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Archive for the category ‘fonts’

Mike Parker 1929–2014

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It’s hard to remember when I first met Mike Parker. I’m sure I had seen him and heard him at ATypI and other conferences before I ever got to know him; his tall, erect posture and booming voice were hard to miss, whether he was making a pronouncement or telling a joke (sometimes both at the same time).

I certainly got to know him better when he moved to Seattle for a while in the mid-1990s, to provide the typographic vision behind a start-up called Design Intelligence. Mike recruited me to design templates that would use suites of typefaces and hierarchical page designs to create a system of flexible layouts in various styles – not unlike what he had been working on already with his Pages Software, and not unlike what we are still trying to do today with adaptive page layout onscreen. We used to talk about where this idea could be taken, and while we were doing that he would tell me stories from his long history in the typographic field.

Mike was an inveterate storyteller. He might have embellished a story or two, as one does, but they were all wonderful to listen to. And they filled in many a hole in the history of type and the people who made it. Pity I can’t remember any of them in detail.

I do remember two incidents from somewhat later, during the San Francisco TypeCon in 2004. There was a big party hosted by a design firm in its studio on the top floor of an old building south of Market Street; everyone was invited, but the only access was through a rather small elevator, so you might have a long wait before you got to ascend to the party floor – and once there, you’d be reluctant to leave. Both Mike and I found ourselves uninterested in the lively dance scene that dominated the room, so we grabbed a couple of folding chairs, propped them against the wall, and spent the next hour or two watching the action and chatting comfortably between ourselves. That, I believe, was when Mike explained to me the chthonic origins of a river name in England, and regaled me with tales of the neolithic standing stones at Avebury. This was an altogether perfect way to spend the evening. Every once in a while, one of us would get up (usually me) and get us another couple of drinks.

The other conversation I remember from the same conference was over dinner, at an Italian restaurant near Union Square that Mike suggested. I don’t recall how we got on the subject, but we were talking about the transition from metal type to phototype and then to digital type, and the design compromises that had been made in adapting so many text faces to the new technology. In particular, I mentioned ITC New Baskerville, which had begun life as Mergenthaler’s adaptation to phototype of a popular Linotype text face. I lamented that New Baskerville seemed too “bright,” too high-contrast, to work well in text, and I speculated that in adapting the design from metal, they had used too large a master (14pt or larger) rather than a text size such as 10pt.

What I was momentarily forgetting was that Mike Parker had been, for more than a decade, the head of typographic development at Mergenthaler, overseeing the transition of their library from hot metal to phototype.

Mike just leaned over the table toward me and said, quietly, “I’m sorry.”

I started, then we both laughed, and continued the conversation.

[Image: From the cover of a tribute booklet from TypeCon 2012, when Mike was given the 2012 SOTA Typography Award. Illustration by Cyrus Highsmith. The type, of course, is Starling.]

At last: Dolly Pro

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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).]

The Briem Report

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Last year, after a highly entertaining turn as the keynote speaker at the ATypI conference in Reykjavík in 2011, designer and lettering artist Gunnlaugur SE Briem asked around 100 practitioners of lettering or typography to contribute a two-page spread each to a new compendium, The Briem Report: Letterforms 2012. I was pleased to be among those invited to participate. The resulting volume was published earlier this year as a freely downloadable PDF, and recently Briem sent printed copies to all the contributors. (I recommend the print-quality PDF, as the hard copy is a black-and-white print-on-demand edition; you can order it from Amazon and it’s wonderful to have, but I consider the core edition to be the digital one.)

Briem did something similar once before, in 1986, when he edited and produced a book for Thames & Hudson called Sixty Alphabets, asking sixty noted calligraphers to introduce themselves and their work and to contribute a design of their own choice. That in turn had been inspired by a much earlier compendium, Dossier A–Z 1973, which had been put together in 1973 by Fernand Baudin for that year’s ATypI congress in Copenhagen, on the theme of “Education in the Design of Letter Forms.” Both Baudin’s 1973 volume and Briem’s 1986 one examined the place of written letter forms in a world dominated by print. The Briem Report takes this one step further: what is the place of both calligraphy and type design in a world that’s becoming thoroughly digital? Baudin was looking at the changing nature of type and letter design in 1973; Briem is asking much the same question today.

The answers are all over the place; there is no one thesis to be found in this anthology. But as a snapshot of current practice and ideas, it’s invaluable. The contributors include most of the people you might expect, and many that you might not be aware of; Briem drew from many different streams of practice. Some are artists, some are technical experts, many are educators. As Briem describes the book, aptly (and in thoroughly Briem fashion), on his Operina website: “Inspiring ideas, firm convictions, lovely dreams.”

Trajan & Hebrew & Arabic, oh my!

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Last year I wrote the texts for four new digital specimen books for extensions to Adobe Originals typefaces, and just last week Adobe posted those specimens online. All of them are additions to existing type families: two derive from Trajan (Trajan Pro 3, which extends both the number of weights and the language coverage, and the new Trajan Sans) and two from Myriad (Hebrew and Arabic versions of this widespread humanist sans). The project gave me an opportunity to delve into the history of the inscription on the Trajan column in Rome (which, almost every time I’ve tried to take a close look at it, was chiuso per restauro and wrapped in a blue plastic tarp), and an even more interesting chance to learn about the design of both Hebrew and Arabic typefaces. The latter pair gave me an excuse to engage the considerable knowledge and expertise of Scott-Martin Kosofsky, a typographer of fine sensibilities and an expert in bilingual Hebrew/English publishing, and Mamoun Sakkal, an expert in Arabic type design with a particular penchant for the style known as square kufic (though this is not, actually, the tradition that the Myriad Arabic extension draws on) and a friend who, happily, lives in the Seattle area. Mamoun, along with his software-coding daughter Aida, had been expanding my knowledge of Arabic for some time; Scott I met through this project, and have been learning from quite happily ever since.

I should be quite clear: I can neither read nor write either Hebrew or Arabic, although I’ve learned quite a lot about the design of typefaces in both scripts. And about the quixotic and sometimes contradictory nature of designing “sans serif” typefaces in either script. Not to mention the fraught question of what it means to have an “italic” in either Hebrew or Arabic, neither of which has any such tradition before the digital age.

P.S.: I was quite pleased to notice that one of the samples of Myriad Arabic in action was bilingual versions of three poems by Maram al-Massri (with English translation by Khaled al-Mattawa) that had been published by Copper Canyon Press, an excellent international poetry publisher for whom I have done a lot of book design in the past. Synchronicity is everywhere.

Garamond after Garamond

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James Felici has an article on CreativePro about the many different typefaces called “Garamond.” It’s not a new subject, but it’s one that we need to be reminded of every so often. As Felici explains, many of the typefaces that we know as “Garamond” are actually not based directly on the work of Claude Garamond, the 16th-century French punchcutter, but on the work of Jean Jannon, who was working several decades later. Jannon was inspired by Garamond, but his types are distinctly different.

I took a crack at explaining this myself in the early ’90s with a Garamond family tree that I put together for Aldus magazine. (When I say “put together,” I mean that I researched it, organized it, and wrote the text; I did not, however, design the actual page.) That’s what you see a snapshot of over there to the left.

The tree gets complicated. Monotype Garamond, for instance, is a Jannon revival; so is Garamond No. 3, released by Mergenthaler Linotype in the early 20th century. ITC Garamond, although its letter forms are clearly based on Jannon’s, is so wildly inflated and exaggerated that I always wish ITC hadn’t called it “Garamond” at all; it’s a useful advertising typeface, but never a book face. Stempel Garamond, on the other hand, is based on Claude Garamond’s own types; so is Adobe Garamond, and the even better Garamond Premier Pro (both designed by Robert Slimbach).

Garamond Premier Pro was Slimbach’s return to the source several years after he designed Adobe Garamond (and well after I created this family tree). Although both of them are based on the Garamond type specimens in the archives of the Plantin-Moretus museum, Garamond Premier draws on several sizes of Garamond’s types to create optical sizes for the digital typeface. I find it a more satisfying and versatile typeface.

[Images: Garamond family tree (top), from Aldus magazine, March/April 1993; samples (bottom) of optical sizes of Garamond Premier Pro.]

Unfortunate signage

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The street signs in the town of Alcoa, Tenn., which I found myself driving through a couple of weeks ago, have this unusual choice of typeface. It looks like Impact, though a bit straighter and narrower than even that impactful typeface. You can see what whoever chose this was thinking: keep it narrow but bold, something that will really stand out when seen from a car driving up to an intersection. The unfortunate part is that it’s too bold; it certainly draws your eye, but that doesn’t make it legible. The excessively fat strokes combined with the compressed shapes, and the very tight spacing and tiny counters, make it turn into a blob of black (or, in this case, white) against the background, so that it’s not in fact easy to read at all.

Oh well. Nice try.

Verdigris goes Big & Pro

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People often ask me, “Which is your favorite typeface?” I always say that it’s a question that can’t really be answered, since it depends entirely on context: what’s the best typeface for this particular use? But, truth be told, for quite a while I have had a favorite, at least as a text face for books: Mark van Bronkhorst’s MVB Verdigris. I’ve used it a lot; it’s the text typeface of my two Dot-font books, and I even secured Mark’s permission to use it in the downloadable PDFs of those two books’ text. Inspired originally by small sizes of the types of Robert Granjon and Pierre Haultin, it’s wonderfully readable. The italic is especially striking.

Now Mark has released an OpenType Pro version, MVB Verdigris Pro Text, with expanded weights and styles, a few tiny reworkings, a lot of OpenType layout features, and a companion display face for use at large sizes, MVB Verdigris Pro Big.

What I wrote about Verdigris in 2004 still holds true today; but since then I can attest to my own happy experience using the typeface extensively. The one stumbling block for me in recent years has been that Verdigris wasn’t available as an OpenType font; in order to use its extensive typographic features, you had to jump through the old hoops of search-and-replace, choosing alternate characters or a separate font for such refinements as ligatures and small caps. No more! With Verdigris Pro, van Bronkhorst has given us a thoroughly workable book face, ready for the back-and-forth text flow of contemporary production.

Verdigris Big has no italic (at least so far), but its two weights ought to be quite useful in classical-looking display typography. The obvious comparison is with Matthew Carter’s wonderful Big Caslon. Although Carter’s sources and van Bronkhorst’s are different (18th-century Caslon vs. 16th-century van den Keere), they’re in the same ballpark; and neither of the two designers was after a strict revival. Like Big Caslon, Verdigris Big emphasizes contrast and sparkle at large sizes, though with a somewhat looser fit and a Renaissance stateliness.

As usual, Mark van Bronkhorst has produced an elegant PDF type specimen to accompany his new release.

Text on the pages of iBooks

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Two intelligent blog posts appeared today covering the new iBooks software and its choice of fonts; both of them included a link to my 2001 review of one of the new type choices: Iowan Old Style. I’m pleased to see John Downer’s Iowan Old Style get its due at last; I’m even more pleased to see iBooks expand its typographic palette in the direction of actual text typefaces. (Now about actual typography…)

Glenn Fleishman’s essay for Boing Boing is insightful and mindful of the cyclical development of typographic technology; he also mentions the current problems with trying to incorporate web fonts in e-books. Yves Peters in the FontFeed has more to say about the history of the typeface designs, and his illustrations cleverly show the fonts in all three of iBooks’ screen views or “themes.”

What I don’t understand is why Apple chose to drop three of the previous iBooks fonts (Cochin, Baskerville – really Monotype Baskerville – and Verdana). None of them were ideal for books onscreen, but why reduce the choices instead of simply adding to them?

And now the newly introduced Seravek is the only sans serif font available for reading in iBooks. It’s a nicely designed humanist sans, but it doesn’t have to be the only sans, humanist or otherwise, on the system. And the small eyes of Seravek’s e and a tend to visually close up under some circumstances.

[Image: one of the illustrations from Yves Peters’ review, showing Iowan Old Style. In the FontFeed original, you can click on any of the three sections to see the full page in that view.]

Georgia & Verdana’s expanded palette

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While I was a program manager at Microsoft Typography, two of the typefaces that fell within my purview were Georgia and Verdana, the highly readable screen fonts designed by Matthew Carter in the 1990s to make reading text onscreen easier on the eyes. So I was in a position to encourage and approve a joint project of Ascender Corporation (now a part of Monotype Imaging) and the Font Bureau to work with Carter to create a much-expanded set of fonts for both Georgia and Verdana. The project was announced two years ago; this week, Font Bureau and Monotype Imaging have released the new fonts.

Georgia Pro and Verdana Pro are now large type families, with five weights instead of two, each one with its accompanying italic, as well as small caps and several alternate kinds of numerals; and all of those weights and styles are repeated in condensed form. This makes it possible to have truly bold headlines in either typeface, or to fit copy into narrow measures, or to combine weights and widths in expressive ways within a typographically consistent page.

Not surprisingly, given the advent of downloadable web fonts, both Georgia Pro and Verdana Pro are being shown off in a web-based type specimen from Webtype. And they’ve been hinted to be as consistent as possible across platforms and browsers.

I’m looking forward to seeing them put to use.

Type different

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Thomas Phinney wrote a thoughtful blog post last week about “The Impact of Steve Jobs on Typography”: about how the Mac pioneered proportional fonts on the screen, and how the combination of Aldus PageMaker and the LaserWriter created desktop publishing; and about a host of later improvements and developments: “Being able to see what fonts look like on screen. Showing proportional fonts on screen. Scaling the same font outlines for screen as for print. Putting a ‘font’ menu in applications, and having all applications share a pool of fonts installed at the system level (instead of associated with some specific printer).” Jobs was famously attentive to details; more to the point, he was famously attentive to the details of design. His flare and care for industrial design made Apple’s products desirable – and usable.

Which is why I’ve always been disappointed that Apple doesn’t bring that same level of perfectionism to its use of type. The graphic design, both in Apple’s marketing and in its products themselves, is always careful and clean; but the choices of fonts have been erratic, and they’re not always used consistently. Just looking at a current page of the Apple website, about Mac products, I see both their corporate font, Myriad, and the current Mac user-interface font, Lucida Grande. Both are well-designed humanist sans-serif typefaces, and either one works well; they actually play together better than you would think, but it’s still subtly jarring to see two competing sans serifs on the same page. But that’s not all.

Ever since the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has been moving toward using versions of Helvetica on screen. I’ve written before about the problem with reading numbers in Helvetica. The same repetition of shapes that makes Helvetica look consistent and “modern” (or at least retro-modern) creates ambiguity and makes it all too easy to mistake one number or letter for another. As Thomas Phinney said in a comment on his own post, “I love iOS, but I am still horrified that it uses Helvetica as a UI font.”