Document 25783

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Font 005
letters are the hard-working
stiffs of our media-based economy.
They quietly go about their business,
rarely complain, and almost never
stray out of line. Organizing is what
they’re all about. After countless years
of first talking and then walking,
you’d have expected them to form
a brotherhood, a union, or at least
a political action committee. But
since there’s no lobbyist in sight,
eager to advance their cause, we must
remember that, in their many shapes
and sizes, letters are the unsung
heroes of the everyday. If you can read
this, then they’re on the job.
But what happens when a letter
gets hammered on an all-night
bender, loses a descender in a freak
industrial accident, or, even worse,
forgets to take its daily anti-alias
pills and starts hallucinating? Words
collapse, meaning becomes distorted,
and messages fall prey to multiple
That’s what went down three decades
ago when teenagers battled it out on
the streets of New York City – not
with knives or guns, but with letters.
Rocking to the beat, “b-boys” made
the break world famous, and graffiti
became the city’s cultural calling card.
Things got ill – and ill-legible.
feature: Ill Legible
Graffiti artist daim concentrates on four simple letters to push
personal and visual boundaries in his highly stylized threedimensional writing. More than a name, daim is a tool for
experimenting with and exploring form, identity, and space as
illustrated in this piece created in Buenos Aires during a 2001
“Graffiti World Tour.”
For this issue of Font, our fifth, we
focus on legibility. Graphic designer
and writer Ian Lynam takes us
for a ride on a throwback tour of
graffiti and graf culture. He updates
the historic scene with the latest
innovations and cross-fertilizations,
reminding us that graffiti artists
still have the write stuff. Illustrator
and jill-of-all-trades Marian Bantjes
contributes once again to Font with a
lighthearted look at the Latin alphabet
that begs the question: should our 26
industrious friends hit the showers
for a little freshening up?
Font continues its role as an exploratory vehicle for letterforms, a superb
resource for designers, and a great
hangover remedy. We hope that you
will enjoy this issue – we sure had
fun putting it together.
Amos Klausner
Fonts and images – steal our concepts or mix your own
Traveling the paths of urban pioneers with Ian Lynam
new fonts
The greatest of the latest
foundry spotlight
Type-Ø-Tones, MVB Fonts, Fountain, and OurType
featured distractions
Mayor Ed Koch called it vandalism;
graffiti artists called it art, and, in one
of the strangest turns, letters became
the lifeblood of a forgotten urban
class. They tagged their way across
all five boroughs, going “all-city”
with unconventional letter variations
that meant little to the public and
everything to these new kings and
queens of New York.
Get lost finding new type
Marian Bantjes reviews the alphabet
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Brooks’ interes in
the mating rituals
of worms stems
from an early
obsession in all
things soil-based.
From this passion
grew a more academic discovery
into those creatures whom soil is
first and foremost
their only home.
Traveling the Paths of Urban Pioneers
by Ian Lynam
Graffiti is as old as history itself, evident even at Lascaux,
where mystic visions of heaven and earth made their
way from hand to wall. The first published accounts of
graffiti – pathological studies on prisoners, their tattoos,
and marks made on the walls of prison cells – appeared
in the 1800s. These early inquiries linked graffiti to theories on criminality and the mental state of murderers,
thieves, and other lowlifes – associations that still feed
larger social fears. G.H. Luquet’s seminal 1910 textbook
on graffiti featured illustrated examples he found in
European toilet stalls and army barracks, and focused on
obscene imagery, including male and female genitalia,
urinating stick figures, and the indisputably classic
penis-nose caricature. Legendary provocateur Marcel
Duchamp was the first artist to participate in the act of
graffiti when, in 1919, he drew a pencil moustache and
thin beard on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa and titled
it L.H.O.O.Q. The letters, when read in French, reveal
the inside joke, “She’s got a hot ass.” Duchamp’s act of
defacement instantly upgraded graffiti to a viable reactionary activity, a critical force for commentary, and –
in the case of Duchamp, whose own sexuality was rather
ambivalent – an avenue for personal expression.
Graffiti proliferated both in the United States and
Europe, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early
1970s that it developed into a distinct, self-aware subculture with roots in the urban centers of New York and
Philadelphia. Faced with a political and social dynamic
that exploited family, friends, and entire communities,
restless teenagers turned to graffiti as a way of bringing
attention back to a forgotten class. Not trained as artists,
or even highly educated, they forced their messages into
the public consciousness using the only tool they could
Photographer Martha Cooper captured the
evolution of New York City’s graffiti and
hip-hop subcultures through the lens of her
camera. Her iconic images portray the youth,
vitality, and curiosity of pioneering artists in
a rapidly expanding and complex society.
comfortably exploit – the alphabet.
of self-definition in cities that
The earliest activists in this renais-
were impersonal and undefined.
sance called themselves writers.
Initially, quantity and having
Unlike the obvious political slogan-
your work seen (or “getting up”)
eering or gang-related proto-graffiti,
was the driving engine for the graf
these writers communicated with
community. But ubiquity became a
tags – simple, highly personalized
problem – subway cars were filling
messages born out of a need for
up with tags so fast that space was
some measure of recognition.
at a premium. Conversely, this was
One of the earliest writers, lee 163,
an important boost. With limited
remembers, “Shit was deep. You
opportunity, graffiti artists began
had Vietnam and all types of pro-
thinking about the best use for
tests, the Black Panthers, the Young
the uncompromised surfaces they
Lords, racism and hatred at a peak,
found. Writers learned to modify
and brothers and others fighting
their tags, creating idiosyncratic
inequality and dying trying to put
marks infused with creativity and
a stop to it. The odds were against
character that stood out among
you. You can’t be unaffected by all
the growing visual clutter.
of that.” Unknowingly, the work
of lee 163 and others bridged a
Regardless of its underlying social
widening gap between the haves
message, the public continued to
and the have-nots, and redefined
see graffiti not as an effect, but as
our understanding of letterforms as
the cause of social ills, and it was to
a tool for mass communication.
be fought at every turn. Penalties for
offenders were quickly increased
Font 005
Tags began appearing in crowded
and barbed wire fences erected
urban projects and throughout
around train yards. For pioneering
high-traffic public transit systems.
writers, the act of vandalism and
Hand lettered with permanent
its inherent rush were not enough
markers, they became omnipresent,
to sustain their enthusiasm and
filling the inside walls of subway
participation. Older now, they had
cars in a dense tapestry of ink. On
the responsibilities that come with
the outside, spray paint covered
age. Within a few years, many of the
cars from top to bottom. It was
rebirth writers dropped out of the
authentic and expressive; an act
scene. It was – and remained – a
These tags, both historic (dondi and taki 183)
and contemporary (twist, cope, and rime),
show how calligraphic variation allows writers
to create personal identities that are shared
throughout the urban landscape.
june 19, 2005 – aim, scrag, aluma, prize
kids’ game, and there was no dearth of young talent.
that, in only 30 years, original styles have morphed and
New blood only increased tensions in the graffiti commu-
multiplied into a global kaleidoscope. That speed, along
nity, pitting speed against style; the first was necessary
with the anonymity that must go hand in hand with
for completing the more elaborate throw-ups and pieces
vandalizing private property, has left us with a rather
(short for masterpieces) without getting caught, with the
undefined history of modern graffiti. While there may
latter becoming increasingly important as innovators
still be disagreement about who was the first to “bomb”
continued to manipulate letters as a vehicle for peer rec-
a New York City subway train or the first to burn a wild
ognition and self-aggrandizement. With no commercial
style piece (where letters are linked in a complicated
application for their craft, writers, either as individuals
and hypnotic network of decorative, experimental
or as part of a writing crew, established and participated
calligraphy), the power of image, the need for identity,
in non-violent competition more akin to professional
and the lure of the street continue to feed a robust writing
sports than knife fights, where getting up was the
culture. As we collectively ease into a new millennium,
perfect mix of artistry and bravado.
graffiti artists can be grouped into one of three categories.
Purists (or “archaists”) uphold the traditions of graffiti
july 10, 2005 – aider, drama, pues, stak
This became the motivating force for stylistic innova-
by perpetuating styles at the foundation of the move-
tion, spilling over into the related street cultures of
ment. Pragmatists search out opportunities to extend
hip-hop and, eventually, rap music, which featured dj,
their art and craft into mainstream consumer culture,
b-boy dance, and freestyle battles. The original emotions
and the avant-garde looks for new ways to bend letters
of dispossession that fueled the graf culture were the
and the rules. As expected, the avant-garde has done
same ones that launched these additional art-based
the most to propel graffiti beyond writing to include
subsets. That the language and visual cues of graffiti
influences from advertising, graphic design, architec-
were adopted, maybe even co-opted, by hip-hop is no
ture, and illustration. This, in turn, has opened new
surprise. But unlike writers, who had no way to make a
doors for pragmatists and given justification to purists.
living from their work, hip-hop artists, with a vocation
july 16, 2005 – zeros, awake
Historian and photographer Cassidy Curtis
documents the effect time has on popular
graffiti surfaces at Graffiti Archaeology, an
interactive website dedicated to capturing
constant change. These images show the
transformation of a single wall in a San
Francisco neighborhood.
rooted in music and dance, found ample opportunity to
Letters are still at the core of writing, but as information-
merchandise and export their product. Entertainment
saturated societies merge and homogenize, graf culture
companies mined resource-rich inner cities, repackaged
has been forced to widen its self-defined boundaries.
what they found, and promoted their product from coast
The rise of technology, mass marketing, and global
to coast. Before anyone knew what had happened, thou-
consumerism in the 1990s obliged writers and other artists
sands of b-boy and b-girl clones were doing windmills,
interested in the street to begin culture jamming –
freezes, and six steps. The widespread acceptance and
reflecting and reacting against a constant barrage of
success of hip-hop reversed a hundred years of negative
advertising images. Using posters, stickers, and stencils,
attitudes toward sidewalk and subway delinquents.
they reformulated their messages for ever more modern
Artists like Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and, to some
cities whose continued visual and constructed gentrifi-
extent, Jean Michel Basquiat, adopted stylistic in-
cation assaulted the remaining pockets of viable urban
novations made fashionable by graffiti and their work
wilderness. swoon, the master of cut-paper posters,
became immensely popular. Films like Wild Style hit the
commented on this loss. “We are thirsting for wilderness.
big screen, featuring crossover artists like Grandmaster
I believe that in seeking it, our generation creates
Flash and the Rock Steady Crew, while the graffiti docu-
wilderness for itself. Our walls become screeching
mentary Style Wars connected with pbs viewers as the
jungles; rapacious conversations, life, death, birth and
definitive chronicle of the emergent hip-hop culture.
decay are written aloud all around us.” In fulfilling her
role as a street artist, swoon, along with hundreds like
Font 005
For writers, the built-in rivalries, which still exist today,
her, continues to challenge and change long accepted
accelerated graffiti growth patterns to such an extent
views on advertising, art in public places, and the use
and reuse of urban space. Marketing executives and cool
hunters, in an ironic twist, are taking advantage of the
popular acceptance of culture jamming and street art as
illustrated by Sony’s recent psp advertising campaign – a
campaign that was publicly ridiculed by the graffiti community and, perhaps, secretly appreciated by the public.
Today, the new frontier for writers still convinced that
letters make words, that words are symbols, and that
symbols carry meaning, is the open space made possible
in the electrosphere, the indeterminate landscape of
computer-generated possibility. Odd for a culture built
on something as antediluvian as letters, but building
(and the inverse act of destroying) is exactly what’s
happening. With computer-aided drafting software,
writers have started shaping letters in the same way
Together with the Dutch architecture firm Maurer
United Architects, writer zedz rethinks street
furniture with this unconventional design.
that architects create form. The term “deconstruction,”
coined by French philosopher and literary critic Jacques
Printed, cut, and pasted: an emotional piece
by New York City-based graffiti artist swoon.
Derrida in the 1960s, postulated that writing, text, and
architecture and typography when they commissioned
few years later, bombing subway cars would come to
language could move beyond the single layer of meaning
Maurer United Architects and Dutch graffiti artist zedz
an abrupt end with the introduction of graffiti-proof
imbued by its author to represent multiple layers that
to connect their stark, functional campus to Eindhoven’s
Teflon® coatings. With that, the meteoric rise of graffiti
are constantly shifting. Deconstructive architecture is
urban core. Agreeing that cultural authenticity was key,
slowed (some would even argue that it reversed course),
similar, defined by its unpredictability, fragmentation,
architect and writer transformed the tag zedz from di-
but the subculture never stopped. Bought and sold, it
and dislocation. As controlled chaos, deconstructive
mensional typography into large-scale street furniture.
has moved away from urban centers, further evolving
architecture questions, contradicts, and even under-
If the Eindhoven project seems devoid of personality and
beyond the white-hot spotlight of vandalism and assimi-
mines tradition, rationality, and, more importantly,
craft (considered crucial by some), then a Swiss engineer
lating ascendant cultures like skate- and snowboarding.
authority. By deconstructing typography and lettering,
and designer working in Zurich have created a scary
The word itself, graffiti, conjures up new meaning, just
today’s tech-savvy writers such as joker, delta, and daim
hybrid of technology and graffiti in Hektor, a portable
as Derrida might have prophesied. As social experience,
are in an exciting position. They straddle the deconstruc-
wall-mounted graffiti printer. With no writer required,
it remains authentic, visible, and tangible in the messag-
tive world of Derrida, who questioned meaning, and
motors and cables holding a spray can follow precise
es left for us throughout the city, suburbs, and exburbs.
that of architects like Lebbeus Woods, Thom Mayne, and
vector graphics paths provided by remote from a nearby
As global culture, it is computer-generated and virtual –
Zaha Hadid, who question form. The result is a hybrid
laptop computer. Pipslab, an art collective in Amsterdam,
the grist of video games and marketeers. Washed of all its
“typogritecture,” where letters are organized, reorganized,
has done away with spray paint altogether. Attaching
historic and contemporary associations, both good and
and sculpted in three-dimensional space without the
light bulbs to spray cans, the collective uses multiple
bad, we are reminded that graffiti has always been, and
surface constraints forced upon writers who rely on
cameras and long exposures to photograph the physical
remains, a means for insurgent voices to speak and
the city and street. This isn’t to say that writers are no
act of tagging. The results are colorful and energetic, yet
a way for letters to do all the talking.
longer dependent on traditional letterforms – they are.
completely ethereal.
By revealing the elemental core of letter formation, artists
obsessed with breaking them apart pay reverence to
When Style Wars was released back in 1982, no one could
WEB EXTRA What is your experience with graffiti? Join the online
time-tested forms while simultaneously keeping them
have foreseen the changes in store for graffiti. Old school
discussion and read an extended interview with style master
fresh and lively.
writers like seen, case, and iz the wiz were confident
rime at
that writing would thrive despite the best efforts of the
delta shows off his tag using Pipslab’s Lumasol
graffiti process.
Font 005
Recently, the Eindhoven University of Technology in
Metropolitan Transit Authority. At the time, they had
The Netherlands explored the relationship between
reason to be optimistic. No one imagined that only a
John Hampsey: Paranoidic
Last night ☾ I was (= to my new ♫ when it started to O)".
That’s when I saw a wee ;D=I sitting out on the ledge. I ♥ birds and I could
Prime ☠ Rent
tell it needed [+]. After I brought the bird inside to dry off, I 6-6 that there
was twine wrapped around its feet. “Oh, no!” I ..(_). I quickly grabbed ✂
and set the wee bird free. It looked at me and 8-) and then flew away.
Although I was quite :`-( to see the bird leave, I still have my <e)<, Oliver,
ff Karo™ by martin l’allier
to keep me company.
When asked if the world wouldn’t be a better place if everyone
spoke the same language, anthropologist Wade Davis replied, “Terrific idea. Let’s
make that universal language Yoruba, or Lakota, or Cantonese.”
ff Kievit™ 3 by michael abbink
ct ► ct
discretionary ligatures
1/8 ► ⅛
8 9 9u 9ug U8
ff Headz™ by florian zietz
scientific inferiors
abc ► •••
In Conversation with Dean Lee
ff Megano™ by xavier dupré
k ► k
832 ► 832
lining figures
8UH 2 2r 8UHC 2rf
WEB EXTRA Read more about how to use ff Headz at
Type designers and type users worldwide have embraced the cross-platform OpenType® format, which offers advanced
typographic features and extended language support. Four of the most well-known FontFont® designs are now available
in OpenType: ff Dax,® ff DIN,® ff Meta,® and ff Scala.® Other OpenType FontFonts in this release include ff Eddie,™
ff Nexus,™ and the newly published designs, ff Karo,™ ff Megano,™ ff Headz,™ and ff PicLig.™
ƒstop 116.043
Neue Fonts
Vista™ Sans
FontShop’s latest batch includes Gábor Kóthay’s
eye-grabbing Incognito, two unique sans serifs in
Bryant and Vista, and Frieze – a set of four dotted
alphabets destined to play a starring role in projects
both retro and ultramodern. See more from these
faces online, and keep abreast of new releases by
joining our email list at [email protected]
Filling the Bowl with Green Soup
mind-boggling brilliance persuaded me
Incognito™ Small Caps
<H e t S
T Q Y R I [email protected] >
ƒstop 054.016
Incognito™ Meridies, Occidens, Oriens, Septentrio
Bewildered With the Dubious Hog
ƒstop 059.027
In the June Petticoat Parade
Process Type Foundry®
Years ago, Hungarian
designer Gábor Kóthay
discovered a rare book
containing historic maps
and various cartographic
symbols. Inspired by the
meticulous lettering and
its elegant frills, he set
upon a typographic – and
topographic – journey to
create Incognito and Terra
Incognita (“unknown land”).
This full set of fonts includes
regular and small caps styles,
and five italics with varying
swash caps for recreating
the handmade feel of
antique documents.
Asking for a Kind Favor
Bryant™ 2
incognito ™
terra incognita ™
The ignominious inability to overcome Onxyia introduced
a small stir amidst the throng of the leaderless Idealists
Incognito™ Italic
ƒstop 048.028
He started to turn the pages very slowly, his hands trembling with each turn. It was the end of
a long strange journey for him on the outside and on the inside. The knowledge of who he was
became overwhelmingly conclusive. The book he held had his lost answer. He now knew the truth.
Incognito™ Regular
Hughes, Barnbrook, Spiekermann in London
The FontFeed: Nourish Your Creativity
Say Hello to FontShop
We don’t just sell type, we live for it. The outlet for this
obsession is The FontFeed – a frequent update of what’s
new at FontShop and around the world of design and
typography. Visit several times a week to ogle the web’s
most font resellers are little more than bits
and bytes. not us. here, we present the flesh and
blood of fontshop san francisco. meet more
members of the family in future issues of font.
jeff sinclair
Do phone trees tick you off? When you call or email
FontShop, you won’t get a mindless robot – you’ll get
Jeff. While he can’t shoot lasers or talk in a mechanical
voice, he can help get your fonts in working order. Mac,®
Windows,® ps, tt, or ot – Jeff knows ’em all like the back
of his very human hand. In his off time, this Scottish lad
dons a kilt and samples from every sandwich shop in the
Bay Area.
Larry, our resident sys admin, is the guy we call when our
computers aren’t behaving (usually the Windows boxes,
of course). He’s also deemed the office Coupon Boy. Want
50% off Epson® printer cartridges? A free lunch? Larry’s
your man. He shoots a mean turnaround jumpshot, too.
mike schawel
Did you get the roi tbl from the tbs organics?
Neither did we. But that’s cool – Mike’s on top of it.
Not only can he complete full sentences using only
articles and acronyms, our website visionary is also
proficient in gourmet cooking, Zen breathing, and
choraked faad haang.
the bathroom wall
This haiku is just one example of the brilliant writing that
graces FontShop’s Office Literacy Project. Should you
ever visit our hq in the heart of San Francisco’s soma
district, you, too, can share in the pleasure of poetry.
contact fontshop
Call 1 888 ff fonts toll-free within the usa
1 415 252 1003 local
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Font 005
In Use: FF DIN for The Onion, In Use: Neo
Sans for Intel, The FontShop 2006 Calendar
Tip: The Worn/Weathered/Stamped Look Th
Faces Behind the Faces, New FontFonts and
Free FF Meta Pro, In Use: FF Liant for Weleda, FontHunt2005 NY Winners, I AMsterdam
in Avenir, PingMag Interviews Erik Spiekermann, Tip: The Worn/Weathered/Stamped
Look, An Interview with Zuzana Licko, Jeffery Keedy: Thoughts on Designing Type, David Berlow: The Making of California, Peterpaul Kloosterman, Tip: GIF Your Type Right,
The Typotheque Gallery of Fonts in Use, Bold
Formal Scripts, Is Not Magazine Loves Un
larry li
large photo, top: Mike. large photo, bottom: words of
wisdom at FontShop SF. small photos, clockwise, from
top left: Stephen, Jeff, Alex, Ivan, Ana, Larry, and Michael.
best in typographic design, pick up helpful hints
on working with fonts, and discover some of our
favorite underrated typefaces. The FontFeed is
food for your creative brain.
fonts used: ff Nexus Sans,™ ff Atma™
giant whale
leaving us to wonder just what kind of things it was saying
wilma ™
Black-Caped Matadors
memimas ™
items may be subject
matricia ™
the archetypal villAIn
the cavalier adventures
of max & his lucky stick
frankie ™
jelly-roll blues dancer
mayayo ™
townsend court
wilma ™
Based on the simple geometry
of old wood type, Wilma consists of 19 layerable fonts. Use
a suitcase full of inlines, outlines, shadows, and patterns to
create multifaceted headlines
with depth and charm.
memimas ™
The designers of Martha
Stewart Baby found this gentle
script perfect for the magazine’s logo. The caps work well
on their own,
too, lending a handwritten
quality to any line of copy.
matricia ™
Three technostalgic monospaced fonts (dotted, square,
and double-row) take us back
to the days of noisy printers
and gridded electric displays.
frankie ™
Solid ink can be boring. Simulate distressed or stamped
type with Frankie (wide) or
Frankie Dos (condensed),
two heavy headliners eroded
to perfection.
mayayo ™
Enric Jardí must have had a
blast using paper and scissors
to create this bouncy typeface;
Mayayo has “festive” written all
over it. Celebrate with solid, inline, and polka-dotted variants.
tschicholina ™
Jan Tschichold’s 1929 experimentation with unicase inspired
this namesake typeface. There’s
no upper- or lowercase – just
basic, beautiful geometric forms.
tschicholina ™
on legibility “Why don’t we call for a worldwide agreement
about type? Let’s choose one (at least for the next 20 years). We
read best what we read most – stop designing new typefaces.”
– Laura Meseguer
tightrope walker seeks sad clown
A map
mvb fonts
Exposed & Weathered
The Shipman’s Tale
the association of foreign titleholders
MVB verdigris ®
Van Bronkhorst’s goal was to
create a legible text face in the
Garamond tradition with good
typographic color (density).
Mission accomplished! MVB
Verdigris is sturdy and
appealing – it’s the ultimate
workhorse serif.
MVB verdigris®
MVB magnesium® grime
MVB magnesium® grime
Need to emulate grubby
industrial signage? Throw
in some Grime. You’ve got
instant muck, and you didn’t
even have to break a sweat.
MVB sirenne ®
We’re huge fans of the serifed
hand lettering found on
antique maps. MVB Sirenne
brings that feeling to the
digital world with a full set
of weights, small caps, and
swashy italics, with separate
cuts for small and large settings.
Visit to see its
antiquarian elegance.
on legibility “One can draw letters that can be readily
identified, but they might be awful, ugly-but-identifiable
letters, and not readable when combined as text.”
– mark van Bronkhorst
Semantic Progression
Two-Penny Act
nce upon a time, in a
small cubicle far away
there worked a man named
Jed. Now, this Jed was not
your ordinary run-of-the-mill
reclusive cube guy. He was
Punica Granatum
Mollusks and Crustaceans
more of your Chatty Kathy
variety, inviting any and all
co-workers into the most minute details of his, well, sordid
lifestyle. This then meant that
MVB grenadine ®
A geometric sans gets a shot
of jolly. There’s just enough
spring in its step to transform
ho-hum to ha-ha!
MVB sirenne®
MVB grenadine®
e had a father that drank heavily from his jug of red wine that was his companion at any dinner. Regardless of when
nished his meal, or anyone for that matter, it was the unspoken rule that one never left the table until excused. This
ystem worked just fine, and everyone went along with it from day one. But as a stranger, it was a tough lesson to lear
nd an even tougher one to swallow. I found myself at Caesar’s table on my first visit to Smith River. We had arrived in
he afternoon, just before sundown. Caesar came out to greet us and I was immediately taken by his kind eyes and war
mbrace. He showed us to our room and made a comment about sleeping together before the wedding. With a wink, h
miled at me and shut the door behind him. George and I sat in the room unpacking a few items and removing our sh
e looked at me and said he was thankful that I had agreed to the long trip. It meant a lot to him, and I could tell by t
ook on his face the truth behind this feeling. We headed out towards the kitchen only to be stopped in the living roo
ee the view out Caesar’s window at the beautiful redwoods on the hill. There was finally some new growth coming ba
n after years of lumbering in the area. He told us that Smith River was once a vibrant lumbering community and that
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That alphabet. It’s been around a long time, and I,
for one, have some complaints. Don’t you think it’s
time for a redesign? I mean, the thing’s not exactly
“fresh” anymore, is it? A lot of time has passed since
this thing was so-called “intelligently designed” in the
age before we even knew there was such a thing as
design. But we know more now, and I think this fusty
old thing could use a little modern-day tinkering.
It looks like two different people designed this
pair of letterforms (and they weren’t talking
to each other). The capital A has a good iconic
structure: three strokes and you’re done. I like
the way they lean together to form that stable
triangular shape, with both feet planted firmly
on the ground and the whole structure reinforced
by the crossbar. It’s very strong.
The lowercase a is just, uh… kind of stupid; a
graphic non sequitur. But the typographic form
of the a has beautiful curves and allows for a lot
of variation within the shape. It’s feminine and
extremely sexy, but sometimes the bowl causes
problems. It has so little space to fit into – half of
the x-height. This is inconsistent with the other
letters in the alphabet, and seems a bit out of
place. Neither is working as a partner for that
strong capital – I simply can’t imagine what
they were thinking.
Unsupervised junior designers! In my humble
opinion, this is just lazy design. A curve and a
smaller curve. What’s with that? Think outside
of the circle.
This is a very nice pair. Whoever did this was
really thinking about the relationship between
the upper- and lowercase. I like the way the
capital B can have some variation in the proportions from top to bottom. It has muscle;
it has fat.
Obviously designed by a man, the ball and
stick of the lowercase b is simple and, appropriately, half of the cap B. Talk about male and
female! The buxom, pregnant cap mated with
the excitable lowercase. B-b-b-beautiful.
These may look like they don’t belong together,
but I think they’re actually pretty good. The cap
E has such good structure and balance, and, in
a way, the lowercase e has that same structure,
only rounded. One is based on a rectangle, the
other on a circle. There’s a concept behind this.
The eye of the lowercase e has some of the
same problems as the a, due to that half-x-height
thing. Would the cap E look better with another
vertical line down the right? I think that maybe
it would – it’s something to think about.
Another one from the scrap yard of design:
the lowercase d is just a ripoff of the b, and it
really bothers me the way the cap D is flipped
horizontally. It’s like someone wanted to emulate
the Bb but just didn’t get it. This is not an ode,
it’s a poor derivative.
Of all letterforms, the lowercase f is one of my
favorites. I love the hook of the ascender, and the
crossbar gives it that extra little oomph. But the
cap F, while obviously related to the lowercase f,
is too close to the E. If the E had an extra stroke,
then the F would stand out more. Still, it seems
clumsy and top-heavy. I can see what they were
trying to do with the angular version of the
lowercase, but I just don’t think it’s working.
The capital I without the crossbars at the top
and bottom is either the laziest piece of design
in history or an elegant stroke of modernism. With
the crossbars, it’s just clunky and awkward. The
lowercase i is kind of cute with that little dot, I
suppose, but I’m not really buying it. This one
never should have made it out of the
comp stage.
Here we have two really great letterforms
that just don’t match! Perhaps they were
designed by the same people who did the Aaa?
Despite my problems with the C, I think the
shape is expanded upon in an inventive way
in the G. Drawing an open lowercase g is one
of the great pleasures in life (that beautiful
curved descender!). However, the typographic
form (g), while quirky and amusing, is a baroque
excess of unusual hooks and parts. It’s incredibly
difficult to remember exactly what goes where.
All in all, it’s a litter of adorable mutts.
I honestly think that a different designer saw the
i and improved on it with the lowercase j. Where
the i is boring and slightly weird, the addition
of a swooping, curved descender turns it into a
thing of beauty. The dot is now somehow emphatic
rather than silly. This one nailed it. The capital J
was probably done afterward, borrowing the hook
from the lowercase. But the top is problematic –
without the crossbar, it looks unbalanced; with it,
it looks clunky. This is a design problem worthy
of more thought.
Like the A, the capital H is really strong. It has
the same three parts as the A, and is clearly the
work of the same designer. I like the balance of the
open spaces at the top and bottom. The lowercase
h, however, isn’t doing anything for me. It looks
weak and sort of half finished. I imagine it being
the desperate result of a long night without ideas.
It’s the “I just gotta make this deadline” solution.
Font 005
Someone had fun with this one, and I like the
results. An excellent pair, both the upper- and
lowercase have character and – dare I say it? –
attitude! These letterforms are very unique and
balanced without resorting to the cliché of curves,
and the flexibility of the joining of strokes allows
for endless writing fun. It’s really excellent design.
What the fuck is that? No two worse letterforms
exist than these duds – I mean, come on. Two
lines and a line? Who designed this, some old
fart completely worn out and bereft of ideas?
The design rationale must’ve been one helluva
snow job. The capital L has that gaping, awkward
open space, and the lowercase… it’s a line! And
it looks like a cap I or a 1, for God’s sake. This is
what happens when Modernism is allowed to
run rampant. I’m so glad that I don’t have any
of these in my name.
Speaking of my name, check these out – these
are two sweet letterforms. Is it any wonder that
a line of ms denotes “yummy”? Mmmmm. The
cap M is unique and strong, and balanced and
open in a way that doesn’t interfere with other
letterforms. The lowercase echoes the sturdiness
of the cap, with a firm footing on the ground, but
adds those two rolling curves. They echo and
embrace each other in well-deserved mutual
admiration. Yay! My name begins with M!
Well, it’s half the m, and only half as nice. I do
like the asymmetric diagonal, though – it causes
some directional problems when you’re learning
to write, but it grows on you. The lowercase n is
far less interesting. It looks lonely, missing its
other half. The Nns are amputees – fully capable
of functioning, but just a little bit sad.
I don’t know about this. At least they’re not just
straight lines, but they are, um… just circles.
There is beauty and perfection in a circle, but
these are so self-enclosed, so unexpansive. I
think they need something else, like maybe
a tail or something (see Q).
The lowercase p is really nice, especially when you
let the descender get really long. But this whole
ball-and-stick thing… c’mon, guys, get over it!
Given a choice, I prefer the p to the b, but the b
did it first. That cap P, though, is just totally not
working! Like a tiny girl with huge breasts, it’s
so top-heavy that it looks like it’s going to fall
over! This whole letterform needs rethinking.
All that the O needed was a little something,
and here it is in the capital Q. One of my all-time
favorite letterforms, the Q takes all the beauty
and simplicity of a circle and builds on it with
the ever-variable and expressive tail – it’s surely
the chocolate cake of any type design. Too bad
this letter is so seldom used.
The lowercase q, though… I’m not fooled by
that extra bit at the bottom of the descender –
this is another ball-and-stick! (The last one, I
hope!) This is no match for its elegant capital.
This is another pair in which the cap and lowercase have nothing in common and must surely
have been designed by different people. The cap
is by a genius; the lowercase, by a nincompoop.
The capital R takes the best from the B and
the K and successfully merges them together.
When the leg is not sitting solidly, firmly on the
baseline, it is allowed to swoop down and become
a tail – a form that I particularly admire. There
is love in the R.
The lowercase r, on the other hand, is weak,
imbalanced, stubby, and awkward. It’s an
accursed thing that hangs around like a sick
mongrel cur, drooling unpleasantly over all
the other letterforms.
This was a great idea, but somewhat lacking in
the execution… or rather, it’s just really difficult
to maintain a good standard. With all their
potential for elegance, both the upper- and
lowercase are hard to reproduce as anything
other than clumsy and unbalanced by anyone
other than a trained expert. Try it – make a good
S for me… it’s hard! In the right hands, it’s a
sophisticated character, but horribly open to
abuse. It’s certainly not something that should be
entrusted to children. I also think the lowercase
could benefit from a descender of some kind.
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After what I said about the L, you might expect
me to come down hard on the T. But where the
capital L lacks balance, the T has it, in spades.
With its two arms, I find it welcoming and protective. Move the arms down and shorten them,
and you’ve got a nice pair there! The lowercase
, minus the hook, is a little bit Christian for my
liking, although I do respect its simplicity. The
hook gives it an interesting character, and I like
it, despite its being a tad rocky.
My first impression of this was that it was an
obscenely lazy design, rocky, and derivative of the
already poor Cc. However, after my initial outrage,
I came to appreciate the anchoring aspect of
the two straight sides of the U, and, especially,
the firm little balanced foot of the lowercase u.
Suddenly, I am drawn to their tongue-like nature,
to the crystal goblet of the form.
I have a special fondness for the cap V, but it
does make me nervous. On the one hand, it’s so
unstable, balancing on that point like a cheeky
upside-down A. On the other hand, it has a
certain confident pride. With its arms raised
equally above the nadir, it manages to instill a
trust that it will not actually fall over, despite
the precariousness of the situation. And it’s just
a nice form. Maybe I’m partial to triangles.
The shrunken lowercase v obviously gets my
scorn – it’s like telling a good story twice in a row.
The exuberance of the V translates twofold to the
W. But where the V teeters, the W stands solid.
The W has the symmetry and pleasing balance
of the M without being a directly inverted version
of same. I like it when the strokes cross in the
middle, too. But is it because we are nearing
the end of the alphabet that we see this endless
repetition of shrunken lowercase forms? Do I
hear, “Fuck it, we’re nearly done, let’s just get
this job outta here.”?
Did Paul Rand design this? Is it not perfect? Do
you know why illiterates sign their name with an
X? Because it’s perfect, that’s why. Two strokes
which give the illusion of four. Xxxxx, you know
I love you.
This is quite possibly the best pair in the alphabet. Each on its own is good – the uppercase Y
being based, obviously, on a tree; the lowercase,
on a rooted bush, with that most elegant of all
descenders. But look at them together! Were
they not made for each other? This is design that
thinks and understands relationships. I would
guess it to be the later work of the designer of
the Bb and the Mm.
And last, but certainly not least, the Z – with
a final flourish, a sword slash (yes, I know!), a
signature of completion. The Z has both action
and balance – the zeal of a project at its end! Alas,
with the lowercase z, the alphabet goes out with
a bang and a whimper.
Written, designed, and illustrated by Marian Bantjes
© 2006. Originally published on the weblog Speak Up in
August 2005. This article has been reformatted for paper.
FontShop takes no responsibility for content. Text and
drawings are the opinion and personal expression
of Marian Bantjes. Letters of complaint and outrage
should be sent to [email protected]
Body text is set in New Century Schoolbook™ by Morris Fuller
Benton, c. 1923, with FontFont’s ff Zwo™ by Jörg Hemker,
2002. Both are available from, natch.
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