All posts by Steve Wilkison

The First Typeface On The Moon

Moon Plaque

Earlier I looked at the first typeface used for Mac computers. Now we’ll take a look a the first typeface on the moon. That would be Futura. It is the typeface used on a plaque left on the Moon to commemorate mankind’s first landing there. The plaque is located on a part of the Moon called Mare Tranquillitatis. One has to wonder if Futura was specifically chosen because of its name or if that was just a wonderful coincidence.

The plaque reads, “HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON. JULY 1969, A.D. WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.” All caps were used. The inscription is followed by the names of the astronauts and President Nixon (all caps, all Futura) and their signatures.

Futura was designed and created by a German type designer named Paul Renner in 1927. It is a geometric sans-serif typeface which is what gives it the very modern look and feel. It is based on geometric shapes that are representative of visual elements employed by the Bauhaus design style which flourished from 1919 to 1933. Though Renner was not associated with Bauhaus he shared many of beliefs and felt that a “modern” typeface should express modern models and not be based upon and reflect a previous style or design.

The letters of Futura are based on strokes of near-even weight with very little contrast. For instance, the “o” is perfectly round. No decorative or non-essential elements are used anywhere in the font.

The Wire Poster Project

wire

The Wire Poster Project is devoted to the critically acclaimed HBO program, The Wire. Many people consider it to be one of the all-time best programs to ever air on television. Produced by graphic artist Oliver Munday, the series consists of 60 typographic posters. Each poster represents a different episode of the show. The posters are all available for purchase and the money raised benefits the Baltimore Urban Debate League, and help real kids in the Baltimore area. The posters are printed on high-quality archival paper. The season number is represented on the top right corner of each poster and the episode number on the bottom left.

There seems to be a trend these days for designers to take one subject and expound upon it over and over. It’s not a bad idea and it can often provide some really wonderful results. The internet and the instant distribution it provides has made this a very viable method of reaching your audience on a daily, weekly or monthly basis that would have been unheard of in years past. Jessica Hische was one of the first of today’s artists to hit upon this with her fantastic Daily Drop Cap series. Nicole Meyer embarked upon a very ambitious project to design a logo for each and every one of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, producing on each day. That’s 27 years worth of daily work folks! Not surprisingly, she backed off a bit after the first year.

The Wire Poster Project is very well done and very interesting. Munday has specifically set out to design each poster in a very similar manner. He uses only letters, color and some minimal shapes: lines, background patches, etc. It’s a difficult thing to pull off over the course of 60 different designs, but I think he’s been very successful. Using such a limited palette of tools requires the designer to really focus on creatively employing the methods at hand.

 

Vent

Vent

A really cool piece that has a very “old fashioned” feel to it. It’s interesting how that phrase alone even means anything. Exactly what makes something feel “old fashioned?” In this case I think it’s the “exaggerated” letterpress look. I say “exaggerated” because it has many of the elements of an old letterpress poster, but also a few things that you would probably not find in letterpress posters of yesteryear.

The main creative element here is the use of type divided into “blocks” or “sections,” each of which is distinguished from those around it with a different typeface or size. Typical of an old letterpress poster. But, there are other things going on here as well. A few small illustrations are used (the heart, the briefcase, the camera, etc.). Lines are used very effectively to also help separate and isolate different sections. I especially like the line that goes all around the entire piece and then ends with an arrow pointing back to the beginning. It’s like a constant reminder bringing you back to the start.

A few instances of reversed type, such as the URL, help to make certain sections stand out even more and provide some balance to the page. The diagram at the top with VENT is especially interesting as it provides some illustrative elements and is really well thought out. The “INFO” arrow underneath it is just perfect to pull you down into the main copy for the page.

There are two other small sections that also stand out and provide some variety to the page. The word “FUN!” which appears on a “sticker” background and the word “Cool” which is the only word that uses a radically different typeface and also is allowed to escape it particular “section.” Both of these seeming small things contribute to making this piece really stand out.

Chicago: The First Mac Typeface

Chicago Font

Because I am fascinated and intrigued by anything Mac related I was interested in how type was originally used on the Mac, way back when we had very low resolution, strictly black and white monitors. A little research revealed that Chicago was the very first typeface designed specifically for the Mac. Certainly other “computer” typefaces existed at the time, but this one was especially for Mac.

The Chicago font was designed by Susan Kare and was used as the Macintosh operating system font from 1984 to 1997. It’s a sans-serif typeface that was originally designed as a “bitmap” font that originally included only a 12 point version. These bitmap fonts were designed especially to look good on computer screens. It was used for the menus, dialog boxes, window titles and text labels on the Mac. As the operating system improved Apple commissioned the type foundry Bigelow & Holmes to develop a TrueType version which had many differences from the original bitmap version.

On original black and white monitors the color grey was impossible to create. One of the things that made Chicago special and enabled it to work well as a system font was that you could remove every other pixel and create a “faux grey” color that still remained legible. This was important for menu items that needed to be “greyed out” if they were not available.

Chicago was replaced by Charcoal in 1996 with the advent of System 8 on the Macintosh. It was, however, revived for the interface of the original iPod music player, which also used a strictly black and white low resolution screen.

Opentype.info

The Pronunciation of European Typefaces

Opentype.info is a great resource on typography I ran across by German designer and author Ralf Herrmann. He covers a lot of things on the site, including typography, web fonts, signage and what he calls “way finding” and “spatial cognition.”

I found this blog because of an article he wrote titled “The Pronunciation of European Typefaces.” I’ve always wondered exactly how to pronounce the names of some fonts and he covers it all here, including Neue Helvetica, Akzidenz Grotesk, Officina, Neue Haas Grotestk and lots, lots more. He provides actual audio samples so you can listen to the actual names being pronounced. Awesome!

There’s a lot of other really great articles to be found here. Some are purely informational, such as letting us know that  fonts.info has joined Fontdeck. Others are tutorials on how to do something, such as creating web text that automatically scales to the width of its parent element (not as easy as you might think). Others are observations on various subjects related to typography.

It’s always good to find new resources and I love discovering a new blog, especially when the author really knows what he’s talking about and writes well. I would highly recommend that everyone interested in typography follow this blog and keep up with what Herrmann has to say.

PlayStation

PlayStation

This is just brilliant. A wonderful example of typography used for advertising purposes. It’s an ad for PlayStation, designed by Purushottan Lala and Luv Kalla in New Delhi, India. Why is it brilliant? In part, because it so effectively plays to its audience. PlayStation, of course, is used primarily by young males (not exclusively, but primarily) and this type of add will appeal to them immensely.

There are two things that really make this work as an ad. The first is the “punchline” (Because your girlfriend bores you shitless). No typographical magic employed here, just great copywriting. The second is the great hand drawn type. There’s a certain cohesiveness throughout the text, but there’s a lot of variety as well. Much of the text is reversed with solid black background. Some is upper case, some is lower case. Lots of colors and even “illustrations” have been used. Some text is vertical some is horizontal. Sometimes a phrase appears on one line, sometimes words are stacked on top of each other. And yet, it all holds together remarkably well and what we end up with is a very powerful, unified message.

We don’t often see a lot of hand drawn text in advertising. At least not this kind. If there is hand drawn text, it’s often very elegant or fancy. This is pure grunge. Down and dirty. The average young male can relate to it. It speaks to them, both in the style and in the message.

Bad Vibes

Bad Vibes

Ok, this is a little bit different. It’s a fascinating exercise in creating text out of one basic shape, a circle. Created by Skinny Ships, this spells out “BAD VIBES.” It’s interesting because of both what it is and what it is not.

It certainly is not a typeface. Not in the normal sense that we would think of. Yet, it is text. So, is it a typeface after all? The designer has taken a circle and by slicing it into quarters, using different colors and arranging the shapes in particular orders, he has created letters. Or what come very close to letters. It helps to squint your eyes or look at this from a distance (or both) where the various shapes become more subtle and the words begin to emerge.

It’s intriguing because it causes us to really stop and pay attention to exactly what defines certain letter shapes. What exactly do we need to have to create a capital “A?” What about a capital “S?” These letters all contain enough references to the standard letters to clue us into what they are, but part of that comes from the fact that they are grouped together to create words. If each of these “letters” was presented to us individually and isolated would we be able to identify them as letters? Maybe some, but probably not all of them. Which confirms the concept that letters can be dependent on each other and on the context in which they are seen. Some typefaces are completely legible and most are meant to be so. But sometimes, when using type for purely design purposes, that legibility breaks down and is not as important. But, there’s a certain point that you can cross over where the legibility is completely lost. This piece walks very close to that line and I find it very interesting to study just what allows it to still remain readable.

Calligram Designers Website

In doing a little research I found this great site devoted to calligrams. It’s called “Calligram Designers.” As I mentioned in a previous post, I think the whole calligram concept is a bit overdone at this point and if you want to really succeed you have to come up with something truly special and unique. That said, there are some really cool ones on this site. I’ve chosen two here, one of Donna Summer and one of Steve Jobs. Both are really remarkable and well done. However, both also use some very slight “illustrative” elements (like lines her Donna’s hair and Steve’s glasses) that really irritate me. To really be a true calligram they need to compose those elements with text! Pisses me off.

Donna Summer

Steve Jobs

The Idea

The Idea

Here’s another piece that I ran across while researching “typography” and “posters.” This is one of my favorite works I’ve found in a long time. It’s by a German artist named Art Vandelay (he goes by the name of “debruehe”). There’s just so much going on here and it all works wonderfully together. In some ways it’s like five or six pieces all working in conjunction with one another. Some of these individual components could easily stand on their own, but when combined with each other they form a powerful work of art.

Vandelay has used several typefaces in this piece, at least one serif font and what appear to be several different san serif ones as well. He uses a variety of techniques throughout the pieces. The leading has been removed from the “Don not let kill your idea unless its for a better one” portion. The baseline has been manipulated and the font-size varied for the “Nothing is more powerful than an idea” portion. Several areas feature text on a “path,” that is something different than the normal horizontal plane we normally see text on. Additionally, the line “Sometimes you have to think the other way around to come to an idea” is upside down, perfectly reflecting the meaning behind the words.

I’m especially impressed by the overall balance of the piece and the way in which all the various portions seem to work with and off each other. The word “bulb” shaped like a lightbulb, the “d” int he word idea falling apart into a whole bunch of more ideas, everything is just so well done.

Apart from the typographical aspects of the piece I’m also impressed with the overall design and layout. The slightly grungy frame, the textured background, the texture that’s been added to the letters, all these items really add to the piece and give it depth and personality.

It’s a great piece.