so fonts in PostScript format look often good with relatively simple hinting or no hinting at all. In the TrueType system, however, the rasteriser is controlled by sophisticated hinting instructions contained within the font software; without this information TrueType fonts do not display well onscreen.

Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. One advantage of the PostScript system is that the ‘Intelligence’ is concentrated in the rasteriser, so any improvement to the ras- teriser immediately produces better rendering of all PostScript fonts. Even 20 year old fonts render nicely on the latest Mac. In the TrueType system, rasteriser updates require all fonts

to be updated as well for optimal results. Thus fonts hinted

for black and white or greyscale rendering will not work as well with Windows’ ClearType rasteriser. On the other hand, TrueType hinting provides direct, pixel-by-pixel control over the rasterising process, which PostScript hinting does not.

Macro photography of Apple Mac Book Pro. On LCD monitors (flat screens) every pixel is made from three elements which can be controlled separately. Subpixel rendering takes advantage of the way your eyes perceive colour, using shades of blue, red and green to simulate higher screen resolution in horizontal direction.

Mac OS vs. Windows

A lot has been written about how Mac OS renders text com-

pared to Windows. I will not go into details here, but the prima- ry difference is that Microsoft’s rasteriser tries to align charac- ters to whole pixel grid, with the result that ’Regular’ weights

look lighter, ’Bold’ weights look heavier, and subtle details of

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

look heavier, and subtle details of Chapter 1: 1901–1908 design can be lost at small point

design can be lost at small point sizes. Apple’s rasteriser tries to preserve the design of the typeface as much as possible, some- times at the cost of image clarity. Windows’ rasterising software produces extremely good results with a few built-in TrueType fonts, but sub-optimal results with 99% of other typefaces. The Mac OS Quartz technology ignores font hinting completely and renders all fonts equally well regardless of their font format.

So let’s focus now on Windows — this is where hinting makes a difference — and let’s focus on TrueType fonts, which look superior in Windows at the moment.

Hinting Black and White rendering (Grid-Fitting), 1-bit

Black and white hinting, developed in the days when operating systems could only turn pixels on or off, controls which pixels will be displayed at a given point size. This kind of hinting is called grid-fitting because the outlines of the font are signifi- cantly modified to fit the pixel grid of the screen. It is the most time-consuming hinting process, and it takes an experienced hinter at least 80 hours to hint a single font with the basic 256 character set. Fonts with extensive character sets and/ or numerous styles of course take much longer. This process

also usually adds white pixels between characters to improve legibility, which can create a difference in length between printed and screen versions of a text. Micro- soft’s Verdana and Georgia are examples of black and white hinted fonts. Newer technology has made black and white hinting obsolete and permitted onscreen results that are much truer to the original letterforms.

Practical Implications

What does all this mean to a type designer? Hinting can improve the rendering of fonts. But those fonts will be rendered differently by different rasterisers on different platforms and often in different applications as well, (com- pare for example text in the Safari and Explorer browsers on the same Windows computer). If the designer’s inten- tion is consistent cross-platform rendering, the fonts also need to use consistent design across similar letters.

It is clear that one day font hinting will finally become obsolete, but it is not clear when that day will come. The most widely used operating system in the world, Windows XP (still 58.4% market share, as of this writing), has ClearType turned off by default, so unhinted fonts typically do not display well at small sizes. Whether we like it or not, it looks like hinting will be around for quite some time. But if you like how fonts display on the Mac at small sizes, you can take that as proof that it is already possible to render text well without any hinting at all.

In search of a comprehensive type design theory

Have you ever heard a conversation between two type design- ers? Even the most patient, well-intentioned outsider might find himself smiling embarrassedly, excusing himself and looking for an exit, dumbfounded. Type designers, like computer pro-

45

1903 Spécimen Album , Fonderie Gustave Mayeur , Paris grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural
1903 Spécimen Album , Fonderie Gustave Mayeur , Paris grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural

1903 Spécimen Album, Fonderie Gustave Mayeur, Paris

1903 Spécimen Album , Fonderie Gustave Mayeur , Paris grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural

grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural scientists are marked by an unintelligible jargon and slavish devotion to their pursuits; what sets them apart, however, is the seeming unimportance of their discussions. We type design- ers might be convinced that our profession is vital to society, but we wouldn’t risk going on strike to test how indispensable we really are. Like printer cartridges or pen refills, fonts are undoubtedly very practical and serve their function, but the public seems to take them for granted and largely ignores them.

Writing about fonts is equally difficult as talking about them. Articles on type design rarely appear outside the realm of the trade magazines, probably because of their highly technical nature. (The development of type has always been inextrica- bly connected to the development of printing technology.) Writing about type and typography in the mainstream media is somewhat of a rarity even in the Netherlands, a country which is renowned for its highly-developed typographic cul- ture, not to mention other countries where type design is still waiting for any sort of recognition. Yet searching through the past year’s issues of The New York Times reveals a surprising half dozen articles on typography, and even weekly satirical paper The Onion, carried an article on type, ‘Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys’, thus confirming the public’s inter- est in type design. (Of course, this article, which reports on the winner of a fictional annual font award, appeared next to other ‘news’ like ‘Sheepish Secret Service Agent Can’t Ex- plain How Vacuum Cleaner Salesman Got Into Oval Office’, which perhaps gives us a better perspective of the general public’s true level of concern in matters related to type.)

What is there to discuss about fonts for the outsider? Legibility studies have caused utter confusion even within the ranks of type designers. Aesthetic or interpretive evaluations of type are vague at best, and as far as functionality is concerned, every designer insists that his fonts work the best. All of which only leads to a larger question: how can we define criteria for good fonts? The French type designer Jean-François Porchez

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

responds: ‘the only criterion I rely on is simple: a good type- face fits the need of the subject.’ This rather ambiguous answer points to the problem: how can a type designer design a typeface when he is not in control of the subject? Does it mean that we need to have an endless library of typefaces to fit an endless number of subjects? Can a particular typeface perform better than another particular typeface? The lack of clear values is dangerous, and together with the predominantly technical nature of the discussion, hinders typography in receiving the proper attention that is regularly given to other art forms.

It may seem that some kind of theory would help to facilitate discussion; after all, every self-respecting discipline has one, even obscure treatises such as Ludology Theory or Theory of Honest Signaling present comprehensive systems of accepted knowledge which are distinct from actual practice and help to explain some domain of inquiry. A theory can elevate the level of discussion as well as formulate the frame for such discussion. Type design, however, seems to resist attempts to establish an encompassing theory by its very nature. Type design is not an intellectual activity, but relies on a gesture of the person and his ability to express it formally. Even if a theory existed, it would not be very useful, since type design is governed by practice. There might be detailed ‘How to’ instructions, but those do not qualify as general or abstract principles for creating type. Dictionary definitions of ‘font’ usually refer to the printing process, and although type is reproduced by other means as well, the essence of type is in its ability to be reproduced. Fonts are essentially modest semi-products; they don’t have much meaning until they are used. And although type foundries and distributors often attach adjectives to fonts before they are used, in reality new typefaces are like blank sheets of paper. They can be used to represent anything, and just as paper manufacturers cannot control what is printed on their paper, so type designers can hold no responsibility for what their fonts are used to communicate. This is not to say that font choices are purely arbitrary, but rather that fonts acquire meaning

47

only through use, and that we judge fonts not only according to how they fit into the existing nomenclature of font classi- fication, but by how they refer to our previous experiences.

So far, I have deliberately been focusing on the appearance of type, thus running the risk of separating the design processes involved in type development from the technical processes in- volved in production. But hopefully we have learned something from the valuable lesson of the British Arts & Crafts movement, which centered precisely on the impossibility of detaching design from craft. Design is an inseparable element of the quality of type, however the function of typefaces must also be considered and respected. Through mastering proportions, bal- ance and optical corections, the type designer can achieve his aim, be it improved legibility, historical accuracy or originality of expression. In the end, most of the existing discussion of type chronicles the problem-solving aspect of typography. This also explains how many successful typefaces were created: they were creative solutions to existing design or technological problems.

But frankly, the fonts presented in our type collection solve no problems. There were no problems to begin with. One could go so far as to suggest that the primary motivation for making these fonts was the same as for making any art: the urge to create, to express oneself. While discussing typography amongst the general public is a relative rarity today, there seems to be a moderately increasing interest in typography among the general public. (I recently spoke with a writer, a confessed typophile who studies the anatomy of typefaces late into the night.) This interest in type can perhaps be attributed to a new level of self-consciousness, our attempt to understand even the smallest building blocks of our existence. Just as the purpose of DNA analysis is to identify the location and function of every human gene, so the study of typefaces can be seen as an attempt to understand the formal appearance of the smallest unit of the written word. And just as skeptics of human genome research argue that studying DNA will not shed any light on the true nature of human behavior, so studying type may not

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

reveal anything about real communication. Still, an informed discussion of this often marginalized field may help to focus the attention of the professionals and inspire the general public.

Graphic Design in the White Cube

Organizing graphic design exhibitions is always problemat- ic: graphic design does not exist in a vacuum, and the walls

of the exhibition space effectively isolate the work of design

from the real world. Placing a book, a music album, or a poster in a gallery removes it from the cultural, commercial, and historical context without which the work cannot be understood. The entire raison d’être of the work is lost as a

side effect of losing the context of the work, and the result is frozen appearance stripped of meaning, liveliness and dyna- mism of use. Presenting design in an exhibition space in this way is akin to looking at a collection of stuffed birds in order

to study how they fly and sing. In spite of this, it is more and

more common to see design as ‘object’, not only in books and magazines, but also in the ‘White cube’ of the exhibition space.

Graphic designers struggled for a long time for recognition

and professionalization of their field, and exhibits are consid- ered one way of promoting the trade aspect of design. Every- one is happy: the designer whose work was selected by the institution; the original client who received an admired and acclaimed design, and the gallery which acquires the work

to be presented. Work designed for a completely different

purpose is recycled, and re-presented in a foreign environ- ment. The same scenario is even more common in design

publishing, and nearly instant books full of vague collections

of work with little or no commentary take up increasingly

more space on designers’ shelves, crowding out other books which are more laborious to research, write and publish.

A

more recent trend is design which refuses to be seen only

as

an object of consumerism but draws parallels with art,

48

reflecting the autonomy of the designer in his work, as well as

a willingness to initiate projects himself. This generation of

designers is not the first one that doesn’t rely solely on clients to

come up with project briefs. Renowned Dutch designer Karel Martens, who taught some of the designers represented in this exhibition, has done uncommissioned, artistic work apart from his design career. Building on the tradition of the experimental printing of fellow designers such as Hendrik Nicolaas Werk- man or Willem Sandberg, Martens’ prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his other, more practical design work. Some designers today however integrate self-initiated work into their daily practice, no longer distinguishing between projects done in and outside of their working hours. Self-initiated work in graphic design is becoming increasingly more important for designers, starting up projects which probably would otherwise never see the light of day. The group of people who work in this way is still margin- al, and it is no surprise that most of them live in countries with prosperous economies, occasionally receiving cultural funding to facilitate their unconventional approach to their work.

Graphic design has for a long time been defined as a service of a designer for a client, rooted in external impulses rather than internal ones. Design work done without a client hangs in a limbo between art and design. Graphic design is a fairly

young profession, and as such still in a state of development. It is expanding to encompass various activities: writing, organiz- ing, conceptualizing, reflecting. This is no longer design which is only defined by business cards and logos. Here we come to

a problem of definition: until now I have been using the term

graphic design with the assumption that everyone knows what

it means. Especially in the context of the 22nd International

Biennale of Graphic Design Brno with its 43 years of history, people have created expectations of what a typical graphic design exhibition might include. Let us understand ‘graphic design’ then, to mean a field in flux which is as flexible as the work that it embraces. Unlike the work of other professionals,

1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

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of other professionals, 1906 Patriz Huber Ornamente , J. G. Schelter & Giesecke , Leipzig Chapter

1904 Ornamenten hoofdlijisten en sluitstukken, Joh Enschedé & Zonen, Haariem

en sluitstukken , Joh Enschedé & Zonen , Haariem Type: A visual history of typeface &

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

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the work of a designer is not restricted or defined by its content; in fact designers are trained to accommodate and express various, often contradicting ideas. It is a ghost discipline as Stuart Bailey writes: ’…graphic design only exists when other subjects exist first. It isn’t an a priori discipline, but a ghost; both a grey area and a meeting point…’ Bailey calls attention to an area that many designers struggle with: the way that they refer to their activity in their field transcends the established notion of its definition. Designers represented in the exhibition Graphic Design in the White Cube move fluently between the worlds of art, design, music, theatre and writing. ‘I and everyone I work with just think of what we do as merely “work”. I studied typography and graphic design—that’s my background and it informs what I do—but now I do a variety of work, which may or may not come under those headings’, says Bailey in a recent interview. Others such as French designers M/M Paris directly challenge the definition of ‘graphic design’: ‘graphic design could embody a lot of activities, and the definition is not fixed, but continually evolving. Because it is still a new profession, the best graphic designers are the ones who reinvent their field and surprise.’ Members of Amsterdam-based design studio Experimental Jetset say that limited notion of design is a misunderstanding: ‘personally, we situate the birth of modern graphic design somewhere roughly between Marinetti’s Futur- ist manifestos, Piet Zwart’s leaflets for the Dutch Cable Factory, and Kurt Schwitters’ Merz publications (to name some obvious examples). So in our understanding, graphic design has always been an area where very different elements are synthesized:

art, politics, poetry, industry, etc.’ In their view, all the people invited to exhibit here are then part of this great tradition, and are ‘graphic designers in the traditional sense of the word’.

M/M, Bailey and Experimental Jetset are no strangers to the gallery world. M/M has held numerous solo exhibitions in prestigious art galleries and collaborated on major events (Venice Biennales). Bailey has directed theatre performanc- es and more recently together with David Reinfurt (Dexter

Sinister) is involved in organizing Manifesta 6, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art in Cyprus, where they set up a model of economic production, responsible for all publishing activities of the Manifesta 6 school. Jetset activities include solo exhibitions in galleries in London, Utrecht and Arnhem, and group shows in SFMOMA San Francisco, Kunsthal Rotter- dam, or Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam amongst others.

In 2005, M/M were invited to Paris’ contemporary art museum Palais de Tokyo to exhibit their work next to major artworks of the late 20th century in an exhibition which featured works by a variety of artists including Joseph Kosuth, Jeff Koons, Maurizio Cattelan, Vanessa Beecroft, Takashi Murakami and Mike Kelley. The intentions of the exhibition was to explore how different contexts cause the same work to be read in different ways, blurring the boundaries between disciplines.

‘Graphic design’, because of its ubiquitous nature, makes a considerable impact on the visual culture that surrounds us, so it makes a lot of sense to study this influence and critically discuss the work in the context of other visual arts as well. When presented in a museum however, the exhibition should attempt more than just passive presentation in glass cases. The isolated work lacks any real information about the rea- sons and processes behind it. What needs to become evident is the explicit purpose of the work, to see things otherwise inaccessible, otherwise the visitor is better off going to any bookstore or strolling down a busy street to get first hand experience of and physical interaction with ‘graphic design’.

There have been some design exhibitions which attempt to deal with these issues. Rick Poynor recently organized a major retrospective of British graphic design entitled Com- municate first held in London, now travelling world wide. The exhibition sets out to examine graphic design’s influence on contemporary culture, highlighting experimental work created by designers who aren’t limited by working to fulfill a commercial client’s brief. The exhibition occupied eight rooms

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

of the Barbican Art Gallery, and Poynor, whose background is in journalism and publishing, organized these rooms as ’chapters’ of a book, each section presenting a different aspect of work, with introductory texts explaining each section of the exhibition. The points and comparisons of the work were made through careful visual editing of the presented pieces.

Another example is the exhibition of Dutch graphic design that I was asked to organize a few years ago for the Brno Biennale. Given the fact that for practical reasons the work was to be displayed in a gallery space involving a certain degree of isolation of graphic design, the presentation at- tempted to clarify its function more, sketching out the trian- gle of client-designer-public. Since the work of the designer was brought to the gallery to be judged by the local public, the focus was on presenting the missing component, that is, providing space for the clients. The words of the commis- sioners in the formulation of the original brief were present- ed instead of the designer’s retrospective comments. The original brief illuminated the purpose of the work, while the public could evaluate how successfully it communicated.

However, a retrospective attempt to recreate the context for a work may not be the ultimate solution either and has its own pitfalls, as Experimental Jetset points out: ‘there’s also some- thing false about it: trying to recreate “the outside world” inside a museum/gallery, as if the museum/gallery is not a valid context in itself. In our opinion, in these cases, we think that it’s best to underline the museum context as much as possible, to be brutally honest that the context in which the object is shown is totally different from the context the object was originally designed for.’So it is in this context that we set to organize a ‘graphic design’ exhibition, with the intention of the commissioner, the Moravian Gallery in Brno, to ‘pres- ent to the public certain specific aspects and tendencies of contemporary graphic design worldwide’. Being extremely self-conscious, we propose a possibility: instead of bringing work from the outside to the gallery, let’s make the work for the

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gallery. Instead of recreating the context for the exhibits, let’s make the gallery conditions the context for the work. Nine- teen designers and collectives were commissioned to design a poster for the design exhibition in which they participate. The posters will function on two levels: the collection of posters is to constitute the exhibition, and copies of the posters will be spread around the city to inform visitors about the exhibition. This is obviously a dangerous snake-eating-its-own-tail strategy, yet the self-referential nature of the brief makes it possible to illustrate otherwise invisible mechanics of the work process.

The usual conditions of design are created in the gallery:

designers were directly commissioned to make the poster in four weeks’ time, were offered a (minimal) design fee, and were asked to treat the commission just like any other projects they work on. What is perhaps unusual about the exhibi- tion is that it makes some invisible components visible. The original brief of the project is dominantly presented in the exhibition, as are all sketches that the designers made. The objective is not to lionize the work, or create easy material for value judgment, but to uncover the process of work, present- ing all the sketches that designers made, including those not leading anywhere. Failures can provide more information about visual art than just a presentation of its successes.

The focus on itself, the self-referential nature of the project is certainly not new. It has been explored in fine art for a long time, one famous example being René Magritte’s seeming contradiction Ceci n‘est pas une pipe, which questions the representation of objects in art. In the 1960s, Sol LeWitt and other conceptual artists worked on reducing the artis- tic process to its bare elements. Four Basic Kinds of Lines & Colour, is a book project investigating basic book printing techniques. Using standard CMYK colours, LeWitt drew lines at 0, 45, 90 and 135 degree angles following the standard angles of reproduction techniques. Starting with four inks, he was able to mix 16 elementary colours, and using different densities of the black ink, also 16 grayscale equivalents.

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One of the most brilliant self-referential works of design is XTC’s album Go 2 (1978) designed by British art design group Hipgnosis which exposes the mechanics of marketing persuasion, blatantly including them in the design. The cover of the album reads: ‘This is a RECORD COVER. This writ- ing is the DESIGN upon the record cover. The DESIGN is to help to SELL the record. We hope to draw your attention to it and encourage you to pick it up. When you have done that maybe you’ll be persuaded to listen to the music – in this case XTC’s Go 2 album. Then we want you to BUY it. The idea being that the more of you that you buy this record the more money Virgin Record, the manager Ian Reid and XTC themselves will make. […]’ The text goes on to call the buyer a victim, explaining the tricks of marketing, suggesting that it is foolish to buy a product based on the design of the cover.

Our strategy for the exhibition was to strip the design process of its deceptive aura, propose a possible format for design exhibitions, and yet present everything that a visitor to a ‘graphic design’ show might expect.

that a visitor to a ‘graphic design’ show might expect. 1908 Inegeborg Antiqua , D. Stempel
that a visitor to a ‘graphic design’ show might expect. 1908 Inegeborg Antiqua , D. Stempel

1908 Inegeborg Antiqua, D. Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main

Chapter 1: 1901–1908

design’ show might expect. 1908 Inegeborg Antiqua , D. Stempel AG , Frankfurt am Main Chapter

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Chapter 2 1909 – 1916

Conceptual Type?

A

typeface can’t really be conceptual, because it is dependent

on

its execution. Typeface design is a craft, so the process that

transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Before the typeface is executed, it is not a typeface, it is simply an idea. A few years back I was part of the jury at an art school in Antwerp, where a student proposed a conceptual font. Instead of defining the shapes,

he came with a set of written instructions, so the capital E

was defined as ‘Three evenly spaced horizontal lines crossing one vertical line’. It was fun and very clever, but technically

it was merely a description (however witty) of the alpha- bet, not a font, which is based on the repetition of shapes.

Sol LeWitt’s famous quote ‘Banal ideas cannot be rescued

by beautiful execution’ does not apply to type design. There

are plenty of examples of nicely designed and successfully

exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere else is revivalism as popular as in type design, and recycled ver- sions of proven models seem to form the core of most type libraries. For example, how many versions of Garamond

or clones of Swiss neutral sans serif do we really need?

Let’s have a look what the term ‘conceptual’ means in other disciplines. We can skip music, architecture, illustration, ceramics or dance, which similarly to typography are also dependent on performance or execution. Obviously, there are

some exceptions — John Cage’s  4’33” , for example, or some projects of Rem Kolhaas or Peter Eisenman — but in essence

all craft-based disciplines rely on the transformation of abstract

ideas into material form. Should the idea remain in its seman-

tic form, one has to rethink the whole frame of the discipline.

Would you hire a ‘conceptual’ plumber to fix your sink?

Where the term ‘conceptual’ really prospers is in the domain

of modern art. This term came into use in the late 1960s to

describe a philosophy of art that rejected the traditional art

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 58 object as a precious commodity. Instead,

object as a precious commodity. Instead, the typical work of conceptual art is generally semantic rather than illustrative, a self-referential, non-material meta-object, art of the mind rather than the senses. The work of Yves Klein, Robert Rauschen- berg, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt or the group Art & Language challenged viewers’ expectations concerning the limits of what can be considered art. It even tried to be an anti-art.

Type design, by contrast, was originally dependent on the expertise of the maker: the final typeface was only as good as the skill of the punch-cutter. The first examples of type design separate from the craft of manufacturing come from the Enlightenment period. Romain du Roi, an exclusive typeface commissioned by the French King Louis XIV, departed from the traditions of calligraphy and worked with analytical and mathematical principles of drawing type. This then, if you like, could be considered the first ‘conceptual’ typeface. The commit- tee of the Academy of Sciences proposed a grid of 48X48 units, inventing the notion of vector outlines by defining characters in terms of geometry rather than physical mass. The committee also invented the notion of font metrics and suggested the idea of bitmap fonts. Some 50 years separated the conception of the typeface and the execution of a complete set of punches for it.

More recently, a type design project that approached the definition of conceptual art was FUSE, launched by Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft in the early 1990’s. FUSE con- sisted of a set of four original typefaces with corresponding posters, and an accompanying essay. Each issue had a theme such as religion, exuberance, (dis)information, virtual real- ity, etc., but the designers had complete freedom as to how they interpreted that theme. In the first issue, Wozencroft described FUSE as ’a new sensibility in visual expression, one grounded in ideas, not just image.’ Carrying forward the ideals of the avant-garde, Brody and Wozencroft wrote with an impassioned rhetoric as if they saw themselves as fighting the repressive typographic establishment by making fonts that rejected functionality as the reason to design type. The

1916 Neue Schriften und Ornamente, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

fonts ranged from purely formal exercises to completely abstract shapes independent from Latin construction, pur- ported ’new forms of writing’. FUSE typefaces were curiously diverse, making it hard to discern any criteria for selection.

And this is precisely the problem with the use of term ‘concep- tual’: very often it is simply synonymous with ‘Idea’ or ‘Inten- tion’. Since every act of creation arguably stems from intent, re- gardless of the function of the product, is every artwork, object or typeface therefore conceptual? Mel Bochner, American con- ceptual artist, disliked the label ‘conceptual’, because the word ‘concept’ is not always defined entirely clearly, and is therefore in danger of being confused with the author’s intention.

I believe that the topic of this conference is to look at the underlying ideas of typography, the intentions of authors, rather than to claim that type itself is conceptual. That makes the discussion less problematic, but still not easy, since there is probably no other discipline where the difference between the intention of the author and intention of the user can be so great. For example, the original intention behind Fedra Sans was for it to be the corporate type of the insurance company that commissioned it, and it was designed precisely according to the stipulations of the company’s brief. The original client, however, was acquired by a bigger fish, and development of the corporate font came to an abrupt halt. That was a disappointment at first, but a blessing in disguise in the longer term, as I could expand the family and offer it to the public myself. In the years that Fedra Sans has been available for licensing it has been used in all kinds of applications from building facades to children books, to Bible typesetting, to the identity of a terrorist organ- isation, but as far as I know, not a single insurance company.

Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas, or Revolutionary Strug- gle, a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek government buildings, banks and the American embassy in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have formally designated

embassy in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have

Revolutionary Struggle as a terrorist organization. Epa- nastatikos Agonas has been quite consistent in using Fedra Sans for its flyers. And no, they didn’t buy the licence.

Children books, Bibles, terrorists… it becomes quite ob- vious that the type designer has no actual say in how the typeface is actually used. While the concept of the type- face might be very clever and original, what happens when the typeface is never used the way it was intended? Does it make the typeface less inventive? How about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing demonstrated that destruction could also be conceptual art. According to Rauschenberg’s example, I narrowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when a thief broke into our studio and stole my computer and all the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed responsibility, he could have become the designer of a rare example of conceptual type — by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Koon- ing, which he obtained from his colleague for the ex- press purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitt’s statement ‘the idea becomes the machine that makes the art’ can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts, they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have a greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do. It makes sense then for designers themselves to

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1916 Neue Schriften und Ornamente, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer , Frankfurt am Main reclaim this field by designing their own

reclaim this field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font and interprets it in multiple ways. By deciding to design the process rather than controlling the end result, Letterror embraced the possibilities of un- expected results. It is the machine that makes the type.

I’ll conclude with one of my current projects, for which the background idea is more interesting than the resulting forms. For centuries, art has been defined as something that gives rise to an aesthetic experience. Capturing beauty and avoid- ing ugliness were considered to be the prime responsibilities of the traditional artist. In this still untitled project I have tried to identify the most beautiful examples of typography known to mankind. I settled on a series of serif typefaces designed by Giambattista Bodoni in the late 18th century.

In the second step, I tried to identify the ugliest examples of type that we know. That was a bit more difficult, but finally the prize went to eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution. This reversed-contrast typeface was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention by defy- ing their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and strokes that were thin became thick — a dirty trick to make freakish letters that stand out in the increasingly saturated world of commercial messages.

This project (later released under the name Karloff) is not interesting because of the forms, which have been explored before, but because it creates a tight link between the two extremes, between the beauty and the ugliness. Time will tell if this project finds some suitable application, or whether it remains purely an aesthetic exercise, a ‘conceptual’ type.

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

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Designing Type Systems

I remember a conversation from back in my student days

where my typophile friends and I debated what the ultimate typeface of the 20th century was, a typeface that summed up all of the era’s advancements and knowledge into a co- herent whole, one that would be a reference for years to come. Helvetica was one of the candidates for its sheer ubiq- uity, proof of its overall acceptance. Another, more subtle proposal was Jan van Krimpen’s Romulus, one of the first typefaces to have related Sans and Serif versions. And an- other, my personal pick, was Univers by Adrian Frutiger.

Univers goes beyond the quest to design individual letters, attempting instead to design space, to create a system of rela- tionships between different sets of shapes which share distinc- tive parameters. Prior to Univers, type designers concerned themselves with the relationships between letters of the same

set, how an 'a' is different from a 'b'. Univers creates a situation in which there are a’s of many different shapes, and each has to be positioned on the axes of weight and width, distributed suffi- ciently far away from the next, but no further, in order to create

a usable system. How heavy ought the Medium to be in order to

leave space for yet another weight, the Bold, and how will this translate into a design with condensed proportions? These were all new questions for type designers, and Frutiger opened up completely new territory for those who were to come after him.

Thanks to Frutiger it is now common practice to pro- duce a dozen or more styles when working on a new type family. In terms of typeface innovation there is much more room for originality than when you only look at the individual lettershapes. Thus to create truly useful new works, type designers need to examine not only how char- acters relate to each other within a style, but also how different styles relate to each other within a family.

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 62 1916 Neue Schriften und Ornamente ,

1916 Neue Schriften und Ornamente, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

Gardener vs Architect

I’ve designed large typeface families before. Fedra, for example, now has over 116 individual styles supporting 170 languages, and has been used in the most complex typographic situa- tions from dictionaries to newspapers, Bibles and information graphics. But it is not really an example of a font designed to be a typographic system from the start. It started in 2001 as

a

relatively small family of Sans, and over the next 10 years

it

grew to include Serif, Monospaced, Condensed and Dis-

play styles, as well as different language versions. Fedra is an

example of a bottom to top approach, in which a relatively simple design gets larger and more complicated over time. Composer Brian Eno calls this the gardener’s approach:

nurturing simple things towards greater complexity, carefully planting seeds, and helping them grow to their full potential.

The opposite organising principle, again in Eno’s words, is the architect’s approach. An architect traditionally starts with a concept, developing the complete idea first, working from top to bottom. History (2008) is an example of the architectural approach, in which each individual style contributes to a greater purpose, sharing proportions with the rest of the family.

History (2008) as an example of the ‘architectural’ ap- proach and Fedra (2001-2010) as an example of the ‘gardener’ approach to creating a type family.

Greta Sans is another example of this approach. It has been carefully planned from the outset, designed as a system of interrelated styles. From the very beginning, work pro- ceeded on multiple styles simultaneously; not only when sketching the extreme and middle styles on paper, but also when converting the resulting shapes into digital format, the emphasis was on testing how certain letterforms react to

extremely compressed dimensions as well as very generous ones. Only after being tested at each end of the proposed spectrum would the designs be selected and adopted into the typeface family-to-be. Each glyph would have to anticipate all its variations and maintain a basic structure that could function across all designated width and weight variations.

Different design masters were conceived and drawn at the same time, investigating how the same design characteris- tics would be translated into extreme weights and widths.

The Problem With the System

The nature of systems is to dictate a certain direction; the role of designers is to recognise when the original design idea ceases to work within the system, and then to create exceptions to the system rather than letting the system have a negative impact on the design. In large type families of related styles this impact is usually that while the starting point is usually characteristic and recognisable, the design becomes blander and less interesting as it is stretched across its variations. My intention was to design a highly flexible system while also ensuring that the resulting shapes were not just compromises, but maintained the strong personality of the Greta typeface.

Sketches from 1910:

planning the Greta Sans type system.

For example, at the lighter end of the weight axis, the cir- cular dot over ‘I’, (or in diacritics and punctuation) has to become a rectangle to avoid becoming too small. On the width axis, shapes would sometimes have to be modified even more dramatically: the double storey ‘g’ typical for Greta becomes a single storey ‘g’ in Compressed width, where

the lack of space demanded greater simplification. Dollar and cent signs have full crossbars in the wider versions, but divided crossbars in the condensed versions. Dozens of other changes happen when taking the design to extreme dimensions, in order to maintain the general design char- acteristics and preserve the natural look of the shapes.

Some of the exceptions to the linear interpolation of the Greta Sans type system: dots change from circu- lar to rectangular; dollar signs lose their crossbars, and ‘g’ uses a single-storey form in Compressed widths.

While the Fedra Sans family was created from two design masters, Light and Bold, (Book, Demi and Medium were interpolated), Greta Sans’ 13 design masters were individual- ly designed, as were another 13 masters for italics, and all 26 included Small Caps. The masters (Hairline, Regular, Black), were interpolated and expanded to 10 weights. Four widths were imagined and implemented, resulting in 80 styles.

The process of drawing Greta Sans started in the middle of the imagined design space (1), and from there the extremes were explored (2). The idea was to adapt the design to the available proportions, while preserving the main design characteristics. When creating the design masters, we made the heavy weight as heavy as possible, even when those exact weights would not be used. It is easy to interpolate and make the Black weight lighter; making it heavier is complicated. This allowed us to keep the design space as large as possible (3), and reduce it later when we made the final selection of styles. We decided not to use the Compressed Black as a master, and stepped it down one weight. We also dropped extra-compressed styles. On the other hand, we added an extra weight to the Extended styles (Super), when we saw there was available space at that end of the spectrum.

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

Continuous Optical Sizes

In the earliest age of movable type, optical sizes became the main organising principle of typefaces. For example, Jan- non’s  caractères de l’Université  from the 1530s include numerous optical versions ranging from 6 to 36 points, each slightly different. The design of the typeface would be rein- terpreted at each given point size, often resulting in different weights, different proportions, different letter spacing. These different designs would blend into a harmonious size progres- sion and function as one design. Optical sizes disappeared with the transition from hot metal press to photocomposition sometime in the 1950s. After about 50 years of neglect op- tical sizes have made a comeback, and many typefaces now come with versions specifically designed for text and display applications. Optical sizes, however, represent a range of variations. In the old days, as in the Jannon example, type- faces would come in as many as 15 optical versions. All the in-between sizes progressively added or removed features, getting continuously darker and looser when meant for small sizes, or continuously lighter and tighter for large sizes. The word continuously is important here. There weren’t text or display versions as is common now. Each size was discretely adjusted for to maintain the characteristics of the typeface.

Jannon’s caractères de l’Université from the 1530s includes 15 optical versions ranging from 6 to 36 points. On the left is a 7pt sample scaled 425% to match the 36pt version. Note the difference in contrast between the thick and thin strokes, and overall differences in details between the two versions.

Greta Sans was designed as a continuous optical size system. While the basic text styles (Regular) are spaced and kerned for small sizes, the surrounding extremes (Hairline, Black) are designed to be used as Display types, and therefore tightly spaced and kerned. The resulting interpolation then runs continuously from Display to Text to Display use. A similar pattern (Extended, Condensed, Extended) can be

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64 Chapter 2: 1909–1916 65 1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift , Gebr Klingspor , Offenbach am Main

1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

seen on the width axis, as the Normal styles are most suited for small text, and extremes are optimised for large sizes.

Design Space

While the key characteristics of most typefaces are defined by the outlines of the letterforms, Greta Sans’ design also extends to the gaps between styles. All its characteristics, including the visual contrast between styles, weights and widths have been orchestrated into a unified typeface system. Greta Sans explores the entire space of possibilities and is designed for extraordinary design flexibility. It is a toolbox that addresses a broad spectrum of design situations from the simplest to the most complex, offering multiple options for establishing a visual hierarchy.

Next

Greta’s Latin fonts set up some formal parameters, but the most exciting phases of this project are still to come. While such a versatile system of similar proportions is rare within the context of Latin typefaces, it is unheard of in the domain of non-Latin type. We intend to bring this system to a number of non-Latin styles planned for 2013–14. There is no reason why only Latin type should benefit from these advances in typography.

Type design competitions

Last autumn I was in Buenos Aires, where I sat on the jury for Letter2, a type design competition. Just like bukva:raz!, the first AtypI competition in 2001, Letter2 celebrates the best typefaces produced over the past decade. Out of 561 submitted entries the jury selected 53 that represent the previous decade based on their design excellence.

No sooner had the results been announced than the wheels of the font marketing machine rolled into action as some of the selected designers and foundries began to trumpet that their typefaces were among ‘the best of the decade’.

But ‘best of the decade’ is a somewhat problem- atic assertion because not all designers have an equal appetite for competitions. While some award-hungry designers actively seek out all kinds of contests and prizes, others simply ignore them. So the promise of ‘best of the decade’ is reduced to ‘best of the submissions’. And very often the submissions don’t include the highest quality work. For example, renowned author and type designer Fred Smeijers hasn’t participated in type competitions for almost 20 years. Gerard Unger, another celebrated Dutch type designer, enters competitions only rarely. Unger says, ‘I want younger designers to have a chance.’ And in fact these events typically include a disproportionately high number of young designers looking for recognition of their work.

of young designers looking for recognition of their work. Matthew Carter is designer whose work has

Matthew Carter is designer whose work has received numerous awards, and FontBureau, the foundry which has released most of his fonts, sometimes submits them to competitions. But Carter himself says, ‘I have become less interested in competing with other type designers and more concerned with helping the acceptance of type design as something on a par with other forms of graphic and industrial design.’

František Štorm, an established Czech type designer gives a more pragmatic reason for avoiding competi- tions: ‘I simply have no time for it.’ But then he adds, ‘I do however feel that contests are for the young design- ers. Older designers that otherwise might clearly win them should find something more worthwhile to do.’

And finally, Peter Verheul, a Dutch designer of high pro- file typefaces, never sends his work to competitions, one reason being that the judging criteria are inherently vague. ‘there is no explanation why a typeface has been picked to become a winner,’ says Verheul. ‘I don’t really believe that a fair judgement is possible, given the dif-

ferent nature and diversity of the material to judge.’

Of course, one might say it is easy for recognised designers not to participate in contests; they have won them all already. However while the stated aim of the contest is to recognise type design professionals, almost a third of the selected projects are by non-professional designers entering their student projects.

So what is the value of these competitions? Do they rec- ognise talent and stimulate creation? Or is it just cheap marketing? And is there a viable alternative? Borrowing inspiration from such prestigious awards as the Turner Prize or the Nobel Prize, one could imagine replacing the call for entries with a committee of experts who would nom- inate the best work. But the type design profession is so small and insular, with no outside critics or curators, that assembling a committee of recognised experts would nec- essarily exclude a large percentage of possible contenders.

Type design competitions will likely remain problemat- ic as long as the type design community remains so small. Perhaps organisers should accept the fact that such com- petitions often fail to attract well-established profession- als, and focus their events on younger designers. Perhaps this emphasis on younger designers could include making the judging public, so that all can benefit from the jurors’ feedback. And perhaps we should all learn to take the pub- licised results of such competitions with a grain of salt.

What is Typography?

Before starting any discussion or argument it is useful to define the terminology and to make sure that the words which are used are generally understood. Typography is a craft has been practiced since the Gutenberg’s invention of the movable type. According to the latest Encyclopedia Britannica core definition of typography is that ‘typography is concerned with the deter- mination of the appearance of the printed page’. Other diction-

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66

aries, such as Collins English Dictionary from 2004 define the typography as ‘the art, craft or process of composing type and printing from it’. Understood this way, no typography was made before mid-15 century, as it is strictly linked to the invention of the Printing Type. Understood this way, digitally created letters that appear on an electronic screen also escapes this definition.

That is of course problem of definitions, which are not as flexible as the activities which they define. In the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, where I teach part time, most

useful definition of typography comes from the long term teacher Gerrit Noordzij, saying that ‘typography is writing with prefabricated letters’. Unlike the dictionary definitions, this one is deliberately avoiding connecting typography to any specific medium, as they tend to change, yet the disci- pline continues evolving. Noordzij’s definition also implies

a complete distinction from lettering, handwriting or graf-

fiti, which are also concerned with creating letter-shapes, but don’t offer a repeatable system of setting these letters.

Digital technologies stimulated unprecedented possibili- ties which blur even most open definitions of typography.

If repetition of shapes was the central concept of typog-

raphy, many designers are working in ways that challenge this concept. OpenType fonts can include random features, which can simulate unpredictable behavior of handwriting, or simply present seemingly incoherent library shapes.

For the past year, I’ve been working with dancers from Neth- erlands Dance Theatre in The Hague on creating a tool which translates text into simple choreographies. User types a word in a typesetting-like application which plays back this word as an uninterrupted dance sequence where dancer’s body temporarily makes positions recognizable as letters.

Is this typography? Project like this, as many others using exist- ing digital possibilities seems not much worried about it, but use typographic principles to create autonomous work which cross boundaries of various disciplines. It seems that typography

boundaries of various disciplines. It seems that typography itself matured into a new creative discipline in

itself matured into a new creative discipline in which majority of typographers work in a way which is guided by historical understanding of the word, yet there is room for experimen- tation which explores the boundaries of the profession.

In other disciplines, such debate is in fact a sign of new self-con- sciousness. Novelist Milan Kundera argues that a contempo- rary novel is no longer defined as a fictional narrative in prose, but can include various forms of writing: poetry, short-story, or interview. Kundera’s books include parts which are philo- sophical, political, comical, while still being firmly part of a novel. The ability to absorb these various forms is Kundera’s definition of novel. Similarly, larger understanding of typog- raphy, which is no longer defined by technology, but evolves with it, may open this discipline to new create endeavors.

A View of Latin Typography in Relationship to the World

It is generally acknowledged that it was Gutenberg who in- vented movable type printing in 1436. It is generally forgotten that what is missing in that statement is the necessary qualifier “in Europe”. Thanks to the present-day dominance of Latin script we have largely forgotten that there are parallel histo-

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Chapter 2: 1909–1916

ries outside of Europe, but the first recorded movable type system was more likely created in China around 1040 AD by Bi Sheng. His early type was made of wood, which was later abandoned in favour of baked clay, which produced smoother imprints. Unlike Latin script which uses 26 letters, Chinese script uses thousands of characters, making type composi- tion particularly complicated. Nevertheless, movable type has been in continuous use in China since the 11th century.

Elsewhere too, printing progressed. Choe Yun-ui, a Korean civil minister, made the transition from wood to metal movable type around 1230 AD. Metal movable type was also invented independently of the Koreans in China during the Ming Dynasty. During the Mongol Empire movable type moved further west. According to legend, Laurens Janszoon Coster, a respected citizen of Haarlem, could have been the first European to invent movable type, if the account present- ed by Hadrianus Junius is true. But the story is not widely believed, which brings us back to Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, who invented movable type a decade later. In Europe.

Even today, typography as a discipline continues to be plagued by a Euro-centric bias. If any of the major typogra- phy reference books are to be believed, the development of typography has generally been limited to Western Europe. In Type & Typography (2002), the otherwise excellent book by Phil Baines and Andrew Haslam, the authors make a note that the history of writing and the alphabet goes back thou- sands of years, but they do not elaborate more on this. It goes without saying that their history of typography is only the history of Latin-based typography. Other books are even more blunt when it comes to the scope they cover. Classic volumes such as Updike’s obviously nationalistic  Printing Type , first printed in 1922, or Harry Carter’s also already somewhat dated A View of Early Typography (1969) can be overlooked. But even recent books such Designing Type (2005) by Karen Cheng or  A Typographic Workbook  (2005) by Kate Clair & Cynthia Busic-Snyder don’t bother to mention

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that there is more to typography than Latin typography.

Most of the existing typographic classification systems also apply exclusively to Latin type. In catalogues of the tradi- tional type foundries such as French Imprimerie Nationale, the house of Garamont, Didot and Romain du Roi, typefaces other than Latin are referred as “Orientales”. Most contem- porary digital type foundries such as Monotype call these fonts “Non-Latin”. These terms certainly have rather colo- nial overtones, suggesting the idea of “the other”, describing foreign scripts in negative terms as “non-European”. In other disciplines, language and terminology have adjusted to the wider environment of the global village, reflecting the pro- gress that the society has made in the last couple of decades, and we no longer find a boxed set of paints with the name “flesh” given to a light beige color. Only typography contin- ues to display a shameless bias towards western civilization.

Some common type terminology is also inappropriate for typefaces which didn’t evolve in Western Europe. The term “Roman” is customarily used to describe serif typefaces of the early Italian Renaissance period. More recently, the term has also come to denote the upright style of typefaces, as opposed to the word “Italic”, which refers to cursive typefaces inspired by the handwriting of Italian humanists. Thus Linotype offers fonts called Sabon Greek Roman and Sabon Greek Italic, (de- signed by Jan Tchichold), based on 16th century models. But by using terminology which is typically associated with Latin type and evokes the history of Italian typography, Linotype makes a careless statement. “Greek Roman” and “Greek Italic” are contradictions in terms, mixing two very different histo- ries. Such slanted versions of Greek or Cyrillic types should properly be described in more technical terms such as inclined, oblique, or cursive. Roman and Italic suggest that the Greek version has been Latinised, borrowing too much not only of the terminology but also of the formal characteristics of Latin type, ignoring the rich Greek traditions of typography.

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The news is not all bad, however. Recent changes in technology such as the introduction of the Unicode system and Open- Type font format have inspired type designers to consider the previously overlooked domain of “non-Latin” typography. It

is estimated that in the last decade, more Greek fonts were

created than in the entire preceding century. Books such as Language, Culture, Type (2002) have been published, promot- ing cultural pluralism, admitting that English and the Latin alphabet account for only one segment of global communica- tions today. (According to 2006 Encarta statistics, the number of native English speakers is less than the number of native Hindi and Arabic speakers, and roughly one-third the number of native Chinese speakers.) Such books are very important be- cause they also present models for alphabets less explored than the Latin one, and offer a comprehensive history of their use.

1915 Jacoby-Boys Bracour-Kursiv, D. Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main

Bracour-Kursiv , D. Stempel AG , Frankfurt am Main In his concise book, The Solid Form

In his concise book, The Solid Form of Language (2004), Robert Bringhurst proposes a new classification system of world’s various written languages and scripts. This approach promotes

a consciously inclusive approach

to typography, and considers the whole history of humanity and its re- lationship to script and meaning.

The new possibilities are exciting for designers working with “non-Latin” type. There is a modest interest in Arabic, Cyrillic, Greek, or Indic scripts, and even type design competitions have responded to the new situation by creat- ing special categories. The new development is also good news even for designers working exclusively with Latin typography: while we might think that most of the possibilities of Latin type have been explored, traditions of typog-

of Latin type have been explored, traditions of typog- raphy from Greece, the Middle East, India

raphy from Greece, the Middle East, India and elsewhere can help us to rediscover how we understand Latin type today.

In search of a comprehensive type design theory

Have you ever heard a conversation between two type design- ers? Even the most patient, well-intentioned outsider might find himself smiling embarrassedly, excusing himself and looking for an exit, dumbfounded. Type designers, like computer pro- grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural scientists are marked by an unintelligible jargon and slavish devotion to their pursuits; what sets them apart, however, is the seeming unimportance of their discussions. We type design- ers might be convinced that our profession is vital to society, but we wouldn’t risk going on strike to test how indispensable we really are. Like printer cartridges or pen refills, fonts are undoubtedly very practical and serve their function, but the public seems to take them for granted and largely ignores them.

Writing about fonts is equally difficult as talking about them. Articles on type design rarely appear outside the realm of the trade magazines, probably because of their highly technical

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

nature. (The development of type has always been inextrica- bly connected to the development of printing technology.) Writing about type and typography in the mainstream media is somewhat of a rarity even in the Netherlands, a country which is renowned for its highly-developed typographic cul- ture, not to mention other countries where type design is still waiting for any sort of recognition. Yet searching through the past year’s issues of The New York Times reveals a surprising half dozen articles on typography, and even weekly satirical paper The Onion, carried an article on type, ‘Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys’, thus confirming the public’s inter- est in type design. (Of course, this article, which reports on the winner of a fictional annual font award, appeared next to other ‘news’ like ‘Sheepish Secret Service Agent Can’t Ex- plain How Vacuum Cleaner Salesman Got Into Oval Office’, which perhaps gives us a better perspective of the general public’s true level of concern in matters related to type.)

What is there to discuss about fonts for the outsider? Legibility studies have caused utter confusion even within the ranks of type designers. Aesthetic or interpretive evaluations of type are vague at best, and as far as functionality is concerned, every designer insists that his fonts work the best. All of which only leads to a larger question: how can we define criteria for good fonts? The French type designer Jean-François Porchez responds: ‘the only criterion I rely on is simple: a good type- face fits the need of the subject.’ This rather ambiguous answer points to the problem: how can a type designer design a typeface when he is not in control of the subject? Does it mean that we need to have an endless library of typefaces to fit an endless number of subjects? Can a particular typeface perform better than another particular typeface? The lack of clear values is dangerous, and together with the predominantly technical nature of the discussion, hinders typography in receiving the proper attention that is regularly given to other art forms.

It may seem that some kind of theory would help to facilitate discussion; after all, every self-respecting discipline has one,

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even obscure treatises such as Ludology Theory or Theory of Honest Signaling present comprehensive systems of accepted knowledge which are distinct from actual practice and help to explain some domain of inquiry. A theory can elevate the level of discussion as well as formulate the frame for such discussion. Type design, however, seems to resist attempts to establish an encompassing theory by its very nature. Type design is not an intellectual activity, but relies on a gesture of the person and his ability to express it formally. Even if a theory existed, it would not be very useful, since type design is governed by practice. There might be detailed ‘How to’ instructions, but those do not qualify as general or abstract principles for creating type. Dictionary definitions of ‘font’ usually refer to the printing process, and although type is reproduced by other means as well, the essence of type is in its ability to be reproduced. Fonts are essentially modest semi-products; they don’t have much meaning until they are used. And although type foundries and distributors often attach adjectives to fonts before they are used, in reality new typefaces are like blank sheets of paper. They can be used to represent anything, and just as paper manufacturers cannot control what is printed on their paper, so type designers can hold no responsibility for what their fonts are used to communicate. This is not to say that font choices are purely arbitrary, but rather that fonts acquire meaning only through use, and that we judge fonts not only according to how they fit into the existing nomenclature of font classi- fication, but by how they refer to our previous experiences.

So far, I have deliberately been focusing on the appearance of type, thus running the risk of separating the design processes involved in type development from the technical processes in- volved in production. But hopefully we have learned something from the valuable lesson of the British Arts & Crafts movement, which centered precisely on the impossibility of detaching design from craft. Design is an inseparable element of the quality of type, however the function of typefaces must also be considered and respected. Through mastering proportions, bal-

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ance and optical corections, the type designer can achieve his aim, be it improved legibility, historical accuracy or originality of expression. In the end, most of the existing discussion of type chronicles the problem-solving aspect of typography. This also explains how many successful typefaces were created: they were creative solutions to existing design or technological problems.

But frankly, the fonts presented in our type collection solve no problems. There were no problems to begin with. One could go so far as to suggest that the primary motivation for making these fonts was the same as for making any art: the urge to create, to express oneself. While discussing typography amongst the general public is a relative rarity today, there seems to be a moderately increasing interest in typography among the general public. (I recently spoke with a writer, a confessed typophile who studies the anatomy of typefaces late into the night.) This interest in type can perhaps be attributed to a new level of self-consciousness, our attempt to understand even the smallest building blocks of our existence. Just as the purpose of DNA analysis is to identify the location and function of every human gene, so the study of typefaces can be seen as an attempt to understand the formal appearance of the smallest unit of the written word. And just as skeptics of human genome research argue that studying DNA will not shed any light on the true nature of human behavior, so studying type may not reveal anything about real communication. Still, an informed discussion of this often marginalized field may help to focus the attention of the professionals and inspire the general public.

Dutch type design

The Netherlands is a small country with some 15 million inhabitants. It is flat, and has no geographical particularities. It is situated on the western border of Germany, the north of France and Belgium, and the east of England across the North Sea. As a comparatively small country, the Dutch people have always felt the influence of surrounding countries. If they attempted to be a part of international styles, they risked

1910 Lyrisch, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

be a part of international styles, they risked 1910 Lyrisch , Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer ,

dissolving the national characteristics of the small nation. On the other hand, if they tried to stay untouched by foreign influence and keep to themselves, they could easily fall into provincialism. However, they have succeeded in creating one of the most remarkable and outstanding cultures.

The homeland of Piet Mondriaan, Theo van Doesburg, Gerrit Rietveld and Piet Zwart now produces designs of the highest abstraction—designs of letters. “Holland today has more type designers per capita than any other country in the world, a remarkable fact considering that there is now not one surviving Dutch type foundry,” says Gerard Unger, one of the most important typographers in Holland. Unger, a very active typeface designer and lecturer, stands somewhere between the classic typeface designers and the experimental ones. Among Unger’s work are the typeface for the Amster- dam Metro, Demos, Praxis, ITC Flora designed for Hell company, Amerigo and Oranda for Bitstream, and his latest drawings include the newspaper faces Swift and Gulliver.

According to Unger, this has to do with the low-lying land and cool skies of the Netherlands. “Hollander is one of my designs to reflect the inescapable Dutch horizon. The hori- zontal parts of the curves are stretched, the resultant gentle arches combining with the large serifs to assist the letters in joining visually to make words and lines,” describes Unger the typeface that follows the best traditions of Dutch typography.

Is it possible that the physical character of the landscape forms characteristics of graphic design? For the answer to this question we go back to the beginning of the century. While most of Europe accepted “Art Nouveau” as the “last international-spread art movement” that influenced archi- tecture, craft, and fine arts, the Dutch rejected Art Nouveau as frivolous. Dutch artists considered themselves pragmatic and realistic. Thus, they rather turned themselves towards conventional realism that later evolved into abstraction.

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Forty years ago, the Dutch society was still solidly bourgeois, puritanical and strongly influenced by religion. It is the change after the second world war from a politically neutral country to an active member of transatlantic and European alliances that had far-reaching cultural effects. It totally changed the Dutch perception of their own nationality, and revised the traditional Dutch values. From a very religious country the Netherlands developed into one of the most liberal societies in the world. Life in the Netherlands became much more open and hedonistic oriented. The prosperity of the nation in the 60s also helped to create a mood of great expectation; instead of looking abroad for models, the Dutch understood the advantages of being themselves. No, this was not a sudden turn in the history of the nation; the Dutch stayed as they have always been, open towards international developments.

It is very unlikely that the countryside (even though it is

so remarkable in its flatness) is the only determinant of art

development in the Netherlands, although it is undoubtedly

a source of inspiration for Dutch artists. Holland has always

been an unusually tolerant place. It is the place with many political parties, many different views and opinions. Individ- uality here is a very important element. It seems that with the world-wide availability of graphic software, the nation- al characteristics of graphic design and typography would disappear. How is it possible that there is such a phenomenon as “Dutch design” in today’s international style? And, what are the characteristics of Dutch design? Reading the art history books, I can say that realism, sobriety, outspokenness, clari- ty, moral integrity, and social responsibility were frequently marked as typical Dutch virtues. But these characteristics do not in themselves define style. And even if they did, the same qualities are related to Modernism (International style), another movement that didn’t influence Holland very much. The Dutch found their own interpretation of Modernism.

Gerard Unger in his essay Dutch landscape with letters wrote:

‘the national character is only one of the components needed

for a recognizable style of type design. The chief elements of style are the product not merely of the country, region or city in which the designer happens to live, they are also molded by his own personal qualities and the age in which he works.’ Maybe a foreign observer can better describe what is hard to see for the Dutch themselves. Erik Spiekermann, a German typographer, puts it like this: “All the Dutch type designs I know, even the historical ones, have a vertical oval as one of their basic shapes. They are narrow compared with French designs like the types of Excoffon, which are actually broader at the top than they are at the bottom. Clarity and openness and high contrast are also clearly identifiable characteris- tics in Dutch types. The clarity and openness are part of the construction and contrast in, say, the alternation of rounded and angular forms. The structure is always clearly visible in the work of Dutch designers. The Dutch are more concerned with the structure, the basic shape. You can follow the syntax of the design process—the design can be understood im- mediately. At the same time they are also sophisticated.”

There is too much of it. Contemporary Dutch design can be stylish and eclectic, inventive and trains-historical, sys- tematic and non-functional, provocative and convention- al, conceptual and random, pragmatic and nonsensical, witty and stiff, anarchic and traditional and it still keeps its characteristics; it is still so Dutch. It fluctuates between rigid logic and total senselessness. In other words, there is no style of Dutch design. Or, in the words of designer Max Kisman, the style of Dutch design “is style of styles. There is pluriformity which is unique to Holland.”

Kisman pioneered the use of computers in 1977, when he was the first designer to create stamps for the postal/telecommu- nications services PTT on an Amiga computer. Kisman is also known for his belief that legibility is a code that depends on the impressions, rhythm, and expression of symbols which may or may not be letters. Kisman has become increasingly skeptical of designing new type, and since 1992 hasn’t de-

skeptical of designing new type, and since 1992 hasn’t de- 73 1910 Lyrisch , Schriftgießerei Ludwig

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1910 Lyrisch, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer , Frankfurt am Main signed any new fonts. “Because my angle

signed any new fonts. “Because my angle is shifted I am less interested in type. There is so much of that stuff and I wonder what I could add which hasn’t been done before. Too much I see now is somehow related to what I did years ago. Of course, I recognize some very good designs but to me the revolution is over and repetition began a while ago. There is no meaning in type design, all is decoration. Everyone can do what some- one else is doing. Type design becomes an average taste to express a general life style. Type is available anywhere at any time. Concepts of type are available anywhere at any time. Like the jersey you wear or the shoe you choose. Nothing more, nothing less. All this fuzz about type becomes a bit irrelevant, I think sometimes. Of course, it’s a big industry, a lot is involved, many typographical magazines appear, lots of students are waiting to bring in something new. This massive run on type is an escape from an essential question. Wheth- er graphic design will survive or not. And if so, how? More important at this moment is to redefine graphic design.”

While in 1989 Gerard Unger could say that “Dutchmen are a folk for text types, not headlines,” today he admits that young designers have proved otherwise. One of the most prolific contemporary type designers is the duo Letterror, formed by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum. At the ages of 24/25, they designed their revolutionary Randomfonts. Since then,

they have produced many best-selling typefaces. In the short time of 4 years they created 17 typeface families published by FontShop International, excluding their font contribu- tions for Brody’s FUSE project. Beowolf, their first random- font, is the typeface that for inspiration goes somewhere to pre-Gutenberg time. Instead of the traditional system of writing—repeating of graphical forms that become visually so unobtrusive that they are virtually invisible, Letterror developed a special technology that allows the random changing of letters. Randomfont technology generates each letter separately and differently. No two letters are the same. For instance, if you type two “A’s” in row and print them, they look different depending on the level of randomness you choose. This new invention is not limited only to changing letterforms. “We could change typographic awareness of computer users around the world by creating a font virus that would slowly transform every Helvetica into something much more desirable—the Post-modern typographer’s revenge, or we could create letters that would wear out through frequent use, combined with a feature that uses up certain often used letters.” Van Blokland and van Rossum devoted their research to humanizing type design. “A font that does not work over- time” and “a font that adds typos” go to the extreme in their attempts to add “the human quality” to computer typography. They believe that the computer can bring back subtleties that were lost during type evolution due economic consider- ations. “Recognition does not come from simple repetition of the same form, but it is something more intel- ligent, something that happens in our minds Randomness and change can add new

that happens in our minds Randomness and change can add new Type: A visual history of

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

dimensions to print work”

The experiments of the Letterror duo certainly have a great potential. We can add some data to a digital typeface, and it can act very intelligently. It may adjust its shape according the form of medium we are using it in, change its contour according to its size and relation with color background.

The Netherlands has 13 design schools. Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum, Peter Verheul, Martin Majoor, Peter Matthias Noordzij, (Luc)as de Groot, Evert Bloemsma, Fred Smeijers, are all their recent graduates, and already internationally recog- nized ones. Most of them emerged from The Art Academy in Arnhem and the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Hague (Gerrit Noordzij and Petr van Blokland teach in The Hague). None of the above mentioned typographers gave me the opportunity to summarize what “the Dutch style” is. My hope is that even in a new united Europe, where things are going to get all mixed up, the Dutch personal creativity will prevail.

Experimental typography. Whatever that means.

Very few terms have been used so habitually and carelessly as the word ‘experiment’. In the field of graphic design and typography, experiment as a noun has been used to signify anything new, unconventional, defying easy categorization, or confounding expectations. As a verb, ‘To experiment’ is often synonymous with the design process itself, which may not exactly be helpful, considering that all design is a result of the design process. The term experiment can also have the connotation of an implicit disclaimer; it suggests not taking responsibility for the result. When students are asked what they intend by creating certain forms, they often say, ‘It’s just an experiment…’, when they don’t have a better response.

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1909 Mimosenzierat, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

when they don’t have a better response. 74 1909 Mimosenzierat , J. G. Schelter & Giesecke
In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of

In a scientific context, an experiment is a test of an idea; a set of actions performed to prove or disprove a hypothe- sis. Experimentation in this sense is an empirical approach

to knowledge that lays a foundation upon which others

can build. It requires all measurements to be made ob- jectively under controlled conditions, which allows the procedure to be repeated by others, thus proving that a phenomenon occurs after a certain action, and that the phenomenon does not occur in the absence of the action.

An example of a famous scientific experiment would be Galileo Galilei’s dropping of two objects of different weights from the Pisa tower to demonstrate that both would land at the same time, proving his hypothesis about gravity. In this sense, a typographic experiment might be a procedure to determine whether humidity affects the transfer of ink onto a sheet of paper, and if it does, how.

A

scientific approach to experimentation, however, seems

to

be valid only in a situation where empirical knowledge is

applicable, or in a situation where the outcome of the experi- ment can be reliably measured. What happens however when the outcome is ambiguous, non-objective, not based on pure reason? In the recent book The Typographic Experiment: Rad- ical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design, the author Teal Triggs asked thirty-seven internationally-recognized design- ers to define their understandings of the term experiment.

As expected, the published definitions couldn’t have been more disparate. They are marked by personal belief systems and biased by the experiences of the designers. While Hamish Muir of 8vo writes: ‘Every type job is experiment’, Melle Hammer insists that: ‘experimental typography does not

exist, nor ever has’. So how is it possible that there are such diverse understandings of a term that is so commonly used?

1909 Mimosenzierat, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

Among the designers’ various interpretations, two notions of experimentation were dominant. The first one was formulat- ed by the American designer David Carson: ‘experimental is something I haven’t tried before … something that hasn’t been seen and heard’. Carson and several other designers suggest that the nature of experiment lies in the formal novelty of the result. There are many precedents for this opinion, but in an era when information travels faster than ever before and when we have achieved unprecedented archival of information, it becomes significantly more difficult to claim a complete novelty of forms. While over ninety years ago Kurt Schwitters proclaimed that to ‘do it in a way that no one has done it before’ was sufficient for the definition of the new typography of his day — and his work was an appropriate example of such an approach — today things are different. Designers are more aware of the body of work and the discourse accompanying it. Proclaiming novelty today can seem like historical ignorance on a designer’s part.

Interestingly, Carson’s statement also suggests that the essence of experimentation is in going against the prevailing patterns, rather than being guided by conventions. This is directly op- posed to the scientific usage of the word, where an experiment is designed to add to the accumulation of knowledge; in design, where results are measured subjectively, there is a tendency to go against the generally accepted base of knowledge. In science a single person can make valuable experiments, but a design ex- periment that is rooted in anti-conventionalism can only exist against the background of other — conventional — solutions. In this sense, it would be impossible to experiment if one were the only designer on earth, because there would be no stand-

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to experiment if one were the only designer on earth, because there would be no stand-
ard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional.

ard for the experiment. Anti-conventionalism requires going against prevailing styles, which is perceived as conventional. If more designers joined forces and worked in a similar fashion, the scale would change, and the former convention would become anti-conventional. The fate of such experimentation is a permanent confrontation with the mainstream; a circular, cyclical race, where it is not certain who is chasing whom.

Does type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all? The alphabet is by its very nature dependent on and defined by conventions. Type design that is not bound by convention is like a private language: both lack the abili- ty to communicate. Yet it is precisely the constraints of the alphabet which inspire many designers. A recent example is the work of Thomas Huot-Marchand, a French postgraduate student of type-design who investigates the limits of legibil- ity while physically reducing the basic forms of the alphabet. Minuscule is his project of size-specific typography. While the letters for regular reading sizes are very close to con- ventional book typefaces, each step down in size results in simplification of the letter-shapes. In the extremely small sizes (2pt) Miniscule becomes an abstract reduction of the alpha- bet, free of all the details and optical corrections which are

usual for fonts designed for text reading. Huot-Marchand’s project builds upon the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Emile Javal, who published similar research at the beginning of the 20th century. The practical contribution

of both projects is limited, since the reading process is

still guided by the physical limitations of the human eye, however, Huot-Marchand and Javal both investigate the constraints of legibility within which typography functions.

The second dominant notion of experiment in The Ty- pographic Experiment was formulated by Michael Wor- thington, a British designer and educator based in the USA: ‘True experimentation means to take risks.’ If taken

literally, such a statement is of little value: immediate-

ly we would ask what is at stake and what typographers

are really risking. Worthington, however, is referring to the risk involved with not knowing the exact outcome of the experiment in which the designers are engaged.

A similar definition is offered by the E.A.T. (Experiment

And Typography) exhibition presenting 35 type designers and typographers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which coincidentally will arrive in the Netherlands shortly.

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1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

Alan Záruba and Johanna Balušková, the curators of E.A.T. put their focus on development and process when describing the concept of the exhibition: ‘the show focuses on projects which document the development of designers’ ideas. Attention is paid to the process of creating innovative solutions in the field of type design and typography, often engaging experi- mental processes as a means to approach unknown territory.’

An experiment in this sense has no preconceived idea of the outcome; it only sets out to determine a cause-and-ef- fect relationship. As such, experimentation is a method of working which is contrary to production-oriented design, where the aim of the process is not to create something new, but to achieve an already known, pre-formulated result.

Belgian designer Brecht Cuppens has created Sprawl, an experimental typeface based on cartography, which takes into account the density of population in Belgium. In Sprawl, the silhouette of each letter is identical, so that when typed they lock into each other. The filling of the letters however varies according to the frequency of use of the letter in the Dutch language. The most frequently used letter (e) represents the highest density of population. The most infrequently used letter (q) corresponds to the lowest density. Setting a sample text creates a Cuppens representation of the Belgian landscape.

Another example of experiment as a process of creation without anticipation of the fixed result is an online project . Ortho-type Trio of authors, Enrico Bravi, Mikkel Crone Koser, and Paolo Palma, describe ortho-type as ’an exercise in perception, a stim- ulus for the mind and the eye to pick out and process three-di- mensional planes on a flat surface…’. Ortho-type is an online application of a typeface designed to be recognizable in three dimensions. In each view, the viewer can set any of the available variables: length, breadth, depth, thickness, colour and rotation, and generate multiple variations of the model. The user can also generate those variations as a traditional 2D PostScript font.

Although this kind of experimental process has no com-

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

mercial application, its results may feed other experiments and be adapted to commercial activities. Once assimilat- ed, the product is no longer experimental. David Carson may have started his formal experiments out of curiosi- ty, but now similar formal solutions have been adapted by commercial giants such as Nike, Pepsi, or Sony.

Following this line, we can go further to suggest that no completed project can be seriously considered experimental. It is experimental only in the process of its creation. When completed it only becomes part of the body of work which it was meant to challenge. As soon as the experiment achieves its final form it can be named, categorized and analyzed according to any conventional system of classification and referencing.

An experimental technique which is frequently used is to bring together various working methods which are recog- nized separately but rarely combined. For example, language is studied systematically by linguists, who are chiefly inter- ested in spoken languages and in the problems of analyzing them as they operate at a given point in time. Linguists rarely, however, venture into the visible representation of language, because they consider it artificial and thus secondary to spoken language. Typographers on the other hand are con- cerned with the appearance of type in print and other repro- duction technologies; they often have substantial knowledge of composition, color theories, proportions, paper, etc., yet often lack knowledge of the language which they represent.

These contrasting interests are brought together in the work of Pierre di Sciullo, a French designer who pursues his typographic research in a wide variety of media.

His typeface Sintétik reduces the letters of the French alphabet to the core phonemes (sounds which distinguish one word from another) and compresses it to 16 characters. Di Sciullo stresses the economic aspect of such a system, with an average book being reduced by about 30% percent when multiple spellings of the same sound are made redundant. For example, the French

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80 Chapter 2: 1909–1916 81 1909 Neue Jahreszeten Bilder , Gebr Klingspor , Offenbach am Main

1909 Neue Jahreszeten Bilder, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

words for skin (peaux) and pot (pot) are both reduced to the

simplest representation of their pronunciation — po. Words set

in Sintétik can be understood only when read aloud return-

ing the reader to the medieval experience of oral reading.

Quantange is another font specific to the French language. It is basically a phonetic alphabet which visually suggests the pronunciation, rhythm and pace of reading. Every letter in

Quantange has as many different shapes as there are ways of pronouncing it: the letter c for example has two forms because it can be pronounced as s or k. Di Sciullo suggests that Quantange would be particularly useful to foreign students of French or

to actors and presenters who need to articulate the inflectional

aspect of language not indicated by traditional scripts. This project builds on experiments of early avant-garde designers, the work of the Bauhaus, Kurt Schwitters, and Jan Tschichold.

Di Sciullo took inspiration from the reading process, when he

designed a typeface for setting the horizontal palindromes of

Georges Perec (Perec has written the longest palindrome on

record, a poem of 1388 words which can be read both ways,). The typeface is a combination of lower and upper case and is designed to be read from both sides, left and right. (This is great news to every Bob, Hannah or Eve.) Di Sciullo’s type- faces are very playful and their practical aspects are limited,

yet like the other presented examples of experiments in

typography, his works points to previously unexplored areas of interest which enlarge our understanding of the field.

Although most of the examples shown here are marked by the recent shift of interest of European graphic design from forms to ideas, and the best examples combine both, there is

no definitive explanation of what constitutes an experiment

in typography. As the profession develops and more people practice this subtle art, we continually redefine the purpose of

experimentation and become aware of its moving boundaries.

experimentation and become aware of its moving boundaries. 1909 Kalender Vignetten , J.G. Schelter & Giesecke

1909 Kalender Vignetten, J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig

History of a new font (notes on designing Fedra Serif)

Type design, like many disciplines, has often been driven by technology. Each wave of technological change in printing provoked the development of new approaches enabled by the new possibilities. In the eighteenth century, for example, new typefaces exploited innovations in papermaking and improved inking techniques to greatly increase the contrast between letters’ thick and thin strokes. The introduction of pantographic punch- and matrix-cutting in the late nine- teenth century enabled numerous variations of a typeface to be manufactured from a single drawing. This understanding of the mechanical scaling of forms changed the idea of the alphabet; it was now a flexible system, resulting in a vast range of typographic variants — compressed, expand- ed, extruded, ad infinitum. In the mid-twentieth century the adoption of photocomposition systems meant that spacing and kerning could be adjusted with greater precision; among the many novelties that photo technology enabled, more fonts sim- ulating connected handwriting were developed. And most recently the personal computer spurred a wave of new fonts based on previously unexplored motives, such as modularity or randomness. With each of these technological changes, typeface libraries were updated to reflect the changes.

typeface libraries were updated to reflect the changes. Type designers are very fond of the problems

Type designers are very fond of the problems imposed by the technology. They work in a discipline where restrictions and conven- tions define the frame of work. A problem is the type designer’s muse, and in the last dec- ades we were blessed by enough problems to solve.

While working on the typeface to be called Charter, Matthew Carter was confronted with a peculiar technical problem.

Early computers were not able to process font files over a certain kilobyte limit, so

Early computers were not able to process font files over a certain kilobyte limit, so Carter quickly offered a solution: a typeface that would consist mainly of straight lines, thereby keeping the file size small by limiting the number of points needed to construct the letters. Proudly he claimed to the technicians, ‘I think I solved your problem…’ ‘What problem?’ the technicians asked; an even quicker fixing of the comput- er’s limitations would render Carter’s ‘solution’ useless.

Seeing type design solely as a problem-solving exercise is limiting, reducing type design to a response mechanism – a craft detached from its own history. When the idea of cul- tural progress is supplanted by technological progress, the more implicit motives of type design, such as continuity or self-awareness are neglected. Solving a particular technological problem is only a short detour in history’s path. Solving all the technical problems would mean the end of the type history, but this history can itself be the prime inspiration for new designs.

Carter, alongside many of the great punch-cutters, designers, and printers, has participated in the sequence of discoveries, summed up - for the sake of comprehensibility - as History. They contributed to the History of the profession by respond-

contributed to the History of the profession by respond- 82 1913 The Packard Series of Type

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1913 The Packard Series of Type, American Type Founders Company, Boston

ing to current situations. Their aim was not to reinvent the existing, but to reveal an unknown aspect of the art itself. Typefaces designed to fulfill the needs of their times contrib- ute their small part to the knowledge accumulated across the centuries; not necessarily by inventing anything revolution- ary, but by extending and adapting collective knowledge to contemporary conditions. The spirit of continuity is crucial:

each new creation is an answer to what has come before and each new typeface contains accumulated knowledge.

So: contemporary type design is necessarily histori- cal. Typefaces are results of the processes, they are re- sponses to the conditions in which they were created, and they immediately take a part in the history.

On the other hand, revivals, or typefaces teleporting their inspirations from concluded periods of time, are unre- lated to contemporary demands. They discontinue the series of inventions, becoming a game of pastiche, merely repeating what has already been created. Revival typefac- es are, then, ahistorical, as they place themselves outside their natural history. They create their short-lived par- allel histories and fail to participate in the big story.

History has been gravely abused, and an excuse for many misdemeanors, but it always outlasts those who tried to abuse it. History’s only enemy is the end of the progress. Repeating what has already been created closes the circle of discoveries. The value of understanding history as an infinite source of accumu- lated knowledge is manifest in the intangible processes as much as the tangible results. The history is driven by intellectual pursuits. Most historical discoveries are the isolated discoveries of introvert individuals rather then mainstream technologies.

The Austrian writer Herman Broch, author of a number of formally inventive and intellectually ambitious novels, used to repeat this mantra: ‘the sole raison d’être of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover’. My con- clusion is equally optimistic: the purpose of type design is to explore its own possibilities by its own means.

Beauty and Ugliness in Type design

In 2010 I was invited to a design conference in Copenhagen to speak on the subject of conceptual type. The organisers were interested in examples of typefaces whose principal design fea- ture was not related to aesthetic considerations or legibility, but rather some underlying non-typographical idea. In my address I argued that there is no such thing as conceptual type, since type design is a discipline defined by its ability to execute an outcome; the process that transforms the pure idea into a func- tional font is a critical part of the discipline. Having rejected the topic of the conference, I nevertheless went on to speculate on what a true example of a conceptual typeface might be like.

At the time I was also interested in the idea of irreconcila- ble differences and how two extremes could be combined into a coherent whole. As an example, I looked for the most beautiful typeface in the history of typography — as well as the ugliest one — and for a way to meld them.

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

83

The Beauty

While any choice representing beauty is bound to be very personal and subjective, many agree that the high-con- trast typefaces created by Giambattista Bodoni and the Didot clan are some of the most beautiful in existence.

Bodoni was one of the most widely-admired printers of his time and considered amongst the finest in the history of the craft. Thomas Curson Hansard wrote in 1825 that Bodoni’s types had “that beautiful and perfect appearance, which we find it difficult and highly expensive to equal”. In his Manu- ale Tipografico of 1818, Bodoni laid down the four principles of type design “from which all beauty would seem to pro- ceed”, namely: regularity, clarity, good taste, and charm.

His close competitors in France were the Didots. Not only did François-Ambroise Didot invent many of the machines used in printing, but his foundry endeavoured to render the types more beautifully than his rivals Baskerville and (later) Bodoni. Some considered Didot’s works the most beautiful types that had ever been used in France (up to that period), though others found them delicate but lifeless.

The Ugliness

I have to admit that dealing with ugliness was a lot more interesting than revisiting the beauty contests of the classi- cist printers. The search for ugliness triggers a certain primal, voyeuristic curiosity, and from the designer’s perspective there is simply a lot more space to explore. Capturing beauty has always been considered the primary responsibility of the traditional artist, and even now it is rare to find exam- ples of skilled and deliberate ugliness in type design, (al- though examples of inexperience and naivetÉ abound).

The eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution was a clear choice. This reversed-contrast type- face was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention

by defying their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and vice versa — a dirty trick to create freakish letterforms that stood out in the in- creasingly saturated world of commercial messages.

No other style in the history of typography has provoked such negative reactions as the Italian. It was first presented in Caslon & Catherwood’s 1821 type specimen, and as early as 1825, in his Typographia Thomas Hansard called the type a “typograph- ic monstrosity”. Nicolete Gray called it “a crude expression of the idea of perversity” , while others labeled it as “degenerate.”

The goal of my project was to show just how closely relat- ed beauty and ugliness are. Donald Knuth, an American computer scientist with a special interest in typography identified over 60 visual parameters that control the ap- pearance of a typeface. I was interested in designing type- face variations that shared most of these parameters, yet included both the ugliest and most beautiful letterforms.

Karloff, the result of this project, connects the high contrast Modern type of Bodoni and Didot with the monstrous Italians. The difference between the attrac- tive and repulsive forms lies in a single design param- eter, the contrast between the thick and the thin.

I asked Pieter van Rosmalen for help, and both of us worked on both versions. While at the beginning I looked at the Didot from Imprimerie Nationale as a reference, Pieter departed from this model and made the project more personal. We worked on both models at the same time, trying to be very strict about mathematically reversing the contrast between two weights. The advantage of working on both versions together was that we could adjust both of them to achieve the best forms, rather than creating one as an afterthought of the other.

Towards the end of the project, I worked with Nikola Djurek, our frequent collaborator, who helped with in- terpolation and fine-tuning of the fonts. Having designed

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

84

two diametrically opposite versions, we undertook a ge- netic experiment with the offspring of the beauty and the beast, interpolation of the two extremes, which produced a surprisingly neutral low contrast version. Karloff Neutral required only minimal intervention, because the master weights from which it was interpolated were well defined.

The history of History

Type design, like many disciplines, has often been driven by technology, each wave of change in printing technology provoking the development of new approaches to design. In the eighteenth century, for example, innovations in paper- making and inking techniques inspired new typefaces with much higher contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the characters. The introduction of pantographic punch- and matrix-cutting in the late nineteenth century enabled numer- ous variations of a typeface to be manufactured from a single drawing, transforming typefaces into flexible systems with vast ranges of typographic variants. In the mid-twentieth century the adoption of photocomposition systems meant that spacing and kerning could be adjusted with greater precision, inspiring (among other things) the development of more fonts simulating handwriting. Most recently, the personal computer has spurred a wave of new fonts based on previously unexplored motifs, such as modularity or random chance.

Seeing type design solely as a problem-solving exercise is limiting, however, reducing type design to a response mecha- nism‚ a craft detached from its own history. When the idea of cultural progress is supplanted by technological progress, the less obvious motifs of type design such as continuity or self-awareness are neglected. Solving a particular technological problem is only a short detour in history’s path. Solving all the technical problems would mean the end of type history, but this history can itself be the prime inspiration for new designs.

history can itself be the prime inspiration for new designs. 1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift , Gebr

1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

can itself be the prime inspiration for new designs. 1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift , Gebr Klingspor

The History type system was in development longer than any other project I ever worked on. Its beginnings can be traced to the early 1990’s when I experimented with decorative layering systems inspired by 19th century types, trying to dissect Tuscan typefaces into their structural components.

While most historians and designers regard this period with horror, and many history books call the typefaces decadent or regressive, I found Tuscans very charming and inspirational. I started drawing a layering font that incor- porated the possibilities of Tuscan types, but because of technological limitations, I never completed the project.

Years later (2002) the project took a new twist as I worked on

a proposal for the Twin Cities typeface. Instead of proposing

one new typeface for St.Paul and Minneapolis, I presented the idea of a typeface system inspired by the evolution of typography, a conceptual typeface that reused existing fonts.

I called this proposal ‘History’. A user would select ‘History’ from the font menu, not knowing what font would be used. History would be linked with the computer’s calendar and with a predefined database of fonts, presenting a different font every day. For example, one day it would use the forms of Garamond, but the next day when you opened the same document, the font would change and present the text in a new typeface, say Granjon, that was created later than Gara- mond. The idea was that the constant changes would confront the user with the continuous development of typography.

And finally around 2004 I started working more intensively

on a system of layering letterforms that could be recombined.

I kept adding new styles, and because every style had to use

the same proportions as the previous one so that they would work together, it was getting increasingly more complicated to draw them. The danger was that this could be a never-ending project, and I could keep adding more and more styles, which would take more and more time to incorporate. In 2008, I finally decided to limit the number of styles to 21. It was an

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86

arbitrary decision, but I liked the number, as it reflected the 21 centuries of typographic history encompassed by the project.

Based on a skeleton of Roman inscriptional capitals, Histo- ry includes 21 layers, 21 independent typefaces which share widths and other metric information so that they can be recombined. Thus History has the potential to generate an infinite number of unique styles through the superimposition of layers encompassing humanist renaissance, transitional, baroque, script-like, early grotesque, 19th century vernacular and digital types. While careless use can generate freakish results resembling Frankenstein’s monster, more careful experimentation can produce not only amusing, but surpris- ingly fresh and usable typeface samples. With History, one can replicate typographic history or, on the other hand, extend it. For example, you can take a hairline skeleton of letters inspired by Roman inscriptional capitals from year 80 AD (layer 1), dress it up with a high contrast of thick and thin strokes as Bodoni used in his work (layer 3), and finally apply 18th century ultra thin serifs (layer 10) to emulate the style typical of the work of Didot and Bodoni. Or you can take a low contrast model of letters with oblique stress (layer 2) and combine it with bracketed serifs derived from a broad nib pen (layer 8) to end up with letters reminiscent of Nicolas Jenson’s Roman from 1470. Making approximations of historical typefaces is instructional, but not very interesting, (and frankly, one should use real Didot or real Jenson typefaces); it is far more interesting to extend history and mix styles which historically have not co-existed. Take, for instance, bitmap letterforms found in early low-resolution computer screens (layer 7), and combine them with the thin serifs of Bodoni (layer 10) to get something unexpected. And add the swooshes found in 15th century humanist calligraphy (layer 17) to top it off.

Realising that controlling 21 different layers can be a daunting task, I proposed to supply not just the 21 font files, but also the History Remixer application. This web-based software pro- cesses text input through an interface which allows the user to

work with the layers, activating, deactivating, arranging, setting colour, and luminosity. The application generates an open PDF file which one can then fine tune in Illustrator or some other programme. Using the Remixer is fun, but playing with History in InDesign, although is much more work, is probably more enjoyable because unexpectedly fresh letterforms result. One can happen across new possibilities, and this game of discov- ery was one of the important reasons why I did this project.

I chose ‘History’ as a deliberately irreverent, cheeky

name, but by no means intended it to be disrespectful. It is mostly a direct reference to the fact that I embraced no single point in the past, but rather a very large part of history of typography. My sincere intention was to par- ticipate in the sequence of typographic discoveries and allow the user to actively engage in this process as well.

I should acknowledge some sources of inspiration behind

this project. Of course the history of typography was the primary inspiration. In addition, however, there are some works which were particularly inspiring to me at the time. The ‘polyhistorical’ model of Milan Kundera’s Immortality

provided the theoretical foundation of the project in the way

it mixes personalities of the past and present, describing an

imaginary dialogue between, say, the German poet Goethe (1749-1832) and the American novelist Hemingway (1899- 1961), even though those two could never really have met.

But there are also some precedents in the history of typogra- phy that allowed me to explore the area of multiform works. Oswald Cooper’s experiments from 1936, which involved applying 15 serifs applied to stems of similar weight to test their influence in letter design, was of particular interest.

And more recently, Matthew Carter’s typeface for Walker Art Center opened my eyes to new possibilities. I should also mention other useful experiments, such as the early manifestation of Multiple Master technology documented in typefaces such as Adobe’s Penumbra designed in 1994

in typefaces such as Adobe’s Penumbra designed in 1994 by Lance Hidy. With the use of
in typefaces such as Adobe’s Penumbra designed in 1994 by Lance Hidy. With the use of

by Lance Hidy. With the use of Multiple Master, Penumbra can continuously change from sans serif to fully serifed.

1910 Eine Deutsche Schrift, Gebr Klingspor, Offenbach am Main

Some reviews and user responses suggest that History is more of an educational tool than a functional typeface system. Yes, surely one can use it to explain and explore the constructions of Roman letterforms, but I still would like to emphasise the practical aspect of the system. I sincerely hoped, but couldn’t predict, that fonts would be used commercially.

Running a type foundry for a decade, I’ve learnt that though

our clients are often extremely creative professionals, they don’t have time to learn too many new things, and many features of our fonts go unnoticed. It is all very well and good to create style sets, extended language support and ways to make sure that a different (slightly higher) hyphen is used automatically when the text is converted to capitals, but does it all matter when most people don’t even know what OpenType fonts are?

I don’t have precise usage statistics, but my guess is that 90% of

our clients use only the basic character set and never realise that

the font, which they licensed for quite a bit of money, can do a whole lot more than respond to the computer keys they push.

As evidence I can quote occasional conversations with users of our fonts who complain that small cap fonts are missing (when in fact they simply need to be activated by

an OpenType feature), or that when they type English text

it is still in English even though the font claims to support

Russian (indeed the font doesn’t translate words automat- ically, but only renders the content). So does it make sense

to spend nearly 15 years of (discontinuous and at times not very intense) work on an even more complex font system that cannot be used properly in Microsoft Word, and is rather challenging to use in design applications as well?

Now, more than a year after the original publication of History,

I can say that it was probably worth the effort. The fonts are

indeed being used, and I am continually amazed when I see their real-life applications. I am not sure if I only see the beauti- ful samples because people don’t bother sending me the horrible ones, or if it’s the high barrier of difficulty of using History that puts the system in the hands of dedicated designers. Whatev- er the reason is, seeing History in use is deeply satisfying.

One things that I’ve learned from this project is that despite

the ubiquitous market research in design and the calculated decisions of designers, it is still worthwhile to do projects that

I personally believe in. Even the day before History’s release I had no idea if anyone would ever use the system, but that was less important, as I found the work gratifying, and I focused on the creative process rather than its market potential. It is satisfying to see that this naive approach can work even in a world driven by commercial pressures. It gives me the courage to dedicate time to personal research which, when

it is rigourous enough, can find its application in the wild.

Font hinting

Hinting, or screen optimising, is the process by which fonts are adjusted for maximum readability on computer monitors. I have been designing type since the early 1990s, and for as long as I can remember, type designers have been saying that hinting would soon be made obsolete by new advances in hardware and software. Now, almost 20 years later, hinting seems to be more relevant than ever.

The problem is that typical modern fonts are not designed primarily for the 72–96 dpi resolution of computer screens, but

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

for the much higher 1,200+ dpi resolution of print media. The letterforms are designed and stored as outlines, mathematically perfect lines and curves which look great at high resolutions, but can be distorted or even illegible when converted into groups of pixels, the on-or-off dots that make up a computer’s display. And although there has been much discussion about high-definition computer monitors for decades, the fact of the matter is that my 5 year old mobile phone still takes photos with finer detail than my brand new computer can show on its screen.

This is the reason that webpage designers have long been more or less limited to a dozen or so fonts (Verdana, Georgia, Arial, etc.) that have been fine-tuned by hand so that typical text sizes (9–14pt) display well at low resolutions. These fonts are so common that most computer users think of them as free, but the reality is that Verdana, for example, is probably the most expensive, labor-intensive font ever produced. It includes characters used to write an extremely wide range of languages, and each of these characters had to be adjusted to be readable at every point size between 9 and 60 (at 60pt the resolution is sufficient to display the letterforms accu- rately). In other words, each of more than 890 characters was ’redesigned’ dozens of times, once at every point size.

Outlines of Fedra Sans Screen at various sizes. Notice how different the outlines are in order to achieve the optimal legibility of screen. Every letter is ba- sically designed for each point size again.

This is exactly what hinting is about: programming instruc- tions that fine-tune a font’s rasterisation, the process by which its mathematically ideal outlines are mapped onto a monitor’s pixels. Hinting can control the heights and widths of a font’s uppercase and lowercase letters, the widths of its individual lines, the amount of white space around letters, the size at which uppercase letters start to use different stem-widths from lowercase letters, how the angle of italic characters changes to best fit the pixel grid, and many other extremely technical

88

1912 Neuer Akzidenz- und Kalender-Schmuck, Schriftgießerei C.F. Rühl, Leipzig

and many other extremely technical 88 1912 Neuer Akzidenz- und Kalender-Schmuck , Schriftgießerei C.F. Rühl ,

details, all on a pixel-by-pixel basis. If this sounds like a rather tedious, time-consuming activity, it is, (even for type designers, who are accustomed to tedious, time-consuming activities).

Last year there was considerable hype about the @font-face declaration, a function that makes it possible for a webpage to display any font, freeing designers from dependence on the ‘Web-safe’ fonts and opening new design possibilities (not the least of which is the creation of visual identities which are consistent across both print and web media). On the other hand, this also raises new issues, including poor onscreen display of non-hinted fonts. And because hinting is tedious, time-consuming and widely believed to be nearly obsolete, 99% of all fonts, even commercial ones, are non-hinted.

Hinting TrueType and PostScript fonts

Even when fonts are hinted optimum onscreen results are still not guaranteed, as different font technologies approach hinting differently. In the PostScript system most of the font scaling is handled not by the fonts, but by the rasteriser software, so fonts in PostScript format look often good with relatively simple hinting or no hinting at all. In the TrueType system, however, the rasteriser is controlled by sophisticated hinting instructions contained within the font software; without this information TrueType fonts do not display well onscreen.

Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. One advantage of the PostScript system is that the ‘Intelligence’ is concentrated in the rasteriser, so any improvement to the ras- teriser immediately produces better rendering of all PostScript fonts. Even 20 year old fonts render nicely on the latest Mac. In the TrueType system, rasteriser updates require all fonts to be updated as well for optimal results. Thus fonts hinted for black and white or greyscale rendering will not work as well with Windows’ ClearType rasteriser. On the other hand, TrueType hinting provides direct, pixel-by-pixel control over the rasterising process, which PostScript hinting does not.

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Macro photography of Apple Mac Book Pro. On LCD monitors (flat screens) every pixel is made from three elements which can be controlled separately. Subpixel rendering takes advantage of the way your eyes perceive colour, using shades of blue, red and green to simulate higher screen resolution in horizontal direction.

Mac OS vs. Windows

A lot has been written about how Mac OS renders text com- pared to Windows. I will not go into details here, but the prima- ry difference is that Microsoft’s rasteriser tries to align charac- ters to whole pixel grid, with the result that ’Regular’ weights look lighter, ’Bold’ weights look heavier, and subtle details of design can be lost at small point sizes. Apple’s rasteriser tries to preserve the design of the typeface as much as possible, some- times at the cost of image clarity. Windows’ rasterising software produces extremely good results with a few built-in TrueType fonts, but sub-optimal results with 99% of other typefaces. The Mac OS Quartz technology ignores font hinting completely and renders all fonts equally well regardless of their font format.

So let’s focus now on Windows — this is where hinting makes a difference — and let’s focus on TrueType fonts, which look superior in Windows at the moment.

Hinting Black and White rendering (Grid-Fitting), 1-bit

Black and white hinting, developed in the days when operating systems could only turn pixels on or off, controls which pixels will be displayed at a given point size. This kind of hinting is called grid-fitting because the outlines of the font are signifi- cantly modified to fit the pixel grid of the screen. It is the most time-consuming hinting process, and it takes an experienced hinter at least 80 hours to hint a single font with the basic 256 character set. Fonts with extensive character sets and/or numerous styles of course take much longer. This process also

styles of course take much longer. This process also usually adds white pixels between characters to

usually adds white pixels between characters to improve legi- bility, which can create a difference in length between printed and screen versions of a text. Microsoft’s Verdana and Georgia are examples of black and white hinted fonts. Newer technol- ogy has made black and white hinting obsolete and permitted onscreen results that are much truer to the original letterforms.

Practical Implications

What does all this mean to a type designer? Hinting can improve the rendering of fonts. But those fonts will be rendered differently by different rasterisers on different platforms and often in different applications as well, (com- pare for example text in the Safari and Explorer browsers on the same Windows computer). If the designer’s inten- tion is consistent cross-platform rendering, the fonts also need to use consistent design across similar letters.

It is clear that one day font hinting will finally become obsolete, but it is not clear when that day will come. The most widely used operating system in the world, Windows XP (still 58.4% market share, as of this writing), has ClearType turned off by default, so unhinted fonts typically do not display well at small sizes. Whether we like it or not, it looks like hinting will be around for quite some time. But if you like how fonts display on the Mac at small sizes, you can take that as proof that it is already possible to render text well without any hinting at all.

1913 Eine Deutsche Schrift, American Type Founders Company, Boston

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

In search of a comprehensive type design theory

Have you ever heard a conversation between two type design- ers? Even the most patient, well-intentioned outsider might find himself smiling embarrassedly, excusing himself and looking for an exit, dumbfounded. Type designers, like computer pro- grammers, clinical biochemists, entomologists and agricultural scientists are marked by an unintelligible jargon and slavish devotion to their pursuits; what sets them apart, however, is the seeming unimportance of their discussions. We type design- ers might be convinced that our profession is vital to society, but we wouldn’t risk going on strike to test how indispensable we really are. Like printer cartridges or pen refills, fonts are undoubtedly very practical and serve their function, but the public seems to take them for granted and largely ignores them.

Writing about fonts is equally difficult as talking about them. Articles on type design rarely appear outside the realm of the trade magazines, probably because of their highly technical nature. (The development of type has always been inextrica- bly connected to the development of printing technology.) Writing about type and typography in the mainstream media is somewhat of a rarity even in the Netherlands, a country which is renowned for its highly-developed typographic cul- ture, not to mention other countries where type design is still waiting for any sort of recognition. Yet searching through the past year’s issues of The New York Times reveals a surprising half dozen articles on typography, and even weekly satirical paper The Onion, carried an article on type, ‘Helvetica Bold Oblique Sweeps Fontys’, thus confirming the public’s inter- est in type design. (Of course, this article, which reports on the winner of a fictional annual font award, appeared next to other ‘news’ like ‘Sheepish Secret Service Agent Can’t Ex- plain How Vacuum Cleaner Salesman Got Into Oval Office’, which perhaps gives us a better perspective of the general public’s true level of concern in matters related to type.)

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 1913 Glass-Antiqua Magere , Genzsch &
Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 1913 Glass-Antiqua Magere , Genzsch &

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

1913 Glass-Antiqua Magere, Genzsch & Heyse, Hamburg

What is there to discuss about fonts for the outsider? Legibility studies have caused utter confusion even within the ranks of type designers. Aesthetic or interpretive evaluations of type are vague at best, and as far as functionality is concerned, every designer insists that his fonts work the best. All of which only leads to a larger question: how can we define criteria for good fonts? The French type designer Jean-François Porchez responds: ‘the only criterion I rely on is simple: a good type- face fits the need of the subject.’ This rather ambiguous answer points to the problem: how can a type designer design a typeface when he is not in control of the subject? Does it mean that we need to have an endless library of typefaces to fit an endless number of subjects? Can a particular typeface perform better than another particular typeface? The lack of clear values is dangerous, and together with the predominantly technical nature of the discussion, hinders typography in receiving the proper attention that is regularly given to other art forms.

It may seem that some kind of theory would help to facilitate discussion; after all, every self-respecting discipline has one, even obscure treatises such as Ludology Theory or Theory of Honest Signaling present comprehensive systems of accepted knowledge which are distinct from actual practice and help to explain some domain of inquiry. A theory can elevate the level of discussion as well as formulate the frame for such discussion. Type design, however, seems to resist attempts to establish an encompassing theory by its very nature. Type design is not an intellectual activity, but relies on a gesture of the person and his ability to express it formally. Even if a theory existed, it would not be very useful, since type design is governed by practice.

There might be detailed ‘How to’ instructions, but those do not qualify as general or abstract principles for creating type. Dictionary definitions of ‘font’ usually refer to the printing process, and although type is reproduced by other means as well, the essence of type is in its ability to be reproduced. Fonts are essentially modest semi-products; they don’t have much meaning until they are used. And although type foundries and distributors often attach adjectives to fonts before they are used, in reality new typefaces are like blank sheets of paper. They can be used to represent anything, and just as paper manufacturers cannot control what is printed on their paper, so type designers can hold no responsibility for what their fonts are used to communicate. This is not to say that font choices are purely arbitrary, but rather that fonts acquire meaning only through use, and that we judge fonts not only according to how they fit into the existing nomenclature of font classi- fication, but by how they refer to our previous experiences.

So far, I have deliberately been focusing on the appearance of type, thus running the risk of separating the design processes involved in type development from the technical processes in- volved in production. But hopefully we have learned something from the valuable lesson of the British Arts & Crafts movement, which centered precisely on the impossibility of detaching design from craft. Design is an inseparable element of the quality of type, however the function of typefaces must also be considered and respected. Through mastering proportions, bal- ance and optical corections, the type designer can achieve his aim, be it improved legibility, historical accuracy or originality of expression. In the end, most of the existing discussion of type

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chronicles the problem-solving aspect of typography. This also explains how many successful typefaces were created: they were creative solutions to existing design or technological problems.

But frankly, the fonts presented in our type collection solve no problems. There were no problems to begin with. One could go so far as to suggest that the primary motivation for making these fonts was the same as for making any art: the urge to create, to express oneself. While discussing typography amongst the general public is a relative rarity today, there seems to be a moderately increasing interest in typography among the general public. (I recently spoke with a writer, a confessed typophile who studies the anatomy of typefaces late into the night.) This interest in type can perhaps be attributed to a new level of self-consciousness, our attempt to understand even the smallest building blocks of our existence. Just as the purpose of DNA analysis is to identify the location and function of every human gene, so the study of typefaces can be seen as an attempt to understand the formal appearance of the smallest unit of the written word. And just as skeptics of human genome research argue that studying DNA will not shed any light on the true nature of human behavior, so studying type may not reveal anything about real communication. Still, an informed discussion of this often marginalized field may help to focus the attention of the professionals and inspire the general public.

Graphic Design in the White Cube

Organizing graphic design exhibitions is always problematic:

graphic design does not exist in a vacuum, and the walls of the exhibition space effectively isolate the work of design from the real world. Placing a book, a music album, or a poster in a gallery removes it from the cultural, commercial, and histor- ical context without which the work cannot be understood. The entire raison d’être of the work is lost as a side effect of losing the context of the work, and the result is frozen appear- ance stripped of meaning, liveliness and dynamism of use. Presenting design in an exhibition space in this way is akin to

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

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looking at a collection of stuffed birds in order to study how

they fly and sing. In spite of this, it is more and more common

to see design as ‘object’, not only in books and magazines,

but also in the ‘White cube’ of the exhibition space.

Graphic designers struggled for a long time for recognition and professionalization of their field, and exhibits are con- sidered one way of promoting the trade aspect of design. Everyone is happy: the designer whose work was selected by

the institution; the original client who received an admired and acclaimed design, and the gallery which acquires the work

to be presented. Work designed for a completely different

purpose is recycled, and re-presented in a foreign environ- ment. The same scenario is even more common in design publishing, and nearly instant books full of vague collections

of work with little or no commentary take up increasingly

more space on designers’ shelves, crowding out other books

which are more laborious to research, write and publish.

A

more recent trend is design which refuses to be seen only

as

an object of consumerism but draws parallels with art,

reflecting the autonomy of the designer in his work,

well as a willingness to initiate projects himself. This generation of designers is not the first one that doesn’t rely solely on clients to come up with project briefs. Renowned Dutch designer Karel Martens, who taught some of the designers repre- sented in this exhibition, has done uncommissioned, artistic work apart from his design career. Building on the tradition of the experimental printing of fellow designers such

as

as Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman or

Willem Sandberg, Martens’ prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his other, more practical design

prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
prints and collages were done in his spare time as studies and experiments which fueled his
1909 Zieraten , J.G. Schelter & Giescke , Leipzig work. Some designers today however integrate

1909 Zieraten, J.G. Schelter & Giescke, Leipzig

1909 Zieraten , J.G. Schelter & Giescke , Leipzig work. Some designers today however integrate self-initiat-

work. Some designers today however integrate self-initiat- ed work into their daily practice, no longer distinguishing between projects done in and outside of their working hours. Self-initiated work in graphic design is becoming increasing- ly more important for designers, starting up projects which probably would otherwise never see the light of day. The group of people who work in this way is still marginal, and it is no surprise that most of them live in countries with pros- perous economies, occasionally receiving cultural funding to facilitate their unconventional approach to their work.

Graphic design has for a long time been defined as a service of a designer for a client, rooted in external impulses rather than internal ones. Design work done without a client hangs in a limbo between art and design. Graphic design is a fairly

young profession, and as such still in a state of development. It is expanding to encompass various activities: writing, organiz- ing, conceptualizing, reflecting. This is no longer design which is only defined by business cards and logos. Here we come to

a problem of definition: until now I have been using the term graphic design with the assumption that everyone knows what

it means. Especially in the context of the 22nd International

Biennale of Graphic Design Brno with its 43 years of history, people have created expectations of what a typical graphic design exhibition might include. Let us understand ‘graphic design’ then, to mean a field in flux which is as flexible as the work that it embraces. Unlike the work of other professionals, the work of a designer is not restricted or defined by its content; in fact designers are trained to accommodate and express vari- ous, often contradicting ideas. It is a ghost discipline as Stuart Bailey writes: ’…graphic design only exists when other subjects exist first. It isn’t an a priori discipline, but a ghost; both a grey area and a meeting point…’ Bailey calls attention to an area that many designers struggle with: the way that they refer to their activity in their field transcends the established notion of its definition. Designers represented in the exhibition Graphic Design in the White Cube move fluently between the worlds

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

of art, design, music, theatre and writing. ‘I and everyone I work with just think of what we do as merely “work”. I studied typography and graphic design—that’s my background and it informs what I do—but now I do a variety of work, which may or may not come under those headings’, says Bailey in a recent interview. Others such as French designers M/M Paris directly challenge the definition of ‘graphic design’: ‘graphic design could embody a lot of activities, and the definition is not fixed, but continually evolving. Because it is still a new profession, the best graphic designers are the ones who reinvent their field and surprise.’ Members of Amsterdam-based design studio Experimental Jetset say that limited notion of design is a misunderstanding: ‘personally, we situate the birth of modern graphic design somewhere roughly between Marinetti’s Futur- ist manifestos, Piet Zwart’s leaflets for the Dutch Cable Factory, and Kurt Schwitters’ Merz publications (to name some obvious examples). So in our understanding, graphic design has always been an area where very different elements are synthesized:

art, politics, poetry, industry, etc.’ In their view, all the people invited to exhibit here are then part of this great tradition, and are ‘graphic designers in the traditional sense of the word’.

M/M, Bailey and Experimental Jetset are no strangers to the gallery world. M/M has held numerous solo exhibitions in prestigious art galleries and collaborated on major events (Venice Biennales). Bailey has directed theatre performances and more recently together with David Reinfurt (Dexter Sinister) is in- volved in organizing Manifesta 6, the European Biennial of Contem- porary Art in Cyprus, where they set up a model of economic production, responsible for all publishing activ- ities of the Manifesta 6 school. Jetset activities include solo exhibitions in

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

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Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles 96 1915 Neue Schriften und Ornamente ,

1915 Neue Schriften und Ornamente, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

galleries in London, Utrecht and Arnhem, and group shows in SFMOMA San Francisco, Kunsthal Rotterdam, or Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam amongst others.

In 2005, M/M were invited to Paris’ contemporary art museum Palais de Tokyo to exhibit their work next to major artworks of the late 20th century in an exhibition which featured works by a variety of artists including Joseph Kosuth, Jeff Koons, Maurizio Cattelan, Vanessa Beecroft, Takashi Murakami and Mike Kelley. The intentions of the exhibition was to explore how different contexts cause the same work to be read in different ways, blurring the boundaries between disciplines.

‘graphic design’, because of its ubiquitous nature, makes a considerable impact on the visual culture that surrounds us, so it makes a lot of sense to study this influence and critically discuss the work in the context of other visual arts as well. When presented in a museum however, the exhibition should attempt more than just passive presentation in glass cases. The isolated work lacks any real information about the rea- sons and processes behind it. What needs to become evident is the explicit purpose of the work, to see things otherwise inaccessible, otherwise the visitor is better off going to any bookstore or strolling down a busy street to get first hand experience of and physical interaction with ‘graphic design’.

There have been some design exhibitions which attempt to deal with these issues. Rick Poynor recently organized a major retrospective of British graphic design entitled Com- municate first held in London, now travelling world wide. The exhibition sets out to examine graphic design’s influence on contemporary culture, highlighting experimental work created by designers who aren’t limited by working to fulfill a commercial client’s brief. The exhibition occupied eight rooms of the Barbican Art Gallery, and Poynor, whose background is in journalism and publishing, organized these rooms as ’chapters’ of a book, each section presenting a different aspect of work, with introductory texts explaining each section of

Chapter 2: 1909–1916

the exhibition. The points and comparisons of the work were made through careful visual editing of the presented pieces.

Another example is the exhibition of Dutch graphic design that I was asked to organize a few years ago for the Brno Biennale. Given the fact that for practical reasons the work was to be displayed in a gallery space involving a certain degree of isolation of graphic design, the presentation at- tempted to clarify its function more, sketching out the trian- gle of client-designer-public. Since the work of the designer was brought to the gallery to be judged by the local public, the focus was on presenting the missing component, that is, providing space for the clients. The words of the commis- sioners in the formulation of the original brief were present- ed instead of the designer’s retrospective comments. The original brief illuminated the purpose of the work, while the public could evaluate how successfully it communicated.

However, a retrospective attempt to recreate the context for a work may not be the ultimate solution either and has its own pitfalls, as Experimental Jetset points out: ‘there’s also some- thing false about it: trying to recreate “the outside world” inside a museum/gallery, as if the museum/gallery is not a valid context in itself. In our opinion, in these cases, we think that it’s best to underline the museum context as much as possible, to be brutally honest that the context in which the object is shown is totally different from the context the object was originally designed for.’So it is in this context that we set to organize a ‘graphic design’ exhibition, with the intention of the commissioner, the Moravian Gallery in Brno, to ‘pres- ent to the public certain specific aspects and tendencies of contemporary graphic design worldwide’. Being extremely self-conscious, we propose a possibility: instead of bringing work from the outside to the gallery, let’s make the work for the gallery. Instead of recreating the context for the exhibits, let’s make the gallery conditions the context for the work. Nine- teen designers and collectives were commissioned to design a poster for the design exhibition in which they participate. The

97

posters will function on two levels: the collection of posters is to constitute the exhibition, and copies of the posters will be spread around the city to inform visitors about the exhibition. This is obviously a dangerous snake-eating-its-own-tail strategy, yet the self-referential nature of the brief makes it possible to illustrate otherwise invisible mechanics of the work process.

The usual conditions of design are created in the gallery:

designers were directly commissioned to make the poster in four weeks’ time, were offered a (minimal) design fee, and were asked to treat the commission just like any other projects they work on. What is perhaps unusual about the exhibi- tion is that it makes some invisible components visible. The original brief of the project is dominantly presented in the exhibition, as are all sketches that the designers made. The objective is not to lionize the work, or create easy material for value judgment, but to uncover the process of work, present- ing all the sketches that designers made, including those not leading anywhere. Failures can provide more information about visual art than just a presentation of its successes.

The focus on itself, the self-referential nature of the project is certainly not new. It has been explored in fine art for a long time, one famous example being René Magritte’s seeming contradiction Ceci n‘est pas une pipe, which questions the representation of objects in art. In the 1960s, Sol LeWitt and other conceptual artists worked on reducing the artis- tic process to its bare elements. Four Basic Kinds of Lines & Colour, is a book project investigating basic book printing techniques. Using standard CMYK colours, LeWitt drew lines at 0, 45, 90 and 135 degree angles following the standard angles of reproduction techniques. Starting with four inks, he was able to mix 16 elementary colours, and using different densities of the black ink, also 16 grayscale equivalents.

One of the most brilliant self-referential works of design is XTC’s album Go 2 (1978) designed by British art design group Hipgnosis which exposes the mechanics of marketing

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

persuasion, blatantly including them in the design. The cover of the album reads: ‘This is a RECORD COVER. This writ- ing is the DESIGN upon the record cover. The DESIGN is to help to SELL the record. We hope to draw your attention

to it and encourage you to pick it up. When you have done that maybe you’ll be persuaded to listen to the music – in this case XTC’s Go 2 album. Then we want you to BUY it. The idea being that the more of you that you buy this record the more money Virgin Record, the manager Ian Reid and XTC themselves will make. […]’ The text goes on to call the buyer

a victim, explaining the tricks of marketing, suggesting that it is foolish to buy a product based on the design of the cover.

Our strategy for the exhibition was to strip the design process of its deceptive aura, propose a possible format for design exhibitions, and yet present everything that

a visitor to a ‘graphic design’ show might expect.

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1915 Neue Schriften und Ornamente, Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer, Frankfurt am Main

show might expect. 98 1915 Neue Schriften und Ornamente , Schriftgießerei Ludwig & Mayer , Frankfurt

Chapter 3 1917 – 1924

Conceptual Type?

A

typeface can’t really be conceptual, because it is dependent

on

its execution. Typeface design is a craft, so the process that

transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Before the typeface is executed, it is not a typeface, it is simply an idea. A few years back I was part of the jury at an art school in Antwerp, where a student proposed a conceptual font. Instead of defining the shapes,

he came with a set of written instructions, so the capital E

was defined as ‘Three evenly spaced horizontal lines crossing one vertical line’. It was fun and very clever, but technically

it was merely a description (however witty) of the alpha- bet, not a font, which is based on the repetition of shapes.

Sol LeWitt’s famous quote ‘Banal ideas cannot be rescued

by beautiful execution’ does not apply to type design. There

are plenty of examples of nicely designed and successfully

exploited typefaces based on banal models. Nowhere else is revivalism as popular as in type design, and recycled ver- sions of proven models seem to form the core of most type libraries. For example, how many versions of Garamond

or clones of Swiss neutral sans serif do we really need?

Let’s have a look what the term ‘conceptual’ means in other

disciplines. We can skip music, architecture, illustration, ceramics or dance, which similarly to typography are also dependent on performance or execution. Obviously, there are some exceptions — John Cage’s  4’33” , for example, or some projects of Rem Kolhaas or Peter Eisenman — but in essence

all craft-based disciplines rely on the transformation of abstract

ideas into material form. Should the idea remain in its seman-

tic form, one has to rethink the whole frame of the discipline.

Would you hire a ‘conceptual’ plumber to fix your sink?

Where the term ‘conceptual’ really prospers is in the domain

of modern art. This term came into use in the late 1960s to

describe a philosophy of art that rejected the traditional art

Type: A visual history of typeface & graphic styles

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object as a precious commodity. Instead, the typical work of conceptual art is generally semantic rather than illustrative, a

self-referential, non-material meta-object, art of the mind rather

than

the senses. The work of Yves Klein, Robert Rauschen-

berg,

Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt or the group Art & Language

challenged viewers’ expectations concerning the limits of what can be considered art. It even tried to be an anti-art.

Type design, by contrast, was originally dependent on the expertise of the maker: the final typeface was only as good as the skill of the punch-cutter. The first examples of type design separate from the craft of manufacturing come from the Enlightenment period. Romain du Roi, an exclusive typeface commissioned by the French King Louis XIV, departed from the traditions of calligraphy and worked with analytical and mathematical principles of drawing type. This then, if you like,

could be considered the first ‘conceptual’ typeface. The commit- tee of the Academy of Sciences proposed a grid of 48X48 units, inventing the notion of vector outlines by defining characters in terms of geometry rather than physical mass. The committee

also invented the notion of font metrics and suggested the idea

of bitmap fonts. Some 50 years separated the conception of the typeface and the execution of a complete set of punches for it.

Romain du Roi, a typeface commissioned by King Louis

XIV in 1692, for the exclusive use of the royal printer.

More recently, a type design project that approached the definition of conceptual art was FUSE, launched by Neville

Brody and Jon Wozencroft in the early 1990’s. FUSE con- sisted of a set of four original typefaces with corresponding posters, and an accompanying essay. Each issue had a theme

such as religion, exuberance, (dis)information, virtual real-

ity, etc., but the designers had complete freedom as to how

they interpreted that theme. In the first issue, Wozencroft

described FUSE as ’a new sensibility in visual expression, one grounded in ideas, not just image.’ Carrying forward the ideals of the avant-garde, Brody and Wozencroft wrote with

an impassioned rhetoric as if they saw themselves as fighting the repressive typographic establishment by making fonts that rejected functionality as the reason to design type. The fonts ranged from purely formal exercises to completely abstract shapes independent from Latin construction, pur- ported ’new forms of writing’. FUSE typefaces were curiously diverse, making it hard to discern any criteria for selection.

And this is precisely the problem with the use of term ‘concep- tual’: very often it is simply synonymous with ‘Idea’ or ‘Inten- tion’. Since every act of creation arguably stems from intent, re- gardless of the function of the product, is every artwork, object or typeface therefore conceptual? Mel Bochner, American con- ceptual artist, disliked the label ‘conceptual’, because the word ‘concept’ is not always defined entirely clearly, and is therefore in danger of being confused with the author’s intention.

I believe that the topic of this conference is to look at the underlying ideas of typography, the intentions of authors, rather than to claim that type itself is conceptual. That makes the discussion less problematic, but still not easy, since there is probably no other discipline where the difference between the intention of the author and intention of the user can be so great. For example, the original intention behind Fedra Sans was for it to be the corporate type of the insurance company that commissioned it, and it was designed precisely according to the stipulations of the company’s brief. The original client, however, was acquired by a bigger fish, and development of the corporate font came to an abrupt halt. That was a disappointment at first, but a blessing in disguise in the longer term, as I could expand the family and offer it to the public myself. In the years that Fedra Sans has been available for licensing it has been used in all kinds of applications from building facades to children books, to Bible typesetting, to the identity of a terrorist organ- isation, but as far as I know, not a single insurance company.

Leaflet by Epanastatikos Agonas, or Revolutionary Strug- gle, a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek

1924 Deutiche Unzeigenichrift, D. Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main

a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek 1924 Deutiche Unzeigenichrift , D. Stempel
a Greek group known for its bombing attacks on Greek 1924 Deutiche Unzeigenichrift , D. Stempel

government buildings, banks and the American embassy in Athens. Both the European Union, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have formally designated Revolutionary Struggle as a terrorist organization. Epa- nastatikos Agonas has been quite consistent in using Fedra Sans for its flyers. And no, they didn’t buy the licence.

Children books, Bibles, terrorists… it becomes quite ob- vious that the type designer has no actual say in how the typeface is actually used. While the concept of the type- face might be very clever and original, what happens when the typeface is never used the way it was intended? Does it make the typeface less inventive? How about a font which never gets to be used? Can it still be called a font, or is usage at the core of the definition of a font?

So what would be a truly conceptual typeface? In 1953, Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing demonstrated that destruction could also be conceptual art. According to Rauschenberg’s example, I narrowly missed a chance to be the co-creator of a similarly creative opus in 2001 when a thief broke into our studio and stole my computer and all the backup disks for Fedra Sans, then in the final phases of completion. Had the thief claimed responsibility, he could have become the designer of a rare example of conceptual type — by destroying months of work in mere minutes.

In 1953, Rauschenberg erased a drawing by de Koon- ing, which he obtained from his colleague for the ex- press purpose of erasing it as an artistic statement. The result is titled Erased de Kooning Drawing.

On the other hand, some principles of conceptual art transfer well to type design. Sol LeWitt’s statement ‘the idea becomes the machine that makes the art’ can be neatly illustrated by Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, collectively known also as Letterror. Instead of designing fonts, they write code that makes fonts. Letterror examined the process of

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creation, suggesting that the engineers who make the tools we use have a greater impact on aesthetic trends than most designers do. It makes sense then for designers themselves to reclaim this field by designing their own creative tools. One Letterror project is Bitfonts, computer code which takes the structure of a bitmap font and interprets it in multiple ways. By deciding to design the process rather than controlling the end result, Letterror embraced the possibilities of un- expected results. It is the machine that makes the type.

I’ll conclude with one of my current projects, for which the background idea is more interesting than the resulting forms. For centuries, art has been defined as something that gives rise to an aesthetic experience. Capturing beauty and avoid- ing ugliness were considered to be the prime responsibilities of the traditional artist. In this still untitled project I have tried to identify the most beautiful examples of typography known to mankind. I settled on a series of serif typefaces designed by Giambattista Bodoni in the late 18th century.

In the second step, I tried to identify the ugliest examples of type that we know. That was a bit more difficult, but finally the prize went to eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution. This reversed-contrast typeface was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention by defy- ing their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and strokes that were thin became thick — a dirty trick to make freakish letters that stand out in the increasingly saturated world of commercial messages.

This project (later released under the name Karloff) is not interesting because of the forms, which have been explored before, but because it creates a tight link between the two extremes, between the beauty and the ugliness. Time will tell if this project finds some suitable application, or whether it remains purely an aesthetic exercise, a ‘conceptual’ type.

Designing Type Systems

I remember a conversation from back in my student days

where my typophile friends and