Archive for the ‘typography’ Category

A trip to the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading

15/09/08

Futura 12pt

A few weeks back Kirsten Disse sent round an email to one of our UK designers mailing lists saying that she’d arranged a trip to the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading and asking if anyone wanted to join her. Worried that she’d soon be swamped with eager typophiles from Microsoft offices across the UK I rattled off a reply immediately. I needn’t have worried, Kirsten was joined by Dave Crawford, Sergei Golubev, and I. Well, the hundreds of others I expected sure missed out – it was a fantastic visit.

Martin Andrews showed us round their collection of ephemera which stretched from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, through grave plates, seventeenth century shorthand guides, and even a collection of labels sewn by the manufacturers into men’s pants! As you can see it wasn’t just ephemera, they had some great work of early scribes and more recent calligraphy by Edward Johnson.

As well as the collection of ephemera they had an amazing collection of working presses from a reconstructed Gutenberg press (used by Stephen Fry on the tele’) through to modern equipment used to print the university’s brochures etc. And we got to try out the Albion Press – how cool is that?

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Helvetica – what a pants documentary

01/07/08

I like fonts. I like typography, I like lettering, and I like calligraphy. I’m not an expert, not even close, but it’s one of those intriguing areas that seems to fascinate computer scientists and designers alike. So when I saw that there was a documentary all about Helvetica I rushed it onto our DVD rental list and waited excitedly for it to arrive. I told Kate and the kids that it may sound dull but it was sure to be really exciting and informative. Pah!

I couldn’t get the kids to watch it (they gave me that Daaaaaaaad eye rolling thing) but I’m glad they didn’t. It was awful. There were some good bits: seeing the various designers talk was fun (like Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, Paula Scher, and Matthew Carter to name but a few). But there was no sense of tension or even narrative. I suppose we’ve become spoilt with such good documentary making over recent years.

What was even more frustrating for me was that the film showed enough for the viewer to realise that there was a good story lurking in there somewhere. Near the beginning one of the designers mentioned that history sees Helvetica as the pinnacle of sans-serif typeface design but that the real story is more complex. So tell us the real story! What were Helvetica’s predecessors? How did they differ? What was its competition? How did it achieve worldwide domination where others failed? What was built afterwards and why? Which similar fonts have since improved it? What were those improvements?

I was also annoyed that there wasn’t more time given over to explaining the anatomy of a font. For example kerning – I’ve always assumed that kerning is part of font design. Perhaps it isn’t. Anyway several interviewees mentioned that the spacing around the letters was an important part of Helvetica’s success, and yet several of the examples of Helvetica in use that peppered the documentary had little or no spacing. Were they Helvetica? How come?

Some font concepts would be introduced with no visual explanation at all. This is the screen not the radio! One designer mentioned grunge typefaces and it wasn’t for another twenty minutes we were shown an example.

Oh dear.