This Month in Typography

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!

Bacterial Type


So you think it’s difficult to design type on paper and computers? Try designing type in petri dishes. Ori Elisar, a student at Israel’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, has been doing just that — designing glyphs using bacteria. His next project: Creating bacterial ink that grows on paper. Very cool. And, of course, fodder for a great horror movie…

Ferrofluid Type


Moving from bacteria to ferrofluid media… Take a look at this fascinating Kickstarter project. Designer, typographer, and author Craig Ward has formed a set of glyphs using tiny amounts of ferrofluid, a kind of magnetic ink, developed by NASA in the 1960s. Ward places the fluid between glass plates and applies spinning magnetic fields to shape the stuff into unrepeatedly unique shapes. The glyphs are being turned into an OpenType font, as well.

Adrian Frutiger, 1928–2015


Typographical legend Adrian Frutiger passed away on September 10. Some of his font creations include the remarkable Univers family, Avenir, and, of course, Frutiger.

Goodbye to The FontFeed


You may have noticed in the previous entry that we pointed to an article in FontShop’s News blog. If you have been a follower of FontShop’s venerable The FontFeed, you’ll want to take note that The FontFeed is being retired in favor of FontShop News. The times they are a-changing.

Words with Petr van Blokland

A lecture about the process of creation and the education of design. About the flow of language and the typography of text. About bullet lists and code. And what is likely to be the next etcetera.

New Kindle Typesetting Engine


We’ve been hearing for months (years?) about Amazon’s plans to make the Kindle a typographically serious display device. If you’ve ever read anything on a Kindle, you’ll have noticed that the text on it is full-justified, but without hyphenation, which leads to horrible spacing and artifacts like rivers. Add to that a lack of support for ligatures and kerning, and it can be a very unpleasant experience for the typographically-aware. Well, it turns out the company has actually done something about it! (Though, again, they are promising that this is “coming soon”, so take this all with a grain of salt.) New Kindles will soon have support for hyphenation, kerning, and ligatures (and drop caps!), as well as a new font created specifically for the device, called Bookerly, designed by Dalton Maag. Amazon claims that the improvements are already available on half a million books, with thousands more being added every week; this (and I’m just guessing educatedly here) seems to mean that the Kindle doesn’t so much have a new typesetting engine, as that each book is being prepped with hyphenation and other typographic information, one book at a time. Weird choice, but, hey, Amazon is smarter than I am. At any rate, I’m looking forward to getting a new Kindle one of these days, and no longer cursing at the screen!

Google’s New Logo


What sort of month would it be if we didn’t criticize a new logo? In this piece, self-dubbed opinionated typographer Gerry Leonidas talks about Google’s redesigned logo. Spoiler: He says that “I don’t usually comment publicly on typefaces for brands, but the new Google logo struck me as a particularly unfortunate piece of design…” Critiques of new branding efforts are a dime a dozen, but Leonidas has some very interesting typographical thoughts on why this is a failure for Google. (Personally, I like the new logo better than the old, though the choice of font, along with Google’s use of primary colors, certainly harkens to some sort of children’s product.)

The New Google Logo and Kerning


Speaking of Google’s new logo, is the spacing off a bit? Anthropologist-in-training Angela Kristin VandenBroek answers with a resounding “yes!”, and I think she’s right. Check out her article and see what you think.

Smooshed Type


When Wired Magazine asked Tal Leming to create a super-condensed modern font family for them, he gave them what they wanted — a no-holds-barred condensed family with five weights in four optical sizes. It’s name? Smoosh. Why? As he says: “because, obviously.”

The Typography & Design of Alexander Isley


Typographer Ilene Strizver waxes nostalgic and interviews Alexander Isley about his life in design and typography. Here’s Isley’s advice to budding designers on picking a typeface: “Don’t pick a funky font. Pick something straight and do something funky with it. That’s harder to do, but it’s better to do. (Plus in five years you won’t look back and groan with embarrassment at your font choice.)”

Digital Bodleian


As we reported a couple of months ago, Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries have been hard at work digitizing their collections. Check out their progress — they have scans of Western and Oriental manuscripts, political prints, maps, entomological and ornithological works, Greek manuscripts, and much more. (As of the writing of this column, they’re up to 115,179 images.)

A Font That Censors You As You Type


With a clever use of ligatures, a new font, Seen, censors you as you type. The font uses the NSA‘s “spook word” list, so if you are typing words and phrases like “world domination”, “illuminati”, and “halibut”, you’ll see those words get crossed out in real time.

A Browser Extension for Readability?


Well, this is certainly interesting. Asymmetrica is a browser extension that claims to make reading easier. It asymmetrically spaces words and phrases to group together relevant concepts via extra white space. It sounds like a great idea, but one that comes at an aesthetic price. What would you choose? Aesthetics or utility? Let the debate begin!

Crafting a Typographic Logo

A lovely case study of a logo design for an ice cream company.

Type @ Cooper West


The Cooper Union, one of America’s finest educational institutions, has long offered a post-graduate certificate in type design at its NYC location. Now they’re offering the same program in San Francisco. Their core instructors include heavyweights Sumner Stone, Jessica Hische, and Jim Parkinson. The list of speakers and guest instructors is long and impressive. November 16 is the deadline to apply for the upcoming year.

Women’s Voices in Type


Following up on an interesting Twitter thread regarding sexism in the type industry, Dyana Weissman delves into the subject in more than 140-character chunks. I’ve been a jazz musician for a lot of years, and seeing the institutional sexism in jazz has been disheartening, to say the least. From Weissman’s research, here, it seems as if the type industry is certainly doing better than the music industry, though there’s still a way to go. Read the article and become part of the conversation…

Letraset and The Rub-Down Revolution


Eye Magazine takes a trip down memory lane, looking at the revolution that was rub-down (dry-transfer) lettering in the 1960s and 70s. This was, of course, an era before digital typesetting became available to the masses, but the masses were clamoring for some way to use fonts without the expense of letterpress. Enter Letraset — a London company that provided sheets of characters that could be pressed onto a page at the consumer’s discretion. This sort of typesetting ushered in an era of do-it-yourself graphic design that was as liberating as it was prone to aesthetic abuse. (Even this aesthetic abuse became an acceptable artistic movement in itself — an early form of grunge seen on punk paraphernalia and underground magazines.)

The Ins and Outs of f-Ligatures


Type expert Ilene Strizver takes you on a tour through the wonderful world of ligatures — specifically, ligatures involving the lowercase f. Ligatures are special glyphs that combine two or more characters, often for geometric/aesthetic reasons; and ligatures involving f are ubiquitous because the f’s upper terminal invades the space of nearby characters.

New Font Family: FF Real


It seems as if Erik Spiekermann is in this column every month, and so here’s your monthly dose! Spiekermann, along with Ralph Olivier du Carrois, has just released a new typeface: FF Real. For sale at fontshop.com, FF Real (a grotesque with warm features) comes in headline and text families, in 13 weights, and will doubtlessly be showing up in designs far and wide very soon.

Archer Expanded

The popular Archer family from Hoefler & Co. gains some weight beautifully, with the addition of Black, Extra Black, and Ultra.


Free Font Family: Overpass


Red Hat, famous purveyor of Linux systems (and now apparently into the Cloud business), has released a free and open source font family called Overpass. The family members are: extra light, light, regular, and bold, along with italics of each. Red Hat “may expand it to introduce a black weight and/or two monospace variants so that code snippets and command line rules can have a Red Hat look.” It’s got extended Latin coverage, but no Cyrillic, Arabic, or Asian languages support yet. The fonts were created by Delve.

Cormorant Open Source Font Family


Three cheers for open source fonts! Especially beautifully well done ones! Cormorant is a new font family (by Christian Thalmann) based on “the aesthetic essence” of Garamond, tailored for use at display sizes. (It looks really nice at text sizes too.) It comes equipped with a host of ligatures and contextual alternates, and in several really interesting styles. For instance, the “Infant” style has single-story “a” and “g” glyphs, a u-shaped “y”, and several other differences from the “Roman” (normal) style. There’s also an odd but interesting “Unicase” style, and a very cool “Upright” style that is a non-slanted italic. Each style comes in five weights and supports multiple languages. The fonts (and sources) are available here.

Fip Font Family


Looking for a fresh new monospace typeface? Looking for one with a whopping 64 family members? Look no further! Check out Fip, from Rob Keller.

Car Logos, Badges, and Emblems

A montage of car logos, badges, and emblems, recorded from a Michigan car show.

Lessons from a Turkish Typewriter


Marcin Wichary waxes philosophic and typographic after seeing a Turkish typewriter with its very distinctive keyboard layout. One of the interesting tidbits I learned from the article: “Pijamalı hasta, yağız şoföre çabucak güvendi” is Turkey’s most popular pangram.

Football Fonts


We don’t spend much time talking about sports on this blog, but finally worlds have collided! The University of Louisville’s football team has gone with an unusual choice of font for their uniforms, harkening back to old English calligraphy. This, of course, was well-received by fans on social media. Not. We at iLT applaud Louisville’s bravado, while questioning their grasp of legibility at a distance.

FontArk Online Font Editor


Well, this is interesting! Here is FontArk, an in-browser font editor. It’s in beta right now, and free for a while. I’d be curious to hear what you all think about it. I haven’t played with it yet myself, but from the video introduction, it has some features that FontLab (et al) should pay attention to, and think about developing on their own. It seems, for instance, that you can select an arc (a bezier curve) and tweak its calligraphic contour just by dragging a slider back and forth. Not only that, but if you’re using the same arc in several glyphs, you can select all of those glyphs at once, and tweak all of their contours at the same time! Neat!

The Gorgeous, Disappearing Street Signs Of Paris


American graphic designer Louise Fili has a new book: Graphique de la Rue: The Signs of Paris, which is, Fili writes, her “typographic love letter to Paris.” It’s also a eulogy, as she sees that many of her favorite signage is disappearing. Urban renewal can be a heartbreak.

The Return of the Type Director


An unembeddable videorecording of a presentation, “The Return of the Type Director,” by Elizabeth Carey Smith, principal of the design studio The Letter Office

Reclaiming Control over OpenType Fonts


Another unembeddable video of a presentation, this one from TYPO Berlin: “Type with Character(s),” by Yves Peters. Peters talks here about collaborating with the Adobe Typography Customer Advisory Board, trying to bring the typographic interface into the 21st century.

Rogelio Naranjo Scans


Here are some lovely scans of art by Rogelio Naranjo, some of it typographic, all of it tremendously cool.

The (Supposed) Origin of the Mac Command Key


I don’t know how credible this story is, but it’s a good one, at any rate. (I guess you have to take with a grain of salt information coming from a site with “folklore” in its domain name.) “One day… Steve Jobs burst into the software fishbowl area… upset about something… I think he had just seen MacDraw for the first time, which had longer menus than our other applications… “There are too many Apples on the screen! It’s ridiculous! We’re taking the Apple logo in vain! We’ve got to stop doing that!” After we told him that we had to display the command key symbol with each item that had one, he told us that we better find a different symbol to use instead of the Apple logo…” Read on for the complete tale.

Medieval Nails


When I think of medieval nails, fonts don’t come to mind. (Plague-ridden torture machines come to mind. Make what you will of my psyche.) But some very clever, talented person came up with this beautiful fingernail paint job, based on a medieval manuscript.

The Percent Sign


Thanks to one of my favorite sites, Shady Characters, for continually examining the most fascinating of typographic minutiae! Today’s example: The percent sign. Read on, for the type of trivial (in the best sense of the word) knowledge that sadly won’t ever wind up in a trivia game, but should.

The Landscape Alphabet


Scans of an early 19th Century book featuring 26 landscape scenes shaped as letters of the alphabet. Courtesy of The British Museum.

Arabic Type Anatomy & Typographic Terms


There are plenty of resources out there for getting to know Latin type anatomy and typographic terms, but not so for Arabic type. Pascal Zoghbi gives us lots of great information here, and it makes me thankful how easy I have it as a Latin type designer! While Latin type is standardized with five main vertical metrics (baseline, x-height, ascender, descender, and caps-height), Arabic type is less constrained, with more metrics at the designer’s disposal.

How Shake Shack Made a 70-Year-Old Font Type-style Hot Again


The type family Neutra is having a bit of a revival. Shake Shack (a billion-dollar fast food company I’ve somehow managed to never hear about) uses Neutra for its branding. And now Washington DC has just adopted Neutra as its official communique typeface. Let’s hope Neutra doesn’t get too popular…

Handmade Typography for a Home-grown Argentinian Food Fair


Madeleine Morley reports on the work of Argentine letterers Yani Arabena and Guille Vizzari, who have created a beautiful bombardment of hand-drawn type for this year’s Masticar food festival in Buenos Aires. Read the article, and check out some of the delicious typography.

Choosing Fonts for Tight Tracking


Space is always at a premium, and that means that tightly spaced type is a valuable commodity. If, that is, it remains legible. Hoefler & Co. shares some tips for those on a quest for good fonts that can be tightly spaced without looking cluttered.

New Book: Culture+Typography: How Culture Affects Typography


Author and designer Nikki Villagomez brings us a new book about the effect of culture on typography. Images feature examples of typography along with cultural and historical commentary.

The Blackletter Resource Page


Looking for further information regarding blackletter type, its history and development, as well as its current use? Check out Dan Reynolds’ Blackletter Resource Page, chock full of links and information.

Edited by Alec Julien.

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