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Typophilia, Alas!

I guess I can make a Blog entry, just to say I've done it. Maybe the idea will grow on me, but for now it feels rather narcissistic to think people will want to read what I have to say about Type, and yet I like the idea that they might.

(The rest of this entry will be added as a later comment to avoid having it all set in huge type).


LOST IN LETTERSPACE - Thoughts after TypeCon 2007

[NOTE: This will appear to be a duplicate entry, because I didn't realize that you have to start new Blog threads too. When I realized that, I re-created it as a NEW Blog entry, and not as a comment to a previous thread (of mine) as I had done before.]

It was kind of surreal, considering the last conference I went to was as a Boeing engineer meeting with the Air Force, discussing flight software for the Inertial Upper Stage space booster vehicle sometime in late 1998, or early 1999 (before I retired). I have to say the atmosphere at TypeCon was completely different. For one thing, there were almost no suits or ties. There were no stacks of documents, or copies of presentation charts (although I would have loved some of the latter for a few of the talks), and more importantly I wasn't on the Agenda this time.

The atmosphere of congeniality was pervasive, and I was sure I 'knew' so many of the people there, but I had almost no way to recognize them! It was like driving through the neighborhood of the 'Homes of the Stars' without the guide map. Most of us Typophilers use Icon/Avatar thingies, so I had no idea what most people would look like. The name badges they gave us (set tastefully in FF Sanuk) had the first names large and last names small, and if you didn't get almost inside someone's personal space, you didn't get to learn which Grant (Hutchinson), Chris (Lozos), Mark (Simonson), William (Berkson), Dan (Gayle), Stuart (Sandler, to whom I owed and paid $10 for postage on some type books he generously sent me), James ('jpad' Puckett), or Tiffany (Wardle) they were, for example (roughly in the order that I met them). I also met 'Stewf' Coles and Cheshire Dave, thanks to introductions by Chris. I also found and introduced myself to Eben (Sorkin), Carl (Crossgrove), Nick Shinn (somehow he got all his name in large letters), Richard (Kegler), Rodrigo (Cavazos), Simon ('Sii' Daniels), and Veronika (Burian, the Czech type designer -- of FF Maiola -- because my ancestry (Janiga) was from her region). I even (almost) had lunch with Mark Simonson, but his screwed up plane reservation cancelled that -- maybe next time, Mark.

The talks were usually interesting, informative, or funny (usually a combination), and I didn't miss a single one of them over the three days. I started having fantasies about giving a talk on Font Identification -- a topic that was never mentioned during the conference (a gross oversight, in my opinion) -- discussing Automatic Tools (Identifont, WhatTheFont, and others?); Vendor sites with keywords and test samples; Font ID Guides (passive and interactive); and of course Expert forums, like the Type ID Board and WTF Forum, to mention two of them. I know Font Identification is sort of a quiet cousin to the high profile type designers, type distributors, and advertising empire stars, who were the mainstays of the presentations (with a few type educators added in). However, I see font identifiers as important links that connect many font users with distributors, keeping the Font 'Ecosystem' vital.

And then there was Robert Bringhurst ("The Elements of Typographic Style"), who packed the house (literally) for his erudite talk about Quantum Physics and Typography (it has to do with 'packets' of information, and particles and waves that makes up everything, including type), and non-Latin fonts, and who was autographing copies of his book for admiring fans.

I wandered around in the type displays and wrote down the names, designers and foundries of new fonts I saw. The examples from Mexico were intriguing, and were touched on in the great talk by Gabriel Martínez Meave and Leonardo Vázquez Conde about the history and current state of Mexican Type. I found an energetic vitality that I think can add to the classicism of the dead European designers we see being revived over and over.

My first TypeCon was an Experience (capital E), and I hope to do it again some time. If you were there and I missed you, I'm sorry. It's strange to be so much a part of a community that you can't recognize on sight, but without something to help ID each other, or a Typophile rallying point, some of us will be like ships passing in the night, to use a well-worn cliché.

- Mike Yanega

Obviously I didn't expect my whole, long-winded initial entry to be printed in type-for-the-blind size. Sorry about that.

I wanted to offer special thanks to Typophile Paul D. Hunt for providing some excellent script font samples for the Script Font ID Guide, mostly in Part 7 (Casual Flowing Scripts). Keeping up with scripts has been overwhelming (let's just say impossible).

- Mike Yanega

This is the rest of my introductory post -- in more readable size.

How does an Aerospace software engineer wind up being a Typophiliac? (I know Typophile is the usual term, but this makes it sound more like the disease it is.) To answer that, it helps to understand what sort of passions have always gripped me. I am a List maker; a collector, a book lover (especially reference books), and a classifier. I love identifying things. As a kid, I used to try to identify every living creature I saw, and I borrowed every nature book they had in the library. I even went through unabridged dictionaries and wrote down the names of every animal they illustrated (my first List). I eventually specialized in Fishes, and if FishBase wasn't already there I would have loved doing that once I had time on the computer to devote to my passions. After Nature, I started cataloguing Airplanes, and did my first serious book buying starting in Junior High School (now called Middle School). I could identify any airplane from the oldest to the most recent, or I would know where to look it up. Then I did cars. Then back to Aviation, at about the time the Space race was starting to capture attention. As an electrical engineering student during the Vietnam War my goal was to stay out of the war by getting a deferred job in the Defense industry, and so I went to work for an Aerospace company when I graduated. I worked on missile systems for 12 years, and then moved to space systems to the remaining 20 years of my career, gravitating towards software requirements. Eventually I was the lead of a software requirements and design group until I retired in 1999.

OK, so that's my resumé, but what about Typophilia? In 1982 I got my first computer, an Atari 800. I also added an Epson dot matrix printer a couple of years later, and found out that I could change the type it used by entering codes for the letterforms. I started looking for typefaces to use as models, sent away for Image Club and Adobe catalogs, and the rest is history. I found something new to identify -- fonts. In 1993 when I got my first Mac, I couldn't wait to buy fonts for it. Now many thousands of fonts later, it shocks me to add up what I have spent on them, as those of you so afflicted know all too well.

Somewhere in the process of making typefaces for my printer (and then my computer screen) I started looking much more closely at the subtle things about typefaces. Like most people I read books and used type that way, without ever really looking at the type, but now I was, and I saw that there were many differences. This meant there was something else I could become good at identifying!

Few people, but me, cared that I could identify type, until I discovered internet newsgroups after I retired. alt.binaries.fonts and comp.fonts became my introduction to the community of Typophiliacs, and I was no longer alone. I hung out and ID'd fonts, and kept seeing the same questions coming up over and over. It was so inefficient. I decided that font lovers could use Guides, just like bird lovers, and I started my first Guide to catalog Bauhaus-style fonts. I had volunteers from the newsgroups who helped me collect samples, and I used my web site as the place to put the Guide. Then it became clear to me how often there were questions about Script faces, and the Script Font ID Guide was started. I had a group of over 50 volunteers from all over the world who helped add samples to the Guide, which is still growing, and has over 3,150 hand-drawn font styles catalogued in 14 style categories. I think it is the most comprehensive collection of those fonts anywhere,online or in print.

The Nature Guide model kept driving me to try to come up with ways that people without a lot of specialized knowledge could be able to identify typefaces. Sans Serif fonts were always hard to ID, because they seemed to be so similar, but structurally there were earmarks that could help narrow the choices. The physical attributes of 7 letters became the basis for my keying system for Sans Serif fonts, just the way fish books used fin configurations, spines and mouth placement as keys to direct you towards the right species of fish. The Sans Serif Font ID Guide was my first Keyed Guide.

It was after this time, roughly the middle of 2003, that someone from the newsgroups directed me to the Type ID Board, and this is where I have hung out since then. It was nice to be away from the greedy acquisitiveness of so many of the newsgroup folks who were mostly interested in getting fonts from each other. I had always made it known there that all I would do is help identify fonts, but at Typophile those were already the rules, and I didn't have to keep defending my position.

Next came the Lined Fonts ID Guide, thanks to a thread on Typophile that started cataloguing multilined fonts. Typophiles Mike Freiman and Ignacio Martinez were generous contributors to that Guide.

To wrap up this first entry, I come to the most ambitious Guide, in many ways. My current project, with the help of several people, and most particularly my friend 'P. Etz' (pseudonym) from Germany, who has implemented the page design, is the Serif Font ID Guide. This Guide uses a true interactive interface to let the user select attributes of twelve key letters and then see the fonts that have the same attributes. Currently there are over 1,150 typeface families described, and samples illustrating them are still being collected. We have more than 90% of the familes with at least a Key sample.

I invite people to ask font ID questions directly, using the e-mail link on my FontSpotting page. I will continue to hang out as often as I can and try to help with the Type ID Board. I feel that I have really found the right place at last to let my Typophilia out in the open. It's a great bunch of people here, and I feel happy and honored to obsess about type with all of you.

- Mike Yanega

Go gettum Mike!


Mike, your identifications guides are a tremendous resource. I've always wondered what your story was, and now I know. As a fellow frequent font sleuth, I am surprised at how different your background is from mine, with the (probably meaningless) exception that we were both Atari 800 users. (Commodores suck! oh never mind.)

Thanks Chris & Mark for your comments.

Mark, if you ever find yourself with some spare time, there are a few of your fonts that I haven't collected yet for some of my Guides. If you e-mail I can send you templates.

I never fail to be impressed by how much you know about fonts. Apparently your type library is at least as deep as mine, and probably deeper in historical typefaces.

Thanks for all the help and information you provide here.

- Mike Yanega

Just an update on the progress of the Serif Font ID Guide. It now contains 1,465 typeface family descriptions, and reflects all the fonts from the Serif & Slab categories in both of the 'Big Yellow' (FontShop) FontBooks, as well as many others from other sources as I find them. The Roman and Italic faces are shown, if the family includes both. Many Display serifs are also included, and I have been adding historical typefaces from older books on metal and film types, as I have time. My goal is to make this Guide the most complete tool for serif typeface identification that will exist anywhere.

To update the information on my most popular Guide, my Script Font ID Guide now illustrates 3, 217 fonts that can be broadly defined as 'script' (hand-drawn) styles.

As always, I welcome any help in adding new samples, if you have fonts that are missing samples, or which have not been included in the Guide yet.

- Mike Yanega

Quite an amazing undertaking, Mike!