The early history of illustrated printed books is also the history of woodcut. Woodcut illustrations long predate the mid-fifteenth-century introduction of movable type to Germany. They were used extensively in the printing of textiles many hundreds of years before in Europe and the Far East. Designs were cut in relief in wood, inked, then stamped onto fabric by hand. Woodcuts were also used in the production of playing cards, most notably in Augsburg. Prior to Gutenberg, woodcut or xylographic books, including Ars Moriendi and the Cologne Chronicle, – where entire pages of text and illustration were carved in relief – have survived in relatively large numbers.*
Anyone who has children understands that books are a crucial part of their development. Parents also know that children’s books are likely to have relatively short shelf lives; torn pages, chewed corners, and crazed crayoning conspire toward the book’s inevitable annihilation. Fifteenth-century children were no different, and so it is no surprise that most of the very earliest printed children’s books, despite being printed in relatively large numbers, have not survived. And, of those that have, many bear the hallmarks of accelerated wear and tear.
Welcome to this month’s roundup of type-related info and entertainment. Today, we turn to science to create type (bacteria and ferrofluids are the media of choice), bid goodbye to type legend Adrian Frutiger, talk about Amazon’s Kindle and its new typesetting engine, typographically critique Google’s new logo, remember Letraset, ponder the Turkish typewriter keyboard, play with a font that censors you as you type, examine sexism in the world of typography, welcome new type families from Erik Spiekermann, Tal Leming, and Red Hat, learn the lore of the invention of the Apple command key symbol, discover Arabic type anatomy, mourn the disappearance of Parisian street typography, sate our typographic hunger with America’s Shake Shack and Buenos Aires’ Masticar food festival, and much more!
For tens of thousands of years, humans have looked up at the night sky in awe, intrigued by the motion, manner, and nature of the stars. And with our propensity for pattern recognition and our proclivity for causal inference, or attributing meaning or significance to coincidence, we joined the dots, so to speak, perceiving in the stars’ contingent distributions, patterns, pictures, and amalgamations — reflections of temporal phenomena; as Hume wrote, “We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds…’. And of those armies in the clouds, we see a host of the animate: fishes, dogs, a ram, a bull, rabbits, a crab, a scorpion, a swan, and a centaur, spared by Heracles; and the inanimate: ships, a lyre, a triangle and a bow and arrow – all immortalized in the heavenly spheres.
Last November, I decided on a whim to spend a whole weekend dedicated to designing a full, new, Arabic typeface. All I knew was that I wanted to design a fat, display, Naskh typeface. Because of the speed required, I relied almost entirely on intuition and produced something I wouldn’t have been able to design under normal circumstances. I shared the progress during the weekend over social media; the process was so much fun that I proposed that we do this with our designers at Monotype. So last May, Jim Ford and Toshi Omagari met at our New York office and spent 3.5 days immersed in the process of creating two new typefaces from scratch. Below is a behind the scenes look.
Welcome to this month’s roundup of type-related info and entertainment. Today, we remember typography legend Hermann Zapf, hear from Nadine Chahine (who worked with Zapf), talk about dyslexia, discuss the future of typography on the Web, peruse famous bookplates, visit the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, watch the beauty of engraving in action, revisit NASA’s graphics standards, talk about collaboration, make fun of Jeb Bush’s logo, celebrate the typewriter, ponder the exclamation comma (no, that’s not a typo), and much more!
I started my quest by asking my ophthalmologist, who enthusiastically provided a dizzying amount of technical information about the variety of eye charts and tests designed for different audiences and eye conditions. Suddenly, a simple question became a series of discoveries. Not only is there not one letterform design or font used for eye charts; the letterform designs are more appropriately called optotypes, of which there are several versions. There is a science to the design of optotypes and their legibility at specific distances. Since I am a graphic designer and not an eye or vision expert, I will forgo the technical explanations and focus on optotypes used on several significant charts to provide a better understanding of this complex and fascinating subject.
Nowadays, with tens of thousands of fonts available, we are accustomed to a great variety of letterforms. But, of the approximately 1,000 cataloged fifteenth-century roman fonts, very few stand out as unusual. Most share the same fundamental attributes. Almost all roman typefaces of the period are, what we now call humanist: of low contrast, lowercase e with an inclined crossbar and, in most instances (from Jenson), capital letters shorter than the ascenders of the lowercase alphabet. Not until the subsequent century do we begin to witness any significant changes to these features.
Way back in 2007, while living in rural Japan, I created ILT. I remember its birth with supreme clarity. It began simply as a way to share what I found typographically interesting, and I never foresaw its popularity. Almost eight years on, more than 500 posts, eight moves, and four cats later, and ILT’s design had barely changed. I had experimented with numerous custom post designs for individual “art-directed” articles, but the idea of completely redesigning and recoding my WordPress theme was, at least for me, the stuff of nightmares. Add to that thousands of lines of inline CSS in posts (don’t ever do that!), and I just kept putting it off.
Perhaps this article should have ended at the question mark in its title. And by the end of it, you may well concur. However, in the meantime, and before I get started — and I promise this won’t take long — let me be clear, I am not, I repeat, not (in bold for emphasis) a Helvetica hater.
Basically, two things came together. First: I am fascinated by the mesmerizing richness of detail in medieval initials. And I admire the patience and drawing skills those medieval monks possessed – perhaps because I actually lack both. In the Middle Ages the more detailed and elaborate the decoration was, the higher the value and appreciation of the item. But it was not only about showing off or communicating relevance. Decoration also had another function: manuscripts were often structured by clever hierarchies of initials, similar to what we achieve today with headlines, varying font weights, use of white space, and so on. It simplified navigating through your frequently read book of hours, for example. And that got me to wondering about how contemporary initials could look. How to transform this richness of detail into forms that might appeal to modern-day eyes? But since I am not particularly good at repetitive tasks, I never really got any further than wondering.
Like a tiny seed growing into a giant tree or a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis — type design isn’t! Forward steps, missteps, steps retraced — that is type design. Sometimes the development is natural and organic; at others it is perhaps more akin to working for a typographic Dr. Moreau. During the long process, ideas germinate and perish, shapes contort and bend, new concepts are explored and ignored, and printers run out of toner.