Sunday, 28 March 2010

Which side [of the plate] are you on?

One of my heroines is Marguerite Patten, whose work in the second world war for the Ministry of Food helped the nation struggle through rationing. I’d rate her common touch above Elizabeth David (far right), who is credited with introducing rustic Mediterranean cooking to Britain (‘dishes which are particularly suitable to our servantless lives’).

David’s A book of mediterranean food (1950) was illustrated by John Minton (‘exquisitely pretty’ was publisher John Lehmann’s description). In Modern typography in Britain, Paul Stiff discusses the graphic impact of the book, and quotes Elizabeth David on Minton’s jacket illustration: ‘In the shop windows his brilliant blue Mediterranean bay, his tables spread with white cloths and bright fruit, bowls of pasta and rice, a lobster, pitchers and jug and bottles of wine, could be seen far down the street.’

The jacket and title-page are reproduced from the 1980 Jill Norman/Book Club Associates reprint.

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Monday, 22 March 2010

In the margin

The British Library copy of a 1552 printing of the Book of common prayer has an intriguing handwritten subtraction in the margin of its title-page. ‘1718 | 1552 | [rule] | 0166’ presumably calculates the book’s age at the date of its inscription.

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Government for the people …


Rewired State is a website showing proposals for digital enhancements of democracy, many based on visualizing data otherwise locked away in government departments. The one shown above is essentially a document comparison site that highlights what has been amended in the passage of a bill.


This one shows interlinking directorships in public companies (the more boards they sit on, the fatter the cats get).

There are videos of the presentations here.

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A health care bill for elderly types


Judging by its choice of types and typography, the US Government Printing Office clearly still lives in the nineteenth century, harking back to the glory days of T. L. DeVinne. (The typefaces used in the bill are DeVinne, Century Bold, Cheltenham Bold [not on this page], with Times for line numbers.)

Source: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.3590:

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Sunday, 21 March 2010

Better understand data and concepts – with type that glows!

This stern-looking, flat-voiced lass from Redmond tries to persuade us that Word Art will enhance our communication when we switch to Office 2010. Well, if you like a typographic dominatrix scene, enjoy. (The clunky interface indicates it’s Silverlight, not Flash or QuickTime.)

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Saturday, 20 March 2010

No apostrophe here!

The March issue of History Today provided me with a neat Celtic counterbalance to ‘It’s Scotland’s apostrophe’.

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Parody, parody, parody

John Gross was at the Oxford Literary Festival today, talking about his new anthology The Oxford Book of Parodies. The best description I’ve heard of this book is ‘an alternative literary history’; an indirect literary chronology that introduces readers to great writers through affectionate – or sharp – reimaginings of their work. John spoke about the problem of presenting a literary parody to an audience that might not be familiar with the original. Would they get the joke without the impossible expedient of printing the parodied item on the facing page? He concluded that the acuity of the parody determined this: the parodies by Max Beerhbohm of minor literary figures of his time were rendered plausible by the obvious accuracy of those of Shaw or Wells.

He didn’t specifically touch on the problem of the visual presentation of parodies – how much does one’s recognition of the wit depend on the configuration of the parody text echoing that of the parodied? But this was a consideration in the design of the book. Many of the sources John draws his examples from (New Statesman competitions, for example) prevented accurate or complex typographic referencing of the original. In designing the OBP digital typesetting provided a liberation from these constraints, so the question became, not can we make the parody look like the original, but rather when should we do it?

Some cases come to mind: A. E. Housman’s parody of Greek tragedy (is it a parody of the stilted translations, or the stilted Greek itself?) needed to be set in the style of the Oxford Classical Texts, or Brill editions, and not regularized into the standard ‘drama’ format used in the rest of the book.


Robert Benchley’s parody of Wagnerian opera requires the pedantic typography of a 19th century theatre programme.


The text from Posy Simmonds’s Graphic novel Gemma Bovery was recreated to match the original character-for-character, space-for-space; it’s a parody of a newspaper column, and (I believe deliberately) takes the poor justification and erratic typesetting of her own newspaper, the Guardian, for its inspiration.


Anne Fadiman’s take on Clarissa Harlowe as a text-message-smart kid from Beverly Hills 90201 could have been rendered as a window from a mail client, but I chose to render it as a print-out – in a default Windows 7 core font, of course.


But by far the most challenging was the typographic recreation of a non-existent entry in the OED. Henry Bayliss, an assistant to Sir James Murray, prepared this, in exact adherence to dictionary style, when Murray decided in 1902 that the word radium was not widely used enough to warrant inclusion. Peter Gilliver has reproduced the spoof slip from the OED archives, and this is how it appeared in Dictionaries, 25 (2004):


Gilliver subsequently transcribed the slip to appear in Charlotte Brewer’s book on the OED:*


None of the the foundry types used for the (hand-set) OED have been digitized, so it was a matter of finding acceptable substitutes, and adjusting the sizes on the current 72 point = 1 inch system to match the traditional bodies (brevier, nonpareil) used in the dictionary. The regularity of the original’s typesetting and the fidelity of the spoof helped the task immensely. For the basic body type (brevier Oxford Old Style), Linotype Old Style 7 was used, 7.8/8pt, with normal horizontal and vertical scaling. The italic was given an additional slant of 10° to match the extreme slope of the original. For the nonpareil type, 6.4/6.5pt was used. The special ‘A’ version of Imprint, digitized by Monotype for the setting of OED2, provides the semibold old-style figures for dates. Font Bureau’s Giza, modified by expansion and additional stroke weight, substitutes for the OED’s Egyptians. Finally Rockwell, again with stroke weight adjustment, provides the bold square brackets around etymologies.


I think there are two ‘slips’ in the parody, and I corrected them in the setting, with Peter Gilliver’s approval. The subject field label Math. was italicized, and a b. was inserted to introduce the attrib. and Comb. block. I wonder if these formats were so conventional, and known to the editors and compositors, that Bayliss felt no need to include them on the slip?

* Charlotte Brewer, Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007

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Taxi drivers, doncha love ’em

Friday’s Guardian, in an article about the imminent demise of Delhi’s autorickshas, described their drivers as ‘surly, betel nut-chewing and overcharging.’ It was ever thus. Paul Stiff has pointed out the fear of being ‘dished’ by a cabman that haunted visitors to Victorian London. And the Designing information before designers exhibition points out one of the answers: an ‘indicator map’, complete with measuring tape, that allowed you to ascertain the exact distance, and therefore the reasonable fare, between any two points in London.

Edit The new issue of Baseline 58 has an article with colour illustrations of many of the items in the exhibition.

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Friday, 19 March 2010

A nation of shopkeepers

Many thanks to Mark and his staff at the Blackwell University Bookshop, who let us take over the shop for the final crit in our MA Book Design cover project. In the photo, Fraser Muggeridge (in green cardigan) looks on pensively as Anke Ueberberg explains her Idiot’s guide series.

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Together at Reading – some visitors

TypeTogether principal Veronika Burian and Adobe’s Miguel Sousa visited the Department this week to talk to MA Typeface Design students. Recently, Bryn Walls, for 20 years art director at Dorling Kindersley, worked with MA Book Design and Information Design students.

Bryn Walls (left), Rob Waller, and Emma Hicks (MAID): a study in fire safety graphics?

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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Confusing the Germans

This photograph appeared recently in an Oxford Times supplement, showing workmen removing a road sign from the Godstow Road approach to the Woodstock Road roundabout at the start of the second world war. It’s good to have a reference for the scale of pre-Worboys signs, and also an image which shows the variable character spacing and the rather odd approach to representing a roundabout of this generation of signs.

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Friday, 5 March 2010

Jost Hochuli in Reading


Following his talk at St Bride yesterday, to mark the opening of an exhibition of work by St Gallen book designers, Jost Hochuli visited Reading today to see our collections and discuss design with students on our MA programmes. The photographs show Paul Stiff explaining a point about the ‘Designing information for everyday life, 1815–1914’ exhibition; Eric Kindel in the Otto & Marie Neurath Isotype Collection; and MA Book Design student Christina Kuschkowitz presenting her home reference manual, Urban chickens.



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It’s Scotland’s apostrophe

The recent sale of railway posters from the collection of Malcolm Guest brought to light this image, guaranteed to raise the ire of any Lynne Truss.

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