CANDY Unabashedly Sweet
Debunking the mythes of Webtypography Interviews with Erik Spiekermann and Kunihiko Okano The Universal Typeface Experiment
DEBUNKING THE MYTHS OF WEB TYPOGRAPHY BY BENJIE MOSS · TYPOGRAPHY · MAR 12, 2014
Typography is, put simply, the arrangement of type in order to facilitate communication. As a craft, it’s been around for hundreds of years, but the web form is still very much in its infancy—no doubt typographers in a decade’s time will gasp at our lack of soft hyphen, or half space.On the Web, typography is largely defined by its limitations. We simply don’t have the control that print typographers take for granted. To produce good web typography you have to get the basics right—because basics are all we have available.Unfortunately if you google “typography” you’ll quickly find the Web is awash with poor advice that will lead you to produce inferior work. Collected here are some of the worst myths we’ve found in the guise of advice, and the reasons you should ignore them. “SANS-SERIFS ARE BETTER THAN SERIFS” There are numerous myths relating to serifs and sans-serifs, and their preferred roles in design. The most frequently repeated is that sans-serifs perform better on screen because serifs have too much detail to render well in pixels. The flaw with this argument is that the human eye doesn’t read individual letters, it scans word-shapes; word-shapes that serifs help create. Whilst it’s true that a lot of detail is lost in a font displayed online at 16pt or below, it’s true of both serifs and sans-serifs. Georgia, Officina Serif, and Sabon are all excellent choices for body text on screen and are all serifs. When selecting a typeface determine whether it has been designed for the job you have in mind, sans-serifs and serifs are available for just about any task and perform more-or-less as well as each other. “ALWAYS USE THE TYPOGRAPHIC SCALE” Anyone who’s studied typography will be aware of the typographic scale. It runs thus: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72. Developed in the 16th century it’s still used in most design applications.I’ve heard some very well respected designers refer to it as the musical scale of visual design, and that moving away from it is the equivalent of playing a bum note. However, to extend that logic, limiting our sizing to the typographic scale is the equivalent of only playing music using the C-major scale; kiss goodbye to your Dizzy Gillespie records. Using a typographic scale certainly aids in the creation of a visual hierarchy, but using the typographic scale is a ‘rule’ left over from when fonts were physical things and variation cost money.What’s more, with disparate measurements in different fonts—18pt Gill Sans is not the same size as 18pt Minion—the introduction of a second typeface normally breaks the scale anyway.A typographic scale is an excellent tool to begin constructing a layout, but don’t ever allow mathematics to dictate your design work.
“GREAT TYPOGRAPHY IS INVISIBLE” Ask yourself, “Why should typography be invisible?” The answer, is that typography (or design in general) that draws attention to itself, takes attention away from its subject.As with many myths, this one contains a grain of truth: great typography is invisible when designing for extended reading. There’s no doubt that if you were reading Moby Dick, you’d quit by page 4 if it was set in Futura.However, extended reading is rare on the Web and the role of typography more commonly includes brand reinforcement.The most famous example of a designer breaking this rule is David Carson’s 1994 layout for Ray Gun magazine in which he set an entire interview with Bryan Ferry in Zapf Dingbats. It’s often cited as bad design because Ferry’s words weren’t communicated to the magazine’s readership (in actuality it was reprinted fully legible in the back pages of the magazine). However, neither Ferry, nor his loyal fans were Carson’s client; his client was Ray Gun magazine, who had a rebellious image to maintain; twenty years later it’s still a controversial spread, I’d call that job done.The lesson, is that in order to approach a typographic design, you have to first establish your goals. If you’re designing a blog then yes, readability—and therefore invisibility—will be central to your design, however for the vast majority of commercial websites brand reinforcement, and the qualities expressive typography imbues are far more valuable. “TEST YOUR DESIGN WITH MULTIPLE FONTS” This myth has grown out of the ease with which design applications allow us to switch fonts. Considering the fact that it’s easier to switch fonts than it is to change leading you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a worthwhile exercise.However, if you’re switching fonts “to see how it looks,” you’ve missed the point. The line-height, the tracking, the contrast and measure, et-al, is your design, and it’s critically dependent on your choice of typeface. The time to switch fonts is 9:15am on day 1. Get it right, and then move on. If you’re revisiting your font selection once your full layout is in place then in all likelihood you need to start over from scratch. “PROFESSIONALS DON’T USE FREE FONTS” There is an inherent mistrust in most people living in a capitalist society, we tend to assume that everything has a monetary value and anything given for free has no worth.I would be the first person to max out the credit card on a beautiful set of fonts if required, but it’s often not necessary. The way people choose to monetize their businesses varies greatly online. For example it’s not unusual to find type foundries giving away regular fonts of their typefaces, whilst charging a premium for “professional”fonts such as small cap variations. You’ll also frequently find large corporations such as Google and Mozilla giving away their corporate typefaces for free.It’s certainly true that many free fonts are poor, but likewise, I’ve seen fonts priced into the hundreds of dollars that I’d be embarrassed to use. You’re a designer, use your designer’s eyes to select the right typeface. Once you’ve found it, then check the price tag. “YOU HAVE TO KNOW THE RULES IN ORDER TO BREAK THEM” This myth is applied not just to typography, or to design in general, but to every creative field. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an accountant somewhere lecturing an intern with this very phrase right now. Roughly translated it means: that if you’re going to break rules you have to do so knowingly and deliberately, in order to produce good work. My problem with this is that too many designers accept rules, guidelines, suggestions and tips as being cast in stone, and follow them unquestioningly.
How do we know that the optimum measure for a column of text is around 65 characters? Because that’s what worked before. How did designers know it would work before? Because somebody tried it.As technology, and intentions develop, rules must inevitably change with them. Does 65 characters represent the optimum column width for responsive design? Should we even be imposing a column width? We can’t know, because we haven’t tried it enough yet. We, as a community, are learning as we go. So here’s how I’d like us to rewrite this last myth: You have to break the rules in order to know them.
AN INTERVIEW WITH KUNIHIKO OKANO BY TARO YUMIBA
How and when did you become interested in typography & type design? At university I majored in graphic design. I used to leaf through typeface catalogs in search of letters to use in my poster design assignments. However, I could never find any typefaces that matched perfectly what I had in mind, so I began making my own. I was lucky enough to have access to a Macintosh and Fontographer 3.1 at the university lab. At that time the Macintosh wasn’t particularly popular, and few knew how to use them. I found it great fun making fonts from scratch. It took me some time to get used to drawing letters on the computer, but I can still vividly recall the excitement when my font first appeared on the screen. From that instant, I was hooked on designing type. When Matthew Carter won the Tokyo TDC award in 1993 for his typeface Sophia, I returned home with his workshop brochure. That gave me good insight into the profession of a type designer. Although I had the opportunity to see the work of Emigre and Neville Brody — two big names back then — and, since their work had a strong graphic element, I wasn’t actually conscious of them being type designers. I wanted to create something similar to the brochure, which was beautifully executed to resemble a specimen book. From the start, I was interested in type design with a strong design element. When I had my typeface examined by Mr. Carter during a ten-minute critique at TypeCon Seattle in 2007, I was so happy to be able to tell him that his brochure inspired me to get into type design. I still treasure that autographed brochure. What did you enjoy most about the course? Perhaps I most enjoyed the TypeCooker experiments. The assignment was to draw letters from a randomly generated recipe TypeCooker recipe. I discovered many things by taking a pencil in my hand to draw the sketches. When I looked over the sketches of my classmates, they had unique approaches based on the very same recipe. There were many cool designs and it was very inspiring. Before I went to KABK, I self-studied letter-design, so it was particularly inspiring to see so many different kinds of designs from my classmates. And it made me realize how important it is to use your hands to sketch. I still perform these kinds of sketching exercises. How did you start designing Quintet? Quintet was part of my graduation project at KABK. Prior to designing Quintet, I was working on a typeface called Emotional. I thought it could be used for social networking by implementing emotional feelings in a font such as ‘happy’, ‘sad’, and ‘mad’. However, while I was sketching, I realized that this idea would not work in practice, since there is no common cultural concept for, say, ‘laugh’. Also, seeing how the teachers and students all reacted differently to the fonts, demonstrated that the implied meanings were ambiguous. While I was looking for different ideas, I thought it would be interesting to design a typeface that works even when the weight of the letters or even the numbers of layers is changed. When I designed the Latin component of the Japanese typeface, Hiragino UD, I drew it so that the width of the characters remained the same across all weights and styles. This time I wanted to create more developed letterforms. I went ahead with this idea once I had confirmed that these letterforms would be interesting with the addition of more layers. After looking at the script
font designed at the Typeradio workshop, I discovered that it was possible to develop the weight without having to change the width of the letters, and without making the design awkward by adding all the weight to the inside of the strokes. At the ‘Typographic Chinese Whispers’ workshop, TypeMedia students were challenged to design letterforms as an interpretation of an excerpt of music or sound. The music was composed by students of the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste (HBR Saar) in Saarbrücken, Germany, who had earlier been assigned a typeface, and asked to interpret it as a one-minute piece of music or sound. Each student was allocated an anonymously labelled sound piece and their challenge was to create a typeface inspired by the sound. Our challenge was to reinterpret those sound clips as letterforms. How did you draw the strokes? In the beginning, I was sketching the font in double-strokes, but I realized that it was difficult to check the counter-balance and flow, so I first made a calligraphic font and, after checking the balance, I traced its outer line to form the strokes. On top of that, I wanted to add a little elegance to the strokes, so I slanted the letters to achieve better contrast. At this stage, I couldn’t make it exactly into the shape I wanted, so I made a couple of templates. I imagined a primitive sketch from the assigned music, while the stringed instrument was being played; I heard sounds of a line being drawn, paper being turned and a mouse being clicked, or sounds that could be associated with the history of the making and changing of the typeface. If I could convert the sketches into a digital font, I was convinced that I would be able to represent the process of letter-making. From there, I began sketching with two pencils, thus mimicking the contours of a flat brush. I changed the style to a single stroke that better matched the flowing melody of the music. At the same time, I was excited to find that one discovery lead to another: while I was searching for a way to unfold a heavier weight, I realized that it was possible to keep the width of the letter even if the inner part, outlined with two lines, is bold. Being the inner part, it was possible to make a heavier weight by adding weight to either the left or right side as well as to make a new pattern — one with a hollow space in the middle by blending both sides. Fortunately, the activity enabled me to develop good ideas to make the most out of the shape.
What made you design a layered script face? I wasn’t thinking of making a layer font from the start. As I was sketching over and over again, I realized that I could easily turn it into a layer script face with a double stroke that created more variations in its weight without having to change the width of the letter. There are two types of font-users: those who use the font and those who read the font. Nowadays, anyone can make a greeting card design using a computer. Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to customize your font just like you can choose a gift and message? With Quintet, there are at least thirty different combinations and, if colors are added, the permutations permit almost infinitive possibilities. At this stage, only the left stroke is bold but you could also have the right stroke bold. Moreover, you could have it condensed. From the four master fonts, the variations can be expanded even further. What was the most challenging part in creating Quintet? I incorporated many ideas into Quintet Script, but I didn’t want the design to look like a decorative font. In terms of design, I struggled to make an elegant, flowing line drawn as a continuous, single stroke. It was tricky to draw a double-stroke as a single stroke — it was like trying to solve a Wisdom Ring or Gordian Knot puzzle – and everyday I examined which connection method looked most beautiful. I once screamed with joy when I discovered the best solution while I was working in the middle of the night. I think I was able to come up with an interesting design solution, because I gave a lot of thought to a variety of ways to draw and connect the two strokes. Another key to my design, was to create a layer font that works both as a single or multilayer design. I didn’t want to compose the layers as mere decoration — the individual layers had to function as letters too. What were the difficulties in making the serif types to accompany the script face? At the same time that I was creating the script face, I was working on a text typeface for package captions in short sentences and small sizes. The workload for a text typeface is heavier than that of a script face, but having the know-how from the interpolation and AFDKO, I calculated the time and got to work. I first designed an italic face, which is easy to draw along with the script face, and then gradually, I merged them with the Roman. The italic face was partly inspired by those I found beautiful at the Plantin-Moretus Museum.
How did the design change while you were searching for the shape? I struggled to find a balance between a letter and its concept; the letters shouldn’t be made illegible by my insistence on drawing them in a single stroke. For example, I was not sure whether to draw the middle stem for the lowercase ‘m’ or the dot for ‘j’, so, for those letters, I gave up drawing them in a single stroke and retained them as ‘alternates.’ Initially, I wanted to make individual letters with an elegant flow but, in the end, I decided that the overall balance was more important so that it would work well as either a single- or multilayer typeface.
In what kind of media would you like your typeface to be used? Of course it can be used well in print, but I designed the typeface with the screen in mind. It would be interesting if there was content where you could interactively customize the layer combinations. I insisted on the single stroke because I had in mind to move the font in a series of animations. It would be great fun if the letters were drawn in motion along to music, while at the same time the layers change color.
How would you like to use your typeface? In addition to type design, I work on packaging design, so initially I would like to use it for package design. I would be able to create an in-depth design by adding gold or overlaying more embossed layers on top of a colored layer. Quintet is particularly suited to different and numerous color combinations; for example, tea and coffee packages need to have a coherent design while clearly identifying each flavor. Are you planning to release the Quintet family and if so, when will it to be? I have released the layer script component of Quintet through Photo-Lettering. I also have plans to release the entire Quintet family as OpenType fonts. There will be additional characters, and a new twist for the script face. Kunihiko in Asakusabashi, Tokyo. Interviewee: Kunihiko Okano graduated from Kyoto City University of Arts in 1995. He worked as a packaging designer for ten years; has worked on the Type Project since 2005, established Shotype Design in 2008, and studied at TypeMedia (KABK) 2010-2011. Interviewer: Taro Yumiba is an interactive designer currently working at tha ltd. in Tokyo. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, he worked for several studios in San Francisco and New York. He also continues to explore graphic illustration and create typographic experiments.
INTERVIEW WITH DESIGNER AND TYPOGRAPHER, ERIK SPIEKERMANN BY DEBBIE HEMLEY · INSPIRATION, TYPOGRAPHY · JUL 14, 2011
Throughout his illustrious career as a designer and typographer, Erik Spiekermann has created dozens of commercial typefaces (FF Meta, FF MetaSerif, ITC Officina, FF Govan, FF Info, FF Unit, LoType, Berliner Grotesk) and many custom typefaces for world-renowned corporations.Erik and his wife Joan, revolutionized the world of digital fonts twenty-two years ago when they started FontShop—the first mail-order distributor for digital fonts.This year, he was awarded the Federal Republic of Germany’s 2011 Design Prize for Lifetime Achievements— a most noble accomplishment. The exhibition, Erik Spiekermann, The Face of Type recently took place at the Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design in Berlin. Spiekermann is an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts in Bremen, the author of the Adobe Press title, Stop Stealing Sheep, and the originator of the colorful map for the Berlin metro system.He recently took time out of his busy schedule to speak to Webdesigner Depot about typeface design and what he sees next in his future. We thank Mr. Spiekermann for speaking with us and invite WDD readers to comment on how his contributions to typeface design have helped shape your work. What was the first typeface you fell in love with? Reklameschrift Block. It was what my neighbour gave me with my first little printing machine when I was 12. Which of your fonts do you feel should be more popular and why? FF Info Office because it works well on screen and is really cool but nobody has found it behind the larger FF Info Text and Display families. Being one of the lead font designers in the world, who or what do you learn from in order to keep pushing yourself? The world out there: technical developments, trends, other designers, other cultures. In other words: by observing what goes on in the visual world. What are some of your proudest projects ever? Making the buses and trams in Berlin bright yellow instead of the boring beige they were before. Making it both easy and pleasant to find your way around the Berlin Transit system. And giving Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) their face by designing their corporate design, including all the typefaces which work from the smallest timetable to the largest poster. What do you think of Apple and their approach to design in general? How does their industrial and web design compare to typeface design? I bought my first Mac in 1985 and have probably bought every single computer they ever made at one time. I also have a large collection of equipment by BRAUN, most of it designed by Dieter Rams. If you look at the stuff from the 60s now, you see where Apple (i.e. Jon Ives) get their direction. They have learnt to bring objects down to the essentials without making them look boring and purely functional. They know that aesthetics play a big role in function because we do not like to use anything that is ugly. Function also follows form. Perhaps that is the common denominator for my typefaces: I have always designed my faces for a specific purpose, but they always have to look pleasing, whatever purpose they serve. Can you briefly describe what the current process is like for you to create a new typeface and where do you get your inspiration from? The question about inspiration is tedious because I work like everybody else. Everything can be inspirational, there is no method or proper process. Like any design process, I look at the brief, take it apart, look at comparable briefs, make analog sketches, discuss with colleagues and the client and then carry on condensing the sketches, at some
point digitally. Please finish this sentence: “In an ideal world, fonts…” Would be paid for. What was one of the most challenging typography problems you have ever had to solve? It is always the same: to find a visual voice for all the communication of a large corporation. It is supposed to express their identity (whatever that may mean), be legible, pleasant to look at, work technically across platforms, and be applicable across the world. I’ve done that for Nokia, Cisco, Bosch, German Railways, Heidelberg Printing and many smaller brands. What is the plan for rolling out more web fonts on FontShop? Rolling out more web fonts. Where are some of the areas where typography is improving and where do we need to see more growth? Technology is improving for displaying type properly across media. What are the challenges today for someone getting started in typeface design versus when you first started in the 1970s? There is more competition out there. While there are fantastic tools available that I would have killed for, it has also become very difficult to master all of them. We are therefore on the way back to share work between people. Some of us are good at sketching, some at programming, some at using production tools. Not one person can do all of it equally well. That is how type used to be made before desktop computers and that is how type is made again today. How do you view the state of typefaces in the mobile world? In flux. Taking into account small sizes, aliasing and browser font rendering engines, which fonts do you think should be used for body text on the web? The ones that look good. What’s the most overrated font in the world? Arial. It totally sucks but has become the standard for many users and even institutions. Let’s talk a little about the creative process and how you work. Can you describe your ideal work environment?
This is a silly question because I have no fixed formula. Every project is different and the work environment is always different as well. I do not work on my own, ever. (See question “Can you briefly describe what the current process…”) Which typefaces’ styles do you think will be the most popular in the near future and why? The ones that express the Zeitgeist, In other words: all the styles that are appropriate, fashionable, legible and cool, how ever that may be defined at the time. We do not have one style or fashion (not even within one xculture, let alone globally) anymore but many currents at the same time. Type design has always been eclectic. Type has always mirrored what went on in the visual world. These days it does so as quickly as music does and even more quickly than literature and film because you can design and produce a single typeface in a few days, all on your own. It is only the larger, more professional typographic systems that need weeks and months to complete, but even that is less than what it takes to make a movie. What’s next for Erik Spiekermann? Share my time between San Francisco, Berlin and London (to a lesser extent), work less for clients and more for myself. Use digital technology to make analog things.
The Universal Typeface Project Averages the World’s Handwriting to Produce an Incredibly Average Font. With your help, ballpoint pioneer BIC aims to create a font as common as their pens By Jimmy Stamp, JULY 9, 2014
The BIC Cristal® ballpoint pen is the pen. It’s ubiquitous. You probably have a desk drawer full of them and have lost at least twice that many. When it was released in 1950, the pen was celebrated for its perfectly viscous ink, its clear barrel that displays how much of that ink is left and its ergonomic shape, which was inspired by a classic wooden pencil. The BIC Cristal popularized the ballpoint pen. “Writes first time, every time,” the slogan promised. The BIC Cristal® ballpoint pen is an icon of design that is found in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. © Bernard Annebicque/Sygma/CorbisThe BIC Cristal® ballpoint pen is an icon of design that is found in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. © Bernard Annebicque/Sygma/CorbisNot only is it a pen that can be used by anybody anywhere (well, anywhere, there’s gravity), it’s also an icon of design that’s included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. You might think that there’s no way the penmaker could improve on the timeless classic. And you’d be right. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Last year, BIC released the Cristal stylus, a new model that adds a touchscreen-friendly rubber tip to the end of the ballpoint to keep it relevant as ink dries up and pixels take over, making the ubiquitous pen a universal pen while corrupting a classic design in the process. To help promote this new pen, BIC recently launched something that’s a little more compelling: the Universal Typeface Experiment. The Universal Typeface is a constantly evolving, algorithmically produced font created by averaging hundreds of thousands of handwriting samples submitted to BIC’s website. Anyone with a touchscreen can help shape the Universal Typeface by linking their phone or tablet to the website and writing directly on the touchscreen - the lettering is quickly transferred to the Universal Typeface algorithm. As of this writing, more than 400,000 samples have been collected from around the world, and the resulting alphabet is...well, sort of boring. It turns out that averaging thousands of authentic expressions of individuality yields something that looks like a grade school writing sample. Contrasting the left-handed average with the right-handed average and gender averages and comparing industry averages—what’s a broker’s “B” look like compared to an artist’s?—reveals disappointingly
similar results. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that we’re not so different after all. That said, the collected samples allow for some fun comparisons. A more dramatic variance can be seen, for example, when the averages are broken down by nationality, because there are many fewer samples per country. It’s interesting to see the narrow “B” of Saudi Arabia versus the wide, curvy “B” of Romania.
The Universal Typeface can’t be downloaded because it’s always changing. But what if it could be? How cool would it be if the font continued to change after it was installed on your hard drive? If the first draft of your novel looked completely different from your final edit? It seems like this
experiment is already leveling off, and when BIC collects samples from every single living person on Earth with access to a touchscreen (or the end of August, whichever comes first), they’ll release it to the public. When that day comes, I have no doubt we’ll find some greater truth about humanity or discover a platonic ideal alphabet or realize that we’re not so different from one another after all. World peace through typography.
Back to Basics: Stopping Sloppy Typography John D. Berry There’s a billboard along the freeway in San Francisco that’s entirely typographic, and very simple. Against a bright blue background, white letters spell out a single short line, set in quotation marks: “Are you lookin’ at me?’ The style of the letters is traditional, with serif; it looks like a line of dialogue, which is exactly whit it’s supposed to look like. Since this is a billboard, and the text is the entire message of the billboard, it’s a witty comment on the fact that you are looking at “me”- -that is, the message on the billboard-- as you drive past.But, as my partner and I drove past and spotted this billboard for the first time, we both simultaneously voiced the same response voiced the same the response: “No I’m looking at the apostrophe!” The quotation marks around the sentence are real quotation marks, which blend in with the style of the lettering--“typographers’ quotes,” as they’re sometimes called- but the apostrophe at the end of “lookin” is, disconcertingly, a single, “typewrite quote,” a straight up-and-down line with a rounded top and a teardrop tail at the bottom. To anyone with any sensitivity to the shapes of letters, whether they know the terms of typesetting or not, this straight apostrophe is like a fart in a symphony-boorish, crude, out of place, and distracting. The normal quotation marks at the beginning and end of the sentence just serve to make the loud “blat!” of the apostrophe stand out. If that had been the purpose of the billboard, it would have been very effective. But unless the billboards along Highway 101 have become the scene of an exercise in typographic irony, it’s just a big ol’ mistake. Really big, right out there in plain sight. The Devil Is in the Details This may be a particularly large-scale example, but it’s not unusual. Too much of the signage and printed matter that we read-- and that we, if we’re designers or typographers, create-- is riddled with mistakes like this. It seems that an incapable number of people responsible for creating graphic matter are incapable of noticing when they get the type wrong. This should not be so. These fine points ought to be part of the education of every graphic designer. But clearly, this isn’t the case-- or else a lot of designers skipped that part of the class, or have simply forgotten what they once learned about type. Or, they naively believe the software they use will do the job for them. Maybe it’s time for a nationwide-- no, worldwide- -program of remedial courses in using type. Automated Errors As my own small gesture toward improvement, I’ll point out a couple of the more obvious problems--in the hope that maybe; maybe, they’ll become slightly less commonplace, at least for a while. Typewriter quotes and straight apostrophes are actually on the wane, thanks to word-processing programs and page layout programs and page-layout programs that offer the option of automatically changing them to typographers’ quotes on the fly. (I’m not sure what has made the phenomenon I spotted on that billboard so common, but I’ve noticed a lot of examples recently of text where the double marks are correct but the apostrophes are straight.) But those same automatic typesetting routines have created another almost universal mistake: where an apostrophe at the beginning of a word appears backwards, as a single open quotation mark. You see this in abbreviated dates (’99, ’01) and in colloquial spellings, like ‘em for them. The program can turn straight quotes into typographers’ quotes automatically, making any quotation mark at the start of a word into an open quote, and any quotation mark at the end of a word into a closed quote, but it has no way of telling that the end into a closed quote, but it has no way of telling that the apostrophe at the beginning of ‘em isn’t supposed to be a single open quote, so it changes it into one. The only way to catch this is to make the correction by hand—every time. Anemic Type The other rude noise that has become common in the symphony hall is fake small caps. Small caps are a wonderful thing, very useful and sometimes elegant; fake small caps are distraction and an abomination. Fake caps are a what you get when you use a program’s “small caps” command. The software just shrinks the full-size capital letters down by a predetermined percentage—which gives you a bunch of small, spindly-looking caps all huddled together in the
middle of the text. If the design calls for caps and small caps—that is, small caps for the word but a full cap for the first letter—it’s even worse, since the full-size caps draw attention to themselves because they look so much they so much heavier than the smaller caps next to them. (If you’re using caps and small caps to spell out an acronym, this might make sense; in that case, you might want the initial caps to stand out. Otherwise, it’s silly. (And—here comes that word again—distracting.) If it weren’t for a single exception, I’d advise everyone to just forget about the “small caps” command – forget it ever existed, and never, ever, touch it again. (The exception is Adobe InDesign, which is smart enough to find the real small caps in an OpenType font that includes them, and use them when the “small caps” command is invoked. Unfortunately, InDesign isn’t smart enough, or independent enough, to say, “No, thanks,” when you invoke “small caps” in a font that doesn’t actually have any. It just goes ahead and makes those familiar old fake small caps.) You don’t really need small caps at all, in most typesetting situations; small caps are a typographic refinement, not a crutch. If your going to use them, use real small caps: properly designed letters with the form caps, but usually a little wider, only as tall as the x-height or a little taller, and with stroke weights that match the lowercase and the full caps of the same typeface. Make sure you’re using a typeface that has true small, if you want small caps. Letterspace them a little, and set them slightly loose, the same way you would (or at least should) with a word in a caps; it makes the word much more readable. Pay Attention, Now There are plenty of other bits of remedial typesetting that we ought to study, but those will do for now. The obvious corollary to all this is, to produce well-typeset words , whether in a single phrase on a billboard or several pages of text, you have to pay attention. Proofread. Proofread again. Don’t trust the defaults of any programs you use. Look at good typesetting and figure out how it was done, then do it yourself. Don’t be sloppy. Aim for the best. Word to live by, I suppose. And, certainly, words to set type by.
Type Cast Steven Bower My first job in book design was at New American Library, a publisher of mass-market books. I was thrilled to be to be hired. It was exactly where I wanted to be. I love the written word, and viewed this as my entrance into a world I wanted to participate in. Little did I suspect at the time that mass-market books, also known as “pocket” books (they measure approximately 4” x 7”, although I have yet to wear a pocket they fit comfortably into), were viewed in the design, gaudy and unsophisticated. I came to understand that this was due to the fact that mass-market books, sold extensively in supermarkets and convenience stores, had more in common with soap detergent and cereal boxes than with their much more dignified older brother, the hardcover first edition book. Indeed, the level of design of paperbacks was as slow to evolve as a box of Cheerios. On the other hand, hardcover books, as if dressed in evening attire, wore elegant and sophisticated jackets. Next in line in terms of standing, in both the literary and design worlds, was the trade paper edition, a misnomer that does not refer to a specific audience within an area of work, but, rather, to the second edition of the hardcover, or first edition, that sports a paperbound cover. Trade paperbacks usually utilize the same interior printing as the hardcover, and are roughly the same size (generally, 6” x 9”). Mass-market books were not so lucky. The interior pages of the original edition were shrunk down, with no regard for the final type size or the eyes of the viewer. The interiors tended to be printed on cheap paper stock, prone to yellowing over time. The edges were often dyed to mask the different grades of paper used. The covers were usually quite loud, treated with a myriad of special effects (i.e., gold or silver foil, embossing and de-bossing, spot lamination, die cuts, metallic and Day-Glo pantone colors, thermography, and even holography), all designed to jump out at you and into your shopping cart as you walk down the aisle. The tradition of mass-market covers had more in common with, and, perhaps, for the most part is the descendant of, pulp magazine covers of earlier decades, with their colorful titles and over-the-top illustration, than that of its more stylish, larger, and more expensive cousins. What I Learned So, when I made my entry into the elite world of literature, I began in the “bullpen” of a mass-market house. I believed I would be afforded a good opportunity to learn something about type and image. Indeed, in my short tenure there, I employed more display typefaces in a year and a half than I will in the rest of my lifetime. And, I abused type more than I ever dreamed possible.There, type was always condensed or stretched so the height would be greater in a small forma. The problem was that the face itself became distorted, as if it was putt on the inquisitionist rack, with horizontals remaining “thick” and the vertices thinning out. Back then, when type was “spec’d” and sent out to a typesetter, there was a standing order at the type house to condense all type and extended it by hand, which created less distortion but still odd-looking faces. Once, I was instructed by the art director to cut the serifs off a face, to suit his whim. It’s a good thing there is no criminal prosecution for type abuse. The art director usually commissioned the art for these titles. Therefore, the job of the designers was to find the “appropriate” type solution that worked with these illustrations to create the package. It was here that I learned my earliest lessons inn the clichés of typography. Mass-market paperbacks are divided into different genres, distinct categories that define their audience and subject matter. Though they were unspoken rules, handed down from generation to generation, here is what I learned about type during my employ:
And so it went. Every month, we were given five to six titles we were responsible for, and every month, new variations on old themes hung up on the wall. For a brief period I was assigned all to romance titles, which, themselves, were divided into subgenres (historical, regency, contemporary, etc). I made the conscious decision to create the very best romance covers around. Sure, I would use script and cursive type, so distinctive, elegant, and beautiful that I, or anyone else, would recognize the difference immediately. (When, six months after I left the job, I went to view my achievements at the local K-Mart, I could not pick out any of my designs from all the rest on the bookracks.) Soon after, I graduated to art director of a small publishing house. The problem was, I still knew little of and had little confidence in, typography. However, by this time, I knew I knew little about typography. My solution, therefore, was to create images that contained the type as an integral part of the image, in a play on vernacular design, thereby avoiding the issue entirely. Thus began a series of collaborations with talented illustrators and photographers, in which the typography of the jacket was incorporated as part of the illustration. Mystery books especially lent themselves well to this endeavor. A nice thing about this approach is that it has a certain informality and familiarity with the audience. It also made my job easier, because I did not have to paste up much type for the cover (as one had to do back in the days of t-squares and wax), since it was, for the most part, self-contained within the illustration. This may seem like laziness on my part, but hey, I was busy. Eventually, my eye began to develop, and my awareness and appreciation of good typography increased. I soon learned the pitfalls that most novice designers fall into, like utilizing a quirky novelty face does not equal creativity and usually calls attention to the wrong aspects of the solution. The importance of good letterspacing became paramount. Finding the right combination of a serif and sans serif face to evoke the mood of the material within was now my primary concern. . The beauty of a classically rendered letterform now moved me, to quote Eric Gill, as much “as any sculpture or painted picture.” I developed an appreciation for the rules of typography. The rules As I’ve said, it is a common mistake among young designers to think a quirky novelty face equals creativity. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. If anything, for the viewer, it has the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than being the total sum of individual expression, it simply calls attention to itself, detracting from, rather than adding to, the content of the piece. It is no substitute for a well-reasoned conceptual solution to the design problem at hand. As a general rule, no more than two faces should be utilized in any given design, usually the combination of a serif face and a sans serif face. There are thousands to choose from, but I find I have reduced the list to five or six in each category that I have used as body text throughout my career:
Serif Bodoni Caslon Cheltenham Garamond Sans Serif
Franklin Gothic Futura Gill Sans News Gothic Trade Gothic You should never condense or extend type. As I stated, this leads to unwanted distortions. Much care and consideration went into the design of these faces, and they should be treated with respect. There are thousands of condensed faces to choose from without resorting to the horizontal and vertical scale functions. Do not use text type as display. Even though the computer will enlarge the top beyond the type designer’s intention, this may result in distortions. Do not use display type as text. Often, display type that looks great can be difficult to read when small.
Do not stack type. The result is odd-looking spacing that looks as if it is about to tumble on top of itself. The thinness of the letter I is no match for the heft of an O sitting on top of it. As always, there are ways to achieve stacking successfully, but this requires care. Also, as I noted, much care should be given to letterspacing the character of each word, this is not as it seems. The computer settings for type are rife with inconsistencies that need to be corrected optically. Certain combinations of letterforms are more difficult to adjust than others. It is paramount that even optical (as opposed to actual) spacing is achieved, regardless of the openness or closeness of the kerning. It helps if you view the setting upside down, or backwards on a light box or sun-filled window, or squint at the copy to achieve satisfactory spacing. I would caution you in the judicious use of drop shadows. Shadows these days can be rendered easily in programs easily such as Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator, and convincingly, too. The problem is, it is so easily done that is overdone. Thus, the wholesale usage of soft drop shadows has become the typographic equivalent of clip art. Viewers know they have seen it before. Rather than being evocative,, it mainly evokes the program it was created in. Hard drop shadows in Quark and placed behind the main text. This method is generally employed when the main text is not reading against the background, because of a neutral tone or an image that varies in tone from dark to light. The handed-down wisdom is: If you need a drop shadow to make it read, the piece isn’t working. These solid drop shadows always look artificial, since, in reality, there is no such thing as a solid drop shadow. There should be a better solution to readability. Or perhaps the type should be paneled or outlined. There are an infinite number of possible variations.
If you must use a solid drop shadow, it should never be a color. Have you ever seen a shadow in life that is blue, yellow, or green? It should certainly never be white. Why would a shadow be 100 percent lighter than what is, in theory, casting the shadow? White shadows create a hole in the background, and draw the eye to the shadow, and not where you want it to go: the text. Justified text looks more formal than flush left, rag right. Most books are set justified; while magazines are often flush left, rag right. Centered copy will appear more relaxed than asymmetrical copy. Large blocks of centered type can create odd-looking shapes that detract from the copy contained within. Another thing to consider is the point size and width of body copy. The tendency in recent times is to make type smaller, regardless of the intended audience. However, the whole purpose of text is that it be read. A magazine covering contemporary music is different from the magazine for The American Association of Retired Persons. It is also common today to see very wide columns of text, with the copy set at a small point size.. The problem is that a very wide column is hard to read because it forces the eye to move back and forth, tiring the reader. On the other hand, a very narrow measure also is objectionable, because the phrases and words are too cut up, with the eye jumping from line to line. We, as readers, do not read letter by letter, or even word by word, but, rather, phrase by phrase. A consensus factors an average of ten to twelve words per line. Lastly, too much leading between lines also makes the reader work too hard jumping from line to line, while too little leading makes it hard for the to discern where one line ends and another begins. The audience— not the whim of the designer, or even the client—that defines the level of difficulty and ease with which a piece is read. As Eric Gill said in 1931, “A book is primarily a thing to be read.” A final consideration is the size of the type. As a rule of thumb, mass-market books tend to be 8 point for reasons of space. A clothbound book, magazine, or newspaper usually falls into the 9.5 point to 12 point range. Oversized art books employ larger sizes—generally, 14 point to 18 point or more. Choosing the right typeface for your design can be time-consuming. There are thousands to choose from. Questions abound. Is the face legible at the setting I want? Does it evoke what I want it to evoke is it appropriate to the subject matter? There are no easy answers. When a student of mine used Clarendon in a self-promotion piece, I questioned why he chose a face that has 1950’s connotations, mainly in connection with Reid Miles’ Blue Note album covers. He answered, “Because I though it was cool.” I lectured him profusely on selecting on selecting type simply based on it’s “coolness.” Later, I relayed the incident to Seymour Chwast, of the legendary Pushpin Group (formerly Pushpin Studios). He observed that Clarendon is actually a Victorian face, which he and his peers revived as young designers in the 1950’s. When I asked him why they chose to bring this arcane face back to life, he replied, “Because we thought it was cool.” Breaking the Rules Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. An infinite number of faces can be used within one design, particularly when you employ a broad-style type solution, a style that developed with the woodtype settings of the nineteenth century. Another style, utilizing a myriad of faces, is that influenced by the Futurist and Dada movements of the early twentieth century. As Robert N. Jones stated in an article in the May 1960 issue of Print magazine: “It is my belief that there has never been a typeface that is so badly designed that it could not be handsomely and effectively used in the hands of the right…designer.” Of course, this was before the novelty type explosion that took place later that decade, and, again, after the advent of the Macintosh computer. Still, Jeffery Keedy, a contemporary type designer whose work appears regularly in Émigré, concurs: “Good designers can make use of almost anything. The typeface is the point of departure, not the destination.” Note the caveat “almost.” Still, bad use of good type is much less desirable than good use of bad type. When I first began in publishing, a coworker decided to let me in on the “secrets” of picking the appropriate face. “If you get a book on Lincoln to design,” he advised, “look up an appropriate typeface in the index of the type specimen book.” He proceeded to do so. “Ah, here we go—‘Log Cabin!” While, on the extremely rare occasion, I have found this to be a useful method, it’s a good general rule of what not to do.
Writing beings with the making of meaningful marks. That is to say, leaving the traces of meaningful gestures. Typography beings with arranging meaningful marks that are already made. In that respect, the practice of typography is like the playing the piano – an instrument quite different from the human voice. On the piano, the notes are already fixed, although their order, duration and amplitude are not. The notes are fixed but they can be endlessly rearranged, into meaningful music or meaningless noise. Pianos, however need to be tuned. The same is true of fonts. To put this in more literary terms, fonts need to be edited just as carefully as texts do – and may need to be re-edited, like texts, when their circumstances change. The editing of fonts, like the editing of texts, beings before their birth and never ends. You may prefer to entrust the editing of your fonts, like the tuning of your piano, to a professional. If you are the editor of a magazine or the manager of a publishing house, that is probably the best way to proceed. But devoted typographers, like lutenists and guitarists, often feel that they themselves must tune the instruments they play. 10.1 Legal Considerations 10.1.1 Check the license before tuning a digital font. Digital fonts are usually licensed to the user, not sold outright, and the license terms vary. Some manufacturers claim to believe that improving a font produced by them is an infringement of their rights. No one believes that tuning a piano or pumping up the tires of a car infringes on the rights of the manufacturer – and this is true no matter whether the car or the piano has been rented, leased or purchased. Printing type was treated the same way from Bí Shēng’s time until the 1980s. Generally speaking, metal type and phototype are treated that way still. In the digital
realm, where the font is wholly intangible, those older notions of ownership are under pressure to change. The Linotype Library’s standard font license says that “You may modify the Font-Software o satisfy your design requirements.” FontShop’s standard license has a similar provision: “You do have the right to modify and alter Font Software for your customary personal and business use, but not for resale or further distribution.” Adobe’s and Agfa Monotype’s licenses contain no such provision. Monotype’s says instead that “You may not alter Font Software for the purpose of adding any functionality....You agree not to adapt, modify, alter, translate, convert, or otherwise change the Font Software . . . .” If your license forbids improving the font itself, the only legal way to tune it is through a software override. For example, you can use an external kerning editor to override the kerning table built into the font. This is the least elegant way to do it, but a multitude of errors in fitting and kerning can be masked, if need be, by this means.
coding, fitting and sidebearings, kerning table, hinting and, in an OpenType font, the rules governing character sub-situations.What doesn’t need tuning or fixing shouldn’t be touched. If you want to revise the font just for the sake of revising it, you might do better to design your own instead. And if you hack up someone else’s font for practice, like a biology student cutting up a frog, you might cremate or bury the results. 10.2.2 If the font is out of tune, fix it once and for all. One way refine the typograpy of a text is to work your way through it line by line, putting space in here, removing it there, and repositioning errant characters one by once. But if these refinements are made to the font itself, your will never need to make them again. They are done for good. 10.2.3 Respect the text first of all, the letterforms second, the type designer third, the foundry fourth.
10.2.1 If it ain’t broke . . . .
The needs of the text should take precedence over the layout of the font, the integrity of the letterforms over the edo of the designer, the artistic sensibility of the designer over the foundry’s desire for profit, and the founder’s craft over a good deal else.
Any part of the font can be tuned – lettershapes, character set, character en-
10.2.4 Keep on fixing.
10.2 Ethical & Aesthetic considerations
Check every text you set to see where improvements can be made. Then return to the font and make them. Little by little, you and the instrument – the font, that is – will fuse, and the type you set will start to sing. Remember, though, this process never ends. There is no such thing as the prefect font. 10.2 HONING THE CHARACTER SET 10.3.1 If there are defective glyphs, mend them. If the basic lettershapes of your font are poorly drawn, it is probably better to abandon it rather than edit it. But many fonts combine superb basic letterforms with alien or sloppy supplementary characters. Where this is the case, you can usually rest assured that the basic letterforms are the work of a real designer, whose craftsmanship merits respect, and that the supplementary characters where added by an inattentive foundry employee. The latters errors should be remedied at once. You may find for example that analphabetic characters such as @ + ± × = · - – © are too big or too small, too light or too dark, too high or too low, or are otherwise out of tune with the basic alphabet. You may also find that diacritics in glyphs such as å ç é ñ ô ü are poorly drawn, poorly positioned, or out of scale with the letterforms.
I+2=3<9>6±I·2×4 a + b = c · a@b · © 2007
Jose Mendoza y Almeicellent piece of design, style of Monotype digby the foundry, arithanalphabetics are out of and the copyright symto the font. The raw vercorrected versions in
da’s Photina is an exbut in every weight and ital Photina, as issued metical signs and other scale and out position, bol and at sign are alien sions are shown in grey, black.
éùôã→éùôã Frederic Goudy’s Kenquite pleasant type, usebut in Lanston’s digital are burdeneed with diacritics. Above left: issued by the foundry. versions. All fonts are improvement. Below from Robert Slimbach’s as originally issued by right : the same glyphs, years later, while preversion of the face.
nerlet is a homely but ful for many purposes, version, the letterforms some preposterous four accented sorts as Above right : corrected candidates for similar left: four accented sorts carefully honed Minion, Adobe in 1989. Below revises by Slimbach ten paring the OpenType
áèïû→áèïû 10.3.2 If text figures, ligatures or other glyphs you need on a regular basis don’t reside on the base font, move them. For readable text, you almost always need text figures, but most digital fonts are sold with titling figures instead. Most digital fonts also include the ligatures fi and fl but not ff, ffi, ffl, fj of ffj, You may find at least some of the missing glyphs on a supplementary font (an ‘expert font’), but that is not enough. Put all the basic glyphs together on the base font. If, like a good Renaissance typographer, you use only upright parentheses and brackets (see § 5.3.2), copy the upright forms from the roman to the italic font. Only then can they be kerned and spaced correctly without fuss. 10.3.3 If glyphs you need are missing altogether, make them. Standard ISO digital text fonts (PostScript or TrueType) have 256 slots and carry a basic set of Western European characters. Eastern European characters such as ą ć đ é ğ ħ ī ň ő ŗ ş ť ů are usually missing. So are the Welsh sorts ŵ and ŷ, and a host of characters need for African, Asian and Native American languages. The components required to make these characters may be present on the font, and assembling the pieced is not hard, but you need a place to put whatever character you make. If you need only a few and do not care about system compatibility, you can place them in wasted slots – e.g., the \ positions, which are accessible directly from the keyboard, or slots such as ₵ ÷ ¹ ² ³ ™ ¤ ‰ ¦, which can be reached through insertion utilities or by typing
character codes or by customizing the keyboard. If you need to add many such characters, you will need to make a supplementary font or, better yet, an anlarged font (True-Type or OpenType). If these are for your own use only, the extra characters can be placed wherever you wish. If the fonts are to be shared, ever new glyph should be labeled with its PostScript name and Unicode number. 10.3.4 Check and correct the sidebearings. The spacing of letters is part of the essence of their design. A well-made font should need little adjustment, except for refining the kerning. Remember, however, that kerning tables exist for the sake of problematical sequences such as ƒ*, gy, “A, To, Va and 74. If you find that simple pairs such as oo or oe require kerning, this is a sign that the letters are poorly fitted. It is better to correct the sidebearings than to write a bloated kerning table. The spacing of many analphabetics, however, has as much to so with editorial style as with typographic design. Unless your fonts are custome made, neither the type designer nor the founder can know what you need or prefer. I habitually increase the left sidebearing of semicolon, colon, question and exclamation marks, and the inner bearings of guillemets and parentheses, in search of a kind of Channel Island compromise: neither the tight fitting of a kind of Channel Island compromise: neither the tight fitting preferred by most anglophone editors nor the wide-open spacing customary in France. If I worked in French all the time, I might increase these sidebearings further.
abc: def; ghx? klm! <<non>> abc: def; ghx? klm! <<hmm>> abç: déf; ghx? Klm! <<oui>>
Three options for the spacing of basic analphabetics in Monotype digital Centuar: foundry issue (top); French spacing (bottom); and something in between. Making such adjustments one by one by the insertion of fixed spaces can be tedious. It is easier by far, if you know what you want and you want it consistently, to incorporate your preferences into the font.Digital type can be printed in three dimensions, using zinc or polymer plates, and metal type can be printed flat, from photos or scans of the letterpress proofs. Usually, however, metal type is printed in three dimensions, and digital type is printed in two. Two-dimesional type can be printed more cleaning and sharply than three-dimensional type, but the gain in sharpness rarely equals what is lost in depth and texture. A digital page is therefore apt to look aenemic next to a page printed directly from handset metal. This imablance can be addressed by going deeper into two dimensions. Digital type is capable of refinements or spacing and kerning beyond those attainable in metal, and the primary mean of achieving this refinement is the kerning table. Always check the sidebearings of figures and letters before you edit the kerning table. Sidebearings can be checked quickly for errors by disabling kerning and setting characters, at ample size, in pairs: 11223344... qqwweerrttyy.....If the spacing within the pairs appears to vary, or if it appears consistently cramped or the pairs appears to vary, or if it appears consistently cramped, or loose, the sidebearings probably need to be changed. The function of a kerning table is to achieve what perfect sidebearings cannot. A thorough check of the kerning table therefore involves checking all feasible permutations of characters: 1213141516 . . . qwqeqrqtqyquqiqoqpq . . . (a (s (d (f (g (h (j (k (l . . . )a )s )d )f )g . . . -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 . . . TqTwTeTrTtTyTuTiToTp . . . and so on. This will take several hours for a standard ISO font. For a full pan-European font, it will take several days. Class-based kerning (now a standard capability of font editing software) can be used to speed the process. In class-based kerning, similar
letters, such as a á â ä à å ã ă ā ą, are treated as one and kerned alike. This is an excellent way to begin when you are kerning a large font, but not a way to finish. The combinations Ta and Tä, Ti and Tï, il and íl, i) and ï), are likey to require different treatment. Kerning sequences such as Tp, Tt and f( may seem to you absurd, but they can and do occur in legitimate text. (Tpig is the name of a town in the mountains of Dagestan, near the southern tip of the Russian Federation; Ttanuu is an important historical site on the British Columbis coast; sequences such as y = ƒ(x) occur routinely in mathematics.) If you know what texts you wish to set with a given font, and know that combinations such as …. these will never occur, you can certainly omit them from the table. But if you preparing a font for general use, even in a single language, remember that it should accommodate the occasional foreign phrase and the names of real and fictional people, places and things. These can involve some unusual combinations. (A few additional examples: McTavish, FitzWilliam, O’Quinn, dogfish, jack o’-lantern, Hallowe’en.) It is also wise to check the font by running a test file – a specially written text designed to hunt out missing or malformed characters and kerning pairs that are either too tight or too loose. On pages 204-205 is a short example of such a test file, showing the difference between an ungroomed font and a groomed one. It is nothing unusual for a well-groomed ISO font (which might contain around two hundred working characters) to have a kerning table listing a thousand pairs. Kerning instructions for large OpenType fonts are usually stored in a different form, but if converted to tabular form, the kerning data for a pan-European Latin fornt may easily reach 30,000 pairs. For a well-groomed Latin-Greek-Cyrillic font, decompling the kerning instructions can generate a table of 150,000 pairs. Remember, though, that the number isn’t what counts. What matters is the intelligence and style of the kerning. Remember too that there is no such thing as a font whose kerning cannot be improved. 10.3.6 Check the kerning of the word space. The word space – that invisible blank box – is the most common character in almost every text. It is normally kerned against slopping and undercut glyphs: quotation marks, apostrophe, the letters, A,T, V, W, Y, and often to the numerals 1, 3, 5. It is not, however, normally kerned more than a hair either to or away from a preceding lowercase ƒ in either roman or italic. A cautionary example. Most of the Monotype digital revivals I have tested over the years have serious flaws in kerning tables. One problem in particular recurs in Monotype Baskerville, Centaur & Arrighi, Dante, Fournier, Gill Sans, Poliphilus & Baldo, Van Dijck and other masterworks in the Monotype collection. These are well-tried faces of superb design – yet in defiance of tradition, the maker’s kerning tables call for a large space (as much as M/4) to be added whenever the ƒ is followed by a word space. The result is a large white blotch after ever word ending in ƒ unless a mark of punctuation intervenes.
Is it east of the sun and west of the moon – or is it west of the moon and east of the sun?
Monotype digital Van Dijck, before and after editing the kerning table. As issued, the kerning table adds 127 units (thousandths of an em) in roman, and 228 in the italic, between the letter ƒ and the word space. The corrected table adds 6 units in the roman, none in the italic. Other, less drastic refinements have also been made to the kerning table used in the second two lines.
Fluid Mechanics: Typographic Design Now A poetically theoretical take on the fluid state of type, design and the vernacular in digital form as they relate to language and contemporary culture. by Ellen Lupton
Liquidity, saturation, and overflow are words that describe the information surplus that besets us at the start of the twenty-first century. Images proliferate in this media-rich environment, and so too does the written word. Far from diminishing in influence, text has continued to expand its power and pervasiveness. The visual expression of language has grown increasingly diverse, as new fonts and formats evolve to accommodate the relentless display of the word. Typography is the art of designing letterforms and arranging them in space and time. Since its invention during the Renaissance, typography has been animated by the conflict between fixed architectural elements-such as the page and its margins-and the fluid substance of written words. Evolutions in the life of the letter arise from dialogs between wet and dry, soft and hard, slack and taut, amorphous and geometric, ragged and flush, planned and unpredicted. With unprecedented force, these conflicts are driving typographic innovation today. Typography is going under water as designers submerge themselves in the textures and transitions that bond letter, word, and surface. As rigid formats become open and pliant, the architectural hardware of typographic systems is melting down. The flush, full page of the classical book is dominated by a single block of justified text, its characters mechanically spaced to completely occupy the designated volume. The page is like a glass into which text is poured, spilling over from one leaf to the next. By the early twentieth century, the classical page had given way to the multicolumned, mixed-media structures of the modern newspaper, magazine, and illustrated book. Today, the simultaneity of diverse content streams is a given. Alongside the archetype of the printed page, the new digital archetype of the window has taken hold. The window is a scrolling surface of unlimited length, whose width adjusts at the
will of reader or writer. In both print and digital media, graphic designers devise ways to navigate bodies of information by exploring the structural possibilities of pages and windows, boxes and frames, edges and margins.
In 1978, Nicholas Negroponte and Muriel Cooper, working at MIT’s Media Lab, published a seminal essay on the notion of ‘soft copy,’ the linguistic raw material of the digital age. The bastard offspring of hard copy, soft text lacks a fixed typographic identity. Owing allegiance to no font or format, it is willingly pasted, pirated, output, or repurposed in countless contexts. It is the ubiquitous medium of word-processing, desktop publishing, e-mail, and the Internet. The burgeoning of soft copy had an enormous impact on graphic design in the 1980s and 1990s. In design for print, soft copy largely eliminated the mediation of the typesetter, the technician previously charged with converting the manuscript-which had been painstakingly marked up by hand with instructions from the designer-into galleys, or formal pages of type. Soft copy flows directly to designers in digital form from authors and editors. The designer is free to directly manipulate the text-without relying on the typesetter-and to adjust typographic details up to the final moments of production. The soft copy revolution led designers to plunge from an objective aerial view into the moving waters of text, where they shape it from within. Digital media enable both users and producers, readers and writers, to regulate the flow of language. As with design for print, the goal of interactive typography is to create ‘architectural’ structures that accommodate the organic stream of text. But in the digital realm, these structures-and the content they support-have the possibility of continuous transformation. In their essay about soft copy, Negroponte and Cooper predicted the evolution of digital interfaces that would allow typography to transform its size, shape, and color. Muriel
Cooper (1925-1994) went on to develop the idea of the three-dimensional ‘information landscape,’ a model that breaks through the window frames that dominate electronic interfaces. Viewed from a distance, a field of text is a block of gray. But when one comes in close to read, the individual characters predominate over the field. Text is a body of separate objects that move together as a mass, like cars in a flow of traffic or individuals in a crowd. Text is a fluid made from the hard, dry crystals of the alphabet. Typeface designs in the Renaissance reflected the curving lines of handwriting, formed by ink flowing from the rigid nib of a pen.The cast metal types used for printing converted these organic sources into fixed, reproducible artifacts. As the printed book became the world’s dominant information medium, the design of typefaces grew ever more abstract and formalized, distanced from the liquid hand. Today, designers look back at the systematic, abstracting tendencies of modern letter design and both celebrate and challenge that rationalizing impulse. They have exchanged the anthracite deposits of the classical letter for lines of text that quiver and bleed like living things. The distinctive use of type, which can endow a long or complex document with a sense of unified personality or behavior, also builds the identity of brands and institutions. Bruce Mau has described identity design as a ‘life problem,’ arguing that the visual expression of a company or product should appear like a frame taken from a system in motion. The flat opacity of the printed page has been challenged by graphic designers who use image manipulation software to embed the word within the surface of the photographic image. A pioneer of such effects in the digital realm was P. Scott Makela (1960-1999). In the early 1990s, he began using PhotoShop, a software tool that had just been introduced, as a creative medium. In his designs for print and multimedia, type and image merge in dizzying swells and eddies as letters bulge, buckle, and morph. The techniques he helped forge have become part of the fundamental language of graphic design. The linear forms of typography have become planar surfaces, skimming across and below the pixelated skin of the image. The alphabet is an ancient form that is deeply embedded in the mental hardware of readers. Graphic
designers always ground their work, to some degree, in historic precedent, tapping the familiarity of existing symbols and styles even as they invent new idioms. While some designers pay their toll to history with reluctance, others dive eagerly into the reservoirs of pop culture. Tibor Kalman (1949–1999) led the graphic design world’s reclamation of visual detritus, borrowing from the commonplace vernacular of mail-order stationery and do-it-yourself signage. Designers now frankly embrace the humor and directness of everyday artifacts. In the aesthetic realm as in the economic one, pollution is a natural resource-one that is expanding rather than shrinking away. Thirty years ago, progressive designers often described their mission as ‘problem-solving’. They aimed to identify the functional requirements of a project and then discover the appropriate means to satisfy the brief. Today, it is more illuminating to speak of solvents than solutions. Design is often an attack on structure, or an attempt to create edifices that can withstand and engage the corrosive assault of content. The clean, smooth surfaces of modernism proved an unsound fortress against popular culture, which is now invited inside to fuel the creation of new work. Image and text eat away at the vessels that would seal them shut. Forms that are hard and sharp now appear only temporarily so, ready to melt, like ice, in response to small environmental changes. All systems leak, and all waters are contaminated, not only with foreign matter but with bits of structure itself. A fluid, by definition, is a substance that conforms to the outline of its container. Today, containers reconfigure in response to the matter they hold.