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You never can do what the kids do. What you do is look at yourself and find your own way to address the fact that the times have changed and that you have to pay attention. You can’t be a designer and say, “Oh, this is timeless.” Nothing is timeless! — PAULA SCHER
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Humanist and Old Style
Modern and Slab Serif
Revolution and Technology
2000 and Beyond
Introduction For thousands of years stone cutters, scribes, inventors, typographers and designers have lovingly shaped what we now know to be contemporary western typography. This is a process that has had many different layers and stages, some big, some small and is an evolution that has fashioned how our society communicates the present and documents the past. Typographic standards over time have evolved, with many pushing the boundaries of form and function and causing controversy and criticism from both within the art world and broader society. However, it is the testing of these limits left behind by bygone eras that act as a driving force, bringing typography into new and exciting territory. Society’s advancement as a whole has also challenged us as designers. From the introduction of the printing press, which in it’s time was said to be a cold and unfriendly way to produce print, to the introduction of the personal computer, which has received many of the same criticisms, typography practice and standards have embraced these changes and fought to harness them in order to encourage growth and development. Utilising Ellen Lupton’s beautiful 2010 book, Thinking with Type, This book celebrates the advancements that have shaped modern visual communication. As it moves through the centuries, it demonstrates that the evolution of typographic expression creates a portrait of a particular moment in time, encapsulating the spirit and character of the era. It shows that knowing where you have been is an important part of knowing where you want to go as an artist and designer. — By Katie Wright
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1400s: Gothic The history of typography reflects a continual tension between the hand and the machine, the organic and the geometric, the human body and the abstract system. These tensions, which marked the birth of printed letters over five hundred year ago, continue to energize typography today. Movable type, invented by Johannes Gutenberg, revolutionized writing in the West. Whereas scribes had previously manufactured books and documents by hand, printing with type allowed for mass production: large quantities of letters could be cast from a mold and assembled into “forms.” After the pages were proofed, corrected, and printed, the letters were put away in gridded cases for reuse. Movable type had been employed earlier in China but had proven less useful there. Whereas the Chinese writing system contains tens of thousands of distinct characters, the Latin alphabet translates the sounds of speech into a small set of marks, making it well-suited to mechanization. Gutenberg’s famous Bible took the handmade manuscript as its model. Emulating the dense, dark handwriting known as “blackletter”. In fifteenth-century Italy, humanist writers and scholars rejected Gothic scripts in favor of the lettera antica, a classical mode of handwriting with wider, more open forms. The preference for Lettera antica was part of the Renaissance of classical art and literature. Nicolas Jenson merged the Gothic traditions he had known in France and Germany with the Italian taste for rounder, lighter forms. They are considered among the first-and finest-roman typefaces.
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Movable type was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in fifteenth century Germany. His typography took cues from the dark, dense handwriting of the period, called “blackletter” and stayed true to the calligraphic form.
FUN FACT: The traditional storage of fonts in two cases, one for majuscules and one for minuscules, yielded the terms “uppercase” and “lowercase”
Before the birth of conventional printing, typography and lettering was a craft that was carved, sculpted and written painstakingly by hand. This meant that until the invention of the movable type press by Johannes Gutenberg, printed material was only available to those with money and or power.
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In the late fifteenth century, Frenchman Nicolas Jenson established his own printing press in Venice. His letters have strong vertical stems, and the transition from thick to thin emulates the path of a broad-nibbed pen. They are considered among the first-and finest-roman typefaces.
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1500s - 1600s: Humanist & Old Style Many typefaces we use today, including Garamond, Bembo, Palatine, and Jenson, are named for printers who worked in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These typefaces are generally known as “humanist.” In the 1500s printers began integrating roman and italic forms into type families with matching weights and x-heights. Renaissance artists sought standards of proportion in the idealized human body. The French designer and typographer Geofroy Tory published a series of diagrams in 1529 that linked the anatomy of letters to the anatomy of man. A new approach-distanced from the body-would unfold in the age of scientific and philosophical Enlightenment. A committee appointed by Louis XIV in 1693 set out to construct roman letters against a finely meshed grid. The romain du roi (king’s alphabet) was engraved, made by incising a copper plate with a tool called a graver. The lead typefaces derived from these large-scale diagrams reflect the linear character of engraving as well as the scientific attitude of the king’s committee.
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Early 1500’s - The painter and designer Geofroy Tory argued that letters should reflect the ideal human body. Regarding the letter A, he wrote: “the crossstroke covers the man’s organ of generation, to signify that Modesty and Chastity are required, before all else, in those who seek acquaintance with well-shaped letters.”
Printers began integrating roman and italic forms into type families with matching weights and x-heights (the height of the main body of the lowercase letter). For calligraphers, the italic form was economical because it saved time, while in printing, the cursive form saved space.
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1500s & 1600s Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer. publisher, and scholar, used italic typefaces in his internationally distributed series of small, inexpensive printed books. Aldus Manutius often paired cursive letters with roman capitals; the two styles still were considered fundamentally distinct.
Louis Simonneau designed model letterfomis for the printing press of Louis XIV. Instructed by a royal committee, Simonneau designed his letters on a finely meshed grid. A royal typeface (remain du roi) was then created by Philippe Grandjean, based on Simonneauâ€™s engravings.
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1700s: Transitional Eighteenth-century typography was influenced by new styles of handwriting and their engraved reproductions. Printers such as William Caslon in the 1720s and John Baskerville in the 1750s abandoned the rigid nib of humanism for the flexible steel pen and the pointed quill, writing instruments that rendered a fluid, swelling path. Baskerville, himself a master calligrapher, would have admired the thinly sculpted lines that appeared in the engraved writing books. He created typefaces of such sharpness and contrast never seen before. To heighten the startling precision of his pages, Baskerville made his own inks and hot-pressed his pages after printing. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Giambattista Bodoni in Italy and Firmin Didot in France carried Baskervilleâ€™s severe vocabulary to new extremes. Their typefaces-which have a wholly vertical axis, sharp contrast between thick and thin, and crisp, waferlike serifs-were the gateway to an explosive vision of typography unhinged from calligraphy.
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Books such as George Bickham’s The Universal Penman featured roman letters-each engraved as a unique character-as well as lavishly curved scripts. Such alphabets influenced the typeface designs of Baskerville, Didot, and Bodoni.
FUN FACT: Baskerville’s contemporaries accused him of “blinding all the Readers in the Nation; for the strokes of your letters, being too thin and narrow, hurt the Eye.”
William Caslon in the 1720s abandoned the rigid nib of humanism for the flexible steel pen and the pointed quill, writing instruments that rendered a fluid, swelling path. The types of the eighteenth-century English printer William Caslon are characterised by crisp, upright characters that recall the fluid strokes of the flexible steel pen and the pointed quill.
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At the turn of the nineteenth century, Bodoni and Didot created typefaces which have a wholly vertical axis, sharp contrast between thick and thin, and crisp, waferlike serifs.
Baskerville, himself a master calligrapher, would have admired the thinly sculpted lines that appeared in the engraved writing books. To heighten the startling precision of his pages, Baskerville made his own inks and hot-pressed his pages after printing.
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1800s: Modern & Slab Serif With the rise of industrialization and mass consumption in the nineteenth century came the explosion of advertising, a new form of communication demanding new kinds of typography. Type designers created big, bold faces by embellishing and engorging the body parts of classical letters. Fonts of astonishing height, width, and depth appeared-expanded, contracted, shadowed, inlined, fattened, faceted, and floriated. Serifs abandoned their role as finishing details to become independent architectural structures, and the vertical stress of traditional letters canted in new directions. Lead, the material for casting metal type, is too soft to hold its shape at large sizes under the pressure of the printing press. In contrast, type cut from wood can be printed at gigantic scales. The introduction of the combined pantograph and router in 1834 revolutionized wood-type manufacture. This mechanized design approach treated the alphabet as a flexible system divorced from calligraphy. The search for archetypal, perfectly proportioned letterforms gave way to a new view of typography as an elastic system of formal features (weight, stress, stem, crossbars, serifs, angles, curves, ascenders, descenders). The relationships among letters in a typeface became more important than the identity of individual characters.
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In the nineteenth century came the explosion of advertising. Type designers created big, bold faces by embellishing and engorging the body parts of classical letters. Fonts of astonishing height, width, and depth appeared-expanded, contracted, shadowed, inlined, fattened, faceted, and floriated.
FUN FACT: Fat Face is an inflated, hyper-bold type style developed in the early nineteenth century. It is Bodoni on steroids.
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Egyptian, or slab typefaces, introduced around 1806, transformed the serif into a load-bearing slab. The basic square serif formÂŹcalled Egyptian or slabÂŹwas cut, pinched, pulled and curled to spawn new species of ornament. Serifs were transformed from calligraphic end-strokes into independent geometric elements that could be freely adjusted.
itâ€™s a bit squishy in here! The introduction of the combined pantograph and router in 1834 revolutionised wood-type manufacture. The pantograph is a tracing device that, when linked to a router for carving, allows a parent drawing to spawn variants with different proportions, weights, and decorative excrescences.
Extra Condensed typefaces, first seen in nineteenth-century advertisements, were designed to fit tall letters in narrow spaces. Such letters were made from wood rather than metal, because lead is too soft to hold up under the pressure of printing largescale letters.
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1900s: Revolution & Technology The modem design reformer was a critic of society, striving to create objects and images that would challenge and revise dominant habits and practices. The avantgarde artists of the early twentieth century rejected historical forms but adopted the model of the critical outsider. Such experiments approached the alphabet as a system of abstract relationships. Like the popular printers of the nineteenth century, avant足garde designers rejected the quest for essential letters grounded in the human hand and body, but they offered austere, theoretical alternatives in place of the solicitous novelty of mainstream advertising. Assembled like machines from modular components, these experimental designs emulated factory production. Yet most were produced by hand rather than as mechanical typefaces (although many are now available digitally). Futura, completed by Paul Renner in 1927, embodied the obsessions of the avant garde in a multipurpose, commercially available typeface. In the mid-1980s, personal computers and low-resolution printers put the tools of typography in the hands of a broader public. By the early 1990s, with the introduction of high-resolution laser printers and outline font technologies such as Postscript, type designers were less constrained by low-resolution outputs.
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Some designers viewed the distortion of the alphabet as gross and immoral, tied to a destructive and inhumane industrial system. Writing in 1906, Edward Johnston revived the search for .an essential, standard alphabet and warned against the â€œdangersâ€? of exaggeration.
FUN FACT: Bauhaus, was an art school in Germany that was famous for the approach to design that it publicised and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933.
The avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century rejected historical forms but adopted the model of the critical outsider. Members of the De Stijl group in the Netherlands reduced the alphabet to perpendicular elements. At the Bauhaus, Herbert Bayer and Josef Albers constructed letters from basic geometric forms-the circle, square, and triangle-which they viewed as elements of a universal language of vision.
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Herbert Bayer designed universal, consisting of only lowercase letters constructed with circles and straight lines, at the Bauhaus in 1925
Futura, completed by Paul Renner in 1927, is a multipurpose, commercially available typeface ÂŹ the oâ€™s are perfect circles, and the peaks of the A and M are sharp triangles. He tempered the geometry of Futura with subtle variations in stroke, curve, and proportion. Renner designed Futura in numerous weights, viewing his type family as a painterly tool for constructing a page in shades of gray.
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FUN FACT: On April Fool’s Day, 1976, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs released their first computer, Apple 1. It retailed for $666.66
In 1957 Frutiger’s Univers and Folio (originally thought to be a stronger competitor were released — Haas Foundry released Max Miedinger’s Neue Haas Grotesk, which drew heavily on Schelter and Akzidenz Grotesks. In 1960, Haas, in an effort to market it more effectively, rebranded Neue Haas Grotesk to what we know as Helvetica.
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more 1900s Responding in 1967 to the rise of electronic communication, the Dutch designer Wim Crouwel published designs for a “new alphabet” constructed from straight lines. Rejecting centuries of typographic convention, he designed his letters for optimal display on a video screen (CRT), where curves and angles are rendered with horizontal scan lines. In a brochure promoting his new alphabet, subtitled “An Introduction for a Programmed Typography,” he proposed a design methodology in which decisions are rule-based and systematic.
1985: Zuzana Licko began designing typefaces exploiting the rough grain of early desktop systems. While other fonts imposed the coarse grid of screen displays and dot-matrix printers onto traditional typographic forms, Licko embraced digital equipment. She and husband, Rudy VanderLans, called themselves new primitives,” pioneers of a technological dawn.
In the early 1990s, with many leaps in technology, designers grew dissatisfied with clean, unsullied surfaces, seeking instead to plunge the letter into the harsh and caustic world of physical processes. Letters, which for centuries had sought perfection in ever more exact technologies, became scratched, bent, bruised, and polluted. An example of this is the work of Ed Fella.
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2000 and Beyond In 2000 Tobias Frere-Jones introduced Gotham, derived from letters found at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. With its distinctive yet utilitarian style, Gotham became the signature typeface of Barack Obamaâ€™s 2008 presidential campaign. By 2009, typographyâ€™s First Family had over fifty weights and styles. The future is an exciting one in the world of typography, with technology advancing at a phenomenal rate and new and innovative approaches, the sky is the limit. When choosing a typeface, graphic designers consider the history of typefaces, their current connotations, as well as their formal qualities. The goal is to find an appropriate match between a style of letters and the specific social situation and body of content that define the project at hand. There is no playbook that assigns a fixed meaning or function to every typeface; each designer must confront the library of possibilities in light of a projectâ€™s unique circumstances.
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Bibliography Lupton, E. (n.d.). A Brief History of Typefaces - Lecture. Retrieved April 13, 2016, from http://www.thinkingwithtype.com/misc/type_ lecture/Type_Lecture.pdf Lupton, E. (2010). Thinking with Typeâ€Ż: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, and Students (2nd Editio). New York, United States: Princeton Architectural Press.
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