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Archive for September, 2013

At last: Dolly Pro

Published

One of my favorite book typefaces is finally available as an OpenType font. (More precisely, it’s available as a family of OpenType fonts.) Dolly, designed by the Dutch/Finnish “pan-European design collective” Underware, was released in 2001 as a set of four PostScript fonts: roman, italic, small caps, and bold. It was intended from the first as “a book typeface with flourishes,” as the Underware website has it. I used the original version of Dolly as the text face for Stable Strategies and Others, the first short-story collection by my partner Eileen Gunn (Tachyon Publications, 2004), and I have used it in other books since.

Text in Dolly, from 'Stable Strategies and Others'

But I’ve been hesitant to use it in recent years, simply because I’ve grown accustomed to only using OpenType fonts that incorporate advanced typographic features like small caps, old-style figures, ligatures, and alternate characters in the same font as the standard character set. With an OpenType font like that, you can apply those features within InDesign without altering the flow of the text; that is, the characters in the original text string remain exactly as they were, so reusing or repurposing the text is easy and almost seamless. (I say “almost” because I usually massage the text in a book by forcing line breaks here and there for better readability; if that text is going to be exported or copied for further use, those breaks need to be taken out. Similarly, I often insert a hair space between, say, an italic exclamation point and a roman close-quote, rather than using kerning to fix the spacing; but that might not be useful if the text is being exported for use in an e-book.)

Last spring, Underware finally upgraded their entire type library to OpenType, taking the opportunity to add new ligatures and alternate glyphs, alternate figures, and much wider multilingual Latin-script support to Dolly and many other of their type families. Of course, since no type designer can resist fiddling with the design when given the chance, Dolly has a lot of improvements to individual characters, most of them very slight but still adding up to enough difference that you couldn’t simply apply Dolly Pro to a passage typeset in Dolly and expect not to see some text reflow. But that’s often true of font upgrades; and the original Dolly fonts are still on my system and available if I need them.

Meanwhile, I’ve already used the new Dolly Pro in a book: a self-published memoir by my nephew Mark L Berry, a commercial-airline pilot and the other writer in the family. The book, 17,360 Feet: My Personal Hole in the Sky, is available now as an e-book (not designed by me) and a printed book from Amazon.

Dolly roman is a low-contrast old-style that appears comfortingly traditional at text sizes, although if you look at it closely you realize that it has some very odd angles and curves in the details of the letters; it’s a sort of rounded roman, with asymmetrical serifs and no real straight lines, despite its upright and sturdy demeanor. The italic is downright sinuous, although based on easily recognizable italic forms. There have been a number of type designs since 2001 that echoed Dolly’s characteristics, but none that has surpassed it for sheer usefulness.

[Images: logo from the Underware website page about Dolly Pro (above left); an example of text in Dolly, from Stable Strategies and Others (above).]

TypeCon Port L’ampersand

Published

For last month’s TypeCon in Portland, Oregon (“TypeCon Portl&” as it was dubbed), Jules Faye and I prepared a talk about the work of her late partner Chris Stern, who was an innovative letterpress printer with a particular fondness for sans-serif type. Although he came to typography through learning to set phototype at a local job shop, and later headed up the type department at the fledgling Microsoft Press, Chris taught himself letterpress printing and became an expert in hand-set and hot-metal typesetting. At his death, Chris had been working on a manifesto about the use of sans-serif type in metal, with lots of images both informative and playful and lots of samples of carefully set Monotype and foundry sans-serif type. He never completed this work, but Jules unearthed enough notes and proofs and trial settings that we could weave a narrative around them that we thought would inspire some of the printers and typographers in the audience.

We got to show some of Chris’s meticulously layered typographic compositions, as well as fanciful characters – printed faces and bodies made up entirely of metal type. We also showed some of his serious book work (concentrating on the ones where he used sans-serif), as well as some sample spreads for his unfinished manifesto: juxtaposing sober blocks of sample text with whimsical but pointed illustrations. I even scanned and zoomed in on several pages of Chris’s notes and edits to his own proposed text – but a little of that goes a long way when you’re seeing it projected on a big screen. One passage from his own text that we quoted and showed in a sample setting was his description of the type for the manifesto itself: “Sans Transgression/ This book was going to be 100% sans serif. It seemed only fitting, after all. But along the byways of design, Commercial Script jumped into my path and I couldn’t resist. I feel confident that this will be my only sans transgression. My partner, however, says not to worry because there aren’t any serifs, just swirls.”

Among my favorite images are the multi-color prints of U-Man, an anthropomorphic character whose body is a bold, condensed capital U (sans-serif, of course!) and whose other body parts sometimes changed from one incarnation to the next.

In presenting this material, Jules felt that we were opening up Chris’s unfinished manifesto and giving it a continuing life, whatever form that may take. Nothing is ever finished.

Warning! Adults Only! Product contains letterforms at their most exposed! Viewer Discretion Is Advised. Adults Only: Warning!

On Sunday afternoon, I caught a city bus up to the north end of town for an open house at the C.C. Stern Foundry, which is now the home of much of the printing and type-casting equipment that once filled up the barn at the “printing farm” of Stern & Faye. Many TypeCon attendees made the trek, so there was a lively group of printers, typographers, and interested amateurs. And whoever designed the nametags for the volunteer staff of C.C. Stern put to shame the design of the TypeCon nametags, which (typically) gave pride of place to the logo and kept the name too small to read from across a room.

This was a good TypeCon, full of good conversations and with a number of excellent talks and presentations. Of course Portland is a great city to visit – it’s hipster central, a land of coffee, beer, wine, and food trucks, with a very convenient transit system. The weather even gave us a taste of Northwest drizzle, though it also gave us some un-Northwestern warm humidity. I think pretty much everyone had a good time.

The visual identity for this TypeCon rendered the host city as “Portl&” in a very retro-’80s graphic style. I kept referring to it as “Port L’ampersand” – the little settlement on the Willamette River that grew up to be a real city written with real letters.

Next up on the typographic calendar: ATypI in Amsterdam, October 9–13. See you there?

Hanging by a serif

Published

Recently I published a little booklet called Hanging by a serif: a few words about designing with words. This is the culmination of a project I’ve been working on, off and on, for more than a year: pulling a selection of statements about typography and design from my own writing and presenting them, one to a page, along with a simple decorative element. The hook – quite literally, in some cases – is that those visual elements are all enlarged details of serifs, taken from a wide variety of typefaces. (You’d be surprised how much alike the serifs look on a lot of otherwise distinctive typefaces, when you blow them up in size and cut off the rest of the letter.) I had fun with this, as you might imagine. The hardest part was forcing myself to edit or rewrite my own words, to make them more appropriate to this format and purpose. It was also difficult choosing the quotes, and picking the serifs, but that was the kind of task that you can only revel in: a richness of choice.

One early recipient of a digital version, Scott-Martin Kosofsky, unexpectedly suggested that I “may have invented a new genre, design maxims, making you a kind of typographic Rochefoucauld.” I certainly doubt that my little booklet will go through as many editions and revisions as La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes, but I’ll be happy if it finds a use in the hands of its readers.

For an early draft, which I wanted to take with me on a visit to San Francisco to show to Jack Stauffacher and others at one of his weekly Friday lunches, I had trouble getting the booklet to print properly as page spreads, so I just printed the pages individually and bundled them into a wrap-around folded cover, just to suggest how it might all work as a booklet. What that inadvertant format showed me, however, was that these pages could also work singly, as individual cards. The actual content of those pages has undergone a good bit of revision since that San Francisco trip, but this is the reason why I’m offering Hanging by a serif both as a saddle-stitched booklet and as a set of cards.

When I showed a version of the cards to Juliet Shen at one of our local typographers’ pub gatherings, her immediate thought was, “I could give each of my students one of these and have them do a project based on it.” I hadn’t thought of that; perhaps they have a future use as a teaching tool. (You be the judge.)

This is the “first iteration” of Hanging by a serif; I’m sure it will evolve and appear draped in other clothes. Right now, you can buy the booklet or the cards from the newly created Shop page on this website, and they will undoubtedly be available through other sellers eventually. I sold a few at TypeCon in the SOTA store, and I expect I’ll have at least a few with me at next month’s ATypI conference in Amsterdam. Or you can use PayPal to buy a copy right here, and have me send it to you directly. (If you’re interested in a larger quantity, just send me e-mail at john johndberry com and let me know.)