The First Printed Page Numbers
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.
© Copyright 2010 Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf
Printing page numbers (something that appears quite necessary and obvious today) only became common typographic practice from the second quarter of the sixteenth century. And prior to the printed book, ‘foliation remained rare till the end of the Middle Ages’**; and of limited indexical or citational use as manuscripts were very rarely identical.
Today it is hard to imagine books without pagination. Page numbers make it easy to quote, cite, and to cross reference — they make accessing, studying, and comparing texts much easier.
Perhaps you noticed that the Arabic numerals — 4, 5, and 7 — in my composite image differ from those we use today. These forms were common in medieval manuscripts. (The J is simply the Roman numeral 1.)
Figure charting the partial evolution of Arabic numerals. Source: The Development of Arabic Numerals in Europe Exhibited in Sixty-Four Tables.
It wasn’t until the tenth century that Arabic numerals came to Spain, though they were not commonly used until the fourteenth century. From the end of the fifteenth century, the numerals 4, 5, and 7 begin to take the forms we are familiar with today.
*Foliation is the sequential numbering of leaves; pagination is the sequential numbering of pages.
** The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, p. 33
Margaret M. Smith. “Printed foliation: forerunner to printed page-numbers?” — Gutenberg Jahrbuch 63 (1988), pp. 54–57
Introduction to Manuscript Studies — Clemens & Graham, pp. 92–94
Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages — Bernhard Bischoff, p. 132
The Development of Arabic Numerals in Europe Exhibited in Sixty-Four Tables (Oxford, 1915) [available at archive.org]
The Oxford Companion to the Book
, Vol. 2, p. 726 & 994
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.
Signo started as an attempt at designing a sans serif with reverse contrast. However, I didn’t really want an eccentric type suitable only for headlines; rather I wanted to design a usable and versatile typeface and try to use the reverse contrast in service of readability and functionality. I had in mind some advantages of the reverse contrast: the concentrated weight at the top and bottom of the letter would favor the horizontal continuity in lines of text, and the thinner stems meant that the letters could be narrower — a good thing for a versatile and functional typeface. The x-height could also naturally be taller, since the black of the letters would be “expanded” vertically.
Reversing the contrast
In the first sketches I tried some letters with reverse contrast, in witch the contrast wasn’t merely reversed, but had a deeper relation to a calligraphic modulation of the strokes. These shapes were fun but I also wanted to design a usable typeface both for headlines and text, so after the first outlines in FontLab I soon went astray from these sketches towards more conventional shapes. That begun a long process of going back and forth, between an experimental and fun, but less usable approach, and a conventional but functional one.
At this point I was thinking too much in terms of ‘reverse contrast.’ I was going for a logical, mathematical approach, so my objectives were being reduced to the mere reversal of the conventional ratio between thicks and thins. And sure enough, the results were quite simply ugly letters (not shown here). Reversing the contrast, felt more and more like an arbitrary act, an imposed mathematical inversion of a basic optical principle of letter forms. In Signo, I was trying to find a way to make this feel natural. How could a reverse contrast typeface be designed in a way that felt natural?
I knew I didn’t want anything to feel artificially reversed or strange in Signo, even if the horizontal strokes were heavier than the vertical strokes. I slowly left the notions of contrast aside and approached the shapes more freely. That meant coming to terms with the first sketches and realizing that If the stress axis is rotated far enough, the weight would shift towards to top and bottom parts of the letters, without anything having to be artificially inverted. Most importantly, I didn’t have to insist so much on notions of contrast, which is just the rate between the thick and thin parts of the strokes, which in turn are only the black part of the letter. This return to the sketches also made the designing of Signo really fun again.
Since I stopped concentrating so much on the strokes, I began playing more with the angle of stress as the commanding principle for rotating the different concentrations of black around fixed counters. The shapes grew increasingly more organic and playful, a bit freer from the traditional conventions (or reversed conventions) in sans serif typefaces, and the counters began to rule the design. In a way the black felt like soft, pliable matter, easy to mold around hard and solid white shapes. The black in Signo, is ‘blobby’ with an asymmetric distribution of weight, but it is shaped around solid, open counters, which provide the order and rationality I was looking for.
Drawing from Roger Excofon’s idea of shifting the weight to the top half of the letters in the beautiful Olive Antique, In Signo too, the black is distributed asymmetrically around the counters. The letters are heavier at the top, with more concentration to the right. This way, especially when set big, the letters seem to be lifted up slightly. The stems are also shaped to accentuate this effect, with some stems curving outwards at the top, while others shrink slightly in width towards the baseline.
The constant element of the design process, even with all the experimenting across an entire year, were the vertical metrics. That probably had to do with the use I had in mind for Signo, from the outset. I imagined a charismatic yet versatile typeface used in magazines for both headlines and text. The ascenders and descenders are short and the x-height is relatively tall, facilitating open counters. Good proportions for smaller text sizes, but also for punchy headlines.
Signo comes with 6 weights from thin to bold. The matching italics have a cursive flavor and will add warmth and variety to the page. The weights include two variations for text, regular, and book. The Regular provides stronger headlines and darker captions to match the main text, while the book is a lighter option for text.
By Rui Abreu.
An indulgent display face from Positype, a toolbox of type by Hold Fast Foundry, a versatile family from Bold Monday, a whimsical swash by Latinotype, a flag building typeface from Always With Honor & Scribble Tone, a humanist sans by Type Dynamic, a highly legible sans from Tipografies, and a modern sans by The Northern Block.
Designed by Neil Summerour
Lust Slim is packed with alternates to play with — enough to turn you on and satisfy.
Designed by Mattox Shuler
Industry Inc comprises numerous standalone styles along with a layered type system.
Designed by Pieter van Rosmalen
Designed by Francisco Galvez
Over 100 shapes and 1,000 alternates that can be mixed and matched to create a sea of unique flags.
Revisal is a humanist sans family with 7 weights, from hairline to black, with corresponding italics.
Designed by Jordi Embodas
Nomada explores the concept of typefaces on the move continuously: sometimes printed, in books, catalogues, posters or packaging; at other times projected on screens of mobile and fixed devices, as text or as image.
Designed by Mariya V. Pigoulevskaya
Acrom is a geometric sans with a minimal stroke contrast designed with a modern, contemporary context in mind.
Unusual Fifteenth-century Fonts
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.
Günther Zainer used two Gothic types and three Romans. His Roman types are among the most unusual produced during the fifteenth century.
Zainer’s first roman (Type 3:107R) of 1472 is already leaving behind the Gothic influences of the very earliest roman types, but note the H with the ‘pearl’ in the crossbar.
Günther Zainer (Type 3:107R)
This decoration is taken a step further with his next Roman (Type 4:95R)** used from 1472 through 1477. Note the ‘pearls’ in the letters H, I, L, M, N, and T.
Günther Zainer (Type 4:95R)
His third roman (Type 4*:95R), first used in 1473, is unusual in that it mixes Roman and Gothic majuscules (capitals). You can see too very clear Gothic (Gothic Rotunda / Semitextualis Formata) influences in the lowercase.
Günther Zainer (Type 4*:95R)
This typeface is better classified a semi-roman, an interesting devolution and departure from his two earlier Romans.
Images courtesy of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
** Konrad Haebler attributes this font (Type 4:95R; GfT0464) to Johann Bämler who used it for Sententiarum variationes, seu Synonyma (ISTC: if00201700) ca. 1479. However, it is almost certainly the work of Günther Zainer.
Image: Gif by Erik Kwakkel, from images in the National Library of Sweden.
Follow @erik_kwakkel on Twitter for more.
An eroded display by HVD Fonts, a wide sans from Type Dynamic, an inline slab by Yellow Design Studio, a versatile monoline from Parachute, a geometric sans by Graviton, an elegant script from Fenotype, an experimental face by Onrepeat, and a titling face from Type Together.
Designed by Hannes von Döhren
An eroded, printed look with four variations of every letter.
A wide sans type family inspired by old lettering from the Netherlands.
Designed by Ryan Martinson
An inline slab serif with a retro yet contemporary vibe.
Designed by Panos Vassiliou
A versatile monoline typeface with a distinct and eye-catching personality.
Designed by Pablo Balcells
A geometric, sans serif typeface with a slightly condensed design.
Designed by Emil Karl Bertell
An elegant and versatile connected script family of three weights.
Designed by João Oliveira
An experimental Didone typeface with a modern twist.
Designed by José Scaglione & Veronika Burian
A low contrast typeface for headlines.
The First Book Printed in Italy
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.
Some time before the end of September 1465**, they printed Cicero’s De oratore, the first extant book printed on Italian soil. Lastly, before moving their press to Rome, they printed their first dated book (29 October, 1465), Opera by the third-century author, Lactantius.
The page below is from their De oratore of 1465:
Photo credit: University of Barcelona. [For a larger version of the same type (but used in the Lactantius).]
This is the first Roman type. More accurately it is a semi-Roman or semi-Gothic, the letterforms modeled on contemporary Italian bookhands. The capitals are clearly roman; the N is unusual in that its diagonal stroke meets the right stem quite high — like I have seen in some Rustic capitals in later Medieval manuscript books (though Rustic capitals are, of course, more condensed). The G looks almost like a sans serif and has a tiny aperture. In the lowercase there are more than traces of the uncial letter, especially in the form of the h with its toes turned in. The lowercase still retains some of the angularity and lateral compression of the Gothic letter. Though the type is quite dark (and has low contrast), it is tightly spaced and rather condensed, but appears much lighter than a page of Gothic type owing to the relatively long descenders, creating more interlinear white space. Relatively few contractions and ligatures — a t + i ligature and a nice disconnected c + t ligature. Note the spur on the I, a remnant of the Gothic letter. The squat ampersand is quite beautiful too.
Sweynheym & Pannartz Subiaco type [GfT0549]. Image courtesy of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.
I think it’s quite incredible that this book and its type has survived, and that just about all of the type we read today owes a debt to prototypographers like Sweynheym and Pannartz.
*Erhard Ratdolt — Renaissance Typographer, to be published later this year — fingers crossed!
**The Leipzig copy, now in Moscow, contains annotations dated 30 September, 1465.
A reversed-stress face via Klim, a friendly display from Gunnar Link, a low contrast sans by Type Dynamic, a versatile collection from Commercial Type, a personable text face by Paul Barnes, a soft sans by Indian Type Foundry, a modernist script from Kyle Wayne Benson, and a geometric sans by Latinotype.
Designed by Kris Sowersby
A “perverse” typeface, to be sure, but that is exactly its charm.
Designed by Gunnar Link
A friendly cursive display typeface.
A condensed and constructed sans type family, with a very low contrast.
Designed by Miguel Reyes & Christian Schwartz
A versatile collection of typefaces comprised of three families, each in the same six weights with italics.
Designed by Paul Barnes
A highly personable text face firmly in the English tradition.
Designed by Satya Rajpurohit
Simple and utilitarian, similar to forms found on street and highway signs around the world.
Designed by Kyle Wayne Benson
A script that is desperately trying to be anything but a script.
Designed by Daniel Hernández & Miguel Hernández
A rational geometric with humanist proportions.
With the holidays fast approaching, I’m sure you have it all under control. You’re smart, you planned well in advance and have already purchased your gifts, so that you’ll avoid being trampled by hordes of panicked last-minute shoppers. But just in case you haven’t, here are a few ideas:
Designed for everyone. Fun, easy to apply, and no painful laser surgery required should you have regrets.
One of these lovely tees — a collaboration between Messrs Gruber and Contino.
A letterpress print from Jessica Hische.
Punctuation coasters from Ugmonk.
My favorite Able Parris Collage now available as a print.
A wonderful book detailing the finer points of type.
(photo courtesy of typeanatomy.com)
Twelve Neutraface Slab alphabet blocks.
Illustrated by the magnificent Cyrus Highsmith and available from Occupant Press.
A limited edition Scrabble set with lovely letters.
Missed something? Tell me in the comments below.
Happy to announce the launch of 1001 pt, a new range of A2 screen prints, with glyphs set at precisely 1001 pt. As a special offer, you can have all four prints for just $101 (including shipping to anywhere in the world).
2014 will see the introduction of many more 1001 pt products, so stay tuned — @1001pt
A whimsical serif by FontFont, a Dutch inspired family from Bold Monday, a scribble inspired face by Letters From Sweden, a rounded sans from 205, a contemporary display by Alex Trochut, a mellow sans by S-Core, playful icons from Symbolset, and an elegant sans by Rene Bieder.
Designed by Frank Grießhammer
FF Quixo feels at home whenever a touch of personality, whim, and some symbols are required.
Designed by Paul van der Laan
Oskar is inspired by Dutch architectural and advertising lettering from the early 20th century.
Designed by Stefania Malmsten & Göran Söderström
Inspired by beauty, handwriting, graffiti tags and scribble.
Designed by Damien Gautier & Quentin Margat
The rounded version of the well known font Maax designed in 2012 by Damien Gautier and Quentin Margat.
Designed by Alex Trochut
A very sophisticated set of glyphs which in turn give this font a classic contemporary appearance.
Designed by Hyun-Seung Lee, Dae-Hoon Hahm & Min-Joo Ham
A condensed geometric sans-serif — mild, minimal, simple, and clean in appearance.
Designed by Jory Raphael
A collection of elegant and playful icons — gentle and inviting, dynamic yet balanced.
Designed by Rene Bieder
Sharp and elegant thinner cuts, sporty and athletic heavy weights.
Don’t forget to check out the new 1001 pt. Prints available soon.
A geometric sans from Positype, a contemporary grotesk by Josh Finklea, a carefree sans from Kyle Wayne Benson, a bold brush script by Fenotype, a lively face from Fontsmith, a hand drawn family by PintassilgoPrints, a friendly sans from FaceType, and a happy script by Wiescher Design.
Designed by Neil Summerour
Clear Sans is a rational geometric sans serif — clean, geometric and precise.
Designed by Josh Finklea
A contemporary version of the traditional grotesk sans serif. Post Grotesk reduces the typical rigidness of a grotesk through subtle additions of personality and uniqueness.
Designed by Kyle Benson
Tide Sans’ fresh, carefree, look makes you almost forget that you’re staring at a monitor and not on the beach.
Designed by Emil Karl Bertell
No. Seven is a bold brush style script family of three weights.
Designed by Jason Smith
A clear, stylish and structured sans serif with swooping curves of openness which create a lively, flavourful character.
Designed by Ricardo Marcin & Erica Jung
Undersong brings 13 fancy hand drawn stackable fonts which can be combined in many, many tasty ways.
Designed by Marcus Sterz
Adria Grotesk is a friendly sans serif that comes in 7 weights & charming upright italics.
Designed by Gert Wiescher
Felicità was designed with happiness in mind.
In the spring of 2012, Stefania Malmsten became the new Creative Director of Swedish fashion & culture magazine Rodeo. Stefania was living in New York at the time, working with Swedish and American clients from the collaborative workspace Studiomates in Dumbo, Brooklyn. She had decided to move back to Sweden where she had started her career with designing iconic magazines like Pop and Bibel.
Stefania is known for the attention to typography in her design work:
“I’m very passionate about photography and I’m very passionate about typography. I never wanted to choose between being a graphic designer and an art director and that’s why I love working with magazines and titles for film. Working with Göran on this project has been very luxurious, creating almost like a main character for the magazine.”
For the redesign of Rodeo Magazine Stefania chose Lyon and Benton Sans, two stylish yet traditional text faces. In contrast, she needed something more expressive for headlines, drop caps and graphic elements.
“I created a strict 12 column grid and nice legible styles for the main typography but I felt I needed something to interfere with this. Rodeo wanted to keep it’s big format (245 x 330 mm) and there was something about these big pages… I got this idea of a line that went through the whole magazine, like someone had been writing with a thin pen over the grid system.”
To explain her ideas, she made a mood board which became the creative brief for the typeface. The plan was to create a monoline script, but definitely not a traditional one.
When the project started Göran Söderström was on parental leave and had limited time to work with the project, but this was a rare opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Göran explains:
“I’ve always admired designers and art directors who have the courage and vision to not settle for existing type and instead work towards something new. This is quite uncommon in Sweden, but suddenly it happened.”
Göran jumped at the chance to work with Stefania, whose work he holds in high regard. In the beginning he received photo updates with inspiration Stefania had found on the streets of New York.
After some time Göran responded with some sketches he thought could work. Stefania, who was still in New York, replied with more sketches and comments — the collaboration was in motion.
This project needed a font editor where the letters could be drawn with open contours (rather than closed shapes) and with a possibility to test different line thickness live while editing. The new font editor Glyphs had a function that could work but it was not behaving quite like Göran wanted. Amazingly, Georg Seifert (the inventor of Glyphs) added the missing functionality in a matter of days and suddenly the whole project became more concrete. Now letters could be drawn with just a single stroke and exported with varying stroke weight.
Every idea was tested, but somewhere the line had to be drawn; was it supposed to be a typeface or a set of illustrations? Naming this typeface was also bit tricky, but in the end it was named after what it was – lines.
Line comes in 5 super thin styles. With the formula 100, 65, 40, 25, 20 it’s easy to create compositions with same stroke weight across different point sizes. This was also a feature from Rodeo. Stefania was working with three styles in three different sizes, looking as if they were coming from the same pen.
We deliberately avoided making an OpenType showcase out of this font. There’s an exquisite joy in unpacking a new font, similar to that of a Lego set. Rather than large, extravagant glyphs, the final typeface consists of a basic character set with some alternate letters, plus a large number of modular embellishments which attach to letters in different ways. The embellishments (or krussiduller in Swedish) are perfect for starting or finishing words, and some are flexible enough to do both. And just like the possibilities with Legos, this brings huge variation to the typeface.
Letters from Sweden has a new website in the works and Line will be available from our new webshop very soon. Until then you can send us an email if you’re interested in licensing Line for desktop, web or apps.
Stefania Malmsten is an art director and a graphic designer with clients mainly in the fields of art, fashion and film. She was one of the founders of Pop and Bibel magazines in Sweden and is a former art director at Vogue Hommes International in Paris. Stefania Malmsten received The Berling Prize, Swedens most prestigious graphic design-prize, for 2006. On the fourth of July 2013 Stefania founded the new design studio Malmsten Hellberg together with designer Ulrika Hellberg. Stefania is currently the Creative Director at Rodeo Magazine in Sweden.
Göran Söderström is the founder of Letters from Sweden and has been designing type since 2006. He is self taught and has previously published his work through Psy/Ops, Fountain and FontFont. At FamiljenPangea Göran has designed custom typefaces for ATG, ICA, LO, SEB, WyWallet and others. His commercial typefaces are used pretty much all over the world by companies like Red Bull, Pitchfork, The New Republic, SVT and Expressen. One of Göran’s typefaces has been carved in stone.
Text, photos and illustrations: Copyright © 2013 Stefania Malmsten & Göran Söderström. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the authors written approval.
Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story
Publisher: (Limited edition) Blue Pencil Editions (2008), MIT Press, Hardback
Author: Paul Shaw
Design: Paul Shaw and Abby Goldstein
Reviewed by: Alex Cameron
It is hard not to simply gush about Paul Shaw’s Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story. For a life-student and consumer of design history and culture publications, it ticks so many boxes that to ‘merely’ enjoy it is really quite easy. While there has been much said about Helvetica+ since its publication in 2011, readers might wonder why a review, so late in the day is worthwhile. Like all good design books, each time one returns to it new things seem to come to the fore. But more important than this, I believe there have been some important omissions in the discussions and reviews since the publication of the MIT Press edition.
Firstly, some notes on its design. The format size of Helvetica+ – 285mm (w) x 245mm (h) – immediately suggests that this is primarily a book to study, and not necessarily read in transit. Both the text content (including substantial notes and captions) and that of the photography, illustration and type specimens deserve so much more than a mere flick through. The format size is ample and allows a decent reproduction size for the documentary-style photographs as well as the illustrations. The majority of the photography is in black and white, as befits the time, but skilfully included color reproductions, of artwork from other projects and clients gives the story added context.
This choice of format also allows for an effective typographic arrangement between the central narrative text, numerous (and learned) notes, captions and images. Furthermore the generous use of white space is a welcome contrast to the monochromatic content of the photographs. The design of Helvetica+ is overall of a good standard. But for this reader a small but significant typographic detail lets the design down. The choice of AG (Akzidenz Grotesk) Old Face for long-reading text is an odd one in any circumstance. In this instance it is no less so. AG Old Face tells its own peculiar and idiosyncratic story. Made up from a number of sans serifs of varying weights and widths each drawn by different designers, it was brought together decades later – in haste if not indifference. The result of which included a differing weight ratio between capital and lower case letters – more by (un)happy accident than design. It was not intended for, and doesn’t lend itself to setting for long-reading text. While of course setting Helvetica+ in AG Old Face makes some ‘historical’ and contextual sense – in that Standard (Akzidenz Grotesk) Medium features strongly throughout this story – nevertheless, I believe it is no less problematic.
I wouldn’t wish to hold Shaw (the designer) and Goldstein to the idea of ‘invisible typography’. I would nevertheless suggest that the annoying ‘polka-dot’ or ‘peppering’ effect caused by its optical and technical deficiencies, when set as long-reading text is simply not worth the historic reference being made to the reader.
The setting of the text ragged-right offers some compensation for the peculiarities of AG Old Face and its overly wide (default) word spacing. That said, one would hope that this doesn’t override the impact of the other purposeful design decisions made by Shaw and Goldstein.
While of course the contribution of design in adding to and aiding (transforming) a scholarly work is crucial, but it is to the writing we will now turn. Helvetica+ is a fine contribution to graphic design history and so deserves attention within the design community and more broadly.
Shaw’s latest piece of typo/graphic design history has rightly received exceptional citation from some significant design writers and practitioners in the US and Europe. The back sleeve of the dust jacket includes some high praise indeed from the likes of Michael Bierut who tells us that it is, ‘…one of the best pieces of design history I have ever read’. Erik Spiekermann is no less enthusiastic saying, ‘For transit and type nerds alike, Paul Shaw’s book is the Bible’, with Tom Geismar adding that it is, ‘…an amazing piece of research.’ They are all names readers of I Love Typography will surely be familiar and people who know what they are talking about. Interestingly there is a glowing short review alongside by Kenneth T Jackson who offers Helvetica+ as, ‘…a unique perspective…’. Jackson’s is a name that will likely be less familiar to the same readers. He is both Editor-in-chief of the Encyclopaedia of New York City and President Emeritus of the New York Historical Society. From the point of view of the necessary maturation of graphic design history, it is a well placed and important inclusion. Shaw has written a book that just might do what all design writers must aspire to – reach an audience beyond the ‘confines’ of the design community (practitioners, educators and writers). He has, by this important inclusion shown his commitment to doing just that.
Of course Shaw’s readership for Helvetica+ will largely come from ‘design-land’. In part this is because the subject is of the design community, but it also speaks to designers who are hungry for insight, knowledge and direction. But, if graphic design is to be recognized and engaged with as a significant cultural player, then a broader readership is crucial. It is on this question, above all others, that Helvetica+, and all that has come before and will after, must ultimately be judged.
Periodically, the question ‘what kind of design history’ comes into sharp focus in the form of thought-provoking contributions to design conferences, talks and published writing. It is a crucial question and one that needs and deserves continual assessment.
In general terms, an expansive graphic design history is desirable and necessary. But it will be developed alongside reference books, visual case studies, personal profiles, technical writing, criticism, design journalism and theory. Fundamentally, whichever form it takes should, ‘do justice to the complex processes of interrelations and interaction between them’, as historian and historical theorist E H Carr would have it. People need to be placed center stage and their relationships, choices and goals understood in historically-specific contexts.
Shaw’s intervention is a conscientious and critically minded reading of design history, beneath which the true (maybe) significance of events are unearthed. Shaw treats the reader as one capable of understanding that the business of design – even at this level – is not a simplistic or utopian process, where each design decision follows an even better one. In this regard Helvetica+ is an important contribution. In terms of approach, Shaw gives an account of some decisive moments in design history and has refused to gloss over the cracks. For many designers, part of their day-to-day creative struggles revolve around resolving multiple and competing interests, untangling webs of confused business decisions, colossal egos and seemingly immovable organizational and financial forces – well before attending to matters of a visual kind. Giving a qualified, accurate and critically unambiguous account of the role of design and designers is the least we should expect from design history; unfortunately this is not always the case.
But Helvetica+ seems to do just that by placing questions of a typographic and aesthetic nature in a commercial context, where often chaotic forces emerge from multiple directions and sources. The decisive design decisions – which at first might appear mere personal preference – are shown to be based on a contemporaneous and concurrent industry best practice and an exacting attitude towards typographic standards.
This contention is drawn out further through introducing key signage design schemes that preceded, and undoubtedly influenced, the NYC project. Shaw’s account further illuminates the role and impact of the wider design community in transforming practice. Internationally, mass transportation sign systems were being designed for some significant high profile clients: Heathrow Airport (UK) by Colin Forbes, British Railway by Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert, Milano Metro (Italy) by Bob Noorda and Schiphol Airport by Benno Wissing.
Throughout this period designers were communicating and critiquing each other through type. Even if unwittingly, they were nevertheless contributing to the consolidation of typographic orthodoxies through the medium of mass-signage design. As Helvetica+ points out, type designers certainly had their own unique take on Akzidenz Grotesk or Helvetica. They altered the length of ascenders/descenders, replaced angled terminals with horizontals, increased the x-height and modified the weights of whole families.
At the same time, practitioners and design writers shared important moments of coactivity. Shaw notes the significance of two seminal books on signage, Nicolete Gray’s Lettering on Buildings (1960) and Mildred Constantine and Egbert Jacobson’s Sign Language for Buildings and Landscape (1961). These along with a dynamic design press meant more attention and legitimacy was being paid to this new and increasingly influential field of graphic design. Articles and follow-up comment pieces appeared in the mainstream press, illustrating the cultural influence and impact of design on society more broadly. It was an exciting moment that stressed the mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between design criticism and practice.
Throughout the 60s, 70s, & 80s (indeed to date) in all major mass transportation sign systems the ‘grotesque’, sans exception, was the undisputed heavy-weight champion of the design world. It was less a question of which typeface and more one of in who’s hand it was fashioned – a typographic truism that is often overlooked.
All the above considered it makes the inclusion of a seven line paragraph on page 102 quite perplexing. Shaw writes, ‘Why did the MTA abandon Standard? At the time Helvetica’s popularity was on the wane as its widespread use since the early 1970s had induced boredom and backlash. Postmodernism had effectively exposed the subjective nature of the Modernist notion of neutral, rational and universal design and, in doing so, had undercut the principle reasons that many designers had given for choosing Helvetica over all other faces’ (p. 102).
In the first instance this is out of step with the rest of the book in terms of its literary and investigative tone. Like a sign in the NYC Subway System set in Roger Excoffon’s Mistral, these words simply don’t belong. Intellectually it is wholly inadequate. While contesting and challenging events from a particular interest or point of view is no bad thing – indeed we could do with more contestation around key issues and events – but in this instance the claims made by the author deserve and demand more than a mere seven lines of text and a few references. This crucial question, of understanding the dynamics of the shift from Modernism (and its near 100 year history) to Post-Modernism (and its comparatively short history) has hardly been dealt with by the social sciences never mind the design writers cited. To consign a significant cultural movement to the dustbin of history in such a way is at best wishful thinking but at worst overly simplistic and counterproductive.
But as disappointing as this is I would urge that instead we concentrate on all that is good about this book.
At his most engaging, Shaw’s writing takes the form of classic investigative journalism – it is as if we are being let into important secrets (which indeed we are). The dogged and committed research that Helvetica+ demanded must have had the author wondering if it was all worth it. Of course it was! Its publication has made design writing a little richer. It has also raised the bar and thus set an example. It is a complex story that has been obscured by self-interest, myth and the passing of time. Shaw has done an exceptional job in unraveling and revealing the real dynamics of the process and the professionalism of the designers at the center of this story.
It was March 2nd, 2011, and I was fifteen-years old. I was in the clouds. My font family, Expletus Sans, had just gone live on the Google Webfonts Directory (now simply called Google Fonts). Plenty of positive feedback and a generous reward from Google had made me expect a lot of it. But it didn’t take very long before I started laughing at the high regard I once had for Expletus Sans, and its silly name. The elegance I once saw in it was soon mixed with a decent dose of clumsiness and amateurism. However, Expletus Sans did provide me with the motivation and opportunity to invest in my skills, and keep designing typefaces.
I decided to make sure I was going to up my game and nail every single detail in my next typefamily, named Proza, which I had already started working on. The story of Proza starts with Garamond Sans, its short-lived predecessor. As the name suggests, Garamond Sans was intended as a sans-serif companion to Garamond. Looking back, it already had a lot of the characteristics that would later define Proza. It was far from flawless, though.
Learning type design all on your own seems impossible to me. Starting out, you need experienced eyes to point you at your mistakes in order to learn and move on. With limited time and money at hand, the online forum typophile.com provided the experienced eyes I needed. So, just as I had done with Expletus Sans, I started a thread with some images of Garamond Sans, asking for opinions.
As I continued work on Garamond Sans, it took up a life of its own, and moved further and further away from Garamond. I started to become aware of the underlying calligraphic structure in any humanist font, which translated into a more coherent and polished design. When I had left the skeleton of Garamond behind, a new name had to be invented. ‘Sensa’, derived from ‘sensational’, worked fine for a while, but turned out to be too similar to Nick Shinn’s ‘Sense’. Moving on, ‘Proza’, which translates to ‘prose’ in Dutch, seemed like a good name.
My goal for Proza was to be interesting and elegant at large sizes, and highly legible at text sizes. I had done very little research into legibility, but it seemed to me that my experience as a reader was also worth a lot, so I approached legibility in a more intuitive manner, making plenty of test prints along the way.
The first thread about Proza Black (called Sensato Black, at the time) came shortly after that. You might wonder why I went straight to Black, rather than doing a Bold first. Well, since I learned about the magic of interpolation (generating intermediate styles based on two extremes), it seemed a lot quicker to design the Black style, and generate the bold and other weights through interpolation. In hindsight, it might seem even more efficient to design only the Light and the Black weight, and generate the Regular the same way as the other weights, but that would have made me lose control over the overall design. The Regular is called ‘regular’ for a reason, you see.
In January in 2011, I started work on Proza Serif. Since Proza has its origins in a humanist serif, I thought it would be relatively easy to create a contemporary serif companion. As happens all the time, it turned out not be as easy as I thought. Designing Proza Serif gave me a better insight into some of the weak spots in Proza, though, helping me to improve the design.
I continued to expand and improve on Proza, but found it terribly difficult to settle on a degree of contrast. In a wave of youthful naivety, I decided not to settle at all. Instead, I made a high contrast, and a low contrast version, based on the same skeleton and the same number of nodes. I named the high contrast variant Proza E. The idea was to use interpolation to create Proza A, B, C, D, and E, together with all the weights and italics, forming a gigantic sans-serif super-family.
Throughout the design process of Proza, I constantly shifted work from one style to another. This chaotic method of working might seem incredibly ineffective, but helped me to create a better design for all of the styles, because they are all related. Underlying problems in one style, can become much clearer in another style. In may 2011, the first version of Proza Italic was done. I wanted it to differentiate clearly from the upright, while still maintaining a similar feel and a high degree of legibility. It should be somewhere half-way between the slanted italics of grotesques like Univers, and the italics of other humanist sans typefamilies, like Fred Smeijers’ Quadraat Sans, which almost appear to come from a different type family. I also put quite some effort into Swash Caps, only to ditch them again some time later.
In July in 2011, I finished an early version of Proza E Black. This design was incredibly hard to get right, which also made it incredibly pleasing when I finally got it (sort of) right.
Shortly after that, from the 25th until the 29th of July, I went to a type design workshop in Urbino, led by Bruno Maag and Jonathan Pierini. Despite being by far the youngest in the workshop, I had a great time, and I continued work on Proza. After a remark that Proza E “looks like it needs serifs” it was transformed into a brand-new Proza Serif. The feedback for the low-contrast variant of Proza was very positive, though. The last day of the workshop, when all participants were having dinner together, Bruno invited me for an internship at Dalton Maag. Completely overwhelmed by his invitation, I asked him if he would have made the same offer without the wine we’d been drinking. Cheeky, I know.
Between the workshop and the internship, I kept on refining and improving Proza. The incredibly simple idea that glyphs should clearly look like they’re supposed to look, also when printed poorly, printed tiny, or seen through worn eyes, led to some design changes. For example, the triangular space between the arch of the n and the stem, at the top-left, was increased in size, to remain crisp and clear at small sizes.
After the workshop, I redesigned Proza Black from scratch. The Regular weight had changed so much that the old Black no longer worked.
In April 2012 I put together the Proza type family for the first time. Without the high-contrast version, that is. Proza E was put in a drawer to rest, together with Proza Serif.
After having worked quite long on the Proza family, my eyes were craving for something else, so I started work on a new type family, called Richard. This would have been completely irrelevant to this story, if it wasn’t for the critique I got on a thread on Typedrawers.com. After it was rightfully made clear that Richard looked too much like TEFF’s Lexicon, which I accepted immediately, Proza was suddenly also accused of looking too much like Adobe’s Cronos. I didn’t agree then, and I still don’t agree now.
In 2012, during the summer holiday, I went to London for my internship at Dalton Maag. My stay in London exceeded all my expectations. The employees at Dalton Maag were incredibly kind, and the office was incredibly large, filled with an incredible number of designers and type technicians. The fridge, stuffed with an incredible variety of Ben & Jerry’s, was also a nice bonus. One of the first things I did was to ask some of the designers what they thought of the similarities between Proza and Cronos, and all of them concluded there was enough room between the two, so I decided to leave the comments on typedrawers.com behind me and move on. The brilliant eyes of Ron Carpenter helped me to raise Proza to the next level, resulting in some changes in the design, a far more extensive character set, and perfect spacing and kerning, packaged in smoothly working font files.
After my internship, I worked on finalizing Proza, as well as a new version of Proza Serif. Proza is now released through Bureau Roffa (available for licensing at bureauroffa.com). A completely redesigned web-version is in the works.
To conclude this story, I need to thank some people. If it wasn’t for the help of these people, Proza would never have been what it is today.
Dave Crossland from Google, for his trust in me and Expletus Sans. Nick Job, for his extensive feedback on the early versions of Proza. Alexei Vanyashin, Irina Smirnova, and Isaías Loaiza, for showing an early interest in my designs. Tal Leming, for his generosity and help with Prepolator. Ramiro Espinoza, for his help with the technicalities of font design. The Dalton Maag crew, for good company, help, and advice. My family and friends, for supporting me.
By Jasper de Waard
A geometric script by Kyle Wayne Benson, a technical workhorse from Hold Fast Foundry, a lined display by TipoType, a classic grotesque from Parachute, an upright script by Stephen Rapp, a contemporary family from PSY/OPS, a geometric sans by Nootype, and an elegant script from Misprinted Type.
Designed by Kyle Benson
Millie is a stressed, geometric script who spends her days as industrial lettering and her nights paired with blackletter on the patches of motorcycle gangs.
Designed by Mattox Shuler
Forged from geometric and technical styles, Industry stands sturdy and strong.
Designed by Vicente Lamónaca
Arya is a display typeface, based on Roman proportions. It has three versions, differentiated by the amount of the drawn lines.
Designed by Panos Vassiliou
Das Grotesk was inspired by earlier nineteenth-century grotesques, but it is much more related to American gothic designs such as those by M.F. Benton.
Designed by Stephen W. Rapp
Baghadeer is an upright connecting script brimming with personality.
Designed by André Simard
Carouge is a contemporary typeface that has a classical twist.
Designed by Nico Inosanto
Radikal is a geometric font dedicated to the research of purity.
Designed by Eduardo Recife
Very similar to ornamental penmanship, but uses slightly longer ascenders & descenders, and modest shading.
An ambitious text family by Schizotype, a feature-rich face from URTD, playful forms by Outras Fontes, a versatile sans from Fontsmith, modern styling by Thinkdust, a transitional face from MCKL, a minimalist slab by Mostardesign, and a sober text family from Fountain.
Designed by Dave Rowland
The slanted styles of Urge Text exhibit a certain bipolarity, the tops of glyphs having a standard italic form, the bottoms of glyphs being more Roman in their construction.
Designed by Ondrej Jób
Odesta has seven feature-rich weights with built-in small caps, swash alternates, and contextual alternate initials & finials.
Designed by Ricardo Esteves Gomes
Unique playful forms and a condensed structure, Progressiva is ideal for texts that require some personality and titles with great visual presence.
Designed by Nick Job & Jason Smith
Inspired by the thought “it doesn’t have to be like this” FS Hackney is meticulously honed to perform in exacting conditions. Refined, assured and very versatile.
Designed by Greg Ponchak
Clear-cut edges and modern styling give Monolite the attitude it needs to leave a lasting impression.
Designed by Jeremy Mickel
Superior Title is a high contrast transitional typeface, a kind of missing link between Bodoni and Times.
Designed by Olivier Gourvat
Metronic Slab Pro is a slab serif typeface with a technological and minimalist look for text and headlines.
Designed by Rui Abreu
Aria Text is the new text version of the lyric Aria. More sober and rational, Aria Text was designed for books. The decoration mannerisms, extreme contrast, the italics angle, among other attributes of the original display typeface were now tamed and rethought towards readability and transparency.
A space saving serif by TipoType, a geometric sans from FontFont, a handpainted face by PintassilgoPrints, a workhorse family from Typotheque, an elegant serif by Nootype, a legible slab from FontFont, a contemporary gothic by Talbot Type, and a chic serif from Typonine.
Designed by Fernando Díaz
Quiroga Serif is designed for continuous text — legible at medium and small sizes, with great space-saving. Optimized for 6, 8, 10 and 12 points.
Designed by Hannes von Döhren & Christoph Koeberlin
New meets old meets technic, FF Mark is not an average geometric sans. Strong, simple, bold and created with utmost consideration and precision.
Designed by Ricardo Marcin & Erica Jung
Swiftly painted on paper and carefully translated into a font.
Designed by Peter Biľak
Lava was designed for magazine use, but far transcends its original application. It’s a no-nonsense workhorse typeface that can handle large quantities of text with ease.
Designed by Nico Inosanto
Felice is an elegant serif with a humanistic touch.
Designed by Michael Abbink & Paul van der Laan
Designed by Adrian Talbot
Kilburn continues in the fine tradition of fonts such as Franklin Gothic, News Gothic and Trade Gothic offering a contemporary interpretation of the condensed sans-serif — functionality with personality.
Designed by Nikola Djurek
Engineered for chic, highly elaborate typesetting. Nocturno is broad-shouldered and heavy-armed: the rolling, dark silhouettes of its characters create a soothing yet forceful impression that serves to anchor words, no matter where they appear.
PS: The new Codex T-shirts are now available!
Our daily lives are full of noise, but when we immerse ourselves in reading, it seems to disappear. But what if the shapes of the words we read also contain perceptible noise? Does it disrupt the reading process, or do we learn to filter it out?
When I was in elementary school I really didn’t like conventional Persian typefaces. They seemed very noisy with their inelegant spacing and lack of even minimal kerning. Mechanical typesetting systems had proved to be ill-suited to reproducing the graceful, historic shapes created by calligraphers, who had far more flexibility in drawing and combining letters. And these awkwardly adapted letters were directly transferred to digital typesetting systems as well, with the result that a whole nation had to adapt to a new type of writing system that was aesthetically inferior to and less readable than traditional handwriting.
Negative Space in Persian Calligraphy
The beauty of Persian calligraphy lies in a complex system that developed over centuries, finally culminating in the Nasta’liq style. It includes principles that govern not only how letters and words combine, but how negative space is managed to produce consistent text lines and consistent text colour throughout those lines. For example, the principle of Khalvat va Jalvat (Persian for “expansion and contraction”) governs the position of individual letter combinations to distribute the negative space throughout the lines so every word has the same grey. This is similar to letter spacing and kerning in roman scripts, but much more complex because the heights of individual connections change dynamically to harmonise the negative space around the letter fusions. Another important principle, Savad va Bayaz (“white and black”), governs how letters and letter combinations should be shaped to produce an even pattern throughout the text; it deals with the proportions of letters and the relationship between the black space of the letters and the white space of the counters. Thus far, digital emulation of all these parameters has proven impossible or impractical, and although some digital Nasta’liq systems are available today, none even comes close to fully emulating the complex balance of handwritten script.
Another important feature of Persian calligraphy related to the management of negative space is the use of diacritics. Naskh, the calligraphic style from which most Arabic/Persian typefaces are derived, was created for writing long passages of the holy Qur’an, and its design incorporates diacritics, which not only avoid ambiguity when reciting the text, but also shape the negative space around the words. When Naskh letters were adapted for mechanical typesetting they were stripped of their diacritics, but the design of the letters remained unchanged, violating the principle of Savad va Bayaz and unbalancing the negative space. On the other hand, using diacritics is no panacea, as demonstrated by the countless inscriptions with awkward diacritic placement. Furthermore, Nasta’liq is largely written without diacritics, managing negative space either by defining it with an abrak (Persian for “tiny cloud”) or by slanting the baseline to allow letter combinations to stack and better fill the space.
Some calligraphers say that abrak is only ornamentation of the layout and has nothing to do with the negative space. But so often when we remove the abrak we can notice that the calligrapher wasn’t able to perfectly manage the negative space and used abrak to hide the lack of good letter spacing and adherence to the basic principles of Persian calligraphy.
Redesigning the White Space
Computer typesetting and the limitations of the OpenType system impose multiple compromises on Arabic typefaces. In fact, using OpenType to create a conventional Arabic text typeface with balanced white space is nearly impossible due to the fact that the correct positioning of the dots is determined by the word shapes, not the letter shapes. Furthermore, elements of the letter shapes (such as the horizontal position of the baseline and the structures of the connections between letters) are also dynamic, tied to the shape of each word and the surrounding words as well. Thus redesigning the letters to make the white space beautiful presents a significant challenge.
Harir is designed to take advantage of the horizontal lines created by the stroke contrasts. Counters are larger, bringing their upper parts into alignment with these black zones, and dots are also placed in these zones wherever possible. This emphasizes the black zones and creates two parallel white zones, leading the eye smoothly across the text. Noise around word shapes is reduced, letter combinations are more consistent, and the essential structure of the conventional letterforms is preserved.
Sketches and the Design Process
Generally, the structure of Harir is based on Arabic/Persian typefaces like Nazanin and Mitra. (I can’t overemphasize how much the works of Tim Holloway have been an inspiration for me.) I based the calligraphic elements on the Nasta’liq and Naskh styles, drawing occasionally on Thuluth calligraphy as well. The stroke cuts are angled, and the beginnings and ends have the same angle. After I finished the design I noticed that the letterforms had also been influenced by contemporary automobile designs.
Early versions of Harir used a straight baseline, but I eventually switched to a curved baseline, which is more elegant and more typical for handwritten text (especially in Persian culture). I didn’t create discretionary ligatures; they would have created irregularities in the text pattern like “speed bumps” that would slow the reader down. I started with the bold font, generating seven versions during the design process and making minor changes to the typeface at every stage. Afterwards I proceeded to the regular and finally the optical sizes.
When I saw Robert Slimbach’s elegant, modern Warnock Pro I realized that we didn’t have anything like it for Arabic script. In Harir, I worked not only to create more solid, attractive word shapes, but also something delicate, like the calligraphy pieces of Mirza Gholam Reza Isfahani, the master of Siah Mashq or “black exercise” pieces. These works are not created primarily to be readable, but to display combinations of letters in perfect balance and elegance. There are other calligraphers who have created very graceful calligraphies for text purposes, and their works have also influenced me profoundly.
I wanted Harir to be legible both at text and footnote sizes. I redesigned it to work at smaller sizes, and made some adjustments to improve legibility, following the example of Mirza Mohammad Reza Kalhor, the Persian calligrapher who adapted Nasta’liq style for newspaper lithography in the 18th century.
In Harir Caption, the white space of counters is virtually untouched, while the stroke contrast is reduced, the spacing of dots and diacritics is increased, the teeth are raised to make them more visible at small sizes, and letter spacing is increased to prevent letters from merging into each other. Eventually I ended up with two weights, adjusting them to three different sizes: Display, Text and Caption.
A world of global communications demands fonts that support multiple languages and scripts. After Bahman Eslami completed Harir, Peter Biľak developed a special version of Lavato serve as Harir’s Latin character set, perfectly matching its weight, rhythm and contrast. Designers of non-Latin typefaces are often forced to adapt Latin design principles when they want their fonts to work well in multilingual settings. This can result in distorted letter shapes that deviate from the script’s tradition and heritage, impairing readability. Harir and Lava provide a unique combination that enables professional-quality multilingual (Arabic, Latin, Greek and Cyrillic) typesetting with no compromises.
Erik van Blokland developed tools that made kerning and mark positioning in Robofont a piece of cake. Adding and modifying right-to-left kerning on large character sets is very fast, as is adding marks for Arabic vocalisation.
Harir is not merely a technological solution, but is designed to make text reading a smoother and more pleasant experience on screen and in print.
Lava: Voice of a Magazine.