Digested on June 22, 2005
Posted by David

Summer is here and as the fans start whirring I’m reminded of the old farmer’s saying, “Red sky at night – Shepherd’s delight. Drowned sheep in morning – Global warming”. As the early bird pricing for TypeCon 2005 draws to a close, and the weather continues hotting up for a blistering New York summer (no doubt Yves will be cracking open fire hydrants and dancing naked through the water come conference week), the TypeCon site went live earlier this month. Michael Bloomberg, mayor of NYC, has decided to declare 18-24th June as Type Week in its honour according to the TypeCon website. I searched the mayor’s website, but I’ve not been able to find any other information about what this may actually mean, but I think you’re allowed to drunkenly remove road signs.

Hot on the heels of TypeCon, but in the considerably cooler Helsinki, ATypI’s conference (subtitled “On the edge”) organisers have released preliminary details of their programs. The names of those speaking, as one would expect, are not to be sniffed at, and include Jean François Porchez, Peter Bilak, Sue Walker, Thomas Phinney, Sumner Stone, Gerry Leonidas, Adam Twardoch and Yuri Yarmola to name just a few. ATypI has a distinctive international theme to its conference this year, and as ever is the more intellectually rigorous of the two. And, as ever, entrance costs an awful lot more than TypeCon, but hey, you pay for quality and that’s certainly what you’ll get. No word yet, however, on if Helsinki’s local governance has declared it “Anal Kerning and Fastidious OpenType Coding Week” in its honour.

Typographica’s Stephen Coles disagrees with my assessment, and is happy to share:

ATypI’s speaker list is no more impressive than TypeCon’s. It’s horrendously overpriced. If one could afford both, I'd recommend attending both. But if you can only attend one, TypeCon is a much better value - even if you live in Europe!

Stephen’s perspectives are always welcome and respected, but in this case I would have to disagree. I firmly believe Europeans and North Americans have different values, and I think that this is reflected in the differences between the two conferences. Stephen does make a valid point about the quality of speakers, however - this has certainly improved leaps and bounds as TypeCon has matured. Indeed this year has seen such great names as Matthew Carter, Neville Brody, Ed Benguiat, Erik Spiekermann, John D. Berry, Simon Daniels, John Downer, Akira Kobayashi, Gerry Leonidas, Thomas Phinney, Adam Twardoch and even our very own Yves appear. While there will certainly be much of genuine worth at TypeCon, and while I accept that I may have been unlucky in my choices of slots to attend in the past, my overall impression is that ATypI provides more intellectual exploration of our field and less rockstar showcasing. The more European-slanted ATypI conference inevitably more accurately reflects the diversity inherent in its less homogenised cultural basis. Combined with Europe’s historically less commerical outlook, this produces a fundamentally different event where the balance between showcasing and intellectual exploration is shifted towards the latter. While ATypI may be more expensive, I believe it provides visitors with more in terms of rigour, and therefore a more European vision of what value means. Of course Helsinki won't have freedom fries on the menu, which is just a crying shame, huh?

Fellow Londoners, have you spotted Adobe’s rash of advertising on the London Underground recently? It seems that after its Macromedia takeover, it would like to expand its “customer base” further, but interestingly not wider. Adobe are directly targeting… designers… in mainstream advertising environments, with adverts depicting various creatives lay around on beds all day trying to come up with ideas. Er, Bruce, you’ve just bought Macromedia. Who else are we meant to be buying software off?

Some of you’ll have notice the addition of Typographer.org’s very first advert in the top right of the homepage. After 6 years of avoiding any form of advert, the Make Poverty History campaign seemed like an appropriate exception to our own rules. If you like our work here and want to say thanks, consider redistributing some of your wealth to those who need $3 more than you need a skinny decaf latte. Every donation comes with a fluffy warm feeling inside, that can only increase the more often and more generously you give!

Speaking of fluffy warm feelings inside, here’s Yves…

Updated on June 26, 2005 - Stephen Coles’ comment and paragraph 3 added

Bald Condensed
by Yves Peters

This week’s review is going to be weird for me, as this is the first time I’ve specifically been asked to review a certain typeface. Not only that, but people requested I’d compare Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ long awaited Mercury to two previous Fleischmann revivals: Christian Schwartz’s also quite recent Farnham, released through The Font Bureau, Inc. and Matthew Carter’s Fenway which he designed as a replacement for Times Roman in Sports Illustrated and which is distributed by The Font Bureau, Inc. as well. I decided to throw in two more contenders. Erhard Kaiser’s DTL Fleischmann appears to be the odd one out as it is the most faithful (and quirky) digitisation. As I was gearing up to write this review, Mário Feliciano sent me a PDF of his as of yet unreleased Eudald. This family is based on the work of Eudald Pradell, a Spanish imitator of Fleischmann, and is the only one that sports the wonky capitals which can also be found in DTL’s version. So five typefaces in total will contend for the coveted title of Most Totally Awesome Fleischmann Digitisation™.

Before starting this review, I stressed in both my e-mail communication with the concerned designers and on my Typophile Blog that I have no academic background whatsoever, and people needn’t expect any roaring theories nor historical contexts. Somehow this must’ve had the same effect as waving a red flag in front of a bull, because it prompted both Hrant H. Papazian and Christian Schwartz to send me scans from original type specimens by Johann Michael Fleischmann and by Jean-François Rosart, his rival at Enschedé. Here’s what Hrant has to say about the level of authenticity of these revivals.

Since you wrote “I review type from a gut feeling and using common sense” (to which I say, thank you!) I won’t get into too much historical stuff... except to address the nature of making a revival to begin with, and how that might be relevant to the various Fleischmanns out there.

To me they all seem like great fonts. But they miss the genius element that makes Fleischmann more than just another style to pillage from the past. Even the DTL version — which is indeed the most funky — ignores the really juicy stuff. One can understand, since I think considerations of sales make it a bad idea to include what most people would think is “just a mistake”.

On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the huge missing piece: the incredible amount of divergence that Fleischmann included in his fonts, especially later in his career, and especially when he wasn’t designing for a specific commission. Nobody talks about this, probably because they think it was... “just a mistake”. But how can such a good designer make such a mistake, so far into his career? To me it had to be intentional, and the only explanation I can think of is that he was shooting for a higher level of readability.

The font of his most worthy of study is the #65 in the Enschedé collection. I have their glorious 1908 specimen book, and it can also be found in the 1978. If you look at the bottom line in the attached file, try to explain the stroke stress of the “o”, the too-small bowls of the “b”, “p”, etc., and the greatly varying serif structures (which admittedly have been revived). Besides the question of what the hell Fleischmann was thinking, more relevant to your review might be the question of why such funkiness has been ironed out, and what such a “neutering” implies, both in terms of fidelity, and for the user.

Then Christian Schwartz raises another interesting issue by pointing out that:

(...) while these families all have roots in Fleischmann’s types, Mercury and Fenway have quite a bit of Rosart influence as well, especially in the italics. (...) the underlying history is interesting. Rosart had a bitter one-sided rivalry with Fleischmann, so it’s bizarre (from a historical, if not aesthetic standpoint) to see revivals that fuse their work together.

Both these e-mails got me intrigued, which means that I eventually did end up studying historical reference material. Which also is the reason why this review is way late. Sorry’boutthat.

Let’s start with Edhard Kaiser’s digitisation DTL Fleischmann. According to the DTL website this revival has been dubbed “Kaisers königliche Fleischmann” in Germany. For those who don’t understand the German play of words (“Kaiser” means Emperor and “königliche” royal) this is a way of saying his version is considered to be, like, really really really good. No review copies of the fonts for this one, but the extensive 80-page downloadable PDF proved to be very helpful.

The Germans are spot on. DTL Fleischmann does the source material justice, capturing nicely the tics and quirks of the original. Most importantly it features the peculiar “ornate” serifs on the caps and retains the specific flavour of some key characters, like the lc y and g, S and s, italic cap A, V and Y, cap Q, that funky section sign... Me being a total ligature junkie, you can imagine how pleased I was to discover a truckload of those are included. I do feel though that the small caps are too small. And could somebody please explain me why we still need a quaint s?

As much as I appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the DTL digitisation, I’m not so fond of the very soft and rounded outline treatment. Of course, you can discuss ad nauseam if the specific line quality of the contours were intended or merely a restriction imposed by the then available technology. To overly simplify, would Fleischmann for example have designed angular or round corners if he had access to today’s tools? After all, we mustn’t overlook the fact that these revivals are going to be output digitally, which is an entirely different beast than metal. Beautiful as the DTL Fleischmann family may be (hey, I’m being very nit-picky here) it gives the impression of a rather slavish and conventional interpretation. The basic shapes are spunky in spades, but I still would’ve preferred some more chutzpah, some more bite to the outlines.

Let’s now move over to the American interpretations.

Matthew Carter’s Fenway appears to be incorporating the most Rosart influences. Though I prefer his roman cap Q from Farnham’s and Mercury’s, generally speaking the capitals are so “contaminated” by the Rosart model that at times they look a bit out of place. Especially the leg on the cap K and R, as well as on the lc k oddly remind me of Goudy’s work and look a bit tame. I’m not so enthusiastic about the subdued italics neither, as they lack the calligraphic quality of the originals. The very best thing about Fenway are the small capitals. Making them slightly bigger than your average small caps is a brilliant move and makes perfect sense when you keep in mind that this family was designed specifically for editorial use in Sports Illustrated.

Please don’t get me wrong. Fenway is a great family, expertly designed and of the highest quality, with the extra Banner optical size on top of the Display as a nice added bonus. But possibly because it is a commissioned type family, designed within certain editorial constraints, it has become the most mainstream and “slick” adaptation. Certain creative decisions must’ve steered it away from the Fleischmann model, insofar that it makes me wonder if I’m doing Fenway a disservice by including it in this comparative review instead of looking at it separately.

At least Christian Schwartz doesn’t pussyfoot around with Farnham. Now that’s a revival with attitude. When an ink trap or an optical correction is called for, he takes no quarter and really goes for it. It becomes an integral part of the design, thus playing a key role in defining the identity of the typefaces. This creates an obvious tension in the character shapes, which causes the type to sparkle.

Furthermore he succeeds in incorporating some defining Fleischmann characteristics without resorting to overly literal interpretations. It really is all in minute details. To name a single example: Christian is the one who gets the cap A right, as the cross-bar is too low in both Fenway and Mercury. Also the fact that his italic is the most accurate plays in his favour. As far as the numerals go, I understand the rationale behind Fenway and Mercury to provide only lining figures (in Fenway’s case hybrid numerals more accurately) but I still think it’s handy that Farnham provides old style numerals as well. My only gripe, as with the two other American Fleischmann revivals, is that those peculiar cap serifs didn’t make this version neither.

H&FJ’s Mercury is a glorious achievement. I won’t go into details, just go over to their website and read the Special Features section, especially about the Grades. This is an approach to type design that is guaranteed to give me a woody. The whole family of faces is so well thought out and yet seems so obvious. It might well be that Hoefler & Frere-Jones have set a new standard for type systems for editorial use.

It goes without saying that these are gorgeous faces, but unfortunately there’s quite a bit of that specific Fleischmann flavour missing. The most obvious is the nifty ear on the lc g that’s lacking in the romans and some quirks that were ironed out here and there. As in Fenway, the italics bear the Rosart mark. Though this makes them less true to the Fleischmann model, some novel interpretations keep them interesting. For example the italic a and y — which were among my benchmark characters for comparison — are quite beautiful.

The skill and dedication displayed in Mercury are tremendous and the faces look incredibly good. Still, one gets the impression it came with a cost. This is a perfect example of what I call “sand-papered to death”. It seems as if the typefaces lost some of their soul in the process. The root of the problem might lie in the fact that Mercury was in development over such a long period of time. When composing a song you go through a similar phase. You have to compose the music and write the lyrics, learn how to play the song well, then get familiar with it so you can perform it on stage or commit it to a recording. But when you’re living with your song for too long, constantly developing and refining it, you risk losing some of the freshness. The cost of being able to play it flawlessly is the loss of its initial spontaneity.

Same goes for Mercury. But - boy - does - it - set - smoothly, like a baby’s bum. I realised that when I was reading the beautifully designed License Agreement, all set in tiny Mercury. Yup, I read it all. No, really! See, usually I’ve got a problem with overly slick typefaces. I recently tried to set a brochure with Minion Pro but in the end I gave up and chucked it. I thought I had every reason not to like test-driving Mercury, but to my surprise I had absolutely no problem. The overall impression on the page is very refined, very elegant, in contrast with the more energetic and lively Farnham. It’s very pleasant to use and read.

Before I finish this review, I’d like to take a quick look at Eudald, as this is the only face that can go head-to-head with the literal interpretation of DTL’s version. Technically speaking it should be disqualified for being a revival of a typeface by an imitator of Fleischmann’s. The reason to include it is that I totally agree with the approach Mário took in translating the Eudald Pradell designs to digital outlines. Instead of sticking too closely to the source material, he nicely succeeded in distilling the right elements that characterise the Fleischmann model and made them his own. Although he basically used the same approach as Carter, Schwartz and Hoefler & Frere-Jones, credit goes to him for not chickening out and keeping all the idiosyncratic, slightly off kilter elements in the design. He created a face that is unmistakably Fleischmann-esque, but ultimately is its own beast. [Click here for the PDF Specimen]

To conclude, I first want to say that this was a very tough review for me, an experiment I’m not likely to repeat in the near future. All the typefaces are top-quality, and having to single one out is nigh impossible. DTL Fleischmann is a very faithful revival, maybe a bit too literal to my taste. It is the “goody-two-shoes” of the bunch. Fenway is a perfect workhorse face, but ultimately too “mainstream” and lacking the specific Fleischmann flavour I was looking for in this comparison. On a character level I prefer Farnham for its audacity and for staying the most true to the spirit of Fleischmann, and I really wanted it to come out triumphantly. In all fairness, I feel obliged to say that the test settings won me over for Mercury, so it’s an either/or situation. On a conceptual level Eudald is the most successful in converting the Fleischmann model to a contemporary digital design while retaining all the peculiar details.

I'd like to express my thanks to Hrant H. Papazian and Christian Schwartz for providing me with visual reference material and background information; Mr. Matthew Carter for sending me PDFs of Fenway; Robb Ogle and Jonathan Hoefler for sending me further background information and review licenses of respectively the Farnham and Fenway full families, and the Mercury full family; and last but not least Mário Feliciano for spicing up the mix with some Portuguese flavour.

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