I love letters. All kinds and types of letters: small, large, drawn, sketched, painted, rough, smooth, serif, sans serif, script, roman, italic, oblique, digitized, old and new, uppercase, lowercase, all materials and media, three dimensional… Yes, I love letters, except for those that are poorly or incorrectly proportioned. For those poor ugly letters, I feel pity and sadness.
Three years ago MetaDesign Berlin asked us to design a custom Serif and Sans typeface for the German federal government. They had been assigned to redevelop the government’s corporate design with the typefaces as part of the update. The project was to cover all communication issued by the government and their ministries, online or offline, national or international. It was a demanding and interesting task. Though we were accustomed to working on projects like these for corporations, we were now asked to design “for the people”.
An Erik Spiekermann exclusive from Hamilton Wood Type, a sturdy slab by Rene Bieder, a high-class display from Avondale Type Co, a brush script by Mika Melvas, a modest slab serif from Type Me Fonts, a monospaced family by Matthew Butterick, a contemporary script from Petra Dočekalová, and a super family by Playtype.
Cloths of Heaven is Seb Lester’s interpretation of ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, a poem by the renowned Irish poet W. B. Yeats. It is a continuation of his exploration of the theme of beauty in the context of letterform design. He has produced a limited edition screen print and also collaborated with The London Embroidery Studio to produce an embroidered piece, available as a small-run limited edition.
Aware that there is no such thing as total neutrality, Neutral typeface explores how the absence of stylistic associations can help the reader to engage with the content of a text.
The image below is a scan of a recto leaf printed by Arnold Ther Hoernen, Cologne, 1470 (Cologne’s second printer after Ulrich Zel). The book, Sermo in festo praesentationis beatissimae Mariae virginis (ISTC: ir00303000) is special in that it is the first (extant) book to include printed foliation (‘page numbers’*), here printed in the recto margins, half way down the page.
Every typeface taken seriously enough by its designer will teach valuable lessons. From Signo I learned that in designing a reverse contrast typeface, the challenge isn’t so much in the contrast, or in the black part of the letter for that matter. The conventions for that part are being disregarded, played with, reversed, so the white part of the letter has to assume greater control. And it leads one to rethink what ‘reversed’ really means.
Günther Zainer from Reutlingen introduced printing to Augsburg, Germany in 1468. He likely trained in Strasbourg with Johann Mentelin (who later went into business with Jenson and Johannes de Colonia in Venice). Zainer, during his decade-long career (he died in 1478), published some 100 books.
During my research for an upcoming book* on the life and work of German Renaissance typographer Erhard Ratdolt, I spent quite some time looking at the introduction of printing to Italy (Ratdolt worked in Venice from 1476 to 1486, thereafter returning to his native Augsburg). The first printers in Italy were, unsurprisingly, from Germany, and they likely were associated with Gutenberg, Fust and Schoeffer. I won’t go into the details about the introduction of printing to Italy. Suffice to say, by 1465 Sweynheym and Pannartz had arrived at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, about 60 km east of Rome. The same year they printed a Latin Grammar (a schoolbook that had been incredibly popular throughout the Middle Ages) by the fourth-century tutor of Jerome, the Roman Grammarian Aelius Donatus, of which, sadly, no copy has survived.