The words “typeface” and “character” are fitting terms to describe fonts. When listening to good designers talk about them, you would think they were gossiping about people. They talk about their emotional qualities, complain about what they perceive as their flaws, get blushingly specific about their physical beauty. For them, some typefaces are casual flings, good for a quickie when the mood strikes and the lighting is right; with others, they are in love and ready to commit for life. For many designers, a studying letterforms is more engaging than reading what the collected letters have to say.
From the Past Print blog comes this account of how Marcello Morandini designed a colorful Constructivist alphabet for German ceramic company, Rosenthal, in the late 1980s. At the time, the renowned Italian industrial designer/ sculptor/ architect was engaged in designing Rosenthal’s new office building in Selb. Morandini’s decorative letters were not meant for publication, but to serve as a special-order monogram for Rosenthal’s studio line of dinnerware, three-sided vase and wall plate. Customers could have any two initials they wanted inscribed on these products. To promote this custom-order offering, Rosenthal created a fan-deck booklet displaying Morandini’s alphabet, one letter per page. But alas, if you want to buy a Rosenthal Morandini Alphabet plate now, you’re out of luck. The company apparently discontinued this product line.
The product used to be called NutsOnline and its packaging identity was totally generic and forgettable. So, when the New Jersey-based online retailer secured the domain name “Nuts.com,” it set out to change its image by hiring a powerhouse team to design a new logo and packaging. The result is an identity that looks like it was created by precocious third-graders – but in a good way. The letters were hand-drawn by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and digitized by type designer Jeremy Mickel. Illustrator Christoph Niemann made line-drawings of the gang of playful nuts. The effect is fresh and charming, and unconventionally nutty. As breezily executed as this design looks, it takes skill to make it appear spontaneous and carefree and not amateurish and crudely done. A closer looks shows there is a hierarchy to the information on the box and an organization to the design. Even the see-through nut personalities give consumers a glimpse of the product inside. This is sophisticated design made to look naïve.
Is it an intriguing sculpture or three-dimensional infographics? As a personal project, New York-based designers Caspar Lam and YuJune Park of Synoptic Office created a topographic map of the English alphabet based on how frequently each letterform was used in words. In an interview with Colossal, Park says that their reference for word frequency was the University of Cambridge Computer Lab. From there, they modeled each letter in Rhino and exported sections of each letter to AutoCad. They set a total variable of six inches from the most often used letter (E) to the least used (Z), arriving at a height difference of .23 inches. Laser cut in sections on architectural butter board, each letter sits in a 6×6 inch square, allowing for any combination of letters to run seamlessly both horizontally and vertically. Park says the work wasn’t done for any client, but purely “from a desire to explore the idea of language landscapes – visualizing language and the ebb and flow of spoken English.”
PBS, America’s public television network, has been running a 13-part, bi-weekly web series on experimental and non-traditional art forms. Produced by New York-based production company Kornhaber Brown, the “Off Book” program features interviews with well-known designers and artists working in various creative disciplines, including typography, interactive art, book illustrations, product design, indie music, fashion design, videogame art, steampunk, and more. Running between five and seven minutes, each “Off Book” segment lets innovators explore the process, motivation, meaning and relevance behind their work. This segment is on typography. To see other topics in the series, go to PBS.org/arts.
One of the UK’s largest works of public art, the Comedy Carpet, opened in October on the seaside promenade in front of the renowned Tower in Blackpool. Designed by artist Gordon Young in collaboration with Why Not Associates, the typographic landscape is made up of jokes, songs and catch phrases from more than 1,000 British comedians and writers. Commissioned by the Blackpool County Council to create a piece of installation art, Young determined that “Blackpool occupies a unique and important place in the social history of Britain. Comedy in all its guises is a big part of who and what we are…. Blackpool has been a magnetic chuckle point for the nation.” Young added that he also wanted to maintain the high craft standards of Blackpool’s historic architecture, including the famous Winter Gardens, library and Tower. “
The 2,200 square meter Comedy Carpet was five years in the making. Each piece (over 160,000 letters) was cut from solid granite or cobalt blue concrete, arranged into over 300 slabs and cast into a high-quality concrete so it wouldn’t fade. The Comedy Carpet has become an instant tourist attraction, with visitors walking across the promenade and reading the memorable words of legendary comedians.
What better way to showcase the newly released Eames Century Modern font collection than to print each letterform on a Mid-Century Modern LTR (Low Table Rod) table designed by Charles Eames? A collaboration between type designer House Industries and Herman Miller Japan, the Eames alphabet table is a limited edition series of 80 tables adorned with A to Z letters, numbers and ornaments from the Eames Century Modern font. House hand-printed each tabletop at its Grand Rapids, Michigan, factory and then returned the tops to Herman Miller for attachment onto the metal rod base and packaging in a special House-designed wooden crate. House owner Andy Cruz says, “As with most House Industries projects, I tried my best to make the packaging for this limited edition something you wouldn’t throw away once the table was removed. Who doesn’t like a printed wooden crate that can do double duty as a storage container?” Good point.
Now for the bad news. The custom Eames LTR tables are probably sold out by now, since only 80 tables were made in total. Forty were offered at the Herman Miller Reach Exhibition in Hong Kong in September and the other 40 at the HM Tokyo Showroom in October. If there are any leftover crates, I’d be willing to settle for one of them.
Polish designer Filip Lysyszn, who dubs himself a “wannabe type designer,” took the typographic asterisk sign and transformed it into different Marvel and DC Comic Superheroes. What’s amazing is how easy it is to identify each Superhero simply by the color of the costume and a few signature details – Batman’s ears, Mr. Fantastic’s stretchy arms, Superman’s cowlick, and Wolverine’s claw hands. Lysyszn even suggested relative size by showing the Hulk as a bulging asterisk and Storm as a more petite asterisk. Aside from being a clever exercise, the asterisk Superhero caricatures show us that every exact detail does not have to be captured to be recognizable – a few iconic elements will suffice. It also suggests that most of us have spent far too much time reading comic books.
This stop-motion video by Lynn Kiang isn’t so much about letterpress printing as it is about where typesetting terminology came from. To understand the nomenclature, it helps to see how type used to be made out of wood or metal. Terms like “upper case” and “lower case” harken back to the days of handset type when capital letters were stored in the upper section of the typecase and small letters in the lower case. Around 1886, the invention of the Linotype speeded up typesetting, letting typesetters keyboard in the text, which was cast out of molten metal one line of type at a time. Depending on the design, these hot-metal “slugs” would either be “leaded out” by placing thin sheets of metal between the lines or closed up by “taking the lead out.” When all the type was set in layout form within a metal frame (“chase”), the printer “locked it up” and “put the job to bed” on the bed of the letterpress. These terms have become industry jargon, but in the age of digital typography, their origin has become lost. This video, set to the soundtrack from “West Side Story,” is a great little primer. Lynn Kiang, an M.F.A. student in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, named her video “Type High,” which means the height of the type from the face to the foot.
In an age when so much design is digitally generated and has the look of being manufactured, it is refreshing to see beautiful display type letters drawn freehand with chalk. Not the kind of hastily written “daily special” menus seen on chalkboards in neighborhood cafes, the chalk lettering of Brooklyn-based designer Dana Tanamachi recalls the lost art of early 20th century storefront sign painters with their mix of outline and script letters, decorative flourishes, and subtle shading.
One in five Americans suffers from dyslexia, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Essentially that means their brains do not process or recognize certain letterforms and symbols. When looking at words, dyslexics tend to rotate, swap, twist, mirror and flop certain characters, making it difficult to comprehend what they are reading. The word “saw” may be read as “was,” for example.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful a typeface is; dyslexics still find them hard to read. In fact, probably the most elegantly fine typefaces are the toughest to make out.
Some typefaces aren’t meant for everyday use. They often aren’t readable as running text or even for headlines. Most will never be licensed for public use nor are they commercially available. But they set the mood, add their own graphic interest, and tell their own slice of the story. That is the case with several of the typefaces featured in the 365 Typographic Calendar for 2012.
Take Girder, for example. Asked to create the identity for the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge next year, Kit submitted an alphabet as part of his presentation. The alphabet took its inspiration from the riveted girders that formed the unpinning of the bridge. The immediate association with San Francisco’s most famous landmark offered a visual linking device in the visitors’ gift shop, and made a distinctive image for all kinds of tourist souvenirs, from key chains to coffee mugs.
Manchester-based Music has rebranded Chester Zoo in Chester County, England, by creating a Crayon-colored typeface and logotype that look like they were drawn and embellished by a child — or a clever chimpanzee.
Playful, uninhibited and gleeful, the letterforms, created in collaboration with illustrator Adam Hayes, look like they were done in the wild with crude implements, away from digital devices that would edit out quirks and enforce uniformity. Free-wheeling details spring out of letterforms suggesting that these characters exist outside of captivity. As individually distinct as the letters are, collectively they make up a cohesive font available in four weights and upper and lower case. If animals had opposable thumbs and were able to hold a crayon to create their own font, this is probably how they would describe the Chester Zoo environment — relaxed, happy and free to be who they are.
“Enough with the typography already!” My complaint to Kit is that every other story he wants to post in @Issue has to do with type. So, I’m writing this somewhat under duress.
“Humor me,” Kit says.
But the truth is that perhaps more than any time in history, the average person on the street is acutely aware of the differences in typefaces. Thanks to the computer, we can pick the digital font that suits our mood and voice. As a culture, we have become type snobs, sneering at Comic Sans, forming snap opinions about people who make Arial their default font, arguing over whether Helvetica is deserving of its popularity, and ridiculing some faces as “so last century.”
Alfaro is a tiny town in the renowned wine-producing La Rioja province in northern Spain. The region has been making wine since the days of the Phoenicians, with the earliest record of grape-growing dating to 873. This year to celebrate La Fiesta Barroca, Palacios Remondo created two commemorative wine collections that pay tribute to Alfaro, home to its winery. Palacios Remondo commissioned Estudio Dorian to design the packaging around a Baroque theme. The collection includes six labels for each wine, with the extravagantly Baroque ornamentation contained in the simple letterforms. The result is an understated elegance, clean and contemporary yet suggestive of a rich heritage.