Digested on May 21, 2005
Posted by David Earls

It seems that Spring 2005 is a season for bombshells. First Adobe gobbles up Macromedia in an anti-competitive splurge that would make Bill Gates himself proud, now FontLab has bought up Fontographer, the long-shelved dinosaur of a font editor, from Macromedia.

It seems that the guys over there on the other side of Europe think it will fit nicely in their portfolio between FontLab and its young sibling TypeTool. What will be interesting is how FontLab will rationalise, if indeed they do at all, the interface design between their products as a completely new codebase enters their portfolio. More fun surely to follow, and we’ll keep you posted, but for now over at Typographica, all-round FOG expert Stephen Moye gives his thoughts.

Sticking with Eastern Europe a little longer, Filip Blazek emailed in to publicize his diacritics project. In his own words..

Unfortunately many type designers creates horrible accents and such fonts are not usable for type setting Central or Eastern European languages. So I decided to do something with the diacritics topic - and that decision was the beginning of my Diacritics project.

On April 16th 2005 I introduced first results to attendants of a conference Typo.Graphic.Beirut. The aim of this project is to build a free on-line database of knowledge and experience - how to design correct diacritics: what size, shape and position an accent should have. Text concerning the history, use, languages and also some technical information is related to each diacritical mark. The project web site is based on Wikipedia: after a simple registration, anyone can append or correct any published text or upload pictures. There is no need for special knowledge of HTML code, the editing is also similar to Wikipedia.

Elsewhere, Typophile has relaunched for its 5th birthday earlier in the month. The site, still in beta, has been redesigned from the ground up and now features a Typowiki, a news aggregator and a less buggy iteration of the mighty Forums we have all grown so accustomed to.

Microsoft are keen for you to visit their new design site that amongst other things is discussing their ClearType designs. ClearType is starting to show up all over now, not just on those of you unfortunate enough to run XP (such as I). Their Windows Mobile 5 platform that was announced earlier this month appears to also be running ClearType, if the screenshots are to be believed. So now you can enjoy sub-pixel anti-aliased typography on your mobile phone. I think I’ll be sticking to Symbian and Nokia Series 60 thanks all the same, but its good to see that newer more pervasive personal information devices such as smartphones and PDAs are also benefiting from advances in typographic technology.

Now over to Yves, who will never be happy with just 5 good faces...

Sources: The Register, Engadget, Filip Blazek, MSTypo, Typophile, FontLab

Bald Condensed
by Yves Peters

I want to thank everyone who took the time to drop me a line (and in some cases a lengthy e-mail) or react over iChat. It looks like I’m going to be doing what I do for the foreseeable future. One particularly insightful reaction was sent to me by Forrest L Norvell, who runs a great type-related blog himself. He made some valid points which I would like to address here.

I do take issue with one of the points raised in your article. You harp on the notion of “classic typefaces”, and provide a list of stodgy old “classics” and contrast them with modern alternatives. I think classics are classics for a reason. Like any other visual medium (or, really, any creative medium at all), typefaces are used to evoke moods, feelings, and nostalgic associations with the past. In semiotic terms, typefaces themselves signify things having nothing to do with the text they set. Clarendon and Futura, for instance, both have particularly complex webs of association surrounding them. I licensed Monotype’s Van Dijck recently because it reminds me of studying art history in school, as well as its idiosyncratic (and beautiful) italics.

First of all, I must confess I polarised my point of view in order to get it across. It was a deliberate attempt to jolt some people out of their lethargy, so excuse me for being a bit heavy-handed about it. I will stand my ground though.

Indeed there’s a reason certain classics became classics. That doesn’t mean they still have the same relevance today as they did in their heydays. When talking about evoking certain moods or feelings, I see no reason at all why this couldn’t be done with fresh faces. Even in semiotic terms, there always are several solutions, including contemporary ones, for any given typographic problem. There’s almost nothing Clarendon does that Oxtail can’t do. Agreed, in some cases — when a design refers to a specific historical context — a classic face is called for and even may be the sole option. But I believe these occurrences to be very rare and far between.

What I’m aiming at is a reversal of priorities. Instead of instinctively going for the classics, make new type the default and only turn to classics if there really is no other option. Most of the time graphic designers use the “classics” just because they’re familiar with them and know how they will perform in any given situation. This conservative attitude is very uncharacteristic for professionals who work in an artistic field where experimentation and innovation are crucial qualities. This reminds me of the number of graphic designers whose loyalty to QuarkXPress is solely based on their familiarity with the shortcuts, and disregard completely the fact that InDesign outperforms QXP any day of the week. Granted, just like I still listen to Led Zeppelin once every few moths, strictly speaking you can still use Futura. But you’d better have a damn good reason for that. And it’d better not be because some lazy art director mistakes complacency and lack of imagination for “refinement” and “timeless beauty”. I simply won’t accept that.

And then of course there’s the zealots, the ones that foolishly profess that they only need five timeless faces for their complete artistic output. The ones that, blinded by their faith in the Modernist dogma, are oblivious to the fact that typography has a thousand different voices and is ever-evolving, constantly reinventing itself. All I can say to them is to wake up and smell the coffee. I doubt they’re listening. You’ll have to excuse me for occasionally wanting to punch Massimo Vignelli in the nose.

OK, that’s more than enough soap-boxing, on with the review! This time I’m going to cheat a bit and spotlight a type family that isn’t available to the general public — well, at least not before 2011. I know, I know, it’s not exactly fair to let you drool over some beautiful but unobtainable type family, but I just couldn’t help myself. So sue me.

Deréon is the corporate typeface designed by Porchez Typofonderie for R&B superstar Beyoncé and her mother Tina Knowles’ fashion line House of Deréon. It is the first type family Jean François Porchez developed with Tom Grace.

All the way through the delightful PDFs Jean François sent me, I could picture them giggling like kids, showing each other alternate glyphs they designed and nifty details they added. (Well, actually that kind of conduct would be very weird for a seasoned type designer and his new associate, but you know what I mean.)They must have had quite a bit of fun during the development of the fonts, and it shows. The feature-rich OpenType fonts are filled to the brim with typo-goodness, with alternates, ligatures, swash characters and dingbats galore. Some alternate characters are just too good to be true, like the open upright “Q”, the loopy “o”, the script-like “s”. The feature which immediately struck me and which I like the most are the counters, whose clearly defined “corners” — in conjunction with the triangular serifs — add sparkle and spunk to the faces. It’s sharp, it’s lively and reflects perfectly the spirit of R&B and hip-hop music. Deréon is a prime example of a typeface that was designed according to a clearly defined concept that does work.

The type family is like a refined, rich chocolate cake: simply delicious, but to use with restraint if you want to avoid an indigestion. I can easily see people overdoing it with the ligatures, swashes and alternate characters, so all will depend on the House of Deréon designers’ ability to handle the faces. Like the French alcohol ads say: “A apprécier avec modération”.

Deréon rekindles my faith in commissioned type design for advertising. It proves that this particular field still has room for imaginative, daring, personable work, and isn’t restricted to the maiming of classic faces (Monotype’s Metro impersonation for Opel), the mimicking of classic faces (BMW’s Helvetica look-alike) or plain rip-offs (Suomi Type Foundry’s corporate typeface for Elisa looks awfully familiar). Jean François once again proves he is one of the great contemporary type designers, now let’s hope others will pick up on it and follow his lead.

Digest Permalink | Atom Site Feed

Digested on May 1, 2005
Posted by Yves Peters

The type world is shocked by the untimely and sudden passing of Evert Bloemsma. He was one of the rare few whose designs were not just aesthetic exercises, but the results of extensive research on the mechanisms of reading. Although they were borne out of investigation, his typefaces looked deceptively “un-experimental”, as he succeeded to turn these experiments into beautiful and usable faces. He is best known for his FontFont releases: FF Balance, FF Cocon, FF Avance and FF Legato, which garnered universal acclaim and is a TDC05 winner. His passing is a great loss for contemporary type design.

Monotype Imaging has established the Monotype Foundation, a non-profit company dedicated to the worldwide advancement of the typographic arts. Part of its objective is to raise funds in order to support a variety of typographic initiatives, such as educational scholarships and research programs. The Foundation will release reproductions of original type drawings from well-known designers as limited edition, the first being Eric Gill’s original drawing of the Gill Sans Bold Extra Condensed typeface. This must be what I was saving this empty wall for.

The review of the eagerly awaited version 5 of FontLab in the latest edition of TYPO is causing a ripple of excitement amongst type designers. By the looks of it this will be a substantial upgrade, with lots of added functionality and a series of improvements that will take care of the more tedious and boring aspects of type production. The MS Windows version is expected to be released this spring, with the Mac version to follow a few months later, possibly in the fall. Also in this issue a comprehensive and richly illustrated article about the work of Vojtech Preissig. Recommended reading.

When Jeremy Tankard returned to the office after a week off, he thought he had covered for any disasters. What he hadn’t anticipated was a review on CreativePro of his TypeBookOne specimen, which caused his mailbox to be flooded by a torrent of e-mail requests for the booklet. Which is odd, as he never really aimed for it to be purchased on its own. It is currently supplied with all direct web sales, but can now be ordered separately by e-mailing Jeremy. Get your hands on a copy while they last.

And finally Typophile (typography’s discussion central) is on temporary hiatus in preparation of the 5-year relaunch on 05.05.05. Stay tuned.

That’s it for my guest stint on the Digest. David’s already back from The Netherlands, but this episode remains mine, sorry dude! :) So, over to Yves now, who this time managed to mention sexual activity in his column and — in the absence of David — started talking about himself in the third person...

Bald Condensed
by Yves Peters

I fear people may feel I’m too long-winded. At least that’s how I interpreted a recent remark that only readers who are really interested in my reviews will read them in their entirety. I do realise I often get carried away when discussing new type designs and typography in general. Fair enough, if you agree that I should write more concise reviews, drop me a line. I’d rather have more people reading and enjoying my column than I would have me performing literary masturbation. I’ll get on a stage behind my drum kit if I want my ego stroked.

Once more, the review of a type family benefited from me having the opportunity to properly test-drive review copies of the fonts. When I first saw Ricardo Santos’ Lisboa, I thought it was a pretty, decent neo-humanist sans, but nothing more. As I received beta versions to play around with, I decided to use those to set some lengthy text with it. The results made me reconsider my first impression in its favour.

The type family comes in two variants: Lisboa and Lisboa Sans. This is quite peculiar, because the differences between them are ever so subtle. Lisboa has hooked terminals and a curved tail on the Q and leg on the R, features Lisboa Sans’ simpler shapes don’t have. The distinction between the two variants is more pronounced in the italics. While Lisboa Sans italic is more conventional, the structure of Lisboa Italic is truly Latin, akin to classic Spanish cursives.

I thought the light weight would be too skinny, but the text setting proved my concerns were unfounded. Still I would’ve liked the bold to be a tad bolder. The large number of ligatures are a treat, and as I’m a total ligature bitch, I substituted all of them. Though they are not indispensable, they did improve the setting, so it’s nice the choice is up to the user. The Dingbats are a nice addition as well. Lisboa is elegant and stylish, with a dash of Southern sensuality. It sets smoothly, is very pleasant to read, and is just idiosyncratic enough to make it stand out. I prefer the “regular” to the Sans as it possesses more zest and reveals its Latin temperament better.

As I wrote in the previous instalment, only recently I found out that the Fedra family of typefaces got augmented with Fedra Display 1 (“1” meaning more Display versions will follow.) Since the original release of Fedra Sans four years ago, Peter Bil’ak has been expanding his brilliant type system, whose design combines Eastern European temperament and a strong sense of style with Dutch elegance and restraint. Its well-defined personality doesn’t impair its usefulness, as it works well in wildly varying settings. The family is without a doubt one of the classics of the turn of the millennium.

True to the current fashion in display type, Fedra Display comes in two anorexic weights — Hairline and Thin, both of them available in three widths — Regular, Condensed and Compressed. The new versions make the stylistic details that make Fedra such an appealing design really shine. The feature-rich OpenType fonts contain loads of delectable goodies, such as an expanded set of lowercase ligatures, 300 capital ligatures (eat your heart out ITC Avant Garde Gothic), and a special set of common prepositions and articles in various languages. Now this is what I call “with all the trimmings”.

Truth to be told, I actually hate reviewing typefaces that are so good I can’t think of anything interesting to say about them. But this release stirred up something else though. It reminded me of how the availability of ITC Avant Garde Gothic Alternates was announced triumphantly in a FontShop newsletter some months ago. Honestly, who needs an awkward geometric face from the seventies that frankly doesn’t even look so good, when fresh new fonts like Fedra Display cover the same grounds, look a lot better and outperform them effortlessly?

That’s what exasperates me about those recurring “Which five fonts couldn’t you do without?” threads at the Typophile General Discussions forum. Always the same old faces! As if there wasn’t anything decent released in the last five years. It’s just like people who still pretend The Beatles are the greatest band on Earth and artists stopped producing good music in the seventies. No way! We are living exciting times, with experimentation, innovation and cross-pollination producing thrilling music and typefaces. Of course there’s a lot more rubbish as well, but the good stuff is really good. Who needs Gill Sans when you have Bliss? Garamond when you have FTF Merlo? DIN when you have Sophisto? Sabon when you have MvB Verdigris? Helvetica when you have Parisine? Futura when you have Neutraface? I could go on and on and on, believe me.

It’s long overdue we reconsider our type preferences and usage. Most of us graphic designers and typographers operate as small or medium sized businesses. Most innovative type designers operate as small or medium sized businesses. So, stop lining the pockets of big, faceless type foundries who stopped innovating long ago — I’m not naming any names, you know who you are — or more accurately, money-grubbing, faceless shareholders with no interest whatsoever in developing the field. They all seem to suffer from the same disease that plagues Hollywood, content with releasing the Next tired remake of a classic blockbuster, or clogging the market with corny genre faces. If you’ve read this far I’m quite confident you didn’t just skip to the last paragraph, so send me an e-mail with the subject line: Enough with the feature-rich OpenType blandness!

Instead, support independent type designers and foundries, just like you appreciate your clients supporting you instead of taking their assignments to the big design agencies. Because it’s those independents who are advancing the field and providing us with the truly good stuff.

Digest Permalink | Atom Site Feed

The masthead is currently set in Sabon Next, by Jean François Porchez.

homepage digest archives recommended reading about typographer.com