kottke.org posts about typography
In his newest video, Evan Puschak talks about Arrival, calling it “a response to bad movies”. Arrival was perhaps my favorite film of 2016, and I agree with him about how well-made this film is. There’s a top-to-bottom attention to craft on display, from how it looks to how it was cast (Amy Adams was the absolute perfect choice for the lead) to the integration of the theme with story to how expertly it was adapted from Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life. The whole thing’s tight as a drum. If you happened to miss it, don’t watch this video (it gives the whole thing away) and go watch it instead…it’s available to rent/buy on Amazon.
Looking back through the archives, I’m realizing I never did a post about Arrival even though I collected some links about it. So, linkdump time!
Wired wrote about how the movie’s alien alphabet was developed.
Stephen Wolfram wrote about his involvement with the science of the film — his son Christopher wrote Mathematica code for some of the on-screen visuals. 1
Science vs Cinema explored how well the movie represented actual science:
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer wrote about how he adapted Chiang’s short story for the screen.
Jordan Brower wrote a perceptive review/analysis that includes links to several other resources about the film.
Update: The director of photography for Arrival was Bradford Young, who shot Selma and is currently working on the Han Solo movie for Disney. Young did an interview with No Film School just before Arrival came out.
I’m from the South, so quilts are a big part of telling our story. Quilting is ancient, but in the South it’s a very particular translation of idea, time, and space. In my own practice as an image maker, I slowly began to be less concerned with precision and more concerned with feeling.
Quiltmakers are rigorous, but they’re a mixed media format. I think filmmaking should be a mixed media format. I’m just really honoring what quiltmakers do, which is tell a story by using varying texture within a specific framework to communicate an idea. For me, with digital technology, lenses do that the best. The chips don’t do it now-digital film stock is basically all captured the same, but the lenses are how you give the image its textural quality.
Update: James Gleick, author of Time Travel, wrote about Arrival and Story of Your Life for The New York Review of Books.
What if the future is as real as the past? Physicists have been suggesting as much since Einstein. It’s all just the space-time continuum. “So in the future, the sister of the past,” thinks young Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, “I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from that which then I shall be.” Twisty! What if you received knowledge of your own tragic future-as a gift, or perhaps a curse? What if your all-too-vivid sensation of free will is merely an illusion? These are the roads down which Chiang’s story leads us. When I first read it, I meant to discuss it in the book I was writing about time travel, but I could never manage that. It’s not a time-travel story in any literal sense. It’s a remarkable work of imagination, original and cerebral, and, I would have thought, unfilmable. I was wrong.
From designer Christian Annyas, an overview of the typography used in the titles and posters of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Click on each graphic to see the poster or title sequence it was sourced from.
A lovely short video profile of Thomas Lilley, who is a roadliner in Glasgow. A roadliner is a person who paints the words and marks on roads with molten thermoplastic. Lilley does it quickly, freehand, and beautifully. The design firm who did the video above commissioned Lilley’s crew to make a custom typeface for them and their new logo.
See also The art of street typography. (via @mathowie)
In 1943, artist and poet Gelett Burgess wrote a poem to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia complaining of the poor typography on some of the city’s street signs. La Guardia wrote back, also in verse. (via @john_overholt)
Just learned/realized that the old logos for Reebok, Apple, and Trapper Keeper all use the same typeface, Motter Tektura.
If you’ve read a book like Danny the Champion of the World or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you have seen the work of illustrator Quentin Blake.
Type foundry Monotype have created a typeface from Blake’s distinctive handwriting. Each letter has four variants so the text looks more random, like actual handwriting:
Inspired by the logo for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential run, designer Rick Wolff created an entire uppercase alphabet for a typeface he’s calling Hillvetica.
From his Twitter stream, it appears that Wolff is attempting to make an actual Hillvetica font so stay tuned. FYI, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut designed the logo. The simplicity is appealing, but overall I am not a big fan of the arrowed H.
Update: The Washington Post made a little text editor so you can write whatever you want in Hillvetica. The Clinton campaign has already put it to use:
Conceived in the late 1970s as a hybrid of three of the most popular (and some would say, overused) sans-serif typefaces in the world, Haas Unica didn’t make the digital jump to personal computers in the 1980s. It was nearly forgotten, but has been revived by Monotype, which released Neue Haas Unica as a webfont today.
Unica® was an attempt to create the ultimate sans-serif - a hybrid of Helvetica, Univers and Akzidenz Grotesk. Designed by Team ‘77 and released to great acclaim in 1980, Unica went missing under a heap of legal disputes and has never been available as a full, digital typeface. Until now.
Unica’s story starts in the 1970s. Electronic, on-screen phototypesetting was gaining popularity, but most sans-serif typefaces on the market had been designed earlier, in the era of metal type. The revered Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland, saw the chance to develop a new sans-serif face that was optimized for the new technology and filled the gap in the market. To develop their new product, they turned to Swiss type design trio, Team ‘77 (André Gürtler, Christian Mengelt and Erich Gschwind).
Team ‘77 set out to design a font based on Helvetica but drawing on other sans-serif typefaces, principally Univers. The name they gave it would also be a hybrid of the two.
The original name for Helvetica was Neue Haas Grotesk. Haas + Univers + Helvetica = Haas Unica.
Update: Several digital versions of Haas Unica have been available prior to this one.
For many years a digital version of Unica was available from Scangraphic (and Elsner+Flake) but it was pulled from the market due to a complaint by Linotype who claims the Haas rights. In 2008, Cornel Windlin did a Semibold for the the Schauspielhaus Zürich identity, used in 2009-10. Later, Louise Paradis created a revival named Unica Intermediate while doing research for the TM retrospective.
Although I am slowly coming around1 to Massimo Vignelli’s assertion that designers should only use a handful of typefaces, I enjoyed seeing Typographica’s list of their favorite typefaces of 2014.
Typeface design and distribution is in a state of rapid change. Last year we noted its diffusion around the globe, and that trend persists. The majority of font production is no longer concentrated in a few regional epicenters.
That goes for corporate epicenters as well. The independence of type designers themselves is increasingly evident. Small foundries have existed since the dawn of digital fonts, but now they are the norm. Only a handful of the selections in this year’s list were published by companies with more than ten employees.
I discovered that one of the selections, a beautiful custom typeface made for the reopening/rebranding of the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum (sample shown above), has been made available by the museum for free download (including a web fonts version).
I just upgraded to OS X Yosemite yesterday1 and the Helvetica as the system font is as jarring as everyone says it is. But that new Apple Watch font, San Francisco, seems really nice. So of course someone has worked out a way to use the Watch font as the system font on Yosemite. Here’s what you do…just type the following in Terminal.app:
ruby -e “$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/wellsriley/YosemiteSanFranciscoFont/master/install)”
Then restart your computer. Full instructions are on GitHub. Here’s what it looks like:
Pretty nice. But it’s not perfect. For instance, look at the text in the Chrome tabs…it’s not aligned correctly. And if you have the fast user switching menu enabled in the menu bar, that’s weirdly misaligned too. If you’d like, you can also switch back to using the previous font, Lucida Grande.
Jessica Hische and Font Bureau have teamed up to offer the typeface Hische designed for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Meet Tilda (great name). Art of the Title interviewed Hische about the typeface last year.
From Tobias Frere-Jones, a short history of how typefaces get their names.
Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting “the cap S” or “the italic lowercase” or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name. Finding the name is the hardest part.
Join designer James Victore for an opinionated tour of the typography of Brooklyn and Queens.
We’re going to do a typographical tour of Brooklyn and Queens, We’re going to look at type on the street and signage on the street and try to figure out what the hell it’s for.
Favorite quote: [Pointing at a logo for a waxing salon] “There’s been a designer here. Which is not always a good thing.” (via gothamist)
“A Type House Divided” is Jason Fagone’s feature for New York magazine on former partners Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, who split up earlier this year after disagreeing about the nature of their partnership. (TFJ thought he was a fifty-fifty partner; Hoefler says he was an employee.)
While the story covers both sides of the dispute with detail and pathos, the most affecting bits treat how H & FJ worked together and the tiny details of the letters they made and loved:
At his computer, he drew an uppercase H, O, and D, because they contained flat and round elements that would determine how other letters looked. When he moved on to the G, the R, and the S, he started to deviate from the mathematical grid, hoping to give the font a subliminal playfulness. As he filled out the alphabet, the letters revealed a promising flexibility; if Frere-Jones set text in caps and spread the spacing out, the words felt authoritarian, imposing, and if he set them in lowercase and pulled the spacing in, they felt fresh and young. He tried to think of a name for the font that would showcase some of the more distinctive letters: the stark, powerful G; the circular o; the strange-tasting a. For a name, he thought about Goats, and Gomorrah. He finally settled on Gotham.
If the deep dive into the beauty and business of lettermaking doesn’t grab you, the essay’s packed with other-cultural analogies. My favorite is probably this: “According to a designer who used to work with Frere-Jones, his eye is so sharp that he can look at a printout of a letterform and tell if it’s one pixel off, the same way Ted Williams was said to be able to hold a baseball bat and tell if it was a half-ounce too heavy.”
Disclosure: Jason Fagone is my friend. Kottke.org uses Whitney Screensmart, a version of one of the fonts discussed in the article. Also one time Jonathan Hoefler got really mad at me because of a story I wrote about iPad magazines. The font people don’t play.
Update: If you want to know just how much the font people don’t play, I immediately was contacted by a friend to change “typographer” to “type designer.” I’ve spent years writing about this, and if I ever manage to get all of the terms right, the universe will collapse on itself.
For the first post on his new blog, Tobias Frere-Jones discovers that most of the type foundries in New York in the 1800s and 1900s were all located within a few blocks of each other in lower Manhattan. Why there? Newspapers and City Hall.
I was able to plot out the locations for every foundry that had been active in New York between 1828 (the earliest records I could find with addresses) to 1909 (see below). All of the buildings have been demolished, and in some cases the entire street has since been erased. But a startling picture still emerged: New York once had a neighborhood for typography.
Gruber beat me to the punch in noting that Frere-Jones’ site doesn’t use any of the fonts from the company he was recently ousted from but instead a pair of faces (Benton Modern and Interstate) he designed before he formed his partnership with Jonathan Hoefler. Before I discovered Whitney (another Frere-Jones creation), Interstate was my go-to font for graphics for the site. Big TFJ fan, is what I’m saying.
I don’t know exactly what my expectations were of how lettering is painted on city streets, but this was not it. The level of precision and artistry is surprising.
Reminds me of this video of a hand-lettering master at work.
From Typographica, a list of their favorite typefaces from 2013. As you’ll see, good type design is happening all over the globe.
As evidence of that diversity, the 53 typefaces selected from 2013 were created by designers from at least 20 countries. […] This new phase of globalization and democratization of the font market began in earnest about a decade ago, propelled by newly accessible digital tools, online commerce, and post-graduate education in type design. It is a sea change. For centuries, places like Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, Lebanon, and New Zealand were vastly underrepresented in a type design community that was dominated by western Europe and North America. (And this only goes for Latin-based type. The burgeoning production of fonts in other scripts tells another fascinating story.) We will have much more detail about these changes in an upcoming report by Ruxandra Duru on the current state of typefounding around the world.
One that caught my eye is Clear Sans.
From a new blog, Typeset in the Future, an examination of the typography in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don’t recognize from anywhere.
Finally! A Japanese company called Type is selling eyeglasses that evoke the Helvetica and Garamond typefaces. It’s like webfonts for your face.
I joke, but those Helvetica Black Regulars look pretty nice. I wonder what some of the older Raygun-inspired GarageFonts typefaces would look like as glasses? (via the verge)
Oh, wow. Tobias Frere-Jones is suing his business partner Jonathan Hoefler over ownership of world-reknowned type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones.
Type designer Tobias Frere-Jones claims he has been cheated out of his half of the company by his business partner, Jonathan Hoefler. In a blistering lawsuit filed today in New York City, Frere-Jones says he was duped into transferring ownership of several fonts, including the world-famous Whitney, to Hoefler & Frere-Jones (HFJ) on the understanding that he would own 50% of the company.
“In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all of the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded,” the suit claims.
The full complaint is here. A descendant of Whitney (Whitney ScreenSmart) is what you’re reading right now and I was an early beta tester of H&FJ’s webfont service. This is gobsmacking news…I have no idea what to think about it. What a sad and strange situation. (via @khoi)
Update: H&FJ has released a statement from their general counsel:
Last week, designer Tobias Frere-Jones, a longtime employee of The Hoefler Type Foundry, Inc. (d/b/a “Hoefler & Frere-Jones”), decided to leave the company. With Tobias’s departure, the company founded by Jonathan Hoefler in 1989 will become known as Hoefler & Co.
Update: According to a document filed with the New York County Clerk, the matter between Hoefler and Frere-Jones “has been settled”. No other details are available at this time.
Your font: Helvetica. Your smell: Helvetica The Perfume.
Helvetica has gone on to become arguably the most ubiquitous and widely used typeface in history.
It is in this spirit that we have created the ultimate Modernist perfume — a scent distilled down to only the purest and most essential elements to allow you, the content, to convey your message with the utmost clarity.
Air. Water. You.
2 oz. of distilled water. Precious bodily fluids, Mandrake.
Glen Weisgerber is a wizard at the art of hand-lettering. Make sure you watch all the way through for the big flourish-y finish.
More than 80 photos of marvelous wood type alphabets in this Flickr set.
The scans are from Rob Roy Kelly’s 100 Wood Type Alphabets. (via @H_FJ)
While researching the etymology of the word “fave”, a noun that’s in the process of being verbed,1 I noticed that, according to Google’s ngram viewer, the word was much more popular in the 1600-1700s than it is now.
A bit of investigation reveals that Google’s book-scanning software is at fault; it can’t recognize the long s commonly used in books prior to the 1800s. So each time it encounters “save” with a long s, it sees “fave”:
The Art of the Title chats with the excellent Jessica Hische about the lettering and type design she did for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
To me, that was really fun because if you think about New England in the ’60s… it’s not like most places would be staying on top of the most current trends in type, using typefaces that were released that very year. So, using something from the ’40s made sense to me. If you think about a small, conservative New England town, lord knows all the printers and designers in town are probably still using type from years ago. I think when people think about historical type references, they often don’t think about that. You should be reaching from that time period to 15 - 20 years earlier and then you’ll be getting stuff that’s quote-unquote “current.”
And she’s releasing the typeface commercially so everyone can use it! Yay!
Type Hunting. Prepare to lose yourself in this for awhile. Wow. (via df)
From the AIGA, a lovely short film on type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. I love the bit about starting a typeface design with the O, H, and D. Elsewhere, Hoefler recommended other potential starting points:
Work out the B, the ampersand, and the bullet before you get too far: you’ll have to confront decisions about thinning strokes, intersections, and shapes without any counters, which might inform what you do on the other letters.
(via daring fireball)
Before personal brands were something to be seared into the minds of a rabid fanbase, brands were symbols that were literally burned into the flesh of livestock to keep track of ownership. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a guide to designing your own cattle brand.
Smithsonian Magazine’s Jimmy Stamp has more info on what cattle brands are all about. For more info on what personal brands are all about, spend more than 30 seconds on Twitter.