Posts by: kb
An article posted on the “AIGA Eye on Design” site asks whether or not a font (typeface) choice can make a product or service appear either “cheap” or “luxurious”. Using information from a recent survey by author and typographer, Sarah Hyndman, the article attempts to answer that question, but as the text progresses there are even more questions raised than answered—at least as far as I am concerned.
Putting aside my personal bias against the misuse of the word “font” as a replacement for “typeface”, I find fault in the experiment itself in that it tests the typefaces out of any design context. While it is certainly true that some faces—Comic Sans or Papyrus come to mind—will make a design look cheap, even a “luxurious” face like Hoefler & Co.’s “Didot” (picked as the “diamond of all fonts” in the survey) can’t save a design that is badly done.
Madeleine Morley, the article’s author seems to reach the same conclusion: “Perhaps the overall quality that creates a sense of luxury isn’t necessarily based on font characteristics, but rather the skill and craftsmanship behind the rendering of a final design.”
Typefaces are like anything else in our society; influenced by the culture’s zeitgeist, typeface’s fall in and out of favor with designers and the public. But to try to decide a face’s worth in the vacuum of a survey makes for nothing more than an interesting read and perhaps a source of debate among typophiles.
This is not a modern logo. It is actually a colophon ( a printer’s mark added to a book to show who printed it—so it is actually a kind of logo if you want to debate the issue). It dates back to the incunabula period of typography and printing—so before 1500. It was designed by one of the great, early type designers, Nicolas Jenson, as the symbol of the Society of Venetian Printers in or around 1481. Jenson, who was actually French, made his home in Venice, which had become the premier printing center of Europe before the turn of the century, taking over from Mainz, Germany, the home of Gutenberg. We owe the Venetians a debt of gratitude for this because they influenced the look of our current letterforms—which they based upon Roman and Carolingian models—instead of the dark and almost unreadable blackletter favored by the Germans. Thank you, Nicolas
In the creative department here at Metropolis, we have our heads in the Clouds. Not just Apple’s iCloud, but now the Adobe Creative Cloud as well. Changing from software delivered on tangible objects packaged in a box to an Internet subscription seemed a bit odd at first. The whole thing is almost unreal. Adobe is paid automatically so the only evidence of a transaction is the credit card bill we get at the end of the month. The software, and the dozens of updates that have already been made, are all downloaded with little or no fuss. No more disks to keep track of and no more mile long serial numbers to deal with. All we are required to do is connect with the Internet once in a while so Adobe can tell our Macs that we’ve paid our bill, but this is not a problem since everyone here lives online anyway.
The best part is we not only have access to our traditional triumvirate—InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop—but the rest of the Creative Suite as well. Now all we need to do is find the time to learn all of these new applications.
By the way, old application CDs make excellent drink coasters—except for that bothersome hole in the middle.
John Foster posts “Accidental Mysteries” on the Design Observer site (designobserver.com). He recently posted some images from a 17th Century German book on calligraphy entitled (I kid you not): The Proper Art of Writing: A Compilation of All Sorts of Capital or Initial Letters of German, Latin and Italian Fonts from Different Masters of the Noble Art of Writing. Or as it is known in German: Kunstrichtige Schreibart allerhand Versalie[n] oder AnfangsBuchstabe[n] der teütschen, lateinischen und italianischen Schrifften aus unterschiedlichen Meistern der edlen Schreibkunst zusammen getragen. Yikes! Where does that fit in the Dewey Decimal System?
The images are quite striking and I have posted a couple here. For more go to: http://observatory.designobserver.com/feature/accidental-mysteries-030313/37723/
My dear friend, Steve Casella, started taping interviews with some of his fellow designers and has issued them as audio podcasts via iTunes—for free; always a good thing. One of the interviews includes illustrator and mighty fine, fine artist, Larry Moore, and yours truly. Our interview—more like a weird conversation with microphones on— has been posted today. If anyone is interested, or has no exterior life, here is the iTunes link:
There are several other podcasts in the series, all of which I am sure are more interesting than mine (although Larry is great). Tim Fisher and Chris Robb talk about their early days together; the guys at Lure talk shop and Julio Lima may, or may not, explain his obsession with the color orange. If you are interested in design and want to hear what some of Orlando’s finest have to say about it, in a very conversational way, subscribe to the podcast.
I feel proud to be included with some of our local heavyweights… even though I know Steve was just throwing me a bone because I’ve paid for lunch once or twice.
In Fall 2012 I will be teaching the “Fundamentals of Typography” course in Valencia College’s graphics program. This is the same course that Glenn Bowman taught for several semesters before becoming a dad—which seems to take up a lot of his time and energy now. Thanks to Glenn, I already have a lot of insight into the class and a folder full of course materials that I won’t have to create from scratch.
The technical aspects of typography have changed greatly from when I started in this professional about a million years ago, but the principles that have been discovered and evolved over centuries of lettering and typography have remained virtually unchanged. Whether type is set with metal, developed on photo paper and pasted to a board or digitally displayed and printed, the same issues of optics, legibility, layout and design are going to vex my students just as much as they did me when I was in school. The difference, however, is that my students will have available to them an arsenal of technology and a catalogue of fonts that were beyond my wildest dreams at the beginning of my career.
When I started working with type it was almost entirely for printing on paper—or environmental graphics and displays. Once in a blue moon I had to deal with the transmission of type via the television screen but that was not often and usually for only a couple of seconds at the end of a commercial. Now, type appears electronically almost everywhere. Computer displays, HD televisions, smart phones, tablets, kiosks—even digital outdoor boards. So adding to the issues concerning design and legibility that challenge print designers we must now add the technical aspects of the light emitting display. Will certain type sizes and shapes—or various color schemes and textures—exhibited on these devices cause excessive eye strain for the reader? Will this written information be retained by the reader in the same way as from a printed piece. Or will the technology itself add a level of complexity to the written information that would not pose a problem for a simple book?
For typophiles like myself the digital age poses an even greater problem—lack of control. In the digital realm of hypertext markup languages I have little, if any, control about the way my type will appear at the other end of the electronic pipeline. Web browsers have default settings for exhibiting type established not by the designer but by the end user (although most apparently leave the selection on the default setting). Web-based font solutions only work under certain circumstances and not with every browser. Some browsers might be tricked by CSS or other codes but the font choices are often limited by what the user has installed on their computer. (This is exacerbated by current copyright laws that will not allow for most type fonts to be embedded in the delivered code.)
Now, with the huge popularity of the tablet device such as the Apple iPad® we are once again seeing a paradigm shift in the way type is displayed. Just like web browsers, epub readers use default type fonts to display text and the publication designer is unable to affect what is shown. In fact, due to the epub reader’s ability to change screen orientation from page to landscape display whenever the tablet is moved means that the text—set in who knows what typeface—will now shift its layout as well. Unless care has been taken by the designer to nest any images with related blocks of text, art and photos will also move about freely with no sense of the proportion and design that is the hallmark of a good print layout.
An entire generation now actually prefers reading on a tablet rather than a heavy, smelly old book. As the text reorients itself on their screens they give little regard to the type they are seeing displayed there. Their aesthetic is based as much on the convenience of the device—as well as its “coolness” factor—than any other consideration. I am not saying that the average book or brochure reader has any better understanding of typography—or really cares either—but at least the print designer has the ability to direct the reader to the information in various subtle ways: the use of negative space, hierarchical emphasis, the column widths and lengths and the typeface choice itself all contribute to the overall message. That contribution is made all the more difficult in the ultra-flexible space of the digital word.
I will help my students to learn and use the rules and traditions of fine typography. Beautiful print designs will be used as exhibits and most of the class projects will be oriented to the printed word. But beyond the classroom walls, the world of type is being swept by a storm of digital code. I will have to find the right way to prepare them for that as well.
The Belgian surrealist, Rene Magritte—the artist who gave men in bowler hats apples for heads—created a painting in 1929 called “The Treason of Images” (or “The Treachery of Images” depending upon the translator). It is a realistic rendering of a smoker’s pipe in oil paint. It is iconic. This pipe might be seen on any tobacco shop sign anywhere in Europe—even today. However, at the bottom of the painting Magritte wrote “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”
This is not a pipe.
Of course it’s not a pipe. It is a picture of a pipe. This is the treason of the image. It is a lie. There is no pipe. The painting betrays our eyes and minds into believing that we are seeing a pipe but it is really just paint on a substrate.
Consequently, when you hold up a family photo to ask an elderly relative, “Who is this?” you are participating in more treason. When they answer, “Why that is your great Aunt Edna,” the process continues. This is not your Aunt Edna. Once again, it is a picture of Aunt Edna.
I realize that most people understand that a picture is only a representation and not the real thing. We do this shorthand. When we say, “That’s a pipe,” on some level we know it is a painting but we often take this knowledge for granted. We forget what is real and what is an illusion. Our own brain is in collusion with the image maker and we see what is not there.
In graphic design we know that the image is an even greater illusion. In print the image is no longer in continuous tones but is made of a series of halftone dots that fool us into seeing colors that aren’t there, as well as tints of those colors from light to dark. The ink is still printing at 100% of its value so the tints are made by making the ink dots larger or smaller; covering larger or smaller areas of the background paper.
In web design the dots are rendered electronically as pixels in a grid and are expressed in various intensities of red, green and blue light. So the digital version of Aunt Edna is still only an image no matter how real she may appear.
But it is when we add type to the page next to the treasonous image that what is real and what is not becomes a little confusing.
Eric Gill, the artist, designer, typographer and stone cutter said this about the written word and type: “Letters are things; they are not pictures of things.” When you write or type the letter “a” for example, it is not a picture of the letter “a” but an actual “a”. It does not represent anything else (other than a phonetic sound). It is not pretending to be anything other than what it is. No matter its shape (within limitations) or size it is still the letter “a”. Written or typed each individual letter on a page is its own truth. Even if you were to “draw” a letter “a”—adding all kinds of decoration—it can be described in terms of a letter. The letter “a” does not exist in nature while a long time ago Great Aunt Edna did.
The words the letters form on a page may tell horrible lies but the letters themselves are nothing but honest. On the other hand, the picture next to the words may express some great fundamental truth, but it is still a lie.
What does this mean in the universal scheme of things? What should it mean to you?
In truth, absolutely nothing.
But this is the kind of weird stuff that rattles around in my head and, once in a while, escapes…