There’s an art to combining typefaces. When it is done well, the entire layout comes alive. Words become more legible, information feels organized and easier to understand, and the typography itself reflects a mood that is consistent with the message being conveyed. When it is done badly, it’s a jarring hodge-podge.
That’s why when we ran across this lesson on Hoefler & Frere Jones’s website, we had to bring it to you. (H&FJ, as most of you know, is one of the world’s foremost digital typehouses.) H&FJ’s overriding advice is: Keep one thing consistent, and let one thing vary.
1. Use typefaces with complementary moods to evoke an upbeat, energetic air.
The new HBO comedy series “Bored to Death” created by novelist Jonathan Ames is about a fictional writer named “Jonathan Ames” who hires himself as a private detective. For that kind of story line, the opening title sequence had to reveal a lot of background information – namely that the show somehow involved a novelist, fascination with words, a central character who lived a “noir” fantasy life, and a comic book quality. Tom Barham, title sequence director for Curious Pictures, found a way to weave all of this into the opening sequence by animating typography and using it to carry viewers from scene to scene and letting characters interact with letterforms as they walked across the page. The “flashlight” effect with darkened edges of the book also created a nice noir touch.
In an interview with artofthetitle.com Barham explains, “I wanted to do a combination character and flip-book animation to move the Jonathan character from location to location in a book format. Additionally, since the characters were made from text contained within the book where they exist they needed to move and interact with each other as if they were emitting or leaking letterforms or words.” The title sequence uses words from Ames’ original story and illustrations by comic artist Dean Haspiel, who is also the basis for the Ray Hueston role, played by Zack Galifianakis.
The Pentagram 365 Typography Calendar now celebrates its tenth year, prompting us to ask its originator Kit Hinrichs what drove him to create this now popular product.
What was your inspiration for the calendar?
I’ve long been an admirer of Massimo Vignelli’s iconic Stendig calendar, introduced in 1966. It’s classic Helvetica typeface is boldly graphic, contemporary and easy to read. If I may speak for Massimo, it was “Perfetto!” Yet as someone who loves and uses type, all kinds of type, I felt there was room for a wall calendar where the typography was in more than one face. So many people, designers included, have no idea who designed the beautifully crafted typefaces that are very much a part of our everyday life. I wanted to enable people to become more aware of type as a designed object.
In the state of Washington, type designer Juliet Shen has been working with a Native American tribe, called Tulalip, to create a font for the Lushootseed language. At the time, the Lushootseed was near extinction. Only five tribal elders were known to be fluent in the language. This was largely because the U.S. government launched an ill-guided program in 1912 to “assimilate” indigenous people into American society by sending their children away to boarding schools where they were forced to adopt European ways. Under threat of punishment, the children were forbidden to speak their own native language. Since Lushootseed had no written tradition, the history of the culture had all but vanished by the 1960s.
It wasn’t until Thom Hess, a University of Washington linguistics graduate student, started recording the stories told by elders in 1967 that an effort was made to devise a written language for Lushootseed. His field work led him to a Tulalip woman named Vi Hilbert, who embraced his interest in preserving the stories of the indigenous people who lived around Washington’s Puget Sound. Using a variation of the International Phonetic Alphabet, a system of symbols used to record every sound the human voice can make, Hess taught Hilbert to phonetically write out the Lushootseed words. Together, the two produced two Lushootseed dictionaries and worked tirelessly to write down cultural lore told by the elders.
In an age when the rest of the world has given up on Blackletter typography, also known as Old English or Fraktur lettering style, newspapers haven’t. Newspapers began using Blackletter for their nameplates around the mid-19th century because it printed dark and dense, important when printing on crude groundwood paper. The letter forms also had an air of authority and incontestable truth about them, as if taken from ancient manuscripts hand-drawn by scribes or a bible set with movable type carved by Johannes Gutenberg himself. The Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times are just a few newspapers that set their name in stylized Blackletter. Interestingly, the New York Times “T” Magazine, the ultimate word on contemporary fashion and design, did not try to buck tradition and choose a 21st century font when it began publishing in 2004. Instead, it let artists and designers reimagine its Blackletter “T” logo in their chosen medium. For many of us, the “T” art has become the favorite feature of the magazine.
After finishing up his “Red Piano” show at Caesars Palace this spring, Elton John donated the sign that hung above the stage to the city’s Neon Museum. Spelling out “Elton” in glowing neon letters with a heart-shaped arrow in between, the sign weighs in at 15,000 pounds, with the largest letter measuring 20 feet x 30 feet. Unfortunately, “Elton” is an indoor sign and the Neon Museum display area is currently all outdoors.
This tops doing wheelies on ice. Happiness advertising agency in Brussels, Belgium, got “Pleaseletmedesign” typehouse and a pro race car driver to create a font by choreographing the movements of the tiny Toyota iQ. The custom software was designed by interactive artist Zachery Lieberman. Do not try to duplicate this on the freeway.
About 12 years ago, we presented a quiz titled “Alphabet Soup,” (Vol. 3, No. 2) to see if our readers could identify a company simply by the first logotype letter in its name. Since then, new companies, and whole new industries, have risen to the forefront. Some of the brands featured in that quiz don’t exist anymore. So, we have created a new alphabet quiz out of logotypes from some of today’s best-known companies. Keep in mind that the most recognizable letter is sometimes in the middle of the name. If you’re stumped, take a peek at the answers.
Is it possible to brand a product without creating a printed label? At the Accademia Italiana in Skopje, Macedonia, design student Petar Pavlov was determined to find out. In a Packaging Design class, he was assigned the task of creating a packaging prototype for “something very dear to him.” He chose chocolate, he says, because it is “something that I can’t live without.”
Petar, whose study focuses on graphic design and visual communications, says that his obsession with typography, along with his decision not to use any printing for the packaging, inevitably led him to the idea of turning the chocolate itself into letterforms that spell out the name of the product.
Editor’s Note: The global marketplace is real. Some brands are as familiar to consumers in Rio de Janeiro and London as they are to shoppers in New York City and Mumbai. That does not mean that the world now speaks a common design language nor approaches design in a universal way. What resonates in one culture may be rejected as odd, irrelevant or ignorantly offensive in another. In some cases, consumers may find the product appropriate, but the sales pitch tone-deaf and riddled with cultural clichés. Designers working across cultures confront the challenge of understanding differences in business and social customs, technologies, and typical design assignments as well as aesthetic preferences.
In the interest of broadening our knowledge, we are launching a “foreign correspondents” feature, beginning with our dear friends, Anita Luu and Sing Lin, two American designers who opened their Affiche International Asia office in Shanghai two years ago. An innocent question about the availability of Chinese typefaces led to a fascinating discussion, which is presented here.