Notes about typography

July 21, 2017 permalink

Type in the environment and in architecture

As my office building at the University adds more and more permanent signage with zero consistency in typeface choice or other typographic consideration, this passage from Adrian Frutiger stood out:

The reader encounters typefaces in other forms as well as in printing. His daily environment, in face his entire living space, is filled with typographic characters of all kinds.

Unlike printed matter, with which the reader can bring the written word into his field of vision according to his own desire and choice, lettering on buildings is forced into view without restraint. Depending on its design, such lettering can provide an enrichment of the environment, almost in the sense of ornamentation, or, on the other hand, it can be ugly and therefore experienced as aggressive “pictorial noise”, inimical to the environment.

In this connection, lettering can be regarded as two-dimensional architecture. This realisation makes it possible to appreciate the designing of public signs and notices from a completely new viewpoint, by integrating them into the total concept instead of simply “sticking them on” or “hanging them up”.

— Adrian Frutiger, Type Sign Symbol p. 70

July 21, 2017 permalink

Storefront Signs

I recently finished Jan Tschichold’s Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering (1952), an incredible gallery of historical typographic examples alongside acerbic and insightful commentary by Tschichold, and this passage about storefront signs has popped into my head whenever driving by any given strip mall:

In selecting a letter for a given task, beauty is not the only factor. The letter must also be appropriate to its purpose and surroundings. Most important, a distinction must be made between lettering that is to serve for a long period of time and lettering which is to serve only briefly. Frequently, we see lettering in architecture which, due to its flighty and cursive character, is suitable only for temporary and cheap signs. Many store front inscriptions, often executed in metal or neon lights, belong to the category of imitation brush lettering which is alien to their purpose. These are not only generally hard to read, but also often lack the spontaneous, fresh form which only a master can give them after long practice. They are lame, warped, and miserable. That which one is unprepared to do but insists on doing becomes trashy. And this trash despoils our cities today at every turn. Such pap-like brush lettering on our store fronts is out of place and poorly done. Store front lettering is an architecture, since it is a part of the building. It is destined for a long duration, often for decades, and should, therefore, always be correct, noble and beautiful. It is a waste of money to cast such pseudo brush lettering in expensive metal; it must be replaced in a few years as it becomes obsolete and visually offensive to everybody.

This kind of lettering is either the result of the client’s “design” or conceived by incompetents who should choose another profession.


Store and building signs are necessary, but they need not result in the evil they have become.

April 4, 2017 permalink

Ibm Punched Card Typography

Norbert Landsteiner wrote up a post about something that’s retro-technology-typography-nerdy beyond even my usual limits and understanding: a thorough explication and an interactive demo of how the late-1940s IBM 026 key punch (the typewriter keyboard/workstation machine that operators would use to poke the holes in the computer program punchcards of that era) was able to also print tiny human-readable letters and words at the top of the cards for easy reference.

Basically IBM encoded the alphabet and other special characters onto a clever postage stamp-sized print head that would run along the top of the punchcard, with wires to each “dot” enabling the printing of each encoded character in turn, effectively an early dot-matrix printer. (it’s not easy to see, but if you squint at the image you’ll see that the red dots form the “A” character, upside-down — you’ll see it more easily if you play with the demo and choose other characters)

IBM Punched Card Typography.

March 4, 2012 permalink

The Secret Font of Monkey Island

A fan-made port of the pixel font built into the adventure game classics The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. As a bonus, a separate version is available that is properly kerned and hinted. (double bonus: opening the .ttf file in Font Book reveals that the demonstration string for the font reads “You fight like a dairy farmer!”)

A post combining Lucasfilm Games and typography? Immediate reblog!

February 25, 2012 permalink

Sesame Seed Braile Burgers

To advertise their new accessibility-friendly menus, the South African arm of the Wimpy fast food chain delivers burgers to blind users with a special twist: the sesame seeds on the bun spell out a message in braille! While it might be viewed as a marketing gimmick, it’s nice to see a fast food place making efforts to be inclusive, and the recipients in the video certainly seem amused. (a narrated version of the video is also available for the visually impaired)

PS: what’s up with both the Popeye’s and Wimpy fast food chains completely ignoring their namesake cartoon characters in their branding?

PPS: evidently the Wimpy UK mascot, a weird little guy in a Beefeater outfit, got his own platforming game back in the early 1980s! Thanks, Wikipedia rabbit hole.

October 15, 2011 permalink

Fun with Kerning

Fun with kerning! I don’t 100% agree with all of their solutions (they do let you share your version in protest, at least!), but it’s a entertaining five-minute distraction if you’re a designer or type-friend, and the interface is slick.

(Via pretty much every design blog and Twitter user this week…)

July 20, 2011 permalink

RIP Alex Steinweiss, Creator of Album Covers

I’ve wondered where the idea of music albums as discrete packaged works of art came from, and now I know. From the New York Times: Alex Steinweiss, Originator of Artistic Album Covers, Dies at 94

“The way records were sold was ridiculous,” Mr. Steinweiss said in a 1990 interview. “The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.” Despite concern about the added costs, he was given the approval to come up with original cover designs.

His first cover, for a collection of Rodgers and Hart songs performed by an orchestra, showed a high-contrast photo of a theater marquee with the title in lights. The new packaging concept was a success: Newsweek reported that sales of Bruno Walter’s recording of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony increased ninefold when the album cover was illustrated.

Mr. Steinweiss also created a distinctive handwriting script that he used on many of his album covers, which came to be known as the Steinweiss Scrawl (recently resurrected as the font Steinweiss Script by designer Michael Doret).

Mr. Steinweiss said he was destined to be a commercial artist. In high school he marveled at his classmates who “could take a brush, dip it in some paint and make letters,” he recalled. “So I said to myself, if some day I could become a good sign painter, that would be terrific!“

More good information about his career and innovations (including diagrams of his LP packaging) are available on this page about his work for the Remington record label.

September 20, 2010 permalink

iPad Light Paintings

This film explores playful uses for the increasingly ubiquitous ‘glowing rectangles’ that inhabit the world.

We use photographic and animation techniques that were developed to draw moving 3-dimensional typography and objects with an iPad. In dark environments, we play movies on the surface of the iPad that extrude 3-d light forms as they move through the exposure. Multiple exposures with slightly different movies make up the stop-frame animation.

We’ve collected some of the best images from the project and made a book of them you can buy:

Read more at the Dentsu London blog:
and at the BERG blog:

From Dentsu London, Making Future Magic:

We use photographic and animation techniques that were developed to draw moving 3-dimensional typography and objects with an iPad. In dark environments, we play movies on the surface of the iPad that extrude 3-d light forms as they move through the exposure. Multiple exposures with slightly different movies make up the stop-frame animation.

Take that, Picasso.

July 8, 2010 permalink


From the New York Times obituary for Louis Moyroud, co-inventor of the phototypesetting Lumitype machine that revolutionized the newspaper industry in the 1950s:

Then, in the early 1940s, Mr. Moyroud and Mr. Higonnet — electronics engineers and colleagues at a subsidiary of ITT (formerly International Telephone & Telegraph) in Lyon, France — visited a nearby printing plant and witnessed the Linotype [the older Victorian-era printing process that was still in use] operation.

“My dad always said they thought it was insane,” Patrick Moyroud (pronounced MOY-rood) said. “They saw the possibility of making the process electronic, replacing the metal with photography. So they started cobbling together typewriters, electronic relays, a photographic disc.”

The result, called a photo-composing machine — and in later variations the Lumitype and the Photon — used a strobe light and a series of lenses to project characters from a spinning disc onto photographic paper, which was pasted onto pages, then photoengraved on plates for printing.

If you’ve ever seen the older lead-alloy-fueled “hot metal” Linotype process you’d agree: it was crazy.

(Photo of the Lumitype/Photon wheel by Flickr user Jeronzinho)

October 21, 2009 permalink

Oh My Yes the Firefox Team Has an Experimental

Oh my, yes. The Firefox team has an experimental specification for making use of the advanced features of OpenType and AAT, possibly through the CSS @font-variant property. This could get hairy rather quickly and I have to imagine it’d be tricky to write out the full description by hand, but the typographical goodness would be hard to pass up. Be sure to check out the page about this to see some nice preview images.

July 24, 2009 permalink

Open Face Sandwich?

Steam is gathering behind the open font / redistributable typeface movement, which will hopefully usher in some better typography options on the web. Arguments abound as to whether letting designers use whatever font they want on the web is a good thing, and the situation’s been moving at a snails pace for years due to the reluctance of both the font foundries and the browser makers, so it’s good to see actual, workable options on the horizon. Here are a handful of recent projects, all of which seek to ameliorate the licensing issues inherent in the use of embedded fonts: