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Archive for March, 2008

Pop-up type


Can this be the first book to be promoted with a YouTube video? (Probably not.) The music and presentation seem terribly retro (I was thinking France in the 1920s, though the combination of i and j made me think of Dutch, where ij is a diphthong), but it appears to be something brand new – a book, by Marion Bataille, that’s coming out next fall. A simple alphabet, but treated anything but simply. I wonder what the manufacturing costs for this book were.

A tip o’ the hat to Jeff Barlow for pointing this one out.

Coalition of the orthogonal


“But a designer is not a major industrialist,” says Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer and self-described “design ideologue,” in an interview about Torino, the northern Italian industrial city that has been designated the first World Design Capital. “A designer is usually somebody who is putting together a coalition of engineers and financiers, marketers, advertising people and consumers, who can think the thing through and make it more user-friendly, cheaper, modish and a little ahead of the game.

“So what the designer is bringing to the table is a new conception of the product, and the coalition he’s able to form by coming in orthogonally and resolving a lot of the issues. If you tear most manufactured objects apart, you’d be able to name the departments who put it together. [Looks at the audio recorder] ‘This is the electric engineering guy, this is the console guy, these are the optics guys, the marketing department insisted on putting this logo here, and the legal department put that warning there…’, et cetera. Whereas the designer can come in, melt these warring things together, get everybody on the same page, and come up with something that looks really great to someone who is not one of the gang.”

Bruce has a great ability to see how things connect; and to see how everything could be shaken up so it connects better.

I was, as far as I know, the first editor to publish Bruce Sterling on design, when I was editor and publisher of U&lc Online. I was creating a web-based companion to U&lc, and to do so I brought in a trio of rotating columnists: Olav Martin Kvern, Eileen Gunn, and Bruce Sterling – one each month, to synch up with the quarterly publishing schedule of the printed magazine. It seems today like an amazingly slow, leisurely schedule for an online publication, but at the time it made sense. You can still find some of Bruce’s columns, “Look at the Underside First,” although the design and formatting has changed, in the archives of the ITC website.

I like the notion of designers putting together coalitions; it matches the complex way in which design really happens. There’s always a big emphasis on design superstars, sort of the auteur theory of design, but in fact design is always collaborative.

Helvetica in Seattle


If you’re in Seattle, the city whose name is notoriously hard to kern, note that Northwest Film Forum is showing Gary Hustwit’s film Helvetica tonight and Thursday night, as part of ByDesign08, co-sponsored by the Seattle chapter of AIGA. It’s a film well worth seeing, not only for its portrayal of the typeface but for its investigation of how type is part of our everyday visual experience, whether we notice it or not.

The other letters: women printers in Mexico


In Mexico City a couple of weeks ago, when we had lunch with members of the local type community in the café of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, I met Marina Garone, an Argentinian typographer who lives and works in Mexico. She told us about the exhibition and lecture series she had just organized, “Las otras letras: mujeres impresoras en el mundo del libro antiguo,” about the traditions and history of women printers, and how they embodied the “professional, intellectual and economic life of women.” The opening, which Eileen and I would dearly have loved to be able to attend, was to take place on March 8, in Puebla.

The lecture program is taking place this week, at the Lafragua Library and the Palafoxiana Library, which are co-hosting the events.

“With this exhibition we want to present an aspect of the history of books and printing which is practically unknown in the Iberoamerican world: prints in which the professional, intellectual and economic life of women is reflected. In this exhibition, a total of 63 works printed by Spanish, Mexican, Flemish, and French women, undertaken between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, will be presented.”

At lunch, Marina gave Eileen an impressive book, Casa de la primera imprenta de América: X aniversario, published by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in 2004, celebrating the earliest printshop in the Americas, which includes her essay “Herederas de la letra: mujeres y tipografía en la Nueva España” (heirs – heiresses, literally – of the letter: women and typography in New Spain). This is clearly a fertile area for investigation.

When I asked Marina whether the exhibition would travel, she named a number of cities around Mexico and also in Spain where it was scheduled to be shown; and I hope it will come to the United States sometime as well. I think it should. Certainly I know many women printers in this country – and those who appreciate them – who would be glad to see it.

The future is here


We’ve all been reading for quite a while about the future of advertising, where ads would be targeted directly at each individual consumer, based on information collected about our buying habits, our viewing habits, our listening habits, maybe even our philosophical habits. But I hadn’t realized that it was already happening.

Yesterday I dropped by a local website that I check periodically, Crosscut, a Seattle-based news and comment site with some smart thinking and good writing. As I browsed down the home page, I came across an ad from Amazon – and stopped cold. The four books being advertised were all design and printing books. All of them. How likely is that? Would the average reader have a yen for books about graphic design? No, but I would; in fact, my recent browsing habits on Amazon would probably show a lot of books about typography and related subjects. Was this ad tailored specifically to me?

Personally tailored Amazon ad

The answer is yes. If you click on the ad’s link to “Privacy Information,” you find that, indeed, Amazon is using their records of what you’ve looked at on their site, and choosing which books to push in their ad based on that. Which means that each Amazon ad on Crosscut (or any other website that hosts such an ad) varies its content depending on who’s looking at it, or more precisely whose computer you’re using to look at it. The future is here.

If you refresh the web page, the Amazon ad changes its contents – but they’re still based on your own recent patterns at Amazon’s own site. The contents even seem to vary by web browser; I was using Safari when I discovered this, but logging on to Crosscut from Firefox brought up an Amazon ad with no obvious relationship to me. (Something to do with how my preferences are set in the two browsers? Probably.)

I’m never surprised by invasions of info-privacy; I’ve read enough science fiction to have been expecting this for a long time. But the potential for embarrassment, at the very least, is large. You log on from somebody else’s computer, and when you get to the Amazon ad, you see a suspicious number of books about…typography! “You, uh, look at a lot of, uh, ‘type,’ don’t you?” you ask your friend. His guilty secret is out, for all the world to see.

Update March 10:

Today’s New York Times has an article on this very subject – how web ads are being targeted directly to individuals – but it conspicuously fails to mention Amazon. A surprising omission.