Wednesday, 28 January 2009

All the news that fits …

This easy link takes you to the first of a series of New York Times front pages, up to the current date. Simply substitute the date you want. Unusually, this archive does not use the classic US date style of month, day, year.

Am I right in thinking that there has been a recent abandonment of the Compressed Latin headline style, replaced by NYT Cheltenham Bold Extra Condensed, as well as the introduction of the controversial basement advertisement?

Monday, 26 January 2009

Design life at Penguin

Here’s an interview with Reading graduate Coralie Bickford-Smith. (Yes, Coralie, there are still plenty of yellow doors, but now we have some teal ones, too!)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Auto-correction and manual returns

David Woodward’s latest blog entry includes this image, but he doesn’t speculate about its creation. My own guess is that it was written in Word (or possibly PowerPoint), with hard returns keyed at the end of each line, thereby automatically implementing the descent down the style hierarchy, and with the auto-correct feature capitalizing the first word on every new line, which the typist either didn’t notice or (more likely) didn’t know how to correct. An example of automation and manual decision-making that have got completely muddled.

But who still types a hard return at the end of every line? Sounds like a cue to resurrect some typing manuals …

A Hogmanay message for Burn’s Night

Just to confuse the celebrations of Scotland’s national bard, here are two pieces of Scottish-themed personal ephemera. Enjoy your haggis!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Style v. strategy

The exhibition of Isotype children’s books that is currently on at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading raised the subversive thought that it might be possible for the Isotype approach to be applied too thoroughly to a publication: was the stripping away of naturalistic detail and reducing humans to pictograms always appropriate in a young child’s book? Or was it a dogma, the application of the visual aspect of the Isotype system without thought for its context?

Looking at this book, a self-help pamphlet for Italian maize farmers, published in 1937, my sympathy with Isotype began to re-assert itself. It’s easy to forget the norm of information publications for any age-group in this period: the design budget has clearly been spent on the cover, which is in the graphically strong idiom of the lithographic poster and the book jacket, with the corn-cob realistically rendered through airbrush work.

The typefaces used for advertisements and display within the booklet are new and up-to-date, if in a moderne rather than truly modernist style.


But the putting together of the text and illustrations is a mess: from the lack of headlines to the the way that the text has been reduced to a kind of porage flowing between unsystematically sized diagrams, it shows that it has been thrown together on the stone, not planned out beforehand. And the typeface for the text must have been antiquated even in 1937.

Isotype’s dogma and careful strategy for every book they produced look a whole lot more reliable in comparison.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University: *1913 †2009

‘There was no man or master between us.’ That was what Ken Stewart, Head of the Layout Department at Oxford University Press, told me several years ago about his relationship with Vivian Ridler, whose death aged 95 has just been announced. It sums up the great regard that he had for design, and that the designers and craftsmen who worked for the Press had for him. Although there were nominally two successors as Printer, in the eyes of many he remained the Printer to the University.

A short note with one of Judith Aronson's portraits here.

Photographed discussing old times with Bob Elliott at the Divinity School, Oxford, on the occasion of an exhibition of Christmas cards to Vivian Ridler, December 2008.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The language that they use

In the retail downturn of recent months, the post has been full of (well, smattered with) loyalty discount coupons from stores such as M&S and John Lewis. The latest deliveries have brought discount vouchers from Marriott Hotels and Kuoni to ensure that I book my holidays with them. So when I felt a sturdy envelope from my insurance company, Royal & Sun Alliance, I expected nothing less than a few pounds off the renewal of my house and car insurance.

Instead, I got this infantilizing ‘thank-you’ card. ‘We’re really chuffed that you’re sticking with us’, it simpers. No hard cash, though. As a customer who’s already paid up, there’s clearly no need to treat me any better.


Which set me thinking about the language that insurance companies use. Royal & Sun Alliance trade as More Than (actually, it’s MORE TH>N). By a strange twist, this echoes the motto, dating from 1911, of the Pearl Assurance Company Limited (now streamlined to ‘Pearl’): Damus plus quam pollicemur (We give more than we promise).


In 1911 it was thought appropriate for a financial institution to dress itself up with a coat of arms and a Latin motto that, even then, was above the heads of most of its customers. Now it’s assumed that customers relate more to Teletubbies than to human beings. In both cases it seems that image (‘respectable’ in 1911, ‘friendly’ in 2009), rather than clarity of communication, is what financial institutions are all about.

See A dictionary of mottoes by Leslie Gilbert Pine (Routledge, 1983). The Pearl advertisement is from Future Books II, c.1946.

Cut-book art

If you missed the Financial Times’s piece on Sue Blackwell today, here is a link to her website. (The girl in the wood is particularly nice, but the image on the website is quite small.)

Friday, 9 January 2009

So good they signed it twice

Andrew Belsey sent me this photograph of another Earley sign disaster. (The University of Reading is to blame: the only difference in content between the two signs is the addition of ‘UoR’.)

Are they by any chance related?

I couldn’t help noticing the resemblance between Park Pobedy Metropolitan station in St Petersburg and Southgate Underground station. I wonder if they are by any chance related?

Southgate station photograph by Mark Moxon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Getting the details right (2)

A useful site for designers interested in translating aspects of printed house style (spacing, punctuation, etc) can be found here.

Getting the details right

On Judith’s Christmas list were some novels by Penelope Fitzgerald, which Flamingo have issued in a uniform paperback series. The cover designs are nicely restrained, and set in Adobe Caslon. The one note that jarred for me in the otherwise careful composition was the bad fitting of the f and the i in the author’s name. I can see that a ligature, while normal in running text, might have called attention to itself in display, but the alternative of combining the kerning f with a dotless ı could have resolved the issue. The ı and t would have needed some adjustment to their spacing (I don’t know if dotless-ı combinations are in most kerning tables).

The text of the books is in Monotype Spectrum, which has nice roman lower-case, capitals, and small caps, but rather awkward figures – neither the ranging (too big) nor the non-ranging (too small) are quite right. As if to acknowledge this, the volume that has a contents list sets this in Janson, where the figures are more normal. Spectrum italic is rather tight, but in a novel, where italics are only used occasionally for emphasis, this isn’t too obtrusive. But the word spacing in both the volumes I’ve seen is much looser than I would expect when using such a relatively condensed typeface. Perhaps the desire was to reduce the amount of word division, or to bump the text out to a particular extent.

Lithography at the Curwen Studio

Just one week left to see the Curwen Anniversary display at Tate Britain.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Bluntness in information design

Charles Booth’s famous maps of London, made as part of his survey of Life and labour of the people of London (1886–1903), mince no word in their descriptions of the strata of London society. None of the neutral National Readership Survey system of A, B, C1 … E. Just a range from YELLOW: Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy through RED: Middle class. Well-to-do and PURPLE: Mixed. Some comfortable, others poor to BLACK: Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.

What struck me was the dominance of the of the higher social classes, the middle class in particular, on the main thoroughfares, with the poorer sections of parishes often being relatively remote or tucked away. No hiding in gated communities for the rich then. Looking at the entries for my own home area, Clapham, I wasn’t surprised to see that the street I grew up on, lined with shops, was a bastion of the shop-keeping middle class, or that White Square (which even my parents’ generation remembered as a suspect area) was the only one which the Victorian police did not think was ‘wholly uninteresting’, prostitution on the Common having been reduced by the simple expedient of ‘cut[ting] down many of the bushes under which they used to carry on their trade’.

Source: Notebook B369, p. 67