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A Bi-monthly Publication Volume 6 2003 Typography

What
Type
is everywhere Have you ever been to Japan? A friend who went there
recently reported that he had never felt so lost in his life.
Why? Because he could not read anything: not road signs,
explains why certain type styles are popular in certain
countries, but not necessarily anywhere else.
This brings us back to type and newspapers. What
The official Roman alphabet, as displayed in this
photo­graph of the Trajan Column in Rome, never
went out of fashion.

not price tags, not instruction of any kind. It made him might look quite obvious and normal to you when you
feel stupid, he said. It also made him realise how much read your daily paper is the result of careful planning
we all depend on written communication. and applied craft. Even newspapers with pages that look

TYPE?
Picture yourself in a world without type. True, you messy are laid out in complex grids and strict hierarchies.
could do without some of the ubiquitous advertising The artistry comes in offering the information in such
Ever since people have been writing
messages, but you wouldn’t even know which package on a way that the reader doesn’t get sidetracked into thinking
things down, they have had to con-
your breakfast table contained what. that someone had to carefully prepare every line, para-
sider their audience before actually
Sure enough, there are pictures on them—grazing graph, and column into structured pages. Design—in this
putting pen to paper: letters would 2
cows on paper carton suggest that milk is inside, and case at least—has to be invisible. Typefaces used for these
have to look different depending
cereal packaging has appetising images to make you hun- hardworking tasks are therefore by definition “invisible”. 3
on whether they were to be read
gry. But pick up salt or pepper, and what do you look They have to look so normal that you don’t even notice
by many other people (in official
for? S and P! you’re reading them. And this is exactly why designing
documents or inscriptions), just one Today, when we are supposed
Breakfast for some people wouldn’t be the same with- type is such an unknown profession; who thinks about
other person (in a letter), or only the to write legibly, we’re instructed
out the morning paper. And here it is again: inevitable people who produce invisible things? Nevertheless, every
writer (in a notebook or a diary). So to “print”. While we might have a
type. Most people call it “print” and don’t pay too much walk of life is defined by, expressed with, and indeed,
there would be less room for guess- hard time reading something writ-
attention to typographic subtleties. You’ve probably never dependent on type and typography.
work, letter shapes were made more ten 200 years ago in what was then
compared the small typefaces in different newspapers, If you think that the big choice of a typeface is some-
formal as the diversity of the reader- considered a very “good” hand, we
but you do know that some newspapers are easier to read thing of little importance because nobody would know
ship expanded. have no problem reading writing
than others. It might be because they have larger type, the difference anyway, you’ll be surprised to hear that
Some of the first messages to from “Roman” times or even earlier.
better pictures, and lots of headings to guide you through experts spend an enormous amount of time and effort
be read by a large number of peo- Likewise, the typefaces designed
the stories. Regardless, all these differences are conveyed perfecting details that are invisible to the untrained eye.
ple were rendered not by pens but 500 years ago, shortly after print-
by type. In fact, a newspaper gets its look, its personality, It’s a bit like having been to a concert, thoroughly
by chisels. Large inscriptions on ing with movable type was invented,
from the typefaces used and how they are arranged on enjoying it, then reading in the paper the next morning
monuments in ancient Rome were still look perfectly familiar (if a lit-
the page. We easily recognize our favourite news- the conductor had been incompetent, the orchestra out
carefully planned, with letters tle quaint) to us. We might not be
papers on the newsstand, even if we only see the of tune, and that the whole piece of music not worth
drawn on the stone with a brush using the exact same letters repro-
edge of a page, just as we recognize our friends performing in the first place. While you had a great night
before they were chiselled. Even if duced in the identical manner, but
by seeing only their hands or their hair. And out, some experts were unhappy with the performance
white-out had existed in those days, the basic shapes and proportions are
just as people look different across the world, because their standards and expectations were different
it would not have helped to remove still valid today.
so do the newspapers in different countries. than yours.
mistakes made in stone. A bit of While the basic shapes of our
What looks totally unacceptable to a North The same thing happens when you have a glass of wine.
planning was also more important letters haven’t changed much in
American reader will please the French reader While you might be perfectly happy with whatever you’re
then, since stone masons were some- hundreds of years, there have
at breakfast, while an Italian might find a Ger- drinking, someone at the table will make a face and go on
times more expendable than slabs of been thousands of variations on
man daily paper too monotonous. at length why this particular bottle is too warm, how that
marble or granite. the theme. People have designed
Of course, it’s not only type or layout that year was a lousy one anyway, and that he just happens to
Top Left: Works in most languages, In turn, these “official” styles of alphabets from human figures,
avoiding tasteless mistakes: distinguishes newspapers, it is also the combination of have a case full of some amazing stuff at home that the
writing influenced how handwriting architectural elements, flowers, trees,
S for Salt and P for Pepper. words. Some languages have lots of accents, like French; uncle of a friend imports directly from France.
was looked at and how it was taught tools, and all sorts of everyday items,
Top Right: Type can say a lot more some have very long words, like Dutch or Finnish; and Does that make you a fool or does it simply say that
about a newspaper or magazine in schools or other learning centres, to be used as initials or typographic
some use extremely short ones, as in British tabloid. Not there are varying levels of quality and satisfaction in eve-
than just the information it carries.
such as monasteries. ornaments. Typefaces for reading,
every typeface is suited for every language, which also rything we do? SSS

Stop Stealing Sheep Volume 6 2003


however, are generally derived from changed remarkably since the 1400s, idolising the lifestyles depicted on
handwriting. Gutenberg’s types fol- but people still wear shirts, trousers, TV. This generation is followed by
lowed the forms of the letters written socks, and shoes. The process of one growing up with music vid-
by professional scribes in fifteenth- manufacturing them has changed, eos, multimedia, and virtual reality.
century Germany. The printers in but materials such as wool, silk, and The manipulation of sounds and
Venice, a few decades later, also based leather are still being used and are images, the invention of artificial
their first types on local handwriting. often more desirable than their mod- realities, and life inside man-made
Over the centuries, cultural differ- ern alternatives. surroundings puts to question our
ences have been expressed in the way After all, the shape of the human “natural” rules of perception. And,
people write. Professional scribes in body hasn’t changed in the last 500 as with every technological and cul-
European courts developed elabo- years, nor has the basic way we look tural development in the last 2,000
rate formal scripts. As literacy spread, at the world around us. Our view years, type and typography reflects
people began to care more about of thing is still largely shaped by this. If current trends are anything
expressing their thoughts quickly, nature—plants, animals, weather, to go by, the look of typefaces is
and less about style. scenery. Most of what we perceive bound to change more by the year
Top inset: Italian manuscript, ca. 1530, Quills, fountain pens, pencils, as harmonious and pleasing to the 2,000 than it has in all the years
shows how people wrote them.
and felt-tip pens have all done their eye follows rules of proportion that since the fifteenth century. The next
Bottom inset: From a book of writing
part to change the look of handwrit- are derived from nature. Our clas- generation of readers might consider
instructions by Ludovico degli Arrhighi, ing. The common denominator, the sic typefaces also conform to those things acceptable and, indeed, highly
printed from engraved woodblocks, ca. 1521.
The type on the page is Adobe Caslon Italic,
Roman alphabet, survived all these rules; if they don’t, we regard them legible, that we would today con-
designed by Carol Twombly in 1990 developments remarkably intact. as strange, at the least fashionable, sider ridiculous.
By the same token what was and at the worst illegible. “It’ll never catch on.” Isn’t that
thought to be a fashionable house The first generation to grow what people said about almost every dance gracefully on the line. Just as some words sound shout out loud. It helps if the letters are not perfectly
hundreds of years ago is still a very up with television (those born in major discovery or invention? SSS better than others, some words look nicer than others. worked out and closed in on themselves, but rather a
desirable house today. Fashion has the 1950s) is still imitating and That may be because we don’t like the meaning of the little irregular, leaving room for our imagination. A well-

Looking
word, but often we’ve formed an opinion before we’ve balanced Univers or Helvetica wouldn’t do.
even read it. Isn’t it nice that the “o” imitates the way we There are seven deadly sins, seven seas and seventh sons
4
make our lips round to pronounce it? And how could of seventh sons, but thousands of typefaces. Someone had
the “i” stand for anything but the pointed sound it has to come up with a system to classify them, since describ- 5

in “pick”? ing how different type designs express different emotions


Dark emotions call for a black typeface with sharp just isn’t exact enough. Unfortunately, there is not just

at type
edges; pleasant feelings are best evoked by informal, light one system, but quite a few, all of them too involved for
characters. Or are they? The trouble is that as soon as you anyone but the most devoted typomaniac. So here’s the
select a typeface that looks appropriate, put it on a page, most rudimentary of ways to classify type. It’s not histori-
surround it by space and perhaps other elements, it can cally correct, nor does it give a complete overview of the
take on a totally different look. available choice of fonts. It simply shows that with just a
Anyone looking at a printed message will be influenced, office—not many people anyway. While your feet don’t Some words are much more fun to find an appropri- few basic principles, hundreds of ways of designing type-
within a split second of making eye contact, by every- change shape, they need different sorts of support, pro- ate typographic equivalent for than others. (Surprise, faces become possible, the same way a few basic emotions
thing on the page: the arrangement of various elements tection or, indeed, enhancement to perform all the above surprise.) It may be fairly difficult to find a majority evoke a million ways to make a face.
as well as the individual look of each one. In other words, tasks and many more besides. agreement on the right typeface to spell “doubt”, but this Scientists have not been content with just calling the
an overall impression is created in our minds before we The same also applies to type. Sometimes the letters one shouldn’t cause any problems. human face “beautiful” if it meets certain ideals, or “ugly”
even start reading the first word. It’s similar to the way we have to work hard to get across straightforward facts or What’s more unexpected, more surprising than some- if it doesn’t. They had to go out and measure proportions
respond to a person’s presence before we know anything numbers, or they may need to dress up the words a little one’s handwriting? The best casual typefaces have always of nose to jaw, forehead to chin, and so on, to establish
about him or her, and then later find it difficult to revise to make them seem more pleasant, more comfortable, or managed to carry some of the spontaneity of handwrit- why some faces are more appealing than others.
our first impression. simply prettier. ten letters into the mechanical restrictions of typesetting. Typographers and graphic designers often choose
We read best what we read most, even if it is badly Some shoes fit your feet better than others and you Even the names of some typefaces make you want to typefaces for the very same reason they might fancy a
set, badly designed, and badly printed. This is not to get to like them so much that you just want to keep buy- choose them. How about this one: Mistral—a cool wind person: they just like that person. For more scientifically
suggest there is a substitute for good type, great design, ing the same kind over and over. Your friends, however, blowing from the north into France. And indeed, in the minded people, however, there are specific measurements,
or clean printing, but a reminder of the fact that cer- might begin to give you a rough time over your repeti- south of France it seems to have become the standard components, details and proportions describing various
tain images are deeply ingrained into the reader’s mind. tious footwear, so why not buy a few pairs of the same typeface for every shopfront and delivery van. parts of a letter. While these won’t tell you what makes a
Graphic Designers, typesetters, editors, printers, and models, but in different colours? Now you have more The more characters in a word, the more chances there typeface good, they will at least give you the right words
other communicators are well advised to be aware of choices at the same comfort level. are to find the right letterforms to express its meaning. to use when you discuss the benefits of a particular face
these expectations. Sometimes it may be best to go by the Some type has its practical uses—it can walk, run, skip, This word doesn’t give us a lot of choices, just three char- over another. You can say “I hate the x-height on such a
rules; at other times the rules need to be broken to get jump, climb, and dance. Can it also express emotions? acters: “j o y” or “J O Y”. Seeing that the lowercase j and y Gothic” or “these descenders just don’t work for me” or
the point across. Good designers learn all the rules before Of course. If you look closely at a letter, you can see per- look so similar, an all-capital setting will work better. “please may I see something with a smaller cap height?”
they start breaking them. sonality expressed in its physical characteristics: light or Anger, like doubt, can be described as a dark feeling and you’ll know what you’re talking about. SSS
No-one would wear the same shoes to go dancing, run heavy, round or square, slim or squat. Letters can stand that calls for a black, heavy typeface. Anger is not as nar-
a mile, climb the north-face of the Eiger, and walk to the at attention next to each other like soldiers or they can row as doubt. It needs room to expand, sometimes to

Stop Stealing Sheep Volume 6 2003


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in the case of an identity, to express the brand. This ability alludes to the letterform created in the familiar analogue typ
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of type to communicate a brand personality or tone of identity. This also helps to create a unique and identifi- ith
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voice (every bit as much as a television adver- able visual representation of the word that is protectable ay
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Basten Greenhill Andrews for infor- ay
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mation provider Teletext. Teletext six letters. This will not be a typeface in the traditional typ
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turn a category generic into a unique and It’s all too easy to cannibalise an effective piece of e

ownable expression of a brand? brand-driven communication—the typography of a


Stop Stealing Sheep Volume 6 2003
How it

Letters were originally invented to help communicate they are difficult to get around in, full of different kinds Marathon runners know they have twenty-six miles yards. Words should also keep a safe, regular distance Top Left: The tricky thing about space is that
it is generally invisible and therefore easy to
not high culture, but mundane things like the amount of trees in various stages of growth, and there’s not ahead of them, so it would be foolish to start off like from each other, so that you can rely on the next one to ignore. You determine your speed by the size
of goods delivered or their value in barter or currency. enough light. Luckily, we humans are also part of this crazy. There is also no need to run in narrow tracks, since appear when you’re ready for it. of the visible space in front of you.
8
What began as individual signs representing real items wonderful, if not entirely perfect system called nature; by the time everybody gets settled into the race there will You must have noticed that the lanes on the highway
we like things that look “human” (less than perfect), but 9
developed into letters and alphabets. be plenty of room, with the first runners miles away from are wider than those on city streets, even though cars are Top Right: Tree farms are to forests what
monospaced fonts are to real type.
Different cultures added to the typographic variety. we also like things that conform to a master plan, even if the last ones. With thousands of people in the race, indi- the same size on both types of roads. But when travelling
For instance, the most common vowel sound in ancient it is indecipherable. viduals will blend into the crowd, but they still have to at high speeds, every movement of the steering wheel can
languages was also the first letter on the alphabet. While We know when something looks “right” without ever give their best. cause a major deviation from the straight lane you’re sup-
the Phoenicians (ca. 1,000 BC) called it aleph, the having to measure it. Unfortunately, people have long What did people do before there was the instant replay? posed to be driving in, posing a threat to other drivers.
Greeks (ca. 500 BC), alpha, the Romans (ca. 50 BC) since begun improving on creation. We won’t go into The 100-yard dash is over in less than ten seconds these This is, in typographic words, not the space between

What did people do


ah. The Phoeni- a discussion of inventions like nuclear power or low-fat days, and we can’t possibly look at each of the six or more words, but that between lines - the lanes that words drive
cians had twenty dog food, but certainly tree farms are a good example contestants by the time they’re across the line. in. Typographic details and refinement relate to every-

before there was two letters in their of what some people think nature should look like. If Does that sound like thumbing through a magazine, thing else; if you increase your word space, you have to
alphabet; the greeks we applied the same logic to type, we wouldn’t have any with all those ads flashing by your eyes in split seconds? have more space between the lines as well.

the instant replay? added vowels, and


the Romans devel-
unusual or eccentric type, where every letter has a dif-
ferent shape and its own individual space. Instead there
That’s typography at its most intense. If you want to make
an impression in an ad, you can’t wait for the readers to
In both life and typography, the object is to get safely and
quickly from A to B. What is safe at sixty miles an hour on
oped the letters we would only be regularised fonts with nice geometrically get settled in, and there is no space to spread your mes- a straight highway with four lanes in good daylight would
still use today. All this time, people wrote either from defined shapes. How mundane our typographic lives sage out in front of their eyes. The sprinter has to hurl be suicide in city traffic. You have to adjust your driving to
right to left, or left to right, or top to bottom. would be. forward, and stay in a narrow lane. In short-distance text, the road conditions, and you have to adjust typographic
With such a mixed history, no wonder our alphabet Letters, like trees, hardly ever appear by themselves. lines have to be short and compact or the reader’s eye will parameters to the conditions of the page and the purpose
looks so unbalanced. Anyone inventing a new alphabet As soon as there are a bunch of letters gathered together, be drawn to the next line before reaching the end of the of the message.
today would doubtless be more practical and make letters they fight for space, for the right to be recognised, to be previous one. Whether you’re driving along looking around at the
more regular. There would be more obvious differences read. If you plant trees too close together, they’ll struggle While driving on freeways isn’t quite as exhausting as scenery, or stuck in a traffic jam, or slowly moving from
between some shapes, and no narrow letters such as “l” to get light and for space for their roots to expand; the running a marathon (mainly because you get to sit down one set of lights to the next, you have to be conscious of
in the same alphabet with wide ones such as “m”. weaker ones will stop growing and eventually die. in your car), it requires a similar mind-set. The longer the the drivers around you. If they change their behaviour,
One consequence of our letters having such complex Before this turns into a tale of typographic Darwinism, journey, the more relaxed your driving style should be. you have to react. When you learn the rules and have had
yet delicate shapes is that we have to respect their space. let’s look at the practical consequences as far as this book You know you’re going to be on the road for a while, and a little practice, nothing will upset you, not in traffic and
Every one of them needs enough room on both sides and its typographic subject is concerned. If you know it’s best not to get too nervous, but sit back, keep a safe not in typography.
to avoid clashes with its neighbours. The smaller the your text is going to be fairly long and that it will require distance from the car in front of you, and cruise. One thing typography can do, however, that city plan-
type, the more space that’s needed on the sides. Only some time to read, you should adjust the layout accord- Long-distance reading needs a relaxed attitude, too. ning can not: we can make all our vehicles different sizes,
big, robust headlines can have the occasional letter very ingly. The lines should be long enough to get complete There is nothing worse than having to get used to a differ- move them up and down, overlap them, put them into
close to the next one. thoughts into them and there ought to be enough space ent set of parameters every other line: compare it to the the background, or turn them sideways. SSS
Looking at nature, we imagine that God could have between them to be able to finish reading one line before jarring effect of a fellow motorist who suddenly appears
designed more practical forests than the ones we know: your eye gets distracted by the next. in front of you, having jumped a lane just to gain twenty
Stop Stealing Sheep Volume 6 2003
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From Mediterranean merchants making notes on clay tablets, to Neon signs and cursive fonts work hand in hand, so to hand; however, if the proprietor has illegible handwriting, Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni; Gill, Zapf, Top: Shopkeepers can’t afford to have
signs printed. The most common solution
Roman masons chiselling letters into stone, the mediaeval monks speak. Neon tubes are filled with gas; the more interruptions it would be a disservice to customers to present an up-to- Dwiggins, Frutiger: they all found inspiration in the is to write them out by hand.

moving quills across parchment—the look of letters has always there are in the continuous loop, the more expensive making date but unreadable sign. The shopkeeper could simply past for typeface designs that were appropriate for their
the sign becomes to manufacture. Sign-makers therefore have buy a casual script or brush font and print the signs times and their tools. Every new imaging technology (as Bottom: This was new, modern, beautiful type
been influenced by the tools used to make them. Two hundred in 1886. Later generations called the nineteenth
to look for typefaces that connect as many letters as possible, reversed out on the laserprinter. They will look almost we call it today) results in a new ge neration of type
years ago copperplate engraving changed the look of typefaces century the “worst period in typographic
or they must manipulate other types to accommodate the like genuine handwriting on a blackboard. designs. Today, outline fonts can emulate virtually any history”; today we again admire the nostalgic
as did all subsequent technologies: the Pantograph, Monotype charm of these decorative typefaces.
technical constraints. The letter is the most common form of written business shape imaginable, if not necessarily desirable; they can
and Linotype machines, Phototypesetting, Digital Bitmaps, and
The neon-sign style, in turn, influenced graphic-design, communication. Letterheads make the first impression equal and even improve upon every aesthetic and techni-
Outline Fonts. Most of these technologies are no longer viable,
and people have spent a lot of time airbrushing a glow of light and so are frequently printed on expensive, heavy paper in cal refinement ever dreamed of or achieved.
but some of the typefaces they engendered now represent par- around curved, tubular letters. Like other graphic manipula- several colours, sometimes with blind embossing or mock Apart from the typefaces that work well because we
ticular categories in type classifications. Once again, the best tions, achieving neon effects has become much easier with steel engraving. are familiar with them, there are those that defy the sim-
example is the typewriter. As an office machine it is all but dead, drawing and painting programs available on the computer. Then what happens? The letter is followed by a plistic classifications of usefulness or purpose. They may
but its typeface style survives as a typographic stereotype. Other We associate particular typeface looks with certain prod- proposal, a memo, or another letter. After the initial exist only because the type designer’s first thought one
recognisable typeface styles that have outlived their production ucts. Fresh produce always seems to want an improvised, exchange, it seems appropriate to just send a fax. After morning was a new letter shape. These private artistic
methods are stencilled letters and constructed letters made with handwritten sort of message, while high-tech demands a cool, this message has been subjected to the tortuous process expressions may not appeal to a wide audience, but every
a square and a compass. technocratic look. Warm, cuddly products respond to a soft of sending and receiving, colour, nice paper, and beauti- now and again the right singer effortlessly transforms a
Technical constraints no longer exist when it comes to the serif treatment, grainy whole foods are represented best by a ful, legible type become a thing of the past. No-one in simple song into a great hit. There are typographic gems
reproduction or re-creation of fonts from any and all peri- handmade, rough-edged typeface, and serious money busi- business could live without a fax machine anymore, but hidden in today’s specimen books just waiting to be dis-
ods. What used to be a necessity has become a look, just like nesses like to recall the era of copperplate engraving, when even a fax message should be good looking and legible. covered. In the right hands, technical constraints turn
pre-washed jeans are supposed to make everybody look like a deals were confirmed with a handshake. No matter what turns technology takes, the typefaces we into celebrations of simplicity, and awkward alphabets
cowboy who’s been out on the trail for a few months. In some cases this makes perfect sense. In city produce see most will still be those based upon letterforms from are typographic heroes for a day.
If handwriting is done quickly, chances are the lettershapes and meat markets where prices change constantly, time and the end of the fifteenth century; the original Venetian or There is no bad type. SSS
in a word will be connected. Every stop, start, and pen lift of expense prevents shopkeepers from having new signs printed German models are evident in the diverse interpretations
the writing hand slows down the process. each day. The most common solution is to write them out by of every type designer since then.

Stop Stealing Sheep Volume 6 2003