As you’ve probably figured out, I like words. Not just for the way they allow us to communicate and learn, but even how they look. So Simon Garfield’s Just My Type was exactly my kind of book. Here’s some fun things I learned from it.
~Claude Garamond was a type designer in the first half of 16th century Paris. He made a highly legible font that was better (easier to read, easier to look at) than those that came before which were very much influenced by the involved German letters. Later, William Caslon in England adapted it for the printing of the Declaration of Independence. More ways we are an international people. Both Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter books use Garamond for their covers.
~ The font used for President Obama’s campaign is called ‘Gotham.’ I’m not making that up and you think it’s awesome, don’t lie.
~ Two of the most famous fonts, Verdana and Georgia were both made by a man named Mathew Carter, one of the demigods of typography. He also created Snell Roundhand, Bell Centennial, TC Galliard and Tahoma (a gateway font if ever there was one).
~Of course, you can’t talk about fonts without talking about Comic Sans. In 1994, a Microsoft employee named Vincent Connare thought Times New Roman was a bad choice for user friendly Microsoft Bob. That’s the program that was supposed to help old people not feel overwhelmed with these newfangled computer things. Times New Roman is the definition of professional, but it is also cold and brusque, and he felt something warmer and friendlier, maybe more laid back would be less threatening. Times New Roman had already been around for a long time, having been designed in the early 1930’s by Stanley Morison (‘long time’ here is relative. After all, Clarendon dates back to 1845). Connare was very much a man after my own heart. He had a copy of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns on his desk and he had read and reread Alan Moore’s Watchmen. With comic books as an inspiration, he made Comic Sans. Microsoft didn’t use it for the Bob program, which failed anyway (maybe because of Times New Roman? Maybe it was just dumb), but they did use it for Windows Movie Maker and after Windows 95 came out, it was everywhere. Thus began its descent into corporate mainstream and eventual evolution to the most hated font. Truthfully, people are fine with it on candy wrappers and toys, but not so much on say, tombstones. Connare handles his infamy quite well. It helps that he has other accomplishments and it is worth pointing out that both Comic Sans and Trebuchet (Another one of his works) are extremely helpful for teaching dyslexic children to read.
~The font Electra was meant to represent The Machine of the industrial revolution, with the spits of the furnace and the clanking of metal. It was made in 1935 by William Addison Dwigging who coined the phrase ‘graphic design.’
~The reason we refer to them as ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ cases is because they were physically kept in cases above or below the press.
~Most Jane Austen book covers use Didot, which was quite popular when she was around.
~The most popular font for book texts is called Bembo and has been around since the 1490’s.
~The oldest sans serif type is Calson Egyptian, from 1816.
~The blank space below a raised letter is called a beard.
~Eric Gill, another typographical demigod, created the shockingly named Gill Sans, a fine type and probably the most used sans serif. He had a passion for lettering. He also had a passion for sexual escapades, which wouldn’t raise much of a fuss except they usually involved his daughters, his sister and/or his dog. And that’s not a smear campaign by jealous competitors either, that all came from his own diary.
Gill Sans first appeared in 1928 as a sign for a store. Eric also created Perpetua, Joanna, Felicity, Solus, Golden Cockerel, Aries, Jubilee and Bunyan. The first PEnguin book used Gill Sans. Also, he looked like a young John Hurt.
~The font used for London’s street signs is called Albertus and was totally created by an American.
~Type is the form of letters, typography is concerned with how it looks on page, sign, screen, etc.
~Aldus Manutius created the semi-colon in the mid 1400’s. Along with Francesco Griffo and Niccolo Niccoli (a good friend of my old buddy Poggio Bracciolini), Marutius all contributed towards the creation and use of italics.
~Thomas Cobden-Sanderson didn’t want his beautiful Doves typeface to be used for ‘unworthy subject matter’ so he threw all the matrices, block letters…everything needed to make it, into the River Thames.
~An ampersand is an E and T put together and is a conflation of et, per se and.
~The Nazis insisted everyone use German fonts instead of ‘Roman’ ones, which is what pretty much the rest of the world was doing. They developed Fraktur as the ‘jackboot gothic’ type. One designer was arrested for pointing out how stupid this was. Then in 1941, they did a total about face, calling Gothic script ‘Schwabacher-Jewish,’ because everyone knows renaming totally changes the history of everything. They alleged the script was associated with Jewish bankers and printing presses, but the reality was far more mundane. 1) The occupied territories (of which they now had a few) couldn’t read their stupid font and 2) there was a shortage of type materials and Gothic is quite elaborate. Finally, 3) now they had an excuse to use Trajan style inscriptions on their already Roman inspired buildings and columns. Nazis, amirite?
~You know that plaque that’s on the Moon? It’s written in Futura.
I have more, so stay tuned. 😀