Wall of letters

The contractors were helping Martin Andrews restore our lettering artefacts wall today. Previously in Spur H, it has now expanded along both sides of the corridor between Spurs E and F at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. The photograph above, taken in 2003, shows former Chancellor Lord Carrington, Martin Andrews, and Sue Walker admiring the signs.

The Retro Candidate?

Roger Black has posted a comment about the New York Times’s use of a black-and-white photograph of Barack Obama. This fits in with my initial response to the graphic design of his campaign, that it was promoting a retro vision of America and a longed-for past, through the use of flat-colour illustration and simple, industrial sanserif typography, in contrast to the standard, rather 80s Madison Avenue-style typography of the McCain–Palin campaign. You’ll find more examples here.

What photocomposition meant for type

Here are some images from my presentation ‘Absolutely no type’ at this year’s ATypI conference.

Books produced by early phototypesetting systems publicized the fact that they were produced with ‘absolutely no type’. What letterforms were chosen for these new systems? How did they relate to existing type designs? What opportunities were taken (or missed) in the creation of new founts? How did the new typefaces for new machines affect the designers and typesetters who used them? By looking at the earliest phototypeset books, manufacturers’ and printers’ type specimens, and printers’ archives 1950-1970 we can find out more about the time when the certainties of metal typography began to dissolve into the new world of film.

All phototypesetting devices broke the link that existed in metal type between character width and escapement, that is the horizontal space in which a character sits. The latter could now be varied independently of character width, allowing any amount of under- or over-spacing of letters. This point is seized upon in this specimen for the Bawtree machine of the 1920s.

The Intertype Fotosetter promoted the new freedom of type design. Its hot-metal faces were constrained in two ways: characters could not kern (that is the top stroke of f could not hang over the following character), and character widths for roman and italic had to be equal, to allow for duplex matrices (which carried both fonts). Garamond seems to have been the first typeface adapted for the new machine, and the revised designs show how both constraints have been thrown aside.

Economy and efficiency were always te selling points for the new machines. The weight of the pieces of film used for a job was compared with the weight of the lead type that would previously have been necessary:

Letter-painting therapy

We’ve made a start painting the new spur-identification letters in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. Here are Martin Andrews and I with our work.

Two links to Sutnar

Grain Edit has these two links to Ladislav Sutnar’s work – a brochure for Bell Telephone which is claimed as the origin for the parentheses around US area codes, and one of his Sweet’s catalogues. University of Reading special collections has a number of interesting Sutnar items, purchased with the help of Typography & Graphic Communication.

Blogging book covers

I’ve added a link to Joseph Sullivan’s blog about cover design, and it’s also worth noting Cover Design Issues. While these deal mainly with US trade publishing with a bias towards fiction, there are interesting comments on the development of a design, and also you can compare a designer’s intentions with the finished product. They are good at comparing US and UK approaches to the same titles, too.

And if you like design from the 50s onwards, here’s a relaxing place to go.

Comics can explain

I was impressed by Google’s explanation of their new Chrome browser in comic-book form. It actually made me want to read this geek stuff, and I think I learnt something about how browser technology works. My only puzzle is why the format is portrait when a landscape format would have fitted most screens better, and eliminated unnecessary scrolling within pages.

(Chrome itself seemed to mess up my XP installation, though.)

Sorry, Google, Chrome did not mess up XP. A Microsoft Update had stalled, but installing Apple iTunes for XP solved the problem (!).

Das Moderne Plakat

A copy of this important example of 19th-century lithographic printing is now part of the University of Reading’s special collections. Fiona Barnard writes:

Das Moderne Plakat (The Modern Poster) by Jean Louis Sponsel was printed in Dresden by Verlag von Gerhard Kuhtmann in 1897. It is a bound volume, illustrated with fifty-two lithographic plates of posters, including examples of work by noted artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen and Alphonse Mucha.

Posters, in the form of posted bills and placards for advertisements and announcements, have a long history. However, the invention of lithography in 1796 allowed for cheap mass production and printing, and the invention of chromolithography which followed made it possible to print mass editions of posters in vibrant colours.

By the 1890s, the technique had spread throughout Europe, and poster art was becoming increasingly popular and commercially successful. Posters soon transformed the thoroughfares of Paris into the ‘art galleries of the street.’

By the end of the 19th century, during an era known as the Belle Époque, the standing of the poster as a serious artform was raised even further, with the publication of the ‘Maîtres de l’Affiche’ (Masters of the Poster) series and Das Moderne Plakat, both of which not only enjoyed commercial success among art collectors, but are now seen as important historical publications, as many of the posters cannot be found today in any other format.

Can you get a cigarette paper between them?

If elections were won on kerning, letterspacing, and correctly positioned apostrophes, then these two wouldn't stand a chance.

An antidote.