Penmanship in the future

kelseymcleod's picture

I'm very curious to hear the opinions of you insightful typophiles on the future of penmanship and the art of the cursive hand. I think there is probably consensus that the *art* of writing by hand as a practical skill is in decline. This is nothing new though--even Cicero complained that his contemporaries' handwriting was a complete mess. At the same time, it might be too narrow to judge today's handwriting by 19th century standards in which penmanship conveyed education, social status, etc.

I'm also interested in cursive handwriting's influence--past, present, and future--on printed and digital media.

So in a nutshell, where do you think we are headed? Has cursive died? Will it gradually evolve?


cuttlefish's picture

Considerable time is wasted in schools teaching young children cursive writing that most give up on by high school. Everyone now learns to type as a toddler and tap text on a cell phone by the time they're old enough to hold one.

Cursive should be introduced as an art project and those that show a knack for it be allowed to develop the skill, but let those kids who don't spend their time learning things that matter in the modern world.

_null's picture

harsh, I can't say i agree completely.

Writing will never die, pens and paper simply have better market penetration than any device. It's in decline without doubt - although I would argue only a decline back to normality.
I think there was a time in our recent history where writing became so essential we were probably using it too much - and placing too much educational emphasis on it.

Thankfully devices have taken the place of the communications workhorse...personally I think most crap sent via electronic mediums isn't worth the paper it's written on. There's a quote from the boondocks which sums it up pretty well "nothing typed with someones thumbs has ever been important" (excuse the casual racism...the show is quite edgy...)

Regarding cursive form, again indestructible. If it was ever forgotten, someone would reinvent it the moment they were too lazy to break the stroke. You could regard txt spk as a form of cursive if you wanted to get abstract.

dezcom's picture

You might want to look at this previous broadcast:

kelseymcleod's picture

@typerror: LOL thanks!

@cuttlefish: I'm sure that many students jettison their handwriting development at the time it becomes more economical (or even required) to hand in typewritten papers to their teachers.

@dezcom: thanks for the link!

@_leigh: I hope you're right :)


Since typographic forms owe so much to the visual effect of hand written letters, I wonder what the future has in store. At one point, typography as a medium was being produced by people who had the experience of those nibs and ink present in their mind. Even Comic Sans captures writing with a drafting pen pretty well. At the same time, I realize the two can and have moved on their own paths of evolution, and that hand writing has also been influenced by typography (i.e. punctuation, space, and capitalization were not highly standardized prior to print).

DrDoc's picture

I'm really interested in the give-and-take between handwriting (and printing) and type. Humanist letterforms from centuries ago were made to emulate calligraphy, to an extent. Then type developed away from the written form into more modern, regular letterforms. Now we initially learn how to write (print) from geometric sans-serifs, which really haven't been around all that long, all things considered.

As a thought experiment, I've been working on (and will probably never finish) an "ultra-humanist" sans, which is composed of regularized forms of my print handwriting. We learn printing from geometric sans-serifs, which are useful because the shapes are easy to reproduce, but since they're not natural our print writing relaxes over time. What happens when we base type off of handwriting that is an evolution of handwriting that is based on type that is an evolution of type that is based on handwriting? (Hint: It kind of looks like Skia and Scala Sans' love child.)

Generally, I still use cursive whenever I'm hand-writing something that is directly addressed to someone else, like a thank-you note. Things that aren't intended to be seen by other people get print. Ironically enough, I use cursive in my journal, which is only meant to be seen by me.

kelseymcleod's picture

DrDoc - I think you're hitting the nail on the head. I really like your idea of applying our modern design tools in a way that links typography back to the physical, human activity of writing.

I'm sure there are people out there who couldn't care less about their own handwriting, but most of the people I know personally have at least some emotional feelings about their writing. Lot's of people hate their writing. Some take a lot of care to make it look beautiful in their own eyes. Furthermore, most people have a unique emotional connection to say, their grandparent's writing on a note they have. Whether consciously or not, people seem to respond on a very personal level.

We have an altogether different experience of the written word in the age of print. It reminds me of the "the medium is the message" argument (Marshal McLuhan). I believe his argument was that the Gutenberg printing press brought about the standardization of language in European countries, and the social norms that followed that technology brought about new traits such as nationalism.

By its very nature, the printed word can't capture the individualism of writing, but as it's very interesting (to those of us who think a lot about typography as a communication medium along with writing and speech) to consider the differences about how we experience the two forms, and about how the two writing media subconsciously affect those who use those media.


kelseymcleod's picture

gusrejc1989 -- I like it! Very friendly... nice capitals BTW ;)

johnbutler's picture

I was born in the 70s. Most handwriting looked crappy then, most looks crappy now, but there were always and are still beautiful exceptions. There will always be people who want to write beautifully, and the means to learn have never been more freely accessible.

gusrejc1989's picture

Hello kelsen, if you're so interested in my handwriting, you can have my handwriting alphabets and characters, if you want to create this font, ask for my authorization:

kelseymcleod's picture

Thanks gusrejc1989, actually I'm not a typography designer so wouldn't be creating any new faces. Just someone who has worked with type a lot in the past.


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