Friday, October 5, 2012

Space: The Initial Frontier

Space: The Initial Frontier:
Book review — Inside Paragraphs
I have long admired Cyrus Highsmith, both for his type design (Benton Sans, Prensa, Zócalo, & many besides) and his wonderfully unique style of illustration and lettering. In his debut book, Inside Paragraphs: typographic fundamentals, he brings both of these talents to bear on a single topic, the paragraph. The book might alternatively have been titled ‘Space: the initial frontier’ for its principal focus is what goes on inside — not a book, not a page, but — a single paragraph of text — and as what goes on inside is mostly space, white space, or negative space, it is the ideal starting point for an introduction to the craft of setting type, to typography.

Usually I dislike books that are wider than they are tall. I find them uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of reading. However, Inside Paragraphs works despite its backwards proportions: it is light and perfect bound, happily folding back on itself for single-handed reading.
The typography is simple and precise: Ibis Text plus Scout (both by Highsmith), generous margins, white space aplenty, beautiful and practical illustrations. The writing is informal, incisive, and fluid; the tone never condescending. Inside Paragraphs is a TARDIS of a book, its 100 pages peppered with gems like,
‘Setting type can be thought of as a collaboration between the typographer and the typeface.’
phrases like ‘hierarchy of white space’, plus practical advice about everything from optimal and optimum parameters for H&J, and why all-caps settings require more space.

Too often introductory texts fail the reader by trying to cover too many topics superficially — like a whistle-stop tour of some great city, where you’ll be sure to see all the sites, but learn little of any substance about them. Highsmith might easily have expanded each section by tens of pages, but the book is all the better for its brevity and his abstemiousness.
To write more about this book would demand spoiler alerts, so I will wrap it up here in, appropriately enough, a single paragraph:
Inside Paragraphs should be required reading for everyone who studies typography and graphic design. It will also be of interest to anyone else wondering why typography matters. It costs about three Venti Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mochas ($15). Buy it.

Sponsored by H&FJ.

Space: The Initial Frontier

Beauty and Ugliness in Type design

Beauty and Ugliness in Type design:
Peter Biľak on the process of designing his newly released Karloff typeface, demonstrating just how closely related beauty and ugliness are. Karloff explores the idea of irreconcilable differences — how two extremes could be combined into a coherent whole.

In 2010 I was invited to a design conference in Copenhagen to speak on the subject of conceptual type. The organisers were interested in examples of typefaces whose principal design feature was not related to aesthetic considerations or legibility, but rather some underlying non-typographical idea. In my address I argued that there is no such thing as conceptual type, since type design is a discipline defined by its ability to execute an outcome; the process that transforms the pure idea into a functional font is a critical part of the discipline. Having rejected the topic of the conference, I nevertheless went on to speculate on what a true example of a conceptual typeface might be like.

At the time I was also interested in the idea of irreconcilable differences and how two extremes could be combined into a coherent whole. As an example, I looked for the most beautiful typeface in the history of typography — as well as the ugliest one — and for a way to meld them.
The Beauty
While any choice representing beauty is bound to be very personal and subjective, many agree that the high-contrast typefaces created by Giambattista Bodoni and the Didot clan are some of the most beautiful in existence.
Bodoni was one of the most widely-admired printers of his time and considered amongst the finest in the history of the craft. Thomas Curson Hansard wrote in 1825 that Bodoni’s types had “that beautiful and perfect appearance, which we find it difficult and highly expensive to equal.”¹ In his Manuale Tipografico of 1818, Bodoni laid down the four principles of type design “from which all beauty would seem to proceed”, namely: regularity, clarity, good taste, and charm.

His close competitors in France were the Didots. Not only did François-Ambroise Didot invent many of the machines used in printing, but his foundry endeavoured to render the types more beautifully than his rivals Baskerville and (later) Bodoni. Some considered Didot’s works the most beautiful types that had ever been used in France (up to that period),² though others found them delicate but lifeless.³
Didot, Impremirie Nationale, 36pt
The Ugliness
I have to admit that dealing with ugliness was a lot more interesting than revisiting the beauty contests of the classicist printers. The search for ugliness triggers a certain primal, voyeuristic curiosity, and from the designer’s perspective there is simply a lot more space to explore. Capturing beauty has always been considered the primary responsibility of the traditional artist, and even now it is rare to find examples of skilled and deliberate ugliness in type design, (although examples of inexperience and naïveté abound).
The eccentric ‘Italian’ from the middle of the Industrial Revolution was a clear choice. This reversed-contrast typeface was designed to deliberately attract readers’ attention by defying their expectations. Strokes that were thick in classical models were thin, and vice versa — a dirty trick to create freakish letterforms that stood out in the increasingly saturated world of commercial messages.
Five-Line Pica Italian
No other style in the history of typography has provoked such negative reactions as the Italian. It was first presented in Caslon & Catherwood’s 1821 type specimen, and as early as 1825, in his Typographia Thomas Hansard called the type a “typographic monstrosity”. Nicolete Gray called it “a crude expression of the idea of perversity”, while others labeled it as “degenerate”.

The goal of my project was to show just how closely related beauty and ugliness are. Donald Knuth, an American computer scientist with a special interest in typography identified over 60 visual parameters that control the appearance of a typeface. I was interested in designing typeface variations that shared most of these parameters, yet included both the ugliest and most beautiful letterforms.
Karloff, the result of this project, connects the high contrast Modern type of Bodoni and Didot with the monstrous Italians. The difference between the attractive and repulsive forms lies in a single design parameter, the contrast between the thick and the thin.

Karloff Positive

Karloff Positive Italic

Karloff Negative Bold

Karloff Negative Bold Italic
I asked Pieter van Rosmalen for help, and both of us worked on both versions. While at the beginning I looked at the Didot from Imprimerie Nationale as a reference, Pieter departed from this model and made the project more personal. We worked on both models at the same time, trying to be very strict about mathematically reversing the contrast between two weights. The advantage of working on both versions together was that we could adjust both of them to achieve the best forms, rather than creating one as an afterthought of the other.

Towards the end of the project, I worked with Nikola Djurek, our frequent collaborator, who helped with interpolation and fine-tuning of the fonts. Having designed two diametrically opposite versions, we undertook a genetic experiment with the offspring of the beauty and the beast, interpolation of the two extremes, which produced a surprisingly neutral low contrast version. Karloff Neutral required only minimal intervention, because the master weights from which it was interpolated were well defined.
About the name
Karloff was the artistic name of the British actor William Henry Pratt. He chose this pseudonym to prevent embarrassment to his dignified family, who considered him the black sheep of the family. Although he played mainly sinister characters, in real life, Karloff was known as a very kind gentleman who gave generously, especially to children’s charities.

Thanks to Paul Shaw, James Clough, and David Shields.
1. Hansard, Thomas C. Typographia: an Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing, 1825.

2. Encyclopædia Americana, 1832.

3. Updike, Daniel B. Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use, 2001.

4. Gray, Nicolete. Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces, 1938

5. Benson, John H and Carey, Arthur J. The Elements of Lettering, 1940

Sponsored by H&FJ.

Beauty and Ugliness in Type design

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Science of the Seasons

Monday, May 28, 2012

Things really Do Change

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Migration Map 2011 Hummingbirds

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Very Nice Vacation

This was taken at the Atlanta Thrashers Game, Me and my kids Sara and Aaron. Got to see Em , Graeme and the Grandkids. =)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

FDR thinking ahead...

Second Bill of Rights

Every American is entitled to:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of farmers to raise and sell their products at a return which will give them and their families a decent living;

The right of every business man, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, and sickness, and accident and unemployment;

The right to a good education.